Foreskins and Circumcision 101

Your handy intro to foreskins, phimosis, and male circumcision

Questions, worries and concerns about foreskins appear in many men’s health forums – and it’s likely this will continue until someone decides it’s important for lads to learn about their body parts.

With this is mind, Fumble brings you the 101 on foreskins and male circumcision!


The foreskin

The foreskin is that lovely fold of skin which covers the end – or glans – of the penis. When boys are born, the foreskin is connected to the head of the penis, which means you can’t pull it back.

For most boys, the foreskin should start to separate naturally from the glans from the age of about two onwards, so it becomes retractable. But as they get older, some lads might find they have difficulties with pulling back their foreskin.

There are a few reasons why this may be happening:


A foreskin that struggles to retract could be caused by a tightness, which is also called ‘phimosis’. This can sometimes be painful, especially when the penis is erect – and can make passing urine difficult.

Topical steroids are sometimes prescribed to treat a tight foreskin. Using this can help soften the skin of the foreskin, making it easier to retract.

But if it starts to cause recurring infections, pain, skin splitting, or a lack of sensation during sex then circumcision would be advised.


This is when the foreskin struggles to return to its original position after being retracted. It causes the glans to become painful and swollen and may need quick medical treatment to avoid any complications, such as increased pain, swelling and restricted blood flow to the penis.


Balantis is a skin irritation on the head of the penis that can affect men and boys. It occurs far more often in men and boys who haven’t been circumcised. Symptoms include:

  • a sore, itchy and smelly penis
  • redness and swelling
  • build-up of thick fluid
  • pain when peeing

If you have balanitis, you should clean your penis daily with lukewarm water and gently dry it. Avoid using soap, bubble bath, shampoo or any other potential irritant and dry gently under the foreskin after going to the loo.

Most cases can be easily treated with good washing skills, and creams or ointments recommended by a GP, so if you are worried about any of these issues, head to the doctor. 


Male circumcision refers to the surgical removal of the foreskin.

There are two main reasons a person might be circumcised. The first is for religious or cultural reasons – male circumcision still a common practice in many Jewish and Islamic communities, and in some African communities.

The second reason for getting circumcised is for medical purposes  – such as a last resort to fix-up conditions such as a too-tight foreskin.

According to NHS choicesthere is some evidence that circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexual men acquiring HIV, so circumcision is also encouraged as part of HIV prevention programmes in some African countries with high rates of HIV.

How does circumcision work? 

The majority of male circumcisions are carried out on a day-patient basis – being admitted to hospital and going home on the same day you have surgery.

It is a simple, low-risk procedure, typically carried out under general anaesthetic.

The foreskin is removed just behind the head of the penis and cauterised. The remaining edges of skin are then stitched together using dissolvable stitches.

It usually takes around 10 days for the penis to heal after circumcision. Your doctor will give you advice on how to take care of yourself post-op – but don’t worry, you’ll be back up and running in no time! 

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