What Is the Foreskin? Anatomical and Physiological Facts That Your Doctor May Not Know
The prepuce is a common anatomical structure of the male and female external genitalia of all human and non-human primates; it has been present in primates for at least 65 million years, and is likely to be over 100 million years old, based on its commonality as an anatomical feature in mammals. Christopher J. Cold, M.D., and John R. Taylor, M.D.
WHAT IS THE FORESKIN?
The foreskin-also known as the prepuce-is the flexible, doublelayered sheath of specialized skin that covers and protects the glans (or head) of the normal privates. The foreskin is a uniquely specialized, sensitive, and functional organ of touch. No other part of the body serves the same purpose.
The foreskin is an integral and important part of the skin system of the privates. It is a complex and sophisticated structure with many interesting and unique properties. No other part of the body's skin covering duplicates the amazing design and functional possibilities of the foreskin. Among the many interesting features of the foreskin is the fact that it is highly elastic, entirely devoid of any subcutaneous fat, and lined with a sheet of smooth muscle.
The foreskin is more than just skin; it is a complex, highly mobile, and beautifully engineered organ composed of an intricate web of blood vessels, muscle, and nerves. In fact, the foreskin contains about 240 feet of nerve fibers and tens of thousands of specialized erotogenic nerve endings of various types, which can feel the slightest pressure, the lightest touch, the smallest motion, the subtlest changes in temperature, and the finest gradations in texture.
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Nature has designed the delicate glans (commonly called the head of the privates) to be an internal organ. In the normal, intact privates, the glans is a glistening, rich red or purple color. The foreskin protects the glans and keeps it in excellent condition.
In many ways, the foreskin is just like the eyelid. It covers, cleans, and protects the glans just as the eyelid covers, cleans, and protects the eye. Also, just as the eyelid can open and close to uncover the eye, so the foreskin can open to reveal the delicate glans. The foreskin's inside fold is lined with a smooth red tissue called mucous membrane. This type of tissue is also found lining the lips, the inside of the mouth, and the inner fold of the eyelid. The foreskin's soothing inner fold gently keeps the surface of the glans healthy, clean, shiny, warm, soft, moist, and sensitive.
WHAT IS THE TUBULAR TIP OF THE FORESKIN CALLED?
The akroposthion is the useful name that the ancient Greeks gave to the tubular, tapered "neck" of the foreskin that extends beyond the glans (head). The akroposthion smoothly extends beyond the glans, forming a soft, tapered, tubular sheath. This akroposthion of the foreskin functions as an extension of the urethra and conveys urine from the meatus (the urinary opening in the glans) to the outside world. The akroposthion varies in length between individuals. In childhood, it can represent at least half the length of the privates. Some boys have a foreskin that extends an inch or more beyond the glans. In other males, the akroposthion can be almost nonexistent, in which case the meatus and the surrounding portion of the glans may be exposed. Whatever the case, all lengths are normal.
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HOW BIG IS THE FORESKIN?
The foreskin is the largest part of the skin system of the privates. It covers and usually extends far beyond the glans before folding under itself to its circumferential point of attachment just behind the corona (the rim of the glans). The foreskin is, therefore, a double-layered organ. Its true length is twice the length of its external fold and comprises as much as 80 percent or more of the penile skin covering. In children, the foreskin often runs to impressive lengths, frequently representing over three quarters of the length of the privates.
If the average adult foreskin were unfolded and laid flat and unstretched, it would be approximately the size of a 3 x 5 index card. Moderately stretched, it would entirely cover a man's forehead or the back of his hand and fingers. That's a lot of skin!
DOES THE FORESKIN HAVE MUSCLES?
Yes. The foreskin, like the rest of the penile skin system and scrotum, is lined with the dartos muscle sheet. It is also called the peripenic muscle because it wraps around (peri) the privates (-penic). This remarkably powerful muscle is composed of smooth muscle fibers that run parallel to the shaft of the privates. The dartos muscle is involuntary and highly responsive. It contracts and relaxes in response to touch, temperature, and loveual excitement.
The dartos muscle is always in a state of tonus, or partial contraction-a condition of tension or readiness to contract or relax. The contractions of the dartos muscle are slow, sustained, and may produce great force, such as in cold temperatures.
WHAT ARE EVERSION AND REVERSION?
