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Do You Know: About Smegma?

Smeg​ma  \ ˈsmeg-mə \ : the secretion of a sebaceous gland, specifically: the cheesy matter that collects between the glans penis and the foreskin or around the clitoris and labia minora

Yes! That’s right. Smegma was recognized by the Ancient Greeks (who had a sophisticated understanding of the body and abhorred circumcision) as a beneficial and cleansing substance. That white stuff that builds up in our genitals – under the foreskin in intact males, and around the clitoris in intact females – is as natural as the saliva in your mouth. And just as helpful!

Smegma serves important functions. Fresh smegma is smooth and moist. In adult men, it helps to keep the foreskin and the head of the penis soft, and eases intromission (insertion) during sex. Understanding this makes it easy to see why men who are missing their foreskins need to use lubricants for both masturbation and sex. And it makes it easy to understand why partners of circumcised men sometimes complain of pain and dryness during intercourse.

Circumcision removes nature’s perfect lube — forever!–

Smegma also keeps the penis and clitoris from adhering (sticking) to the adjacent skin in a mature adult. Of course, in baby boys, the foreskin is naturally attached to the head of the penis – that’s for protection, too. As the boy grows and the foreskin begins to separate from the glans, smegma sometimes appears in the form of small white lumps (some people call them “smegma pearls”) underneath the foreskin. This is perfectly normal, and no intervention is required. The pearls will be discarded once the foreskin separates from the glans. Smegma will then take over to do its important work!

And remember: Nobody – not a parent or a doctor or a nurse or a babysitter – should EVER forcibly retract a child’s foreskin!

Just as no special care or attention is required for an intact baby, nothing special is needed to keep an adult’s genitals healthy. Again, nature’s best rinsing agent – plain warm water (with a mild unscented soap, if you wish) will take care of any build-up of smegma or any odor you might find offensive.

Here’s something else to think about. A study published in 2016 found that nasal mucous contains a natural antibiotic substance (called lugdunin), which is uniquely effective in fighting drug-resistant staph infections. Another natural substance that fights infection is Lysozyme, a crystalline, basic protein present in human saliva and tears, where it functions as an antibacterial enzyme. Isn’t it likely that smegma also fights infection? Could this help to explain lower rates of STDs in Europe, where relatively few men are circumcised, compared to the United States, where three-quarters of adult men are missing their foreskins and the natural protection this body part offers? Let’s hope that future research will explore this question. Sometimes the facts are right under our noses — or under our foreskins!

By Marilyn Milos, RN and Georganne Chapin, IA Executive Director

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Marilyn

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

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.