Carnal Knowledge: Circumcision and Cleanliness

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Carnal Knowledge

In the last column we took on the myths surrounding vaginal health and cleanliness. We’re equal opportunity writers, so now we turn to the penis, because how many times have you heard someone describe an uncircumcised penis as “gross” or “dirty?”

There might not be special soaps and cleansers for men (there isn’t a male equivalent to Summer’s Eve – Summer’s Adam?- as far as we can tell) but intact men can face the same damaging messages women have heard about their genitals: that they’re dirty, smelly, or weird-looking.

I never really knew how damaging these messages could be until a friend of mine who is a newly-minted doctor told a group of us about a fourteen year old who showed up in the ER after cutting off his own foreskin with a pair of scissors.

We think it goes without saying that no one should ever be made to feel that ashamed of a body part, especially when its based off of myths and loose medical arguments.

We can get to a place where we’re not making fun of someone’s genitals by understanding what it is we’re looking at and why its a normal part of the body.

The foreskin actually serves a purpose. It protects the head of the penis which is very sensitive, helps with lubrication for sex, and can add increased sexual sensation. Just like the vagina produces discharge, the foreskin produces smegma – and this where the bulk of negative messages about being uncircumcised derive.

Smegma is a mix of oils, moisture, and dead skin cells. It is as natural as vaginal discharge is. It helps the foreskin slide back and forth over the head and assists with lubrication.

Smegma builds up every day, so it is important to clean the penis daily and after sex or masturbation.

All you need to do is pull back the foreskin so the head is exposed and wash with warm water–that’s it.

With the practice of proper hygiene, smegma should not cause a foul odor. Poor hygiene can lead up to a buildup of bad bacteria that will require medical attention.

It’s safe to say an uncircumcised penis is no less clean than one that is, it just requires a little more attention to detail.

The belief that intact penises are dirty also, stems from studies that have shown circumcision reduces the risk of STIs and HIV. It is important to realize that the same reduction in risk for STIs and HIV can be achieved by – drumroll please – washing up after sex.

We hope we didn’t disappoint anyone but having a circumcised penis doesn’t make you a magical STI and HIV resistant demi-god. The bottom line is if you’re not practicing safer sex, you’re at risk of STIs and HIV, cut or uncut.