What’s Normal and What Isn't About Penis Odor?
Penis odor can be a sensitive and embarrassing topic for men. But understanding what's normal, what isn't and when to be concerned is essential for maintaining sexual health and intimacy.
OK, so what are the factors that contribute to penis odor? What are the signs of abnormal smells and their possible causes? When should you seek help? How might penis odor affect your sexual health?
What does a normal penis smell like?
A penis typically emits a mild, musky scent that is not unpleasant. Everyone has a natural scent or distinct odor in the genital area that develops from a combination of factors, such as sweat, bacteria and other bodily secretions. What we eat and our general hygiene also contribute.
"It is important to note that scent can vary from person to person due to a variety of factors, including hygiene, diet (garlic, curry, etc.) and individual physiology," said James J. Elist, M.D., a urologist in Beverly Hills, California, who specializes in impotence and male sexual dysfunction.
Your default scent is probably familiar to you by now, and if your nose picks up something new or strange, it might be wise to investigate further.
Men should be mindful of any changes in their genital odor—particularly true when accompanied by other symptoms such as skin rashes on the scrotum, thigh or penis. This may be indicative of an underlying infection, whether sexually transmitted or otherwise.
Other signs to watch out for include the following:
- Yeast-like odor. This could indicate a possible yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of naturally occurring fungus.
- Unusual discharge. Discharge can be a sign of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other conditions, such as bacterial or fungal infections.
- Persistent itching/irritation. Skin conditions such as eczema or infections, including jock itch, may require antifungal or anti-inflammatory treatments.
- Pain and discomfort. Genitourinary issues such as infections, inflammation or injury may need medical attention.
- Burning sensation when urinating. Urinary tract problems, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or an STI, may require antibiotics or other treatments.
Unpleasant penis odors can be caused by something as simple as poor hygiene.
"Wash the penis once a day in the bath or shower. Use warm, not hot or cold water," said Deborah Lee, M.B., Ch.B., a sexual and reproductive health specialist at Dr Fox Pharmacy, an online doctor and pharmacy service in the United Kingdom. "Use simple, nonperfumed soap. Lather the soap between your hands, and wash the penis and testes. Then gently pull back the foreskin [if you're uncircumcised] and wash there, before rinsing off with water. Dry the area thoroughly, then replace the foreskin."
Other good practices include trimming pubic hair, wearing clean, breathable clothes, and practicing safer sex.
Trim pubic hair
Keep pubic hair trimmed or groomed to reduce sweat and odor buildup, as well as to minimize potential irritation or bacterial growth. Be cautious when using scissors or razors, though, to avoid injuries that may lead to infection.
Wear appropriate clothes
It’s important to wear clean clothes and to opt for breathable, moisture-wicking materials such as cotton for your underwear, which can help reduce the sweat and moisture buildup that contributes to odor. Avoid tight-fitting or synthetic materials that can trap heat and moisture and promote bacterial growth.
Practice safer sex
Barrier protection, such as condoms, worn during sexual activity can help prevent the transmission of infections that may cause unpleasant odors. Additionally, get regularly tested and be open when discussing sexual health with your partner(s).
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Trust your intuition. If your gut tells you something is off and smells wrong with your penis, it's a good idea to seek prompt medical attention.
What about circumcision?
Circumcision is endorsed in many cultures around the world. Removing the foreskin exposes the area under the head of the penis and allows for easier cleaning, reducing the likelihood of bacterial buildup. This in no way implies that uncircumcised penises are dirtier than circumcised ones.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the benefits of circumcision generally outweigh the risks. However, they emphasize the decision to circumcise should be made by the parents or individuals themselves, considering factors such as personal beliefs, culture and religious views.
The absence of foreskin means there is less surface area for sweat, dead skin cells and smegma—a mixture of dead skin cells, oils and other bodily fluids—to accumulate. As a result, circumcised men may find it easier to maintain proper hygiene in the genital area.
However, it is important to note that circumcision is not a guarantee against penis odor, and maintaining good hygiene remains essential for both circumcised and uncircumcised men.
Act sooner rather than later if something's wrong
Keep in mind that a little musky penis smell is natural, but if you notice a negative change in the way your intimate area smells, it may be time to take action. This could mean improving your general hygiene or seeking medical advice, if more concerning symptoms are present.
"A smelly penis is just as embarrassing for a man as a smelly vagina is for a woman," Lee said. "No one wants to feel they are unattractive—whether it’s the physical appearance or the smell. There’s no doubt that smell is an important sense and plays a key role in sexual arousal and the sexual response."
"A strong or unpleasant penis odor can impact sexual health and intimacy by causing discomfort or embarrassment for both partners," Elist added. "It may also be a sign of an underlying medical condition that could be contagious or impact fertility and overall sexual health."
Paying attention to your body is vital. It's always better to address potential issues early to ensure a healthy and fulfilling sex life. After all, your intimate encounters should be pleasurable and memorable, and the last thing you want is a distracting whiff throwing you off your game.
Take charge of your personal hygiene, be aware of any changes in your genital odor and don't hesitate to consult a healthcare professional if something seems amiss. By being proactive and well-informed, you can enjoy a more confident, carefree and satisfying sexual journey.