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Ask Marilyn – The Doctor Is Wrong: Your Son’s Foreskin Is Not Too Tight

The penis advice columnDear Marilyn:

My son is 8 years old. His foreskin was red and sometimes it stings when he urinates, so I took him to our pediatrician. The doctor said his foreskin is too tight and recommended a steroid cream, suggesting we use it three times a day and that my son should try to gently pull his foreskin back. Once my son stopped using the cream, his foreskin closed down even tighter than it was before. We only use mild soap in the bath, but he does take swimming lessons once a week. I’m wondering what to do now to help my son.

—Katherine in Canada

 Dear Katherine:

Your son’s foreskin is doing its job, which is protecting the glans (the head of the penis) and urethral meatus (urinary opening) from irritants. When the foreskin tightens, the meatus often narrows, so urination can become painful or difficult.

Paradoxically, by recommending a steroid cream and urging your son to try to retract the foreskin, the pediatrician made your son’s condition worse. When steroid creams are used prematurely, it is not unusual for the foreskin to become tighter when the treatment ends. The foreskin probably is also reacting to the attempted retractions.

It appears that your son has developed a yeast infection, which likely caused his foreskin to turn red. Unfortunately, your pediatrician failed to realize that your son’s problem is not a tight foreskin, but rather a yeast infection that is irritating the foreskin.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to treat a yeast infection with over-the-counter probiotics, such as liquid Acidophilus culture. Apply it on the foreskin six times a day. You or your son can pour a little culture into the palm of his hand and then he can dip the tip of his foreskin into the solution. He can use his fingertips to rub it around the afflicted area. The foreskin usually returns to normal in three to five days. (Note: There’s no need to retract his foreskin for this to work. The foreskin will retract naturally when it is time.)

We can’t tell if the yeast infection was caused by the mild soap you use in the bath or the chlorine in the pool where he swims. Therefore, use only warm water on his genitals and keep him out of pools while he is healing. Once his foreskin returns to health, watch to see if his foreskin reacts to the soap. If it does, don’t worry. You can keep his penis perfectly clean by washing it with warm water only.

Once his foreskin heals, your son can resume his swimming lessons if you take several precautions. He should apply non-petroleum jelly on his foreskin prior to going into chlorinated water. After swimming, he should shower to remove the chlorine from his body and then gently wipe away the protective cream from his foreskin. If he still reacts to the chlorine, limit his time in the water and the frequency of swimming.

Finally, please tell the pediatrician what you’ve learned so that the pediatrician will know better and can begin helping boys rather than causing additional problems.



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Marilyn Fayre Milos, multiple award winner for her humanitarian work to end routine infant circumcision in the United States and advocating for the rights of infants and children to genital autonomy, has written a warm and compelling memoir of her path to becoming “the founding mother of the intactivist movement.” Needing to support her family as a single mother in the early sixties, Milos taught banjo—having learned to play from Jerry Garcia (later of The Grateful Dead)—and worked as an assistant to comedian and social critic Lenny Bruce, typing out the content of his shows and transcribing court proceedings of his trials for obscenity. After Lenny’s death, she found her voice as an activist as part of the counterculture revolution, living in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco during the 1967 Summer of Love, and honed her organizational skills by creating an alternative education open classroom (still operating) in Marin County. 

After witnessing the pain and trauma of the circumcision of a newborn baby boy when she was a nursing student at Marin College, Milos learned everything she could about why infants were subjected to such brutal surgery. The more she read and discovered, the more convinced she became that circumcision had no medical benefits. As a nurse on the obstetrical unit at Marin General Hospital, she committed to making sure parents understood what circumcision entailed before signing a consent form. Considered an agitator and forced to resign in 1985, she co-founded NOCIRC (National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers) and began organizing international symposia on circumcision, genital autonomy, and human rights. Milos edited and published the proceedings from the above-mentioned symposia and has written numerous articles in her quest to end circumcision and protect children’s bodily integrity. She currently serves on the board of directors of Intact America.


Georganne Chapin is a healthcare expert, attorney, social justice advocate, and founding executive director of Intact America, the nation’s most influential organization opposing the U.S. medical industry’s penchant for surgically altering the genitals of male children (“circumcision”). Under her leadership, Intact America has definitively documented tactics used by U.S. doctors and healthcare facilities to pathologize the male foreskin, pressure parents into circumcising their sons, and forcibly retract the foreskins of intact boys, creating potentially lifelong, iatrogenic harm. 

Chapin holds a BA in Anthropology from Barnard College, and a Master’s degree in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University. For 25 years, she served as president and chief executive officer of Hudson Health Plan, a nonprofit Medicaid insurer in New York’s Hudson Valley. Mid-career, she enrolled in an evening law program, where she explored the legal and ethical issues underlying routine male circumcision, a subject that had interested her since witnessing the aftermath of the surgery conducted on her younger brother. She received her Juris Doctor degree from Pace University School of Law in 2003, and was subsequently admitted to the New York Bar. As an adjunct professor, she taught Bioethics and Medicaid and Disability Law at Pace, and Bioethics in Dominican College’s doctoral program for advanced practice nurses.

In 2004, Chapin founded the nonprofit Hudson Center for Health Equity and Quality, a company that designs software and provides consulting services designed to reduce administrative complexities, streamline and integrate data collection and reporting, and enhance access to care for those in need. In 2008, she co-founded Intact America.

Chapin has published many articles and op-ed essays, and has been interviewed on local, national and international television, radio and podcasts about ways the U.S. healthcare system prioritizes profits over people’s basic needs. She cites routine (nontherapeutic) infant circumcision as a prime example of a practice that wastes money and harms boys and the men they will become. This Penis Business: A Memoir is her first book.