Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a circumcised and uncircumcised penis? If you guessed foreskin, you’re absolutely right. But is there more to an uncircumcised penis than extra skin? In the U.S., circumcision rates have been steadily declining and only one-third of infants are being circumcised. That means there will be a lot more foreskins in locker rooms and bedrooms in the coming years. It would be wise for both men and women to learn more about the uncircumcised penis’ anatomy, functions and care, not to mention the pleasures associated with the foreskin.
How Many Men Are Intact?
It’s difficult to know the exact number of penis owners in the world who are uncircumcised, or intact. Many variables come into play, such as religion, cultural practices, and socioeconomic factors that impact the decision to keep or remove the foreskin. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a 2007 report which estimated the uncircumcised penis rates of males was approximately 67 to 70% worldwide. Of males 15 years and older who were not Muslim or Jewish, the WHO estimated the percentage of uncircumcised males for the following countries: 25% of American men, 41% of Australian men, 65% of South African men, 70% of Canadian men, and 94% of men from the United Kingdom. Most Latin American and European men are uncircumcised, but it is rare to find Jewish or Muslim men who are uncircumcised.
The basic penile anatomy is made up of the root, shaft, glans, corona, frenulum, urethral opening, and foreskin. The root is the internal portion of the penis inside of a male’s body. The shaft is the trunk of the penis which extends from the base of the penis outward. The glans is the head of the penis and the corona is the rim of the penile glans that separates the shaft and glans. The frenulum is an elastic band of tissue on the underneath area of the penis which helps connect the glans to the foreskin. The foreskin, also called the prepuce, is a double layer of tissue that covers and protects the glans. The transitional area of the internal and external foreskin is called the ridged band. To locate the ridged band, follow your soft penis outward until you reach the end of your foreskin. When the foreskin ends (but really turns inward), you’ve discovered your ridged band.
There are many variations of uncircumcised penis’, and, like the vulva, no two are exactly alike. Most men with intact foreskin vary in their visual appearance, whether they are flaccid or erect. Typically, most men have their foreskin fully or partially covering their glans. In 1966, Schöberlein researched uncircumcised penises and discovered that in his sample, 50% of young men had full coverage of the glans, 42% had partial coverage of the glans, and 8% of the glans were uncovered.
When an uncircumcised penis is erect, sometimes the foreskin will retract and appear to blend with the shaft of the penis, giving it a similar appearance to an erect, circumcised penis. It can make it difficult to tell if someone has foreskin. While some erect intact men “blend,” other uncircumcised penises will have foreskin that partially or fully covers the glans, making it apparent to partners that they are uncircumcised.
Someone with a sharp eye may notice that erect, uncircumcised men often have a softening of the skin and discoloration on the shaft near the corona. This is due to the moistening effect of being covered by the foreskin. The skin area has not been keratinized because it is not exposed to air and friction like a circumcised penis. Some have hypothesized this soften skin is thinner and more susceptible to tearing. In 2012, Dinh et al. found the thickness of this skin to be the similar in both circumcised and uncircumcised men.
In some cases, men may be born with foreskin that is tight and constricted, which may lead to a medical condition called Phimosis. Paraphimosis is a condition where tight foreskin causes swelling near the corona and penile shaft. Frenulum breve is a medical condition where a shortened frenulum makes it difficult for the foreskin to fully retract. Aposthia is a condition where an infant is born without foreskin. With each of these conditions, it is recommended individuals seek medical attention from a trained and qualified medical professional.
Functions of the Foreskin
The ancient Greeks use to pull their foreskin over the heads of their penis and tie it with a thin leather strip called a kynodesme. They did this because it was considered obscene and offensive to show the glans of a penis, especially in public. In this historical instance, the foreskin’s function was to serve as a barrier. As it happens, the foreskin has a number of functions besides protecting Greek onlookers from seeing the head of the penis.
The male foreskin is homologous to the female clitoral hood. The Greek word “homologos” means “similar or equivalent” (homo) and “in relation” (logos). In utero, our bodies use the same tissue to protect a clitoris or to protect a penis, both of which are called phalluses. One of the main functions of the foreskin is to protect the penile glans. Men with foreskin have a barrier which can offer a cushion and protect the glans from abrasions and friction.
Another foreskin function is to keep the glans moist to facilitate penetration. Some liken the relationship of the foreskin and glans to our eye lid and eyeball, which is why this skin on the glans area remains moist and soft. It is believed this moisturized, less keratinized skin aids in initial insertion for penetration. During intercourse, the foreskin also helps to create a gliding motion during intercourse, which can reduce pain and friction inside the vagina. Lastly, the foreskin enhances sexual pleasure because of the enormous amount of nerve endings located in the foreskin.
