If the general public has any inkling what foreskin is, then smegma is likely the only word related to foreskin that most women and circumcised men have ever heard – and not in a good way.
Smegma is maligned by people who don’t have a clue what this natural, needed, and functional fluid actually is in relation to intact men’s foreskin health and sexual pleasure. Over the years, many derogatory monikers have been bestowed upon smegma, such as “dick cheese”, “organzola”, “penis brie”, “cock cheddar”, “cheese beanie”, to name a very few. The confusion around smegma begins with the name itself and extends to the inaccurate information in pop culture, pro-circumcision propaganda, and ignorant medical environments.
Smegma in Ancient Times
The word smegma is usually defined incorrectly as being Latin with a definition of “soap”, via attribution to the Greek smekhein, meaning “to wash off”. The Latin word for soap was sapona, not smegma, nor was the word smegma used in antiquity in reference to the genitals or any part of the anatomy. According to my research, the word smegma occurs in only one known Latin text written before CE 200 – that of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, where it appears only twice, with the word smegmata appearing twice as well.
Searching through Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, I read the two passages that mention smegma, and they recount the process of melting copper and other metals, which produces a byproduct of debris we now call “slag”. For certain skin conditions, Pliny recommends smegmata, which was any salve used to smooth the skin and help various skin conditions. However, no use of the word smegma occurs to specify the skin, the genital skin, or any excretion of normal bodily functions.
Pliny explains the process of creating the detersive metal-working by-product smegma and describes smegma’s worthlessness as “a sort of copper chaff.” Pliny does address a patient’s excessive membranous mucus discharge called catarrh, but his recommendation to cure catarrh involves the patient “kissing a mule’s nostrils”, with a specific reference to the cleaning, healing properties of drinking unwashed, ground-up snails in wine. In the Latin version of “Regimen of Acute Diseases”, I read where famed Greek healer Hippocrates writes of hot soap, i.e., smegma, being added to healing baths. Again, nowhere is foreskin mentioned in relation to smegma.
Smegma & Bacteria
The modern term “smegma” was coined in the mid-19th century to label the frothy, soap-looking but stink-emitting cock curd that results from poor hygiene. This foul froth is populated by Mycobacterium smegmatis, a.k.a. smegma bacillus. And yet, the term “smegma” is also used to describe the healthy, clear, viscous fluid produced by the foreskin. To set the record straight: “dick cheese” is bad bacteria; fresh smegma is not.
Smegma may be erroneously said to mean “soap”, but soap is actually not required to clean the foreskin. In fact, using soap to clean under the foreskin may disrupt the internal foreskin’s pH – just like a woman should never use soap in her vagina. If the foreskin is retractable, simply pull it back, rinse with water, and replace the foreskin. But NEVER force the foreskin to retract if it is still attached to the glans.
The Truth About Smegma
Fresh smegma is created when microscopic protrusions within the internal foreskin shed their epithelium layer of cells, making smegma a natural byproduct of the foreskin’s self-cleaning action. Fresh smegma is composed of 26.6% fats, 13.3% proteins, rich amounts of squalene, plus other compounds that assist the male’s immune system.
Squalene is a lipidic, biochemical precursor to sterols and steroid hormones; and it is even used in commercial cosmetics due to its smooth, moist properties. Squalene gets its name from the Latin word for shark – squalus – because shark liver oil was a popular additive to lotions and hand creams to improve texture and viscosity.
The slick consistency of fresh smegma is not only useful as a natural lubricant during masturbation or sex, it keeps the glans penis smooth and moist. The glans is pink or purplish in color regardless of a man’s outer skin tone because the glans penis is an internal organ. The internal foreskin’s mucosal membrane protects the head of the penis. Fresh smegma prevents chafing between the foreskin’s membrane and the head, which could lead to scarring of the glans.
A healthy intact man will constantly produce clear, slippery smegma that assists penetrative sex, oral, and hand sex. A “wet spot” on an intact man’s underwear is a hallmark of life with foreskin.
Fresh, beneficial smegma is natural and delicious for an intact man’s partner to taste and play with. Intact men produce smegma continually between the ages of 20 and 40, after which smegma production may taper off as the protrusions that create smegma begin to atrophy. However, some elderly men continue to make as much smegma as they did when they were younger.
Just to reiterate this point: fresh, clear smegma is not the same as the days’-old, yellowish, bacteria-laden funk most people hear about or the calcified crust that builds up due to improper hygiene. Smegma is normal. The noxious overgrowth of Mycobacterium smegmatis is not. These two substances have completely different chemical compositions.
Note: Properly cleaning under the foreskin requires a little water and about two seconds of your time.
The Future of Smegma
A change in terminology is needed to end the stigma over smegma in intact men. It is confusing to use the single word smegma for both the natural lubricant that protects the glans penis as well as for the foul, “worthless” debris resulting from a severe lack of hygiene. A similar problem exists with the term phimosis, which is used to describe both the natural state of the foreskin at birth but then used to refer to a medical condition of an overly tight foreskin in adult men. Change is called for on both counts, in my opinion.
Since the word smegma was contrived to refer to an unneeded byproduct, a new word should be devised for the fresh, integral lubricant that protects the glans and helps make sex so much slippery fun. Perhaps we can use smegmata for the helpful foreskin salve and use smegma for the bacteria-filled “dick-cheese” since smegma already has a bad rap? After all, no one would use the single word of “apple” to indicate both an apple as well as rotten eggs.
Until such time as a new word is devised, do not be afraid of fresh smegma or an intact penis! Fresh smegma is normal, necessary, and delicious – as is the intact foreskin on adult men.