Delving into the intricate details of smegma and its natural occurrence in the human body.
what is smegma

When it comes to genital health, specific topics feel a little more taboo than others.

Smegma is one of them.

Whether we have it or not, there is no way we are willing to announce it to the world, let alone our partner. The thing we all need to understand about smegma is that it is normal.

That said, knowing about smegma, including its buildup, removal methods, and potential issues arising from excess, is crucial for maintaining optimal sexual health.

Read on to learn more!

In this article:

Note: Read the whole article or scroll down to the KEY TAKEAWAYS section at the end of this article for a short summary.

What Is Smegma?

The purpose of these glands is to keep our genitals moist and reduce the risk of dry or itchy skin.

The last time you encountered the term "smegma" was likely in high school health class. Understanding what it is and how to manage it is crucial to adult genital health.

Since not many of our peers at that age knew what it meant, we are here to clarify it.

So, what does Webster's Dictionary have to say?

Smegma definition: "the cheesy sebaceous matter that collects between the glans penis and the foreskin or around the clitoris and labia minora"

As humans, it's natural for us to secrete oils from our skin. In our genital area, we have a ton of tiny oil glands known as sebaceous glands that release smegma to help lubricate the areas. This thick fluid comprises a blend of oils, dead skin cells, sweat, and various other liquids.

The purpose of these glands is to keep our genitals moist and reduce the risk of dry or itchy skin. It also helps to lubricate our erogenous zone to help minimize friction, pain, and discomfort during sex.

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Smegma in Men

Smegma accumulates around the head of the penis in uncircumcised men.

Research has found that the presence of "retractable prepuce," otherwise known as the foreskin, can cause the growth of bacteria in and around the tip (glans) of the penis.

Young boys may exhibit this cheesy-like substance, which becomes more prominent during puberty and gradually decreases with age as oil production declines.

The purpose of smegma in men is to help lubricate and nourish the skin around the head of the penis and under the foreskin to reduce pain and friction during penetrative sex.

Smegma in Women

It's not widely known that smegma is not exclusive to uncircumcised penises. It can also be present in the folds of the female vulva.

Similar to men, women have oil glands in and around their vulva that form smegma. It forms either under the clitoral hood or between the skin folds that surround the urethra and vagina, better known as the labia.

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Problems with Smegma Buildup

Thanks to anatomy, there are physiological differences between men and women that can change their experience with smegma.

Smegma is an entirely normal and natural substance that happens to nearly everyone.

That said, smegma buildup without proper hygiene care can become problematic.

While it is not a form of sexually transmitted infection or disease, too much smegma can lead to discomfort, foul odor, and, in some cases, risk of infection or painful irritation.

Thanks to anatomy, there are physiological differences between men and women that can change their experience with smegma.

Problems for Penis Owners

Men are more likely to experience irritation, redness, and discomfort caused by tight foreskin that stems from smegma accumulation.

It is also anticipated to generate an odor in the penis, occasionally resembling that of sour milk.

In more severe cases, smegma buildup caused by excessive oil secretions can contribute to chronic inflammation of the glans penis. This condition is known as balanitis and it affects 3-11% of penis owners in their lifetime.

While not contagious, inadequate management of balanitis may elevate the risk of fungal or bacterial infections.

Problems for Vulva Owners

Women, on the other hand, have their smegma-related issues to deal with.

Similarly, women also face pain and irritation due to smegma buildup in the vulva area. It can generate a ton of discomfort not only during sex but also while sitting down or changing their underwear.

Smegma accumulation without regular hygiene can also lead to clitoral adhesion. This condition is characterized by ongoing inflammation under the clitoral hood, causing the skin to attach or adhere itself together.

According to research, up to 22% of vulva owners experience clitoral adhesion. Symptoms develop progressively, causing pain to the clitoris, changes in sensitivity levels of the clitoris (i.e. hyper-sensitivity or hypo-sensitivity), and discomfort during sex and activities.

Treatment may be generally simple, such as gently pulling the clitoral hood from the glands and using warm water to rinse and clean the area well. However, speaking to your healthcare provider may be best if your symptoms do not resolve after a few days.

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How to Get Rid of Smegma

The best way to get rid of smegma is by washing your penis or vaginal area with warm water once a day.

The number one culprit to having too much smegma is poor hygiene.

Both men and women may experience a buildup when the genital area is not cleaned regularly or adequately.

Fortunately, there is a simple fix to this.

The best way to get rid of smegma is by washing your penis or vaginal area with warm water once a day.

Uncircumcised men are encouraged to keep the entire penis clean. To do this properly, you'll want to wash beneath the foreskin by gently pulling the skin back with one hand and using a mild soap and warm water to clean and rinse the area. Use a clean towel to dry off. Make sure to return your foreskin to its regular position before you put underwear back on.

For women, you'll want to prevent smegma buildup by using warm water and mild soap to wash all around the vulva. Get in between the folds of the labia and clitoral region. Avoid using any fragrances that change the scent of your vagina, as it can cause more harm than good! Also, it's essential to avoid douches as it affects the natural microbiome of the vagina.

Keep scrubbing to a minimum and avoid using harsh cleansers or applying soap more than once a day, as this may irritate sensitive skin around the genital area.

If you continue noticing a smegma buildup, consider switching your underwear for a more breathable, lightweight fabric such as cotton or linen. These can help wick away moisture inside your underwear and promote healthy airflow.

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FAQs

What is smegma?

Smegma is a white, cheesy-like substance that accumulates in the genital region. It consists of dead skin cells, oils, and other bodily fluids.

Is it normal to have smegma?

Yes. It's natural to develop smegma in and around your private areas, particularly in penis owners with foreskin and vulva owners around the clitoral hood and labia regions.

Can women get smegma?

Yes. While there's a common assumption that smegma can only occur in men with uncircumcised penises under the folds of their foreskin, it's important to note that women can also experience smegma.

How to get rid of smegma?

In both men and women, proper hygiene is the best way to help prevent the buildup of accumulated smegma. Gently clean the area with warm water and mild, unscented soaps regularly.

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Smegma might feel like an embarrassing substance, but it's completely natural and it happens to anyone with an uncircumcised penis or vulva
  • It functions as a natural lubricant, helping to make sex more comfortable
  • The best way to combat smegma buildup is by maintaining good personal hygiene
  • Gently wash your genitals regularly with warm water and mild soap
  • Speak to your healthcare provider if you experience more severe issues caused by smegma
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Medical Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to give medical advice or substitute for the medical advice of a physician.

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