The penis is able to get bigger and smaller because it’s made of erectile tissue – inside it’s like a sponge that can fill up with blood.
The different parts of your penis are:
- The shaft – the long part of the penis
- The glans – the head of the penis
- The foreskin, if you aren’t circumcised – skin that covers the glans
- The urethral opening – where the urine comes out
Head and foreskin
The head of your penis, the glans, is a sensitive part of your penis – usually the most sensitive part. When you’re born, the head of your penis is covered and protected by the foreskin.
Some boys and men are circumcised. This means the foreskin is cut away.
The foreskin is attached to the head by a band of skin called the frenulum. It is very sensitive to touch, particularly the bottom ridge.
If you’re uncircumcised, when you get an erection, the foreskin usually slides back and the head is uncovered. But in some men, the frenulum can be very short. So when you have an erection, it’s painful because your foreskin may be stopped from sliding right back over the head of your penis. A doctor can free it with a minor operation.
Whether you’re circumcised or not, it’s important to clean your penis carefully. Read more on how to care for the uncircumcised or circumcised penis.
An erection is when the penis gets enlarged and hard. Inside your penis are three tubes of spongy tissue. When you get sexually aroused, they fill up with blood, and your penis gets longer and harder. When you get an erection it may be called a ‘boner’, but there’s no bone in a penis!
Erections vary in size and angle. No two boys or men are the same. There are big variations in the size and angle of erections, which can be influenced by things like circumcision and genetics.
Circumcision and erection
If you’re uncircumcised, when you have an erection your foreskin slides back, and you can see the head of your penis (glans).
If you are circumcised, whether you have an erection or not, you can see the head of your penis. This is because your foreskin has been removed.
It's all in the angle
When erect, your penis could point upwards, downwards, or straight ahead.
- 25 per cent of boys or men have erect penises that point nearly or completely downwards to their feet
- 35 per cent of boys or men have erect penises that point nearly or completely straight up against their abdomen area
- 40 per cent of boys or men have erect penises that point nearly or completely straightforward
Pearly penile papules
If you’ve got little white bumps around the rim of the head of your penis, they may well be pearly penile papules.
Pearly penile papules aren't a sexually transmitted infection. This means you can’t get them from someone else or spread them to other people.
They are often confused with genital warts, but they’re not an infection at all. If the bumps on your penis bleed, itch, pop, or seep fluids, get them checked by a medical professional.
Pearly penile papules appear to be very common. The few studies done on them found that anywhere between 8 to 48 per cent of men surveyed had them. They seem to be particularly common among men aged 20 to 30 years old.
It’s possible that through your lifetime, the bumps will appear and disappear by themselves. Don’t pick at them or try to pop them because you can create infections or scarring.
They don’t need medical treatment because they are not caused by an infection or an abnormality. However, some boys and men are embarrassed by the way they look. Also, you might feel it affects the way you have sex.
A dermatologist can remove them using a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser. It’s a simple but painful operation in which the CO2 laser vapourises the bumps. After the procedure, there will be some swelling and scabbing, but it should heal within two weeks.
Testicles & more
Your testicles hang behind your penis in a bag of skin called the scrotum.
Every man’s scrotum looks different. It can be large, small, wrinkled or quite smooth, hairy, or bald. One testicle usually hangs a bit lower than the other, and sometimes they’re slightly different sizes.
Inside the scrotum, there are two testicles, or testes. Your testicles produce and store millions of tiny sperm cells. They also produce testosterone, a hormone that causes men to produce sperm and develop bigger muscles, deeper voices, and body hair. One thing is for sure: the testicles are very sensitive and easily damaged. So a word of advice: never kick anyone there.
When it’s cold, your scrotum shrinks. When it’s hot, your scrotum gets bigger. This happens because, to make sperm, your testicles need to be at just the right temperature – a bit cooler than the rest of your body. So when it’s cold your scrotum squeezes your testicles up close to your body to keep them warm, and when it’s hot your scrotum lets your testicles hang down to keep cool. This happens without you thinking about it!
The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. It’s a gland that produces the clear fluid in semen. It's about the size of a shelled walnut.
You can feel the prostate with your finger, through the wall of the anus, about five centimetres inside on the stomach side. Some people enjoy having their prostate touched like this as part of lovemaking.
The anus is the opening of your bowel – where the stool comes out.
The anus is sensitive, which is why some people include it in their lovemaking.
You can stroke your partner’s anus when you make love, or your own when you masturbate. It can also feel nice if your anus is licked. Some people like having a penis or fingers inside their anus. This is called anal sex.
If you're uncircumcised, gently pull back your foreskin and use warm water to clean the head of your penis. You can use soap on the shaft of your penis, but it’s probably not a good idea to use soap to clean under your foreskin.
Soap can upset the natural balance of bacteria and actually make you more likely to get fungal infections. If you do choose to wash the head of your penis with soap, use a gentle one without strong perfumes.
It's important to wash away smegma. This is a white or yellowish sticky substance made up of skin oil and shed skin cells. It’s perfectly natural, but it can build up under your foreskin and smell, irritate, and cause infection.