What Is the Foreskin Good For?

Medically Reviewed on 6/15/2022
What Is the Foreskin Good For
The foreskin has several roles in penis health: protects the penis head, maintains sensation, reduces friction, and contributes to immune system function.

The foreskin has several roles in penis health:

  • Protects the head of the penis
  • Maintains sensation and response to stimulation
  • Reduces friction with sexual penetration
  • Contributes to immune system function due to the presence of immune cells

What is the foreskin?

The foreskin is a sheath of skin that covers the head of the penis and is fully attached to the penis at birth. In newborns, the foreskin cannot be retracted or pulled back. During this stage, parents should not retract their child’s foreskin to clean the penis.

Over time, the foreskin separates from the penis head and can be pulled back. At this stage, parents can teach their boys to pull back the foreskin to clean the penis regularly.

What are the risks of having a foreskin?

Due to the damp nature of the foreskin, it is easier for germs to thrive and cause infection, which can lead to an increased risk of the following:

Should a male child undergo circumcision?

Circumcision involves the removal of the foreskin, and there is some debate over whether or not this practice is necessary or advisable. Factors that may affect a parent’s decision on the issue include culture, religion, and personal preferences.

The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests that parents discuss with their pediatrician about the potential benefits and risks of circumcision before making a decision.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. However, the benefits are not great enough to make circumcision a requirement for all newborns.

When is circumcision recommended?

The following conditions can affect the foreskin:

  • Phimosis: Condition in which the foreskin remains attached to the penis and doesn’t separate when it should
  • Balanoposthitis: Inflammation of the foreskin and head of the penis
  • Paraphimosis: Condition in which the foreskin gets stuck behind the head of the penis
  • Posthitis: Infection of the foreskin

These conditions may necessitate circumcision.

When should circumcision be avoided?

Some conditions where surgical removal of the foreskin should be avoided include the following:

  • Premature birth
  • Chordee (abnormal curvature of the penis)
  • Hypospadias (urethral opening on the base of the penis instead of at the tip)
  • Epispadias (urethral opening on the upper surface of the penis)
  • Concealed or buried penis
  • Micropenis (abnormally small penis)
  • Webbed penis (the scrotum is attached to the penis by a web of skin)
  • Ambiguous genitals
  • Bleeding disorders


Newborn babies don't sleep very much. See Answer

How can you help your child clean their foreskin?

Regular cleaning and hygiene of the foreskin are extremely crucial for penile health.

Before age 1

  • Clean the foreskin only.
  • Do not retract the foreskin.
  • Avoid putting cotton swabs into the opening.

After age 1

Once the foreskin starts to retract, clean beneath it to prevent infections:

  • Wash the exposed part of the penis with warm water and dry it.
  • Avoid washing the area with soap.
  • Wipe away any whitish material (smegma).
  • Clean the area at least once a week.

If any attempt to retract the foreskin has led to a small cut or tear, the wound can be cared for with

  • antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin or
  • petroleum jelly.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/15/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

"Circumcision." Sept. 8, 2020. FamilyDoctor.org. <https://familydoctor.org/circumcision/>.

"Circumcision." Jan. 23, 2021. Cleveland Clinic. <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16194-circumcision>.