Foreskin’s function (and the fucked-up connection between circumcision and cornflakes)

Foreskin's function (and the fucked-up connection between circumcision and cornflakes) 1
via hob­byp­ics on Tumblr

Like many oth­er Americans, I grew up with the vague notion that fore­skin was some­thing that some peo­ple removed, but did­n’t know much beyond that. I did­n’t know that most of the world does­n’t cir­cum­cise.

Moreover, I did­n’t know what pur­pose fore­skin served, or the fucked-up his­to­ry of why Americans start­ed remov­ing it, or what cir­cum­ci­sion had to do with corn­flakes, mas­tur­ba­tion, and yogurt ene­mas (seri­ous­ly).

In this post:

What is foreskin?

Foreskin is a stretchy, double-layered fold of tis­sue that cov­ers the tip of the penis. I say “tis­sue” and not “skin” because it’s not just skin! It has a rich sup­ply of blood ves­sels through­out, flow­ing to a high con­cen­tra­tion of spe­cial­ized nerve end­ings and a ring of smooth mus­cle at the end.

Foreskin is functional

Protection

This ring main­tains the fore­skin’s snug fit around the penis, help­ing it serve its pro­tec­tive func­tion. In adults, this means pro­tect­ing the glans from dry­ness and every­day under­wear chafing.

In infants, fore­skin keeps lit­er­al shit from dia­pers out; nasty stuff does­n’t get under a small child’s fore­skin because it’s fused to the glans, kind of like a fin­ger­nail to its nail bed. The fore­skin nat­u­ral­ly detach­es lit­tle by lit­tle and gen­er­al­ly does­n’t ful­ly retract until after age 5. Exactly what age varies from per­son to per­son. Some can’t ful­ly retract even in their teens and, as long as it’s not caus­ing prob­lems, it’s total­ly okay.

Foreskin Stroking
.gif via cumalloverme-baby on tumblr
Lubrication

Natural lubri­ca­tion isn’t just for vagi­nas! Penises nat­u­ral­ly have their own mech­a­nism for reduc­ing fric­tion. Foreskin’s cov­er­age locks in mois­ture and pre-cum. Even if there isn’t much pre-cum, the inside of the fore­skin is moist and rhyth­mi­cal­ly stretch­es and glides over the glans.

In a vagi­na or anus, it’s like the fore­skin stays rel­a­tive­ly sta­tion­ary while the glans slides in and out of it; the fore­skin is retract­ed dur­ing the in stroke and pulled over the glans dur­ing the out stroke.

Regardless, if you need to use arti­fi­cial lubri­ca­tion, you do you, boo.

Foreskin is fun

Stretch sensation

What makes the fore­skin so spe­cial is the unique con­cen­tra­tion of dif­fer­ent nerve end­ing types. Remember that ring of mus­cle I men­tioned ear­li­er? It’s packed with nerve end­ings, includ­ing stretch recep­tors that sense the fore­skin’s move­ment as it stretch­es over the glans and relax­es when pulled back up.

Frein du prépuce.jpg
Foreskin retract­ed, empha­siz­ing the frenulum

There are also stretch recep­tors in the frenu­lum, the lit­tle bridge of tis­sue that con­nects the fore­skin to the mucous mem­brane of the glans. Stroking the penis rhyth­mi­cal­ly pulls on this bridge, pro­vid­ing yet anoth­er form of stretch stimulation.

Fine-touch sensation

Think about how fin­ger­tips can feel tiny tex­tures with enough pre­ci­sion that peo­ple use them to read Braille. This is pos­si­ble thanks to Meissner’s cor­pus­cles, the type of nerve end­ings that spe­cial­ize in fine touch. You can also find a rich con­cen­tra­tion of Meissner’s cor­pus­cles the lips, the bot­tom sur­faces of feet, the anus, and, you guessed it: the foreskin!

It’s not that the glans of the penis isn’t sen­si­tive. It is, but it has a dif­fer­ent con­cen­tra­tion of nerve end­ings and there­fore a dif­fer­ent kind of sensitivity:

  • most­ly free nerve end­ings, which are sim­ple and unspe­cial­ized. They most­ly sense pain and temperature.
  • some Pacinian cor­pus­cles, which spe­cial­ize in vibra­tion and pres­sure changes
  • some Ruffinian cor­pus­cles, which spe­cial­ize in stretch­ing and sus­tained pressure

Foreskin has all of these nerve end­ing types and more, but the most notable dif­fer­ence is that fore­skin can feel tex­tures like the ridges in a vagi­na more pre­cise­ly. Pussy feels real­ly awe­some, and an uncut dick can feel every dimen­sion of this awesomeness.

