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What is Phimosis?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Phimosis can be a challenging condition that occurs in the uncircumcised male. It affects the foreskin, which covers the penis, and it means the foreskin can either barely be moved or can only be pulled back a small amount. As most boys grow up, the skin becomes increasingly retractable, but where this condition is present, this is not the case. Clitoral phimosis is quite different, relating to tightness of skin or extra tissue around the female clitoris, making it difficult or impossible to access the clitoris.

The uncircumcised male infant begins with a relatively tight foreskin that becomes increasingly retractable in the first few years of life. When this skin doesn’t loosen, phimosis is present, and doctors could recommend a variety of treatments, depending on how much the condition is bothersome. In young boys it may be a minor or not even noticeable issue, but if retraction still can’t be achieved, some older boys and men have complications like sore penis, redness at the tip of the penis, and difficulty urinating without having some leakage or dripping. As men become sexually active, phimosis may be most challenging or uncomfortable.

The principal indication to treat this condition is if it appears to be causing discomfort, and treatment can range from non-invasive steps to surgical measures. Some doctors advocate for early treatment if this tightening is noticed in boys by the age they are two or three. Several approaches might be used including application of steroid creams with occasional pulling forward or back on the foreskin as much as possible to loosen it. Some men don’t get treatment early in life and a similar approach might be adopted when they are adults.

The tightness of the foreskin doesn’t always respond to manual efforts to stretch it. Doctors may sometimes use balloon inflation of the skin for greater stretching. Another approach that has been called controversial is circumcision, or at the least removing part of the foreskin so the rest can be retracted. In rare situations, the condition develops suddenly, and circumcision could be the answer to treat a problem that may be painful and uncomfortable.

In clitoral phimosis, surgery is almost always indicated, and is very minor. The surgical procedure preferred is often called hoodectomy, and it involves removing a tiny amount of tissue so that the clitoris has greater flexibility and is more exposed. A covered clitoris that can’t be accessed is usually not problematic for issues such as urination, but it can significantly reduce sexual pleasure because it renders clitoral orgasm impossible. This extra growth of skin is actually not that uncommon, and women who believe they don’t have a clitoris should see their doctors to evaluate whether they have phimosis.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon1001146 — On Mar 14, 2019

Had a circumcision to correct this problem once but now it is coming back. I am in my late 60's but had the circumcision done just a few years ago. Any suggestions on what to do now?

By Mor — On Jan 20, 2014

@pleonasm - Not that women don't often draw the short end of the stick when it comes to this kind of thing but it sounds like phimosis of the penis has more potential consequences than it would in women. I mean, if you can't retract the foreskin properly, that could lead to infections.

By pleonasm — On Jan 20, 2014

@KoiwiGal - I've heard of the condition before, but only in men. One of my friends on a forum I visit recently had surgery to correct this problem. He told us that it was pretty painful and that it had led to quite a few problems in terms of feeling "normal" in the locker room over the years.

I guess it would be more likely for people to diagnose phimosis in male children, just because it would be far more easily seen when changing diapers or whatever. Part of the problem for women is that they simply don't usually have visible genitalia.

Although I suspect problems with diagnosis also occur from women not getting the same kind of open and frank discussion of their sexuality that men are often exposed to.

By KoiwiGal — On Jan 19, 2014

It actually kind of annoys me that this is the first time I've heard about phimosis, particularly for women. I have heard of plenty of women who have simply given up on the idea of reaching orgasm and just accept that it's normal for them. Some of these women might just have this condition and have no idea that it even exists.

It sounds like phimosis treatment isn't even that much of a big deal for women, but there's no way they can get that help if they don't know that there is a legitimate medical reason that they are having difficulty.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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