Eversion is the natural mechanical process by which the lips of the foreskin open and allow the foreskin to unroll and slide down the shaft of the privates to reveal the glans. When fully everted, the inner fold of the foreskin that embraces the glans is turned inside-out and moves along the shaft of the privates. Reversion is the reverse process that rolls the foreskin back up the shaft of the privates to cover the glans. Following eversion, the elastic skin system of the privates will usually have a tendency to return to its normal position, re-covering the glans and pursing the lips of the foreskin. Reversion is accomplished through the springlike action of the frenulum.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT THE PREPUTIAL ORIFICE?
At the very end of the foreskin lies the rose-colored preputial orifice, also known as the lips of the foreskin. Here, the muscle fibers form a kind of sphincter that ensures optimum protection of the urinary tract from contaminants of all kinds. This functions similarly to the sphincter that closes and purses the lips of your mouth.
In terms of sensitivity, the lips of the foreskin are probably even more sensitive than the lips of the mouth in their ability to detect subtle differences in temperature, pressure, motion, and touch. The orifice remains closed most of the time, but can open up to allow the pbuttage of urine. Thanks to its highly elastic nature, the preputial sphincter can easily and comfortably dilate over ten times its normal diameter to allow the glans to protrude.
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE INNER SURFACE OF THE FORESKIN?
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Like the undersurface of the eyelids or the inside of the cheek, the undersurface of the foreskin is lined with a rich red-colored mucous membrane. It is divided into two distinct zones: the smooth mucosa and the ridged mucosa. The smooth mucosa lies against the glans privates. Here, researchers have discovered apocrine and ectopic sebaceous glands that secrete emollients, lubricants, and protective antibodies. Similar glands are found in the eyelids and mouth.
WHAT DOES THE RIDGED MUCOSA DO?
Adjacent to the smooth mucosa and just behind the lips of the foreskin is the ridged mucosa. This exquisitely sensitive structure consists of tightly pleated concentric bands, like the elastic bands at the top of a sock. These expandable pleats arise from the frenulum and encircle the inner lining of the foreskin. They allow the lips of the foreskin to open and roll back, exposing the glans. The ridged mucosa also gives the foreskin its characteristic taper.
The ridged mucosa is a highly vascular zone of specialized sensory tissue containing a dense concentration of specialized erotogenic nerve receptors. Eversion and reversion of the foreskin during erection and loveual play cause the pleats of the ridged mucosa to expand and contract like the bellows of an accordion. This movement allows every surface of the pleats to come in contact with the rim of the glans. The unfolding and refolding of the ridged mucosa over the glans allows all the erotogenic nerve endings to be stimulated, increasing loveual pleasure. If the foreskin is fully everted, the ridged mucosa will be repositioned around the shaft of the privates.
WHAT IS THE SMOOTH MUCOSA?
The last segment of the internal foreskin is the smooth mucosa, which extends from the last ridge of the ridged mucosa to the point of attachment at the coronal sulcus. The surface of this segment is composed of stratified squamous epithelial mucous membrane.
WHAT IS THE FRENULUM?
On the underside of the glans, the foreskin's point of attachment to the body of the privates is the muscular, bandlike ligament called the frenulum. If you turn your lower lip down, or your upper lip up, you will see a similar ligament that serves a very similar function in holding the lips in place. The tongue also has a frenulum that holds it in place. The frenulum functions as a spring, holding the foreskin in place over the glans and also drawing it back over the glans (reversion) after the foreskin has been retracted (eversion).
AT WHAT AGE WILL THE FORESKIN FREELY RETRACT?
At birth, the foreskin is usually attached to the glans (head) of the privates, very much as a fingernail is attached to a finger. By the end of puberty, the privates will usually have completed its development, and the foreskin will have separated from the glans. Separation of the glans and foreskin occurs as a result of hormones secreted during childhood and puberty. Erections, which naturally induce the foreskin to retract, also stimulate the separation process. This separation occurs in its own time. It is very important to realize that there is no set age by which the foreskin and glans must be separated. Even if the glans and foreskin separate naturally in infancy, the lips of the foreskin can normally dilate only enough to allow the pbuttage of urine. This ideal feature protects your young son's glans from premature exposure to the external environment.
The privates develops naturally throughout childhood. Eventually, the child will, on his own, make the wondrous discovery that his foreskin will retract. There is no reason for parents, physicians, or other caregivers to manipulate a child's privates. The only person to retract a child's foreskin should be the child himself, and only when he has discovered that his foreskin is ready to retract.
Parents should protect their child from doctors who try to retract his foreskin. Many doctors never learned about the normal development and care of the privates and are unaware that the foreskin should never be retracted by anyone, except its owner, and only when the privates has matured enough to make retraction free and easy.
