men's health

4 minute read

What is phimosis?

By Joe Young | Medically reviewed by Dr Luke Pratsides
coiled red spring on a blue background

Having things well wrapped is usually to your advantage. Nothing beats a tightly-packed burrito or blanket. But when it comes to your penis, you need room to breathe. 

Phimosis, the medical term for being unable to retract your foreskin over the head of your glans, is not easy to discuss. And it’s easy to ignore until the pivotal moment. 

Let’s see what you can do about it. 

What are the causes of a tight foreskin?

At birth, the foreskin is not retractable. It should retract by the age of 3, but may last until the age of 17. This is known as physiological phimosis. In 1% of these cases, the foreskin remains tighter than a pair of spandex - not ideal for horny teenagers as it can cause painful erections, along with other issues. 

If you were once sliding back and forth to your heart’s content, this is another condition called pathologic phimosis. Possible causes include an infection or inflammation, which results in the scarring of the foreskin to the end of the penis. 

When is phimosis a problem?

A lot of cases of phimosis resolve on their own and just require a bit of patience. However, it can be a real issue when it causes:

  • Difficulty urinating

  • Repeated urinary tract infections

  • Painful erections

  • Balanitis (inflammation of the head of the penis )

Can I have sex with phimosis? 

In mild cases, using a condom with lubrication can help with sex. A sex toy like a penis sleeve, non-penetrative sex , or talking to your partner might be beneficial. 

However, in more severe cases, sex is difficult. It can lead to tearing of the foreskin, which is as painful as it sounds. 

If the foreskin doesn’t retract, this also means the glans won’t rub against the vaginal wall or anal canal, causing less of a sensation. It’ll be fine for your partner, but not for you. Along with the general pain, the anxiety and frustration can also lead to erectile dysfunction. 

In extreme cases, a condition called paraphimosis could occur where the foreskin is pulled back, but can’t be moved back to its natural place. This can cause swelling and entrapment of the foreskin behind the glans, requiring emergency medical attention. 

How do I treat phimosis?

If your foreskin has not loosened over time or it’s come as a result of a problem, there are various ways to get it sorted. Talking to a doctor is the best action to take initially. 

Wash your penis regularly with warm water and gently pull the foreskin back as far as you comfortably can to clean underneath it. Over time this may loosen it. If this doesn’t work, there are other options:

Steroid creams

This helps massage and soften the foreskin so it’s easier to retract. Repeating this 2 times a day might loosen it up, which can take anywhere from 4-8 weeks. It’s a slow process so don’t worry if it doesn’t budge after a few days. Combine with hot water in the shower. 


If a bacterial or fungal infection is causing phimosis and other symptoms like swelling or discharge, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to kill the infectious bacteria or fungi.


This is usually a last resort. Removal of the foreskin (circumcision) or more minor procedures involving tactically cutting, slitting, or stretching the foreskin can remove the problem altogether.

It’s a delicate system down there - don’t mess with it. There are many ways to improve your penis health in general. 

Numan talks: Mark & Peter’s experience with phimosis 

We spoke to two people who had phimosis and treated it successfully. One who stretched his foreskin back to normal, and one who opted for a circumcision. 

Mark: I noticed I was different when I started watching porn at around the age of 13. And not just because of the size. I tried stretching it in the shower but nothing worked, I could barely even see the head of my penis. 

Thankfully (I guess), I wasn't sexually active when I was a teenager so it didn’t really have any impact on my life other than anxiety over what would happen if I was to have sex. I didn’t want to talk to a doctor as I really didn’t want a circumcision. 

When I was about 20, I came across these flexible rings which you put inside your foreskin to stretch it out. Seemed weird but I thought it was worth a go. It took about a year, but after that, I was able to pull it back entirely. Now it’s like nothing was wrong at all. 

Peter: One of my first memories of feeling different was when I was around 11. My penis was stinging really badly. I spoke to my parents and they told me to pull back the skin and rinse it with water. I recall thinking to myself: what are they on about? Skin usually stays on my body. I went to the bathroom but there was no budge. It led to more pain, confusion, and questions I never got an answer to. 

Cut ahead a few years, I was becoming sexually active. I knew this was going to be an issue. So my first time was anti-climactic (and not just for the girl, for once). I decided enough was enough. I was attached to my foreskin physically not emotionally - it had to go.

After about 6 months of waiting, I had the surgery and got to see my little buddy without his ill-fitting scarf on. Although I’m very glad I had the surgery I would’ve much preferred to have felt “normal” for all of those years. It was a constant insecurity. 

The numan take

Problems below the belt can be tricky to tackle. Like other penis issues, such as premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction, phimosis is hard to accept but easy to ignore. When it’s a problem, do something about it.