Smegma is a natural secretion from the sebaceous glands around the genitals. It is located under the foreskin of the penis or under the folds of the vagina. It has a thick consistency and can be white in color. It is also associated with an unpleasant odor. However, smegma is normal and is not a sign of a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Smegma is a natural lubricant that keeps the skin around the genitals moist. This becomes problematic when it is allowed to accumulate due to poor hygiene.
The word smegma comes from the Latin word for soap or detergent.
Smegma is an oily discharge from the sebaceous (sebaceous) glands around the genitals. It is opaque, white in color and thick in consistency. Most people do not produce much smegma before puberty. Smegma also becomes less common with age and overall oil production decreases.
In people who have a penis , smegma accumulates more easily on uncircumcised penises. The head of the uncircumcised penis is covered with a layer of skin called the foreskin, under which smegma appears and accumulates. In a boy, the foreskin fits snugly around the head of the penis, completely covering and protecting it. As the penis lengthens, the foreskin naturally begins to retract, creating an opportunity for debris, dirt, and skin cells to collect between the penis and the glans.
Smegma in children tends to appear as pearly white bumps.
In people with a vagina, smegma tends to collect under the hood of the clitoris or the folds of the labia. In babies, it can also be found on the vulva.
The main function of smegma is to keep the area around the genitals moist and lubricated. Smegma is produced naturally by the body. However, if it is not rinsed off for an extended period of time, it can build up, become sticky, and stick to the skin around the penis and clitoris. Irregular washing of the genital area can also lead to smegma formation.
Preventing smegma build-up is a matter of personal hygiene: washing your genitals regularly with warm water and mild soap during bathing or showering. If smegma is causing problems, underwear made from breathable materials like cotton can help.
If the penis is circumcised, gently cleanse all areas around the head, especially along the edge that separates the glans from the shaft. An uncircumcised penis requires a little more attention. Clean the area under the foreskin once or twice a day with warm soapy water. Don't scratch your foreskin. If your penis is infected or red, you should see your doctor.
For those with a vagina, pull back on the outer lips of the vulva to clear the area under the clitoral hood. Avoid using strong-smelling soaps to prevent irritation. If there are lumps, itching, or changes in vaginal discharge, see your doctor.
Get in the habit of regularly checking your genitals for excess smegma, signs of possible infection, or other problems to prevent smegma from becoming a problem. This is especially important for people who tend to sweat a lot, which can help increase smegma and facilitate build-up.
Smegma is not a sign of a sexually transmitted infection. However, if allowed to accumulate, it can give off a strong unpleasant odor and become curdled. It can also lead to more serious medical problems, such as phimosis, balanitis, and clitoral fusion.
Phimosis is a condition in which the foreskin cannot retract around the tip of the penis. It may look like a tight ring or elastic band of the foreskin around the tip of the penis. Phimosis can be physiological or pathological, depending on the situation.
Physiological phimosis is common and normal among infants and children. Some babies are born with a dense foreskin at birth. Phimosis is normal in an uncircumcised baby or boy and usually resolves over time .
Pathological phimosis is a dense foreskin that results from scarring, infection, or inflammation of the foreskin. It is often associated with swollen foreskin when urinating, difficulty urinating, or an infection. This can happen in children and adults. Other symptoms of phimosis include redness, unusual discharge, and a tight foreskin.
Depending on the severity, phimosis can be treated with:
- Circumcision (removal of the foreskin)
- Topical creams
- Gradual stretching of the foreskin
- Surgical reshaping of the foreskin
Another disease that can result from the accumulation of smegma is balanitis , which is an inflammation of the glans and foreskin of the penis. Balanitis is characterized by a bright red or reddish orange tint, swelling and pain of the penis, and a bad odor and pain when urinating. Bleeding can also occur. It is more common in uncircumcised men and in people with phimosis. Balanitis affects up to 11% of men over 40 years of age .
Balanitis can also be caused by:
Balanitis requires medical attention. Depending on the cause of balanitis, different treatment methods may be prescribed. The typical treatment is a topical or oral antibiotic. Health professionals recommend that balanitis patients wash and dry their foreskin frequently to reduce the risk of a recurrence of balanitis.
Smegma that collects around the clitoris can harden and cause the hood to stick to the shaft, which can be painful and cause the clitoris to heal. Accumulated smegma can dry out and harden under the hood of the clitoris, causing irritation and pain.
When the clitoral hood is attached to the clitoris, partially or completely, it does not allow the hood to adequately protect the glans of the penis. It is important that the head of the clitoris has enough lubrication to allow the clitoral hood to slide over the head without sensitivity or discomfort.
Clitoral adhesions can usually be removed by cleaning the area where the smegma has formed. Home remedies like baby oil can also be used to loosen accumulated secretions. You do not need a special soap for women. In fact, some of these foods can cause additional irritation.
If the buildup doesn't go away a few days after brushing, the pain worsens, or other symptoms appear, the smegma could be a sign of infection or something else. You should consult your doctor.
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Smegma is a natural substance produced by the body. This is usually not a cause for concern, unless it builds up and causes problems in the genital area. The easiest way to prevent any smegma-related problems is to bathe regularly and keep your genital area clean. If smegma continues to build up even with good personal hygiene, you should consult your doctor about whether this is a symptom of an infection or something else.