Anatomy of the penis



Penile Anatomy Photographs          Female Anatomy & Circumcision


Last updated: 29 Jan 2017



This page provides an overview of the anatomy of the penis and gives a glossary of abbreviations, acronyms, medical terms and suffixes relating to male sexual anatomy and male circumcision. Links connect to more detailed explanations, drawings and photographs.




The penis and its foreskin
The foreskin is a continuation of the skin of the penis shaft which forms a fold over the glans of the penis. Shown to the right are three views labelling the various parts of the foreskin and shaft skin. Since it is a fold, the inner foreskin (in green) and the outer foreskin (in turquoise) are continuous with each other, and also freely mobile with respect to each other.
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The frenulum is a web of skin that helps the foreskin to retract during erection and return when flaccid. After circumcisison it is redundant - it may be retained or removed during circumcision. In the illustration to the left, the foreskin has been pulled back and the frenulum is highlighted in yellow. Likewise, the amount of inner and outer foreskin that is retained or removed is up to you and your physician.

Glossary and Explanation

Slang expressions are listed separately, here. To request or submit additions or amendments to this glossary, click here.

Acylophiliac Greek for 'lover of the acorn' - acorn being a slang term for the Glans Penis. The language of Ancient Greece had two words for acorn, akulos and balanos. Both occur in circumcision terminology. Acucullophiliac, from the Latin cucullus 'hood', means the same thing - love of the unhooded.

Adhesion The uniting of two skin surfaces, especially the union of the opposing surface of the interior foreskin and the glans of the penis in the uncircumcised.

Anterior Towards the front. The opposite of Anterior is Posterior.

Aposthia The condition of having been born without a foreskin, apparently ready-circumcised.

Balanitis (alternatively Balanoposthitis)Inflammation of the glans penis (the tip of the penis). It has been shown that uncircumcised males have a higher incidence of penile inflammatory disorders; circumcision almost completely eliminates these problems. More detail and photographs here.

Balanus Synonymous with Glans Penis.

Buck’s Fascia Part of the inner structure of the penis. Buck’s Fascia is the tegument that holds the components of the phallus in place, not the shaft skin, which is just a loose sheath. It is important that the Buck’s Fascia is not cut during the circumcision procedure. [Link to more detail and an illustration.

Buried Penis A minor congenital defect attributable to a short suspensory ligament within the abdomen; causes the shaft of the penis to withdraw into the body. Buried Penis is considered by some to be a contra-indication to neonatal circumcision. [This website includes a page devoted to contra-indications, with onward links to more detailed descriptions of each condition.]

BXO Balanitis Xerotica Obliterans. An auto-immune form of Balanitis. For more detail, follow the link from Balanitis (above).

Chancroid A venereal disease no longer common in the West but quite prevalent in Africa. Several studies have shown a correlation between chancroid and increased susceptibility to heterosexual transmission of HIV/AIDS. This is unsurprising given that the condition produces ulceration of the genitals, providing an additional portal of entry for the virus. Thus the condition can no longer be considered benign, as was previously the case.

Chordee Abnormal curvature of the penis, sometimes only evident when at least partially erect. In severe cases, considered to be a contra-indication to neonatal circumcision. [This website includes a page devoted to contra-indications, with onward links to more detailed descriptions of each condition.]

Circumcise To perform circumcision.

Circumcised The state of having undergone circumcision, i.e. (in the male) the personal condition of having had one’s prepuce removed surgically.

Circumcision clamp A metal or plastic device used to hold the foreskin in the required position during the circumcision procedure whilst protecting the glans from damage by the scalpel. These clamps are extensively discussed and illustrated in the CIRCLIST pages relating to Instruments and Techniques .

Circumcision (female) This topic is dealt with in CIRCLIST’s female circumcision section.

Circumcision (male) The surgical procedure in which the sleeve of skin (called the prepuce or foreskin) that covers the glans (head) of the penis is removed. From the Latin circum (around) and caedo (to cut).

Circumcision scar The scar resulting from the fusion of shaft skin and inner foreskin during the healing process following circumcision. The scar tissue may differ in pigmentation and/or texture from the surrounding skin. Scarring is usually minor and the difference between inner and outer foreskin pigmentation is often more obvious than the actual circumcision scar.

Congenital defect A birth defect - a foetal malformation - that is not (or primarily not) genetic in origin.

Contra-Indication In general, CIRCLIST promotes male circumcision - but seeks to do so responsibly. There are a number of birth defects (some congenital, some genetic) which suggest that circumcision should not be performed on a boy suffering from one or more of these problems. These medical conditions are termed 'contra-indications' to neonatal circumcision. [This website includes a page devoted to contra-indications, with onward links to more detailed descriptions of each condition.]