WHY ISN'T THE FORESKIN USUALLY RETRACTABLE UNTIL THE TEENAGE YEARS?
There is no need for the foreskin to be retractable until puberty. Only then are humans biologically programmed to become loveually mature. In babies and young children, the natural attachment of the foreskin to the glans protects the immature glans from injury and dirt. The firmly attached foreskin provides a natural protective barrier for the urinary tract. This is especially important in infancy and during the diaper-wearing years. Of equal importance, the attachment of the foreskin to the glans protects and preserves the head of the privates, allowing it to complete its development.
IS IT NECESSARY FOR THE FORESKIN TO BE RETRACTABLE IN ADULTHOOD?
No. Many adults enjoy the comfort and security of a glans that is covered most or all of the time-even during erection. At this stage of life, the foreskin almost always has fully separated from the head. Full retraction is sometimes avoided if the lips of the foreskin (the preputial orifice) resist stretching wide enough to permit the pbuttage of the glans. There is nothing wrong with this, even though many old-fashioned textbooks and many uninformed doctors (most of whom are circumcised) think that this is a problem called "phimosis."
Contrary to medical myth, a narrow preputial orifice does not make hygiene difficult. On the contrary: Important studies have found that the privates with a narrow foreskin opening is perfectly clean. Urination through the foreskin actually helps keep the privates clean and fresh. It is a beautifully designed system that functions with perfect efficiency.
SPECIAL MOISTENERS AND EMOLLIENTS IN THE FORESKIN
All skin surfaces of the body require the constant moisturizing and soothing action of sebum-natural skin oil. Without it, the skin would dry out, crack, and bleed. To prevent this from occurring, the skin of the body is richly supplied with sebaceous glands. The natural secretion of skin oil gives the skin a healthy luster and enables it to do its job protecting the internal structures of the body from the external environment. Like skin, mucous membranes also require constant moistening. The mucous membranes of the eyes, for instance, are constantly bathed in moistening tears and other lubricating secretions from sebaceous glands in the inner eyelid. Similarly, the surfaces of the privates also require lubrication and moistening.
PREPUTIAL SEBUM (SMEGMA) AND ITS IMPORTANT ANTIBACTERIAL PROPERTIES
Preputial sebum, or smegma, is the creamy white emollient that can sometimes be found coating the inner lining of the foreskin. It is a combination of secretions from many glands around the privates and urethra.
Smegma is probably the most misunderstood, most unjustifiably maligned substance in nature. Smegma is clean rather than dirty. It is beneficial and necessary. It moisturizes the glans and keeps it smooth, soft, and supple. Its antibacterial and antiviral properties keep the privates clean and healthy. All normal male and female mammals produce smegma. Dr. Thomas J. Ritter underscored its importance when he commented, "The vertebrate animal kingdom would be depleted without smegma."
Children produce very little smegma. During adolescence, the production of smegma markedly increases as the glands of the privates develop, perhaps in response to elevated testosterone levels. In adulthood, much less smegma is produced. It is natural that smegma would be most abundant during adolescence and young adulthood, since this is the time when males are at their peak of loveual drive and when human males are biologically programmed to engage in mating. Smegma is most needed at this time to facilitate the smooth operation of the privates.
Apart from its lubricating function, smegma has antibacterial effects, most especially during infancy. Antibacterial substances are pbutted from mother to child during breast-feeding and are secreted in the baby's urine. Breast-fed babies receive substantial amounts of beneficial compounds called oligosaccharides. When ingested, these compounds are secreted in the urine where they prevent certain types of bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract and the inner lining of the foreskin. Animal experiments have found that special cells called plasma cells in the inner fold of the foreskin secrete a compound called immunoglobulin. These secretions protect the privates against harmful bacteria. It is interesting to note that these antibacterial secretions increase in response to bacterial invasion.
SPECIALIZED NERVE RECEPTORS IN THE FORESKIN
The innervation of the foreskin is impressive. Genitally intact males know from personal experience that the foreskin is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. Consequently, for over a century, some of the most respected names in medical science have turned their attention to this part of the body. Anatomists have transformed this inner knowledge into careful scientific observations about the complex innervation of the foreskin. As the most richly innervated part of the privates, the foreskin has the largest number of nerve receptors, as well as the greatest variety of nerve receptors. These specialized nerve endings include Meissner's corpuscles, free nerve endings, end bulbs of Krause, corpuscles of Ruffini, Pacinian corpuscles, genital end bulbs, genital bodies, Merkel's disks, Golgi-Mazzoni corpuscles, and Vater-Pacinian corpuscles. These remarkable organs provide the foreskin with an amazing ability to detect the slightest sensations of touch, motion, temperature, and pressure. We are still unaware of all the facts about these fascinating structures. Future research may discover even more nerve receptors in the foreskin and help clarify what useful purposes they serve.
