The foreskin is an important part of the penis, as it serves to protect the glans and provide pleasure for both a man and his partner. Common misconceptions of the foreskin is that it is just skin, it’s difficult to keep clean, or that it is prone to infection. This is hardly the case!
The foreskin is an integral part of the penis and does not require special care. The foreskin goes through a process of development that is pain free. Circumcision is a painful invasive treatment for problems that may occur with the foreskin. However, these problems are often preventable and alternative treatments should be considered that help to preserve the foreskin and prevent unnecessary harm.
The Foreskin covers the glans penis and protects the penis from the external environment. It is a folded double layering of skin, mucosal membrane and muscle. On the surface, the foreskin appears to be just skin. However, within the skin itself is a smooth muscle known as the dartos fascia. The dartos fascia is highly elastic and helps to regulate temperature. The muscle’s fibers run parallel to the penile shaft and then forms a whirl of muscle at the tip of the foreskin where it forms a sphincter muscle and is constricted, keeping the penis snug. It relaxes upon urination.
The inner foreskin layer is solely made of mucosal membrane. It is made up of a series of pleats called the ridged mucosa. Lining each ridge are erogenous nerve endings known as the Meissner’s Corpuscles. These nerve endings are stimulated through the bunching and stretching of the foreskin as it glides along the penile shaft. Merging with the ridged mucosa is another part of the penis called the frenulum. The frenulum is a muscular ligament located toward the back of the penis and is designed to regulate the movement of the foreskin. It is also densely packed with Meissner’s Corpuscles.
Care of the Foreskin:
At birth, the foreskin is fused to the glans penis by a membrane. Over time, the foreskin gradually separates itself from the foreskin until it becomes fully retractable. This means the foreskin can easily be pulled back over the head of the penis and move along the penile shaft. This is often a slow process; the length of time varies from boy to boy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average age for a boy to be able to fully retract his foreskin is 10.5 years.
Care of the foreskin is very easy. Never force the foreskin back over the glans as this can tear the underlying tissue, cause scar tissue, and be a breeding ground for germs – this can lead to infection! Forcible retraction of the foreskin can also cause paraphimosis, where the foreskin has difficulty returning back over the glans.
Before the foreskin becomes retractable, only clean what is seen – the outside. Once the foreskin has completed its natural separation from the glans penis, simply follow the 3R Rule:
- RETRACT the foreskin (when it is retractable)
- RINSE the penis with warm water; do not use soap or other cleaning products as this can irritate the glans penis
- RETURN the foreskin back over the glans penis.
Problems that May Occur with Foreskin and Non-Invasive Solutions:
The foreskin rarely presents a problem, but like any part of the body, problems can occur. Two problems that can involve the foreskin are phimosis and balanitis. Doctors often out of hand recommend circumcision as a cure for these two problems. However, circumcision is a last resort, invasive procedure. It reduces pleasure and puts the head of the penis in harm’s way. There are, of course, less invasive alternatives to these problems.
For some men, the foreskin does not retract. A non-retractable or tight foreskin among men is known as phimosis. There are several degrees of Phimosis based on the level of severity: Grade 0 is full retractability, Grade 1 is full retraction but tight behind glans, Grade 2 is partial exposure of glans, Grade 3 is partial retraction with meatus just visible, Grade 4 is slight retraction but neither meatus nor glans visible, and Grade 5 is absolutely no retraction. Phimosis is treatable with Betamethasone Valerate, a topical medication that relaxes the skin. It is used in combination with manual stretching or with the help of phimosis stretching devices. Phimosis treatment typically lasts between 6 months to a year.
Circumcision is often prescribed as a treatment for balanitis, an uncommon inflammation of the glans penis (the head.) Symptoms may involve swelling of the glans, pus and hardening the foreskin with white plaque making retraction difficult. When treated, balanitis is not a serious problem. It can be treated with antibiotics, steroidal creams, or homeopathic treatments such as acidophilus culture.
Foreskin is an amazing anatomical structure nature provides to males. Circumcision can cause many problems, both immediate and long-term. It leads to loss of sensation and causes the head of the penis to become dry and leathery over time. If problems occur with the foreskin, circumcision should never be the one and only solution. Alternative measures should always be considered, preserving the important functions of the foreskin and optimal health of the penis overall.