The infamous Samantha Jones from the HBO hit television series Sex and the City once said, “It’s like an addition to the length of the penis. Exotic!” However, some people may refer to the foreskin of the penis as extra skin, or an unclean and unnecessary addition to the human body. In fact, the Christian bible posits in Genesis 17:11 “And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”
The foreskin is the hood of skin that covers the head of the penis. Chances are, if you are Jewish or come from a Christian family with strong religious beliefs, you would have been circumcised and will not have a foreskin. However if you do happen to not be circumcised, or are in a sexual arrangement with someone who isn’t then read on-this may apply to you.
In infants, the foreskin is tight and stuck to the glans, but normally begins to separate at about the age of 3 or 4. After the age of 7, it is usually possible to pull the foreskin back over the head (or glans) of the penis, but in some boys this is not possible before the age of 14 or 15. If you are 15 or over and cannot pull your foreskin back, it may be too tight and as such susceptible to harbouring many forms of bacteria, yeast and fungus which may develop into penile infections that are cancerous.
Many may debate that a circumcised penis feels better when having sex to the penetrating partner and some may say that a circumcised penis even lowers the risk of contracting STI’s including HIV. However, these rumors are all untrue and there is no scientific or medical research that has proven this to be true. A penis without its foreskin is just as good as one with it. Being circumcised just makes the penis a lot easier to keep clean and further arguments, like, “men like the streamline and clean looks of a circumcised cock” are just a matter of opinion.
A tight foreskin is called phimosis. If you have phimosis, you will not be able to wash under your foreskin properly, so a white, cheesy material called smegma can accumulate. Also, if the condition is severe, it may be painful when the penis is erect. Some men have phimosis from childhood, but it can also occur later in life, perhaps as a result of several thrush infections affecting the head of the penis. Another common reason is a skin condition called balanitis xerotica obliterans, which makes the foreskin pale and thickened. The cause of this condition remains unknown; it is not an infection.
A clean penis is very appealing. The appearance and smell can be alluring to one’s partner and is an important considering factor in performing oral or anal sex-especially if unprotected. This article is not about promoting unprotected sex-a condom should be used while having sex, everytime. However, it is imperative for uncircumcised men to clean under the foreskin. Without regular cleaning, a build-up of a pungent, white-yellow substance known as ‘smegma’ can occur under the foreskin. Smegma can look like pus to the untrained eye; it tends to build up within a rapid 24 hour span for most men (due to heat and moisture) if under the foreskin are not cleaned.
Generally, irritants such as bubble baths, lotion or harsh soaps may cause irritation to the head of the penis of an uncircumcised man. To remedy this, wash gently under the foreskin with clean running water. A nappy rash cream or hydrocortisone ointment may be useful.
If it is very tight, there is no point in trying to force the foreskin back: you will only cause painful cracks on the inside of the foreskin, which will scar as they heal and make it worse. Instead, try gentle stretching, and here is some advice on how to do this.
If this does not solve the problem, you probably need an operation. Circumcision is the most common operation but often time is an extreme and unwarranted resort.
Circumcision is a minor surgery where the surgeon separates the foreskin from the head of the penis (if it is stuck down), cuts the foreskin away and closes the incision with stitches. The glans will seem very sensitive after the operation, because it is not used to being exposed, thus resulting in some discomfort. Most men have erections during their sleep, so for a few weeks after the operation, you may wake in the middle of the night with a sore and bloody penis; taking a pain-relieving medication at bedtime will help. Wear loose linen-cotton boxer shorts and use a condom during sex for the first month or two.
‘Preputioplasty’ is a lesser but more expensive operation. It involves making a vertical incision in the foreskin and then stitching it crosswise to widen the opening; it usually leaves a very normal appearance.
If the doctor thinks the cause is balanitis xerotica obliterans, steroid creams will be used first; this often relieves the condition for several years, but eventually circumcision is usually needed.