The Foreskin : A guide to Circumcision

The foreskin is a layer of skin which covers the glans (head of the penis). This retractable layer starts from behind the glans, before doubling back on itself to form another layer.

The structure of the penis consists of the head (glans), the shaft (the long, tubular shape covered by penile skin) and the root (base of the penis which attaches it to the lower abdomen). The head of the penis is covered by the foreskin or ‘prepuce’ which folds over itself to form a double layer.

The inner layer of the foreskin contains a mucous membrane which is highly erogenous, especially when aroused. During arousal, it develops numerous ridges which become highly sensitive around the opening to the foreskin.


This ridged layer surrounds the glans and connects to a fleshy attachment underneath called the ‘frenulum’. The frenulum varies in length from one man to another and it is this length which determines how far the foreskin can be pulled back over the glans.

The frenulum is the most sensitive area of the penis.

A typical foreskin contains veins, capillaries, arteries, nerves fibres and endings. It is as sensitive as the lips or fingertips and contains more nerve endings than any other part of the penis.

The foreskin characterises more than half of the skin surface of the penis.

At birth, the foreskin is merged with the glans but separates itself from this over a period of time.

Role of the foreskin

The foreskin has three functions:

  • Sensory
  • Protective
  • Sexual


It also contains millions of receptive nerve endings which can detect movement and changes in body temperature.

The nerve endings are located within an area called the ‘ridged band’which acts as a junction between the inner layer of the foreskin and the shaft skin. This band is elastic and sensitive which also enables the foreskin to be pulled back.

The ridged band is also responsible for these erogenous sensations.


Its main function is to protect the glans and help keep it warm, moist and sensitive. It produces an oil called sebum which enables this moisture and generally, to remain in tip top health.


When aroused the penis increases in length and girth. The foreskin is both long and flexible enough to accommodate this expansion. It also enables the inner layer to move easily over the shaft and glans.

The amount of coverage of the glans and shaft varies between individuals. Some men will have more coverage than others but whether minimal or full, all variations of coverage are normal.

Foreskin hygiene

It is important to clean under the foreskin every day. Boys need to be taught this as soon as possible to prevent the risk of infection. The reason for this is smegma: smegma is a white, wax-like substance which is comprised of dead skin cells and natural secretions that develops around genitals.

Smegma can lead to an infection so it is important to remove this on a regular basis.

This is very easy to do and involves rinsing warm water around the penis (and the foreskin) whilst having a bath or shower. Avoid using harsh soaps or shower gels which can irritate the glans and result in a condition called balanitis.

Balanitis is discussed further as a medical reason for circumcision within our why circumcision section.

This section contains a short overview of the male sexual anatomy. The next section acts as an introduction to circumcision.


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