Why The Story Of John And Lorena Bobbitt Is More Complex Than Just Castration

Published January 11, 2022
Updated March 9, 2022

After suffering years of emotional and physical abuse from her husband, Lorena Bobbitt cut off John Wayne Bobbitt's penis on June 23, 1993. But there's much more to this story than meets the eye.

On the evening of June 23, 1993, John Bobbitt was sleeping peacefully in his bed. That is until his wife Lorena Bobbitt entered their bedroom and cut off his penis with a knife.

While her husband was writhing in pain, Lorena drove off around northern Virginia and threw her husband’s severed appendage into a field.

Then she drove to a friend’s house and called the police, offering a rough description of the location where she thought her husband’s penis had come to rest.

John Bobbitt And Lorena Bobbitt At Trial

POOL/AFP/Getty ImagesJohn Bobbitt (right) and Lorena Bobbitt during the second day of her trial.

The incident skyrocketed the couple to infamy as their trial made national headlines and aired almost continuously on CNN. In the days that followed, an avid public watched and wondered: how did it come to this?

John Bobbitt And Lorena Bobbitt Make Their Cases

It seems clear that the relationship between John Wayne Bobbitt and Lorena Bobbitt was rocky from the beginning — but beyond that, in regards to the incident, the two agreed on almost nothing. Their accounts diverged sharply, sometimes even from their own previous explanations.

Upon her arrest, a distraught Lorena claimed that her husband’s selfishness in the bedroom had driven her to pick up the knife.

“He always have orgasm and he doesn’t wait for me ever to have orgasm,” she told them. “He’s selfish.”

This raised quite a few eyebrows before Lorena elaborated on a second set of far more serious grievances.

Lorena Bobbitt claimed that John was physically and emotionally abusive toward her for years and that he had raped her the night of the attack.

Lorena Bobbitt

Jeffrey Markowitz/Getty ImagesAt her trial, Lorena Bobbitt demonstrates the abuse she claimed to have experienced at John Bobbitt’s hands.

Her defense claimed that she had been suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuse. The stress of her unstable situation had driven her to temporary insanity, forcing her to violent action.

John Bobbitt denied the allegations of abuse and rape, though his story changed throughout his questioning. He first claimed that the couple had not had sex that evening, then changed his story and asserted that Lorena had attempted to initiate sex but he had declined.

After briefly trying to convince the court that he might have had sex while he was asleep, he finally admitted to having been aware of sexual activity that evening — but, he emphasized, it was consensual.

Both prosecution and defense, however, admitted to the abuse, though John Wayne Bobbitt would not agree that it had ever culminated in rape.

Eventually, after seven hours of deliberation, the jury found Lorena Bobbitt not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. She was sentenced to 45 days in a psychiatric hospital, during which time she underwent an extensive mental evaluation. She was released at the end of her stay with a clean bill of health.

John Bobbitt, who had also gone to trial, was acquitted on charges of marital sexual assault.

Shades Of Gray In A Grisly Tale

Lorena Bobbitt Testifies

Jeffery Markowitz/Getty ImagesLorena Bobbitt giving testimony at her trial.

Though many reports attempted to cast one or the other spouse in the role of either heroic victim or wicked abuser, the bizarre tale made it difficult to paint things in black and white.

The press at times tried to portray the 23-year-old, Venezuelan-born Lorena Bobbitt as a starry-eyed immigrant whose hopes of achieving the American Dream were dashed when she realized the handsome Marine she married was an abuser and inveterate cheater.

And yet the media had to contend with the fact that while Lorena had indeed called 911 on John several times, John had also called 911 on Lorena.

In 1991, Lorena was caught embezzling $7,200 from her boss — a decision she would later claim she made while under terrible financial strain because John Wayne Bobbitt was out of work.

In 1992, the couple separated — but then got back together the following year. They had already decided to separate again when Lorena picked up the knife on the night of June 23, “fearing for my life,” as she would later tell the court.

But John’s friend and drinking companion, who was crashing on the couple’s couch that night and would later rush his friend to the hospital, claimed that Lorena, on her way out the door with her husband’s severed penis, stole John’s Game Boy and $100 from his wallet.

Then there was the fact that her initial distressed confession seemed to suggest that she had cut off her husband’s penis because he never brought her to orgasm.

In short, though Lorena Bobbitt’s account of spousal abuse was persuasive and heart-wrenching, the proceedings muddied the waters, and the trial became bogged down in strange third-party accounts and seemingly interminable rehashing of petty squabbles from the couple’s history.

