DON’T FEAR THE FORESKIN
Congrats on your whole baby boy!
You have just made one of the best decisions you will ever make as a parent. Now you have a first-generation intact son.
What do you need to know?
If you’re like a lot of Americans, you’ve had well-meaning relatives, friends, or maybe even doctors tell you that the foreskin is going to cause your son problems. They might insist, “It’s better to get him circumcised when he’s a baby so he doesn’t have to have it done as an adult,” as if it is an inevitable fate. (It’s not.) It’s almost like they’re reading from a script, because the comments always sound the same. I assure you, this belief that “foreskin is scary and dangerous” is nothing more than urban legend.
Our American society has become so accustomed to cutting off the valuable foreskin that we have lost the collective knowledge of what it is for and how to take care of it. Think about it: no one needs to give you lessons on how to care for a newborn female’s whole genitalia, but most Americans are clueless about what to do with a newborn male’s whole genitalia. With 70% or more of the world’s men being intact (not circumcised), we are the exception; most of the world knows what to do — and what not to do — with the foreskin. As one friend put it, “fussing over foreskin” just doesn’t happen in other cultures.
Most of the men in the world have foreskin and are quite happy with its associated benefits. While the majority of current adult males in the United States were circumcised at birth, you can find many happily intact men in the U.S., as well. Thankfully the number of intact males in the United States is growing as more parents are sifting through fact and fiction and realizing their society’s beliefs are based on a history of sexual oppression rather than evidence-based science.
You need to know that leaving your son’s body whole is not a scary, radical decision. The foreskin is not a ticking time bomb, and you do not have to live in fear of it causing problems. It is a normal, functional part of the body. Just as you were not worried about letting your daughter keep her whole genitals at birth, you do not need to worry about your son keeping his.
Normal and Easily Treatable Occurrences in Whole Bodies
Redness and Irritation
Can foreskin get red and irritated? Certainly. So can the vulva. Genitals are not immune to the irritants of the environment. Be sure to examine possible external environmental causes such as bubble bath, change in diapering routine, etc. In addition, keep in mind that parts of the external genitalia in both males and females — like the tip of the foreskin and the clitoral hood and labia — often have a healthy flushed or darker appearance due to the presence of many blood vessels.
Sideways Urine Stream/Spraying
Do all males urinate in a perfectly straight line? Certainly not, nor do all females. As long as urine is flowing freely, you’re in good shape.
Smegma occurs in all humans — male, female, and intersex — and in many mammals, as well. It is a natural, harmless substance. When your son’s foreskin is still fused and non-retractable, smegma might look like a white lump underneath the foreskin. These smegma pearls are not harmful, and nothing needs to be done about them. As your son gets older and becomes retractable (current research puts the average age of natural retractability at around 10 years, with a lot of variability), he will be able to rinse under his foreskin the same way a female would rinse smegma from her external genitals.
This may sound (and look) strange at first, but ballooning is a normal part of male development, much like menstruation is a normal part of female development. Ballooning can happen while the foreskin and glans are going through normal stages of separation — don’t forget that they are typically fused together for the first several years of life. In ballooning, urine swirls around the head of the penis before exiting the tip of the foreskin, giving the foreskin a brief “ballooned” appearance while the boy is urinating.
Might your son get a yeast infection? He might. Your daughter might, too. Luckily, there are simple treatments for yeast infections that work for all humans.
Is your son going to get a UTI? It’s possible — both intact and circumcised boys can develop a UTI, as do females (at a significantly higher rate than males, in fact). A lot of UTIs are caused by preventable external factors such as bubble baths. If your son gets a UTI, it can be treated the same way a female’s UTI would be treated. Common effective preventive measures and treatments include increased hydration, cranberry juice, antibiotics, and breathable clothing.
There is one potential issue involving the intact penis that you need to fear: unknowledgable caregivers and healthcare providers forcibly retracting (pulling back) your son’s foreskin before it has separated naturally from the glans (head) of the penis. Forced retraction can cause serious issues including bleeding, infection, and scarring. Hands off the foreskin. It doesn’t need to be moved around at all until he is old enough to move it around himself. Educate yourself thoroughly on preventing forced retraction. (Notice: That really wasn’t anything scary to do with the foreskin. It was about scary people wanting to manipulate your son’s genitals. Foreskin isn’t a problem, but misninformed care providers are. If you encounter such a medical professional, please let us know.)
Say it with Me: “Foreskin is My Friend”
As a mom who previously knew nothing about raising an intact male child but who is now two and half years into my adventures in boyhood, I cannot stress enough that foreskin is just not a big deal. It’s just there, like a toe or a cheek. I don’t worry about it or think about it any more than I worry about my son’s ears.
Because I was once on the outside of the enigmatic “raising an intact boy” scene, I recognize that you may not truly understand how easy it is until you experience it yourself, but please, do not fear the natural human body. Do not over-think your son’s genitals any more than you would your daughter’s, or your own. Of course you should pay attention to your son’s health, but you should also be confident that danger is not lurking around every fold of skin.
Taking care of an intact boy is as easy as taking care of a hardy plant. Pour some water on him from time to time, then sit back and watch him grow.
Welcome to #GenerationIntact.
Jen Williams is the founder of Your Whole Baby. She is passionate about many causes including the human rights violation happening to baby boys and girls around the world. Jen lives with her husband and two intact children.