Uncircumcised Penile Care
It’s very common for newborns and infants with foreskin to have their foreskin attached to the head of their penis. This is perfectly fine and there is no need to forcefully retract the foreskin. In most cases, the foreskin will naturally separate from the glans on its own. In 2005, Thorvaldsen and Meyhoff researched uncircumcised boys and newborns and found that 21% of 7-year-old boys had non-retractable foreskin and 7% of boys at puberty had non-retractable foreskin.
In 1968, Oyster found that approximately 5% of adolescents reaching adulthood had non-retractable foreskin. That means, as parents, we need to educate ourselves and our young penis owners to allow this separation to occur naturally and to not panic if separation occurs later in life. In the event the adult foreskin does not separate naturally, seek consultation with a medical professional to discuss options, especially if any pain is present during erection or penile stimulation.
One predominant myth is that having an uncircumcised penis’ is not hygienic. This is a question of cleaning. The reality is the foreskin is a part of our body, easily managed through regular cleansing, which can reduce the possibility of infection and the growth of smegma. Smegma is a fatty, oil-like substance naturally created by men around the foreskin as well as around the clitoris and the folds of the labia majora in women. Smegma accumulation can also have a distinct scent, which regular washing can remedy.
In 1968, Oyster found the increase in smegma incidence rose from approximately 1% in 6-9 year olds boys to 8% in 14-17 year olds. As boys mature into adolescence and adulthood, the production of smegma increases. Teaching young boys how to properly wash their uncircumcised penis and beneath their foreskin (after natural foreskin separation) is an important parenting issue for good penile care and hygiene.
Individuals with foreskin should also understand how to put on a condom, and the slight difference in method required when compared to a circumcised penis. When a person is erect, the foreskin should be pulled taut and retracted to the base of the penis with one hand. The glans of the penis should be fully exposed. Once this glans exposure occurs, take your other hand and place a condom on the head of the penis. Now you are holding the foreskin back near the base with one hand and the other hand will hold the condom on your glans.
Pinch the condom reservoir tip to prevent an air bubble, and begin to roll the condom down the exposed glans with both hands. Continue rolling the condom down the shaft until you reach the base of the penis. When you remove your hands, the condom will be comfortably covering the entire penis, including the foreskin, and the foreskin will return towards the glans of the penis. The condom-protected uncircumcised penis will be able to properly create the gliding motion during intercourse. This may require some practice, but it’s easily learned.
One of the most important functions of the foreskin is sexual pleasure. The foreskin is filled with thousands of sensitive nerve endings and sensory receptors. In 1996, Taylor et al. discovered a large number of Meissner Corpuscles nerve endings inside the ridged band of the foreskin. These nerve endings and sensory receptors are believed to enhance sexual pleasure for uncircumcised men. In 2002, Boyle et al. documented the male foreskin as containing thousand of nerve endings and fine touch receptors.
In 2007, Sorrells et al. did research comparing the sensory responses of circumcised and uncircumcised men. They tested 19 different penile locations on 160 men with sophisticated sensitivity measuring devices. They found the 5 most sensitive area on the intact penis were on the foreskin (most notably, the ridged band). The most sensitive area on the circumcised penis’ was the frenulum, which is the elastic band of tissue that connects the foreskin to the glans and the last remaining foreskin tissue.
Psychologically, many people find an uncircumcised penis visually arousing while some find intact foreskin to be unattractive. Others find an intact penis arousing because it isn’t common in their culture and the taboo nature of foreskin can be exciting, a sort of counterculture eroticism. In addition, the scent derived from having foreskin can be arousing for people and an olfactory turn-on that stimulates brain arousal. Just as the smell of our bodies and genitals can produce heightened arousal in partners, so can the scent from having foreskin.
To best enjoy an uncircumcised penis, it’s important to take your new understanding of the anatomy of the foreskin and learn how to utilize it for pleasure. While techniques are wonderful to learn, being excited, experimental, and playful with foreskin and the person they are attached to is equally important. Communication is essential to best understand how each individual enjoys having their penis and prepuce touched and stimulated. Don’t be afraid to get to know your own body or the body of your partner.
