The foreskin (also called the prepuce) is a movable sheath of skin that covers the head of the penis. It can be retracted (pulled back toward the abdomen). It can also become irritated, infected or stuck in place.
The foreskin is an outer layer of skin that covers the head of the penis (the glans). The penis is part of the reproductive system traditionally described as male. The foreskin is also called the prepuce.
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The purpose of the foreskin has been a subject of debate. Some researchers believe that the foreskin protects your penis and helps in reproduction by increasing pleasure. Other researchers believe that the foreskin may increases the likelihood of certain disease.
These conflicting points of view are often given in debates about the need for circumcision, or the removal of the foreskin, which is often performed on infants. Circumcision is considered a religious rite within some groups of people and a beneficial medical procedure among others.
The foreskin refers to a somewhat loose volume of extra skin that covers the head of the penis while the penis is in a flaccid state (not erect). The foreskin is movable. It can be pulled back (retracted) so you can clean the head of your penis.
The foreskin is slightly darker in color than the skin color of your body.
Common conditions that affect the foreskin may also affect your whole penis. Some of these conditions include:
Signs or symptoms of diseases that affect the foreskin may include:
Your provider will do a physical examination and ask you questions about what’s bothering you. They will look at your penis and foreskin. If necessary, your provider may swab any discharge or smegma to see if there’s an infection.
Treatments for conditions that affect the foreskin will depend on the actual condition. Therapies may include:
There are some tips for making sure that you and your reproductive system, including your foreskin, stay healthy. You probably know about the usual recommendations — eating healthy, staying hydrated, exercising and not smoking.
Tips that are more specific to your foreskin include:
Usually, you can retract your foreskin behind the ridge of your penis. You should move it far enough back while you’re peeing to see the meatus (the hole where urine comes out).
Retracting your foreskin isn’t supposed to hurt. Everyone’s foreskin is different, and retraction becomes possible at different ages.
You should gently pull the skin of your penis back toward your belly. This should make the foreskin open up and begin sliding backward.
If you can’t get your foreskin to retract once or twice, it’s not a problem. If it happens often, or if it hurts to try to move the skin of your penis, contact your healthcare provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you haven’t been circumcised, you have a foreskin. This is a sheath covering the head of your penis. Keeping it clean is important. That should help prevent some conditions that can occur with the foreskin, like infections. If you do have pain or itching or any other symptom that concerns you, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you find a solution.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/31/2022.
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