How to Properly Care for an Uncircumcised Penis

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With the rates of circumcision on the downturn, more parents are wondering about the meaning of being uncircumcised. An uncircumcised penis is the natural default state, present at birth, with the foreskin intact. Circumcision removes the foreskin and is performed for a variety of cultural reasons on newborns, and as a treatment for some conditions for older boys and men.

Often, once parents make the decision to not circumcise their baby boy, they're unaware of what to do with their child's uncircumcised penis. Parents (and their sons) often have heard confusing, conflicting, or just plain wrong information about how to care for the uncircumcised penis. Let's set the record straight on what's normal, what's a problem, and what's an emergency.

What Does It Mean to Have a Normal Uncircumcised Penis?

When a male child is born, his penis still has a layer of skin protection over the head (glans). This layer is called the "foreskin" or "prepuce." At birth, the foreskin is still attached to the head of the penis. This is completely normal and does not mean there's something wrong. As the boy gets older, the foreskin begins to separate naturally from the head of the penis (retract).

As the foreskin starts to retract, sometimes a white, cheesy material builds up under the foreskin. The material, called "smegma," is made up of the skin cells that slough off during the separation process. Sometimes smegma may develop into white pearl-like lumps. Though either can look like an infection or a cyst, they're both completely normal.

Foreskins Should Not Be Forced

Parents are often concerned that the foreskin isn't separating fast enough, and they will make the mistake of pulling on it to “loosen” it from the head.

Never pull hard on the foreskin to separate it from the tip of the penis.

In addition to pain and bleeding, the trauma of pulling on the foreskin can cause a kind of scar tissue to form between the foreskin and the head of the penis. This scar tissue can interfere with normal and natural separation. Basically, you're creating a permanent problem by forcing the foreskin back, instead of letting nature take its course.

The foreskin usually doesn't completely separate from the head of the penis until the time puberty hits, although it sometimes happens in boys as young as 5 years old.

Uncircumcised Penis Care

The best advice for parents is to encourage your son to keep the outside of the penis clean. When it comes to cleansing the foreskin, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that an occasional retraction with cleansing beneath will do for boys who haven't reached puberty.

There's no need to do any special cleansing. Simply pull the foreskin back away from the end of the penis as far as is comfortable, wash the head of the penis and the inside fold of the foreskin and rinse well with water (soap can irritate the sensitive skin on the head of the penis), then pull the foreskin back over the penis. Once they start puberty, boys should clean beneath their foreskin as part of their daily routine.

When to Call the Doctor

If your son has hit puberty and the foreskin is still stuck to the head of the penis, it may be time to call your pediatrician or family healthcare provider. Your provider can prescribe a steroid cream that can speed up the process of separation. It's a simple treatment that has good results.

If the foreskin looks red and/or swollen, or if it's painful for your son to urinate, he may have an infection of the foreskin or a urinary tract infection. It's important for a provider to treat this infection as it can get worse without treatment.

If the foreskin won't retract at all, the foreskin may still be attached to the head of the penis, which can be normal depending on the child's age. Additionally, the end of the foreskin can become too tight for it to come back over the head of the penis. These issues, called phimosis, can also be treated by your provider with a steroid cream or, if necessary, by circumcision depending upon the situation.

Paraphimosis is another problem that is an emergency. With paraphimosis, the foreskin has been pushed back over the head of the penis, but it becomes stuck behind the head so that it can't be pulled back down over the glans. This can be quite painful, and the tight skin can begin to cut off normal blood flow to the head of the penis. If your son has this problem, it's important for him to see a doctor right away.

If your doctor isn't immediately available, a trip to the emergency room will be necessary. With some lubrication, a provider can help get the foreskin back over the head of the penis or sometimes an emergency circumcision is necessary.

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Article Sources

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  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Care of the Uncircumcised Penis. Updated June 2007.


  3. Hayashi Y, Kojima Y, Mizuno K, Kohri K. Prepuce: Phimosis, Paraphimosis, and Circumcision. Scientific World Journal. 2011;11:289-301. doi:10.1100/tsw.2011.31

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