Foreskins are a funny thing. Whatever you think about yours (or anyone else's), you're unlikely to be alone.

About 5% of people cannot retract their foreskins fully

Foreskin figures

Foreskin is the hood of loose skin around the penis head that all men are born with. In the US just under 50% of the population have been circumcised. Here it's much less - 6% of men over the age of 15 in the UK have had it done - so lots more foreskins to talk about!


Don't believe the hype: uncut does not equal unclean. All penises have a unique smell, and smegma (the white cheesy stuff that appears from nowhere under the foreskin) is a completely natural build up.

However you should wash under your foreskin every day to avoid smelling cheesy.

To do this effectively, gently pull back your foreskin, wash with warm water and gentle (un-perfumed) soap and pat dry. Then replace the foreskin and admire.

Red, inflamed foreskin?

This is known in the trade as balanitis, and is very common at any age. Symptoms include soreness, itching and even white lumpy discharge under the foreskin.

Regular cleansing of the foreskin makes infection less likely. If symptoms don't go away in a day or so you should get checked out by a doctor.

Spots on the foreskin?

Any new sores or lumps on your genitals need checking out, especially if you've been having sex. Even if they seem to disappear.

Saying that, those little white spots under your foreskin in a ring around the head of your penis are perfectly normal - they're called Pearly Penile Papules. But if in doubt, check it out.

Too tight?

About 5% of people cannot retract their foreskins fully. This may make it difficult to keep clean and it may be painful to pee, masturbate or have sex.

We can Gently (capital G) encourage our foreskin to stretch by retracting it back slowly and gradually. Over time (this may take a few weeks) it should get comfortable to retract even when the penis is erect.

If it doesn't get any better, see your GP. The most common medical reason for a circumcision is a foreskin that's too tight, but this may not be necessary. There are creams that can be tried first.

Help! My foreskin's stuck!

Very occasionally, a tight foreskin gets trapped beyond the head of our penis and won't go back. The end of the penis swells up, making the problem worse.

If you really can't push your foreskin back, go (hobble) to your doctor. You may feel slightly awkward, but embarrassment is nothing compared to a broken penis. Tell the doc you suspect you may have a paraphimosis (para-fy-mow-sis). That'll impress.


There is a strip of skin called the frenulum that tethers our foreskin to the underside of our penis. Sometimes it can tear during sex. Needless to say the more vigorous we are, or the less ready (more dry) she is, the more likely it is to happen.

Don't panic - there's no need to see the doc for this one. Just keep the area clean and dry for a few days, and avoid sex until it heals up, then go gently.

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.


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