EROGENOUS ZONES OF THE FORESKIN
The foreskin is what's known as a specific erogenous zone. This means that it is richly equipped with a high density and concentration of specialized and sophisticated nerve receptors that convey pleasure. The only other specific erogenous zones on the male body are the conjunctiva of the eye, lips, nipples, perianal skin, and the head of the privates. The presence of specialized erogenous nerve receptors makes this part of the body especially important.
The primary zones of erotogenous sensitivity are the frenulum, ridged mucosa, the preputial orifice, and the external fold of the foreskin. All of these zones are orgasmic triggers. Continuous and gentle stimulation of any one of these areas can elicit pleasure, orgasm, and ejaculation.
HOW THE GLANS COMPARES WITH THE FORESKIN
Most people are surprised to learn that the glans privates is one of the least sensitive parts of the entire body. Obviously, this news may be worrying for circumcised males. The glans is insensitive to light touch, heat, cold, and even to pinneedles, as researchers at the Department of Pathology in the Health Sciences Centre at the University of Manitoba discovered. The corona of the glans contains scattered free nerve endings, genital end bulbs, and Pacinian corpuscles, which transmit sensations of pain and deep pressure. The glans is nearly incapable of detecting light touch.
The nerve receptors of the corona are designed to be stimulated through the medium of the foreskin. Direct stimulation of the glans of the intact privates is most pleasant when the stimulus mimics the moist, mbuttaging action of the foreskin. The moving ring of pressure created by the lips of the foreskin and ridged mucosa stimulate the nerve receptors in the rim of the glans. While pleasurable stimulation of the frenulum and ridged mucosa is instantly perceived, sensation of the corona is slow and gradual. When fully stimulated, the erotic sensations felt in the corona are perceived as having a slow, warm, and rich quality. As nice as this is, it hardly compares to the erotic sensations generated by the foreskin. Circumcised males have been robbed of a normal body part. They have also been robbed of a normal level of loveual sensation. Just as a person whose lips were amputated could never really appreciate the sensations that lips can convey, so a circumcised male can never understand what his genitally intact friends experience. This helps explain why some circumcised males defend circumcision so vehemently. They have no idea what was taken from them and are psychologically unprepared to deal with their loss.
ISN'T THE FORESKIN A VESTIGIAL ORGAN LIKE THE APPENDIX?
No. First of all, the appendix is hardly a vestigial organ. This myth was created back in the nineteenth century when medical science was too primitive to figure out the purpose of the appendix. Doctors back then were foolish enough to think that any organ whose function they were unable to understand was functionless and vestigial. Nowadays, we know the appendix to be an important part of the immune system, producing large quanbreasties of lymphocytes and pumping them into the small intestine. Similarly, the myth that the foreskin is a vestigial organ was invented by circumcisers as an additional justification for imposing mbutt circumcision on the American people. The foreskin cannot be vestigial. The results of a fascinating study conducted by Dr. Christopher Cold and Dr. Kenneth A. McGrath demonstrate that the human foreskin is an evolutionary advancement over the foreskins of other primates. The human foreskin is far more sophisticated and responsive, as their comparative anatomy studies prove. This is seen most clearly in the evolutionary increase in corpuscular innervation of the human foreskin and the simultaneous decrease in corpuscular receptors in the human glans relative to the innervation of the foreskin and glans of lower primates. In other words, in monkeys and apes, the glans is more sensitive than the foreskin. In humans, this is reversed, so that the foreskin is more sensitive than the glans. If the foreskin were "vestigial," this advancement would never have taken place and the human foreskin would be either equally or less sensitive than the ape foreskin.
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It is important to remember that there are no vestigial organs or body parts. Each and every part of the body serves a specific, important purpose. If the foreskin failed to serve a purpose, it would have disappeared millions of years ago. Drs. Cold and McGrath conclude that, over the last 65 million years, the foreskin has offered reproductive advantages. It must also be remembered that loveual selection has refined the external genitalia of every creature, including man. The human foreskin is the product of millions of years of evolutionary refinement, and, as such, the human foreskin represents the epitome of design perfection.