Hand jobs are slightly different for men with foreskin. Because of the extra skin, there is a gliding motion with stroking. While lubrication is encouraged for all hand jobs, uncircumcised men typically experience less friction or painful rubbing due to this glide. Some enjoy their foreskin pulled back taut to expose their glans while other men report exposing their head is extremely sensitive, and at times, too sensitive. For the men where direct glans touch is too sensitive, the foreskin can act as a buffer to cushion the stimulation. In addition, because we know the ridged band is highly sensitive, explore it. Partners and masturbators can pull their penis/foreskin outwards with one hand and stimulate the ridged band in a circular manner with fingers or a vibrator.
Fellatio with an intact penis also has variations that can be added for pleasure. Adding your favorite handjob techniques (twists, corkscrews, etc) with your hand and lubrication is a good blow job addition and a great way to take advantage of the gliding motion ability. Some partners will pull the foreskin firmly with their hand, bunch the foreskin over the glans, and suck or lick the tip of the accumulated foreskin. Other partners will suck firmly during oral sex to pull the foreskin into their mouth without their hands. People can use their tongues to circle the ridged band or gently insert their tongue in between the glans and foreskin to circle the head of the penis. Remember, the glans may be more sensitive given it has not been keratinized by outside exposure and years of rubbing against clothing, so check in with your partner on their pleasure and sensitivity.
Intercourse can also be different with an uncircumcised penis. Many bottom partners report feeling a difference between a penis with and without foreskin. The gliding motion that foreskin creates has been linked to reduced internal vaginal friction. This can be helpful with women who experience sexual pain while receiving intercourse. According to the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, an estimated 30% of women 18-59 years old experienced some difficulty with pain during their last sexual experience. Regardless of your foreskin status, it is highly recommended to use lube during vaginal and anal intercourse acts.
In addition, Frisch et al. (2011) found more frequent orgasm difficulties among circumcised men and their female partners were more likely to report orgasm difficulties, lower sexual satisfaction, and dyspareunia (painful intercourse). Although there are studies where no difference in female pleasure or female sexual pain during intercourse was found between circumcised and uncircumcised men, it is believed by many sexologists that the gliding motion the foreskin creates can help reduce pain for many women.
Foreskin pleasure can be experienced in a variety of ways beyond traditional sexual acts and behaviors. Many people enjoy playing with the foreskin, massaging and tugging it. Some people enjoy docking, which is pulling the foreskin so it engulfs around another partners penile glans or clitoris. Another great idea for foreskin pleasure is to use a vibrator and stimulate the foreskin and ridged band, which can be very intense and enjoyable. Get creative with foreskin.
Approximately 30-33% of men in the world have their foreskin removed through circumcision. Circumcision is defined as the removal of the male prepuce (foreskin) for medical, religious, or cultural purposes. Great controversy exist among medical professionals, researchers, advocates, and the public regarding circumcision and its effects on sexually transmitted infection transmission, certain types of cancers, and whether infant/adolescent circumcision for non-medical reasons is made without individual consent and, therefore, a violation of human rights.
Some individuals who have had their foreskin removed through circumcision elect to restore their foreskin. This can be done via surgical or non-surgical methods. Surgical foreskin reconstruction uses skin grafts from the body, typically the scrotum, and surgically attaches the grafts to the penile skin. Results are mixed, as some experience medical complications and others are unhappy with the look or feel of their surgically-created foreskin.
Most people opt for non-surgical, manual foreskin restoration. This is achieved through stretching the penile shaft tissue and leftover lining of the inner foreskin. There are a number of different techniques to recreate foreskin through stretching; these can include using weights, elastic straps, surgical tape, and foreskin restoration devices for tissue stretching. These techniques are supported by medical research that suggests tissue stretching can stimulate cellular growth and tissue regeneration. Foreskin restoration can take months or years to achieve desired glans coverage and foreskin sensitivity levels will likely be different given the difference in nerves endings present in original foreskin versus restored foreskin. In addition, some men elect to use artificial foreskin made of latex and other products to create the appearance and feel of foreskin.
Psychologically, restoring the foreskin has been reported to have positive effects on some individuals who mourn the loss of their foreskin. Some people feel having their foreskin removed was a violation of their body and consent was taken from them. Others may associate foreskin loss with not being protected by parents or caretakers. Individuals may feel anger, body image dissatisfaction, insecurity, and resentment towards parents, family, culture, religion, or people with intact penises. Foreskin restoration can help individuals heal from the pain associated with circumcision and the loss of their foreskin. Anyone considering foreskin restoration should seek out credible organizations, websites, books, and medical professionals before engaging in this practice.