4 Common Problems of an Uncircumcised Penis
About 37 to 39 percent of men worldwide are circumcised, according to a 2016 study, leaving 60 percent or more who aren’t.
The practice of circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin—the skin that covers the penis tip—usually happens in infancy. The procedure also varies by country: In Morocco, 99.9 percent of men are circumcised, while in Ecuador, only about 0.11 percent of men undergo the procedure. In the United States, about 80 percent of men are circumcised.
The penis is subject to a wide range of disorders and diseases whether it’s circumcised or not, but men with intact foreskins may be at higher risk for specific conditions.
Tightness caused by phimosis
Phimosis is a condition where the foreskin is too tight to be pulled back from the penis head, or glans. Even if the tightness of the foreskin isn’t quite phimosis-level, difficulty retracting the skin around the glans can cause problems.
Phimosis can lead to scarring—caused by forcing the foreskin back—and inflammation. In addition, men with phimosis may be more prone to infection due to irritation, or simply because they cannot move the foreskin enough to adequately wash it.
While it’s common for uncircumcised boys to be unable to retract their foreskin until around 3 years old, the foreskin should be fully retractable by age 17.
Treatments for phimosis include the following:
- Topical cream. Typically, betamethasone valerate (a corticosteroid) is used to help ease down the foreskin. Before using any topical options, however, treat any infection or irritation that makes your foreskin or penis uncomfortable.
- Retract the foreskin daily. By gently pulling back the foreskin each day, you can loosen the tissue over time. Your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream to aid the process.
- Circumcision. This may be considered the most extreme option, but a full or even partial circumcision is sometimes the only way to deal with a constant string of infections, permanent inflammation or debilitating tightness.
If a person with an excessively tight foreskin does manage to get it retracted below the head of the penis, it can sometimes get stuck there. This results in paraphimosis, which can cause blood and fluid to become trapped around the area. If the condition is left untreated for several hours, or if the trapped foreskin prevents blood flow, the result can be a medical emergency, and could potentially even lead to gangrene.
Medical staff can help restore the foreskin, often after a local anesthetic has been applied. Sometimes it might be necessary for a doctor to create a small incision in the foreskin to relieve the pressure.
To prevent paraphimosis from occurring, men should practice gentle, daily stretching exercises that involve carefully pulling back the foreskin, and use corticosteroid creams. The worst-case scenario would call for full or partial circumcision.
A common infection, balanitis affects 3 to 11 percent of men, especially those who are uncircumcised. Not paying attention to regular cleaning is a common reason balanitis develops. Another common cause is if the foreskin gets cut or nicked and allows microbes a place to take hold.
Some balanitis symptoms include:
- White spots around the glans (penis head) and foreskin
- Painful urination
- Soreness or itchiness around the glans and shaft
- Foul-smelling, thick discharge
Balanitis can be caused by bacteria, yeast or a chronic skin condition, so it’s essential to see your doctor to identify the correct cause and match that to the best treatment. Usually, a topical cream is enough to treat balanitis once it shows up.
Prevention of balanitis involves a cleaning regimen and proper underwear. Observe these habits:
- Take a daily shower, especially after sex or exercise
- Thoroughly dry your penis after showering
- Carefully clean the area beneath the foreskin daily
- Avoid perfumed soaps or body sprays in the area
- Wear clean, dry underwear
Dry skin and yeast infections
We've covered excessive moisture and balanitis, but dryness under and around your foreskin can cause issues such as a yeast infection. Unprotected sex with someone who has a yeast infection can cause you to have a yeast infection, but you can develop one on your own if you don’t clean the genital area sufficiently.
Watch for the following symptoms of a yeast infection:
- White or red bumps on the penis
- Redness or irritation
- Chunky, cottage cheese-like discharge from beneath the foreskin
- Tightness of the foreskin
Antifungal creams and ointments are the best treatment for a yeast infection, but make sure you consult your doctor to confirm that’s actually the problem, especially if the potions you use aren’t working. Your doctor will be able to prescribe something stronger to deal with the issue.
You can reduce your chances of contracting yeast infections in the first place by following these practices:
- Clean under the foreskin daily
- Avoid scented hygiene products, which can cause irritation
- Wear clean, dry underwear
- Avoid unprotected sex
To be clear, nothing is inherently unhealthy or unhygienic about an uncircumcised penis. Daily cleaning and some common-sense procedures make it easy for anyone with an uncircumcised penis to avoid the worst of these issues.