Circumcision and corn flakes: Dr. John Harvey Kellogg

Vintage Kellogg's corn flakes advertisement
Early Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Ad

If fore­skin is so awe­some, then why did cir­cum­ci­sion take off in the U.S.? Because the cre­ator of Kellogg’s corn flakes want­ed chil­dren to stop mas­tur­bat­ing. That’s not a joke, even if I am tak­ing it out of context.

The Clean Living Movement

During the late 1800s, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg believed in and per­pet­u­at­ed pret­ty much every myth you could think about mas­tur­ba­tion: that it caus­es acne, erec­tile dys­func­tion, blind­ness, epilep­sy, insan­i­ty, and so much more. He and his con­tem­po­rary, Sylvester Graham, pro­mot­ed the idea that a bland grain-based diet would curb sex­u­al appetite, hence Kellogg’s corn flakes and Graham crackers.

Kellogg so strong­ly believed that mas­tur­ba­tion was the worst self-abuse one could com­mit, that he advo­cat­ed gen­i­tal muti­la­tion to pre­vent it: cir­cum­ci­sion for boys, and apply­ing pure car­bol­ic acid/phenol to the cli­toris for girls. The sore­ness would inter­rupt the rou­tine and the trau­ma would link mas­tur­ba­tion to pun­ish­ment, he reasoned.

I know some of you are groan­ing, “Please. Circumcision isn’t com­pa­ra­ble to female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion,” but no mat­ter how you dice it, Kellogg was a huge part of why both prac­tices gained pop­u­lar­i­ty in the U.S.

Contemporary times

While the cir­cum­ci­sion rate in oth­er English-speaking coun­tries declined, Americans com­par­a­tive­ly clung to the tra­di­tion. Perhaps the most com­mon ratio­nale was cos­met­ic: “My son’s dick should look like mine.” However, the cul­tur­al aes­thet­ic pref­er­ence fed into bias­es and mis­con­cep­tions against foreskin.

Circumcision as a preventive measure is like using a sledgehammer on a thumb tack

This sums up my reac­tions pret­ty much any time some­one says, “but there are ben­e­fits to circumcision”:

  1. People should be wash­ing their dicks regardless.
  2. People should be using con­doms regard­less. It would be bull­shit to think, “Well, I’m cir­cum­cised, so I don’t need to use a con­dom,” or “If we cir­cum­cise men in high-risk coun­tries, we don’t have to address the lack of con­dom accessibility.”
  3. Penile can­cer is a rare dis­ease that’s most­ly lim­it­ed to elder­ly men. Yes, even in a coun­try where cir­cum­ci­sion is rel­a­tive­ly uncommon.
  4. In the off chance of issues, there are usu­al­ly options more cost-effective and less invasive.
  5. Let him decide how whether it looks good when he’s old enough to have sex­u­al part­ners. Most peo­ple in the US can’t even tell the visu­al dif­fer­ence when retracted.

The appar­ent ben­e­fits are just so slight in the grand scheme that, to me, pre­emp­tive surgery seems like a major over­re­ac­tion. Foreskin is hard­ly the most rel­e­vant fac­tor. Not when most Europeans with penis­es are intact and are not only fine, but are less affect­ed by HIV/AIDS than Americans with penis­es.

I’m more pro-foreskin than I am anti-circumcision

Slow BJ on uncut dick
.gif via foreskin-is-sexy on Tumblr

Ultimately, I have no inten­tion of get­ting into an in-depth argu­ment about cir­cum­ci­sion. I think if Americans under­stood fore­skin more, they would stop vil­i­fy­ing it and start ques­tion­ing the assump­tion that cir­cum­ci­sion is the default.

Contrary to what I grew up believ­ing, fore­skin isn’t just extra: it’s func­tion­al tis­sue. Foreskin is not just nor­mal, but it’s also fun and erot­ic in its own right.


5 Responses

  1. Oregon Intactivist says:

    Thank You for edu­cat­ing about the foreskin.

  2. Clara says:

    Wow this post is super infor­ma­tive and real­ly help­ful. Thanks!

  3. Trix says:

    I had­n’t thought about the dif­fer­ent kinds of nerve end­ings, very educational!

  4. Nichole Smith says:

    My boys got cir­cum­cised only because their dad is. I wish none of them were and if I could go back and do it over again I would’ve stood up to fam­i­ly (in-laws) that pushed for it.

  5. Stevie says:

    I’m a male in my 40’s and I nev­er knew that fore­skin is “fused to the glans”. 

    That explains why, when I was a child, I would have so much pain when I had an erection. 

    I thought I had a struc­tur­al problem. 

    My son is approach­ing that age now so it’s help­ful to under­stand the real rea­son — biol­o­gy (/mechanics) — in case he has the same problem. 

    Thank you for writ­ing about this.

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