What is the foreskin?

“Structurally, the penis is highly integrated. The glans, foreskin and skin of the penile shaft function as a single unit, not as a collection of separate parts with entirely different functions. The functions of the glans and foreskin are similar, and overlapping, but come fully into their own at different times during intercourse.”

“The amount of tissue loss estimated in the present study is more than most parents envisage from pre-operative counselling. Circumcision also ablates junctional mucosa that appears to be an important component of the overall sensory mechanism of the human penis. ”

Cold, C. and Taylor, J., “The Prepuce,” BJU 83 (1999): suppl. 1: 34–44.

In humans, the outside of the foreskin is like the skin on the shaft of the penis but the inner foreskin is a mucous membrane like the inside of the eyelid or the mouth. Like the eyelid, the foreskin is free to move. Smooth muscle fibers keep it close to the glans but make it highly elastic. The foreskin is attached to the glans with a
frenulum which helps retract the foreskin over the glans.

What is the purpose of the foreskin?

The foreskin has three known functions: protective, sensory, and sexual.

During infancy, the foreskin is attached to the glans and protects it from urine, feces, and abrasions from diapers. Throughout life, the foreskin keeps the glans soft and moist and protects it from trauma and injury. Without this protection, the glans becomes dry, calloused, and desensitized from exposure and chafing. Specialized nerve endings in the foreskin enhance sexual pleasure. During sexual intercourse the foreskin acts as a rolling bearing, improving sex for both partners.

“The foreskin may have functions not yet recognized or understood. ”  Dr. Dean Edell



Anatomy of the Penis

Ken McGrath, Senior Lecturer in Pathology at the Faculty of Health, Auckland University of Technology and Member of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Scientists discusses his research into the neural anatomy of the human penis and the physical damages caused by circumcision.

McGrath is author of The Frenular Delta: A New Preputial Structure published in Understanding Circumcision: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to a Multi-Dimensional Problem, Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on Genital Integrity: Safeguarding Fundamental Human Rights in the 21st Century, held December 7-9, 2000, in Sydney Australia.

Abstract: Textbooks and papers referring to penile function state that the source of penile sensation is solely the glans and often justify the existence of the prepuce by stating it protects the ‘sensitive’ glans. These statements are contrary to the neuro-anatomical and physiological facts accumulated over more than a century. This study reviews the findings of Taylor, et al., that the prepuce is the primary sensory platform of the penis, and describes a new preputial structure.

This interview was taped in Berkeley, California 2010.