Corona The flared ridge at the back of the glans, forming the prominent posterior border of the glans penis.

Cryptorchidism The medical term for undescended testicle(s). The condition can be "unilateral" (only one testicle affected, more commonly the right side, the other being normal) or "bilateral" (both sides affected). Bilateral cryptorchidism is regarded as a contra-indication to neonatal circumcision because it can indicate an intersex condition.

Dartos Dartos tissue is normally found only in the scrotum and is the tissue responsible for reacting to temperature change, contracting when cold and stretching when warm so as to regulate the temperature of the testes.

Distal An anatomical term meaning "relatively further away from [whatever]". In the context of circumcision, used to describe which way round a circumcision clamp should be applied; the distal face of the clamp being the side farthest away from the abdomen of the patient. The opposite of Distal is Proximal.

Dorsal An anatomical term meaning 'on the upper surface'. (Think of a Dorsal Fin on a fish.) When used in the phrase dorsal slit it refers to an incision made through the top surface of the foreskin. In some societies such a cut is all that is done by way of 'circumcision'. More commonly it is the first stage in a more conventional circumcision and is done to facilitate insertion of a circumcision clamp. The opposite of Dorsal is Ventral.

Elective surgery Surgery done as a matter of choice rather than of necessity.

EMLATM Cream A widely available topical anaesthetic, obtainable without prescription in many countries. It contains two active ingredients, lidocaine and prilocaine. Each gram of cream contains 25 mg of lidocaine and 25 mg of prilocaine.

Epidemiology The study of epidemics. Currently a 'hot topic' when discussing circumcision, on account of the link between circumcision and HIV infection rates. Applied Epidemiology :  Medical and Social policy deriving from discoveries made through epidemiology.

Epispadias A rare congenital defect in boys. The urethra opens onto the top side of the penis instead of at the tip of the glans, resulting in urine (and, from puberty, semen) being discharged from an abnormal position. Epispadias is a strict contra-indication to neonatal circumcision. [This website includes a page devoted to contra-indications, with onward links to more detailed descriptions of each condition.]

Erogenous (as, for example, in Erogenous zone) Particularly sensitive to physical sexual stimulation.

Flaccid The normal, relaxed state of the penis, indicating that the male is not sexually aroused. The opposite of Erect.

Forceps A surgical instrument designed to hold and grip tissue. In circumcision sometimes used to grip the foreskin and guide the scalpel.

Foreskin See Prepuce.

Frenar band Elastic tissue at the tip of the foreskin (between the inner and outer foreskin) that helps contract the tip of the foreskin causing it to remain positioned over the glans.

Frenectomy Removal of any frenum/frenulum. In the context of circumcision: Removal of the frenum/frenulum that connects the ventral aspect of the glans to the inner foreskin.

Frenoplasty Correction of an abnormally attached frenum by surgically repositioning it.

Frenotomy Surgical division of any frenum or frenulum.

Frenulum 1) Literal meaning - a small frenum. 2) An elastic web of mucous tissue under the glans penis that connects to the inner foreskin and helps contract the prepuce over the glans. Optionally, it can removed during circumcision - whether or not that is done is one of the "style options". Sometimes referred to as the "Frenum".

Frenum 1) A narrow web or fold of mucous membrane passing from a fixed to a more movable part, serving to check undue movement of the movable part. 2) An anatomical structure resembling such a fold.

Frenulum Breve (Alternatively 'Frenum Breve') The condition in which the frenulum of the penis is short, with consequent restriction of the movement of the prepuce. The frenulum should be sufficiently long and supple to permit full retraction of the foreskin, so that it lays smoothly back on the shaft of the erect penis. Frenulum Breve often results in tearing of the frenulum during sexual activity. Healing is complicated due to the moist condition of the area. Such a tear results in scar tissue which is less flexible after the incident, making further tears more likely. The condition is easily treated by circumcision in a style that includes removal of the frenulum. Photograph here.

Genetic defect A physical defect or medical condition that is inherited, e.g. Haemophilia.

Glans Penis The head or crown of the penis, made up of highly sensitive tissue.

Haemophilia An inhertited medical condition; the sufferer’s blood does not clot properly due to a genetic defect. (Women carry the defective gene without showing the symptoms of haemophilia. It is a classic example of an "X-linked recessive" genetic defect and propagates within the population accordingly.) Any surgery on a haemophiliac, including circumcision, can result in considerable loss of blood and appropriate precautions must be taken.

High One of the terms used to define the style of a circumcision. See 'Style'.

