The penis advice columnDear Marilyn:

My baby boy was circumcised when he was born two years ago. Once the wound healed, it’s been easy to keep his penis clean. But my friend says that her son’s intact penis is easier to keep clean. Who is correct?

—Nicole, Arkansas

Dear Nicole:

Your friend is correct. A baby boy’s natural penis is protected by his foreskin, which is fused to his glans, or the head of the penis. Although the foreskin has a small opening so urine can pass, it is designed to protect the glans from foreign elements and bad bacteria. All mom or dad needs to do is wash what can be seen, and never force back the foreskin to wash under it. When the foreskin retracts on its own (the average age of retraction is around 10 years old), then the boy can pull it back, rinse the glans (head of his penis), and replace the foreskin over the glans again.

In contrast, keeping a circumcised baby’s penis clean is a lot more work, beginning with the circumcision wound itself. You can’t bathe the baby while his wound is open. You have to cover the wound with petroleum jelly and gauze to protect it from the urine and feces in the diaper. After the wound heals, the exposed glans is constantly rubbing against the diaper (there are many complaints online of the diaper sticking to the wound)—again in an unsanitary environment. The constant abrasion can cause rawness around the urinary opening, which can then cause additional problems.

The foreskin provides physical protective as well as antimicrobial secretions that protect the urinary tract from infection, too.

If you do have another baby, and the baby is a boy, please read about the functions of the normal foreskin and consider keeping him intact.