Like Cattle: Cow Steroid Addiction Among Bangladeshi Prostitutes

Why is a steroid meant for cows so popular among prostitutes in Bangladesh? The use of Oradexon, a steroid commonly used to make cows fatter, is so widespread that the UK charity ActionAid reports approximately 90 percent of the commercial sex workers in Bangladesh are addicted to the drug. Oradexon is favored by many brothel madams as a way to mask the real age of their younger child prostitutes–some as young as nine years old–while making their figures more voluptuous.

But the drug also conveniently serves as a cheaper substitute for food. In a country as impoverished and with as high malnutrition rates as Bangladesh, one can get 100 Oradexon pills for less than a $1.

Despite the popularity of the drug, the majority of the country’s estimated 200,000 sex workers remain unaware of its dangerous side effects, which include heart disease, kidney failure, osteoporosis and heart failure. The drug is also highly addictive and has intense withdrawal symptoms, such as skin rashes and migraines.

According to AFP, sex workers in Bangladesh are considered to be owned by brothel madams and have to repay their “purchase cost.” Sex workers themselves want to use Oradexon because the plumper they are, the more clients they get, and the closer they come to buying their freedom. Rokeya, a former sex worker, told AFP:

The drug is a sex worker’s only ticket to early freedom as it makes her attractive and helps her to get as many clients as possible.

So how can we get the drug off the market and out of the reach of these madams and their prostitutes? Not easily. AFP reports that despite legally needing a prescription for the drug, it is readily available in the teashops that populate Bangladeshi cities, and is often even cheaper than a cup of tea.

Fortunately, the problem is getting attention. ActionAid Bangladesh worker Lutfun Nahar said:

We are creating awareness amongst the sex workers about the drug’s side effects. We are also holding meeting with the quacks who are selling the drug. In addition, we are reaching the policy makers in drug administration and civil surgeons who can really keep track and play an effective role in stopping this.

You can learn more about ActionAid here.

ABOVE: Photo from Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography, D. Sharon Pruitt, under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. I wrote about a similar incident happening in India a while back. Out here, women's bodies are so 'worthless' that even injecting them with steroids is considered 'normal'. Often such institutions backpedal saying, "It's the tradition of our place/culture/community/race". Just sad.

  2. It's really devastating to read the desperatey of these women… One really can't comprehend their pains. While I feel helpless after reading this article, I know I have been empowered with knowledge I can share with others to bring attention to this issue!

  3. Hi Julie, I've seen the program called "Taboo" in National Geography Discovery channel about the prostitution in Bangladesh slum area. Young girls as young as 9 years old being sold to madam, and the madam owns the girls till they can pay back her freedom. Eventually when they can pay back her freedom, and at the 18, they could be registered prostitutes. It was heart wrenching watching the thing. This article about the drugs made more sense if the madam could feed the girls with a cheaper alternative and make the girls look older than her age and also plummer. It is sickening.
    We need to spread this kind of fact to make people aware what's going on out there.

    • Oh, people KNOW. Plenty of people KNOW what is happening to these women and children. What really needs to happen is that people need to CARE.

      And I have a criticism for National Geographic’s treatment of this subject. The segment on the enslaved “prostitutes” trying to buy back their “freedom” was too SHORT to give a thorough or accurate depiction of this issue. And then it was contrasted with “happy hookers” living the high life in other parts of the world, in the same episode, and the whole thing was called “Prostitution”.

  4. About time there were more articles about the realities of “sex work”. I am tired and outraged at how “sex work” is embraced and glorified by other “feminists” while the realities of female and child sexual SLAVERY are minimized or ignored by these same. “Sex work” is a symptom of world-wide misogyny, and the inequality of women – and the expendability of children. It is not work in the real sense but slavery, an extreme form of slavery that only happens to women and children with no parallel form suffered by men.

    Ms. has always been realistic about this, for the most part, with occasional slip-ups over time. I have been angered over some of the articles posted in the recent past, misleading and straying far from reality. One article stated that “prostitutes are safe-sex educators” and when I read those words it was almost the last straw.

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