Hooded Prepuce Incomplete circumferential formation of foreskin with a dorsal component (the dorsal hood) present but an absent or incomplete ventral portion. Typically seen in boys with hypospadias or isolated chordee. In the rare condition of epispadias, the hooded portion may be ventral. Although perhaps thought of as physically unattractive, the condition is rarely troublesome. Surgical correction of hypospadias and the much rarer condition epispadias both require the harvesting of the foreskin as donor tissue for the repair process. In other cases of hooded prepuce the uneven cosmetic appearance can easily be corrected by elective circumcision.

Hypospadias A congenital defect, fairly common in boys. The urethra opens onto the under side of the penis instead of at the tip of the glans, resulting in urine (and, from puberty, semen) being discharged from an abnormal position. Hypospadias is always to be regarded as contra-indicating neonatal circumcision. [This website includes a page devoted to contra-indications, with onward links to more detailed descriptions of each condition.]

Informed consent The legal condition whereby a person can be said to have given consent based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications and future consequences of an action. In order to give informed consent, the individual concerned must have adequate reasoning faculties and be in possession of all relevant facts at the time consent is given. In cases where an individual is considered unable to give informed consent, another person is generally authorized to give consent on his behalf, e.g. the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of a child.

Intersex Discrepancy between physical genitalia and EITHER the gender norm OR the individual’s karyotype. Intersex states are always to be regarded as contra-indicating neonatal circumcision. [This website includes a page devoted to contra-indications, with onward links to more detailed descriptions of each condition.]

Karyotype The characteristic chromosome complement of a species. In the context of human gender, "XX" is genetically female whilst "XY" is genetically male.

Loose One of the terms used to define the style of a circumcision. See 'Style'.

Low One of the terms used to define the style of a circumcision. See 'Style'.

Masturbation Physical stimulation bringing about sexual arousal, not involving intercourse. Can be done alone or mutually. Mutual masturbation is surprisingly common amongst pubescent boys as they experiment with their sexuality. For more about masturbation see the aboutcirc page on the topic.

Meatus See Urinary meatus.

Meatal Stenosis An abnormally narrow meatus. This condition can be caused by severing or crushing of the frenal artery during infant circumcision, although this is extremely rare. More frequently it is caused by ulceration of the meatus resulting from contact with stale urine. If the ulcer is properly cared for (usually just by applying Vaseline or other barrier ointment) it heals with no such problem, but if it is neglected it can lead to stenosis. For this reason it is recommended that circumcision is either carried out soon after birth, when the urine is very dilute, or deferred until the child is out of diapers.

Micropenis A congenital defect which may be the most obvious indication of a more pervasive Intersex condition. Neonatal circumcision should be deferred pending specialist evaluation of both the cause and the extent of incomplete masculinisation.

Orchidometer A device for measuring the size of testicles and thus assessing developmental progress, particularly at puberty. Click here to view an illustrated page giving more detail. See also 'Tanner Stage'.

Overhang The portion of the foreskin that extends beyond the tip of the glans. Sometimes known as redundant prepuce. Photographs here.

Paraphimosis Painful constriction of the glans penis by a phimotic foreskin which has been retracted behind the corona and got stuck. In severe cases this can constitute a clinical emergency, due to possible strangulation of the blood supply to the glans. Click here for more information about Phimosis and Paraphimosis.

Pearly Penile Papules In essence these are swollen hair follicles without the hair, located on the corona and found in approximately 30% of men at some time in their adult lives. They are benign and do not warrant treatment, but to the naked eye can be confused with genital warts. Being located on the glans, they are unaffected by circumcision. Worth discussing with your doctor if you have them, to ensure that they really are benign papules and not something more serious. Photographs here.

Penoscrotal Web A web of non-mucous tissue stretching from the scrotal raphe to the undeneath of the penis, giving the appearance of a short penis and a deformed scrotum. This can occur naturally or be caused by an overly aggressive circumcision, especially in infancy. Corrected by a surgical procedure known as scrotal z-plasty.

Phimosis Narrowness of the opening of the prepuce (foreskin), preventing it being drawn back over the glans. This condition is readily corrected by circumcision. Photographs here, on the CIRCLIST page relating to Phimosis and Paraphimosis.

Phimotic Pertaining to phimosis.

Posterior Towards the rear. The opposite of Posterior is Anterior.

Posthitis Inflammation of the prepuce (the foreskin of the penis). Do not confuse with balanitis, which is inflammation of the glans. For more detail, follow the link from Balanitis (above).

Prepuce (Male) The free fold of skin that covers, more or less completely, the glans penis of an uncircumcised male. Synonyms: Foreskin, Preputium. During circumcision, most or all of the prepuce is removed.

Prophylactic Some thing done to prevent disease before it occurs; preventative treatment. (Associated noun: Prophylaxis.) In a sense, the opposite of therapeutic.