But if Lorena’s story raised questions, it was nothing compared to John Wayne Bobbitt’s.

What John Wayne Bobbitt Told The Court At His Wife’s Trial

John Wayne Bobbitt

POOL/AFP/Getty ImagesJohn Wayne Bobbitt gives testimony during Lorena Bobbitt’s trial.

John Bobbitt’s changing story about the couple’s sexual activity on the night Lorena Bobbitt took a knife to his penis had already badly undermined his credibility, and the rest of his account didn’t particularly help.

He accused his wife of having cut off his genitals because she couldn’t bear the thought of another woman having him (the pair were, after all, about to separate).

But he also charged her with having done it in a desperate bid to stay married to him in order to secure her green card; she was just one year short of the required five years of marriage.

His story varied wildly, and even the prosecution had to concede that he had been both physically and emotionally abusive to Lorena in the past.

But it was what he did after the trial that lent credibility to his wife’s accusations — and perhaps put her struggle into perspective.

Interviewers talk with John Bobbitt and Lorena Bobbitt in an effort to reconcile their different stories.

John’s severed penis had been recovered from the field in which Lorena had thrown it and miraculously reattached after a nine-and-a-half-hour surgery — and he was keen to let the world know that his manhood was fully operational.

In the following months, John Bobbitt took every opportunity to show off his reattached appendage. After appearing on Howard Stern’s show, he received the gift of a penis enlargement surgery from the shock jock himself.

He then went on to appear in several adult films, including John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut and Frankenpenis.

But his exhibitionist period revealed more than his new member: it also pulled back the curtain on his character.

Uncut Promotional Photo

David Rentas/New York Post Archives/Getty ImagesJohn Bobbitt, center, with co-actresses Veronica Brazil, left, who played Lorena Bobbitt; Tiffany Lords, right; and Letha Weapons, center, promoting Uncut in 1994.

Though his new lifestyle introduced him to new women, some things stayed the same. He was convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery against a girlfriend and spent 60 days behind bars.

In the following years, when the money from his film career and 40-city tour dried up, he was arrested on three separate occasions on charges of battery — his third wife the victim on each occasion.

Where Are John And Lorena Bobbitt Today?

It doesn’t come as a shock to learn that as of 2016, John Bobbitt was single and perpetually short on cash. He returned to the surgeon who enlarged his penis and asked for a redo: his member is now restored to its original size, as it was before it met with either Lorena Bobbitt’s or a surgeon’s knife.

But Lorena’s story is the surprising one.

While John Wayne Bobbitt was milking his 15 minutes of fame for all they were worth, Lorena Bobbitt kept a low profile. After the divorce, she began using her maiden name and working at a beauty salon.

Aside from a minor run-in with the law over an argument with her mother that turned violent, she mostly kept out of the spotlight. Eventually, she began a relationship with another man — a slow one, this time, that started as a friendship — and remarried.

Surrounded by family and happily married with one daughter, she finally has her American Dream. And she’s doing one better: in 2007, Lorena Bobbitt started a foundation to prevent domestic violence and offer support to its victims.

Lorena Bobbitt talks about her life today and how she feels when she looks back on the trial that made her famous.

The John and Lorena Bobbitt case brought domestic abuse into the national spotlight, and Lorena is doing her best to make sure the issue doesn’t fade into the background — though she wishes the sensational aspects of her story would.

But unfortunately for Lorena, that seems unlikely. Her case had a profound and lingering effect on the national consciousness.

Though the brief spate of copycat crimes died out, the term “bobbittized” became the word for any crime involving penis removal and even made its way into medical terminology.

In honor of the case, a worm that uses scissor-like jaws to kill its prey became known as the Bobbit worm.

And then there are the lingering jokes and memes, the T-shirts and the limericks that make the case a landmark in American culture — one that isn’t going away any time soon.

The trailer for Amazon’s Lorena.

Even in 2019, Amazon produced a documentary series called Lorena that re-examined the case and offered a perspective that focused on Lorena’s victimhood and how, as Amazon put it, “her suffering [was] ignored by the male-dominated press.”

More than a quarter-century later, there’s still more to untangle in this case that was so often reduced to a punchline.

Enjoy this look at the twisted case of John and Lorena Bobbit? Next, read about the park that found itself with an unexplained giant wooden penis problem. Then, check out the candiru, the penis-eating fish of your nightmares.

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That's Interesting.