Proximal An anatomical term meaning "relatively closer to [whatever]". In the context of circumcision, used to describe which way round a circumcision clamp should be applied; the proximal face of the clamp being the side closest to the abdomen of the patient. The opposite of Proximal is Distal.

Preputiotomy Incision of the prepuce; for example to make a dorsal slit.

Raphe The line of union of any two continguous, bilaterally symmetrical structures. In the context of the male genitalia, the Raphe runs down the underneath of the penis in one continous line from the tip of the foreskin, down the shaft, down the center of the scrotum and between the legs to the anus. More detail and photographs here.

Recircumcision A second or subsequent circumcision of someone who has already been circumcised. Fairly rare, it is sometimes done to tighten a circumcision that has, over time, become loose.

Redundant Prepuce A foreskin that more than covers the glans when the penis is flaccid. Colloquially known as "Overhang".

RIC Literally, "Routine Infant Circumcision". Refers to the custom of routinely circumcising newborn boys for reasons of culture rather than religion or medical necessity, especially in North America.

Shaft skin The part of the penile sheath that covers the shaft from the abdomen to the foreskin or circumcision scar. Highly mobile with respect to the underlying structures, being separated from them by the Buck’s Fascia.

Skin Bridges Natural, discontinuous adhering or uniting of two skin surfaces, especially where unintended. In the context of male circumcision, skin bridges can form between the corona and the circumcision scar during the healing process. Easily corrected by minor surgery. Click here for photographs of skin bridges.

Smegma The secretion of a sebaceous gland, producing a cheesy substance that collects between the glans penis and the foreskin of the uncircumcised penis. More detail and a photograph here.

Style To accurately describe an existing circumcision (or indicate just what’s wanted in respect of a forthcoming one), it is necessary to specify four parameters: The High/Low variable, the Loose/Tight variable, whether the frenulum was - or is to be - removed and whether the cut was - or is to be - perpendicular to the shaft of the penis or parallel to the rim of the glans.

Suffixes Many words used by the medical profession at first seem to be unnecessarily complicated and incomprehensible to the layman. In fact they are highly structured; a very precise meaning can be 'unpicked' by separating the root from the suffix. Here is an explanation of some of those suffixes:
-ectomy Cutting something out, as in appendicectomy - surgical removal of the appendix.
-metry Measuring something, as in psychometry - the measurement of mental state and intelligence.
-ography Writing about something, as in ethnography - writing about race & culture.
-ology Studying something, as in epidemiology - the study of epidemics.
-otomy Cutting through something, as in preputiotomy - making a dorsal slit in the prepuce, the foreskin.
-pexy Repositioning something, as in orchidopexy - correction of an undescended testicle.
-plasty Improvement of appearance or form of something, e.g. rhinoplasty - a "nose job".

Sulcus The groove or furrow between the glans and the shaft of the penis.

Suture A surgical stitch. Suture material is designed to be very strong whilst being tolerated well by the body. There are two types of suture material: a self-dissolving ("soluble") one which lasts about a week and a non-soluble type, which has to be removed by the doctor and is used where the stitch needs to hold for longer periods.

Tanner Stages A method for describing and classifying the progress of puberty. More detail and artist’s impressions here. See also 'Orchidometer'.

Therapeutic Something done to cure disease after it occurs; healing treatment. (Associated noun: Therapy.) In a sense, the opposite of prophylactic.

Thrombocytopenia Thrombocytopenia is the term for a reduced platelet (thrombocyte) count in the blood. It happens when platelets are lost from the circulation faster than they can be replaced from the bone marrow where they are made. This condition is a contra-indication to neonatal circumcision. [This website includes a page devoted to contra-indications.]

Tight One of the terms used to define the style of a circumcision. See 'Style'.

Topical (As in "topical ointment"). Applied to the external surface. Example: EMLATM Cream. This word often fools auto-translators; they are liable to wrongly interpret it as meaning "On topic, something up-to-the-minute and in the news".

UMDNS Universal Medical Device Nomenclature SystemTM, a standard international nomenclature and computer coding system for medical devices.

Urethra The tube through the penis in which urine and semen flow. (Do not confuse with the similar-sounding Ureter, the ducts connecting the kidneys to the bladder.)

Urinary meatus The opening of the urethra at the tip of the penis where urine and semen exit the body of the male.

Venereal Pertaining to love and sex; literally "of Venus" (the Roman Goddess of Love).

Ventral An anatomical term meaning 'on the lower surface' or under side of [whatever]. The opposite of Ventral is Dorsal.

Z-plasty A surgical technique used to correct an unacceptable penoscrotal web, illustrated here.



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