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What Is the Glans?

The head of a man's penis is known as the glans penis.
The glans creates a helmet or mushroom shape, causing the head of the penis to be larger in circumference than the penile shaft.
The glans penis, or head of the penis, is often considered the most sensitive area of the penis.
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2014
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The glans, or glans penis, is the technical term for the sensitive head of the penis. It is sometimes also referred to as the "helmet" or the "bell end" of the penis because of its shape. Anatomically, it extends from the corpus spongiosum, which is spongy tissue within the penis that surrounds the urethra. This spongy tissue cushions the urethra during erection of the penis and prevents it from closing. The corpus spongiosum is surrounded by the corpora cavernosa penis, the erectile tissue that fills with blood when the penis is erect. At the tip of these structures lies the glans, which houses the urethral opening.

Uniquely structured, the glans creates a helmet or mushroom shape because of the corona, the raised edge at the back part of the glans, which often also causes the head of the penis to be larger in circumference than the penile shaft. Sensitivity is heightened in this area as well as in the frenulum, which lies just below it. Behind the corona is a sulcus, or depression, between the corona and the penile shaft. Scientists debate the purpose of this "rim," uncertain as to its exact function, though it might exist simply to increase sexual stimulation in both male and female during intercourse rather than providing any distinct evolutionary advantage.

Skin on the outer layers of the head of the penis is made up of mucocutaneous tissue, similar to the skin on the inside of the mouth, which is extremely sensitive. In uncircumcised males, the foreskin of the penis covers the glans when the penis is flaccid, and the skin on the head of the penis remains moist. The foreskin, also known as the prepuce, also is mucocutaneous tissue and attaches to the penis at the frenulum of prepuce of penis. This attachment point is found on the underside of the penis, where the glans meets the shaft, and is visible in circumcised as well as uncircumcised men.

After circumcision, or the removal of the foreskin, the glans is left exposed and becomes dry and less pliant. Some believe this causes the skin of the glans to thicken and become less sensitive. Others feel removal of the foreskin helps maintain better hygiene for young children and has little effect on the sensitivity of the glans. Circumcision is not medically necessary and usually is performed because of personal or religious preference. Debate continues on whether circumcision has a significant effect on sexual stimulation.

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Hawthorne
Post 7

@aishia - You make a good point -- male circumcision doesn't really help defend against diseases much at all. Even though STD prevention has long been listed as one of the major reasons to get your son circumcised, science has yet to come up with any good examples of studies that prove it.

Circumcised men can still catch HIV and other STDs just as readily as uncircumcised men, too. The only health difference I can find that makes a circumcised penis superior to an uncircumcised one is that the foreskin can become a hygiene problem if the man doesn't clean himself well. If he's had a foreskin his whole life, he ought to know how to clean it well enough to stay healthy, though.

This is especially true if his parents teach him, as parents are supposed to do with all hygiene type things for their kids. If the father is circumcised, and perhaps doesn't know how to care for and clean an intact penis, it's a parental duty to look it up. Too many parents are squeamish about explaining personal and sexual things to their kids, and either leave it up to them to figure things out on their own or give them books and don't actually discuss anything.

Although in this day and age, it's more likely that the kid will just look up the answers to any of his questions on an online dictionary than actually confront his parents with such an embarrassing question.

malmal
Post 6

@nanny3 - If it might seem strange to you that other people are so concerned with a stranger's penis, remember that for many people circumcision is done for religious reasons.

There are a few exceptions, but the majority of religions out there make it not just their hobby but their driven mission in life to try and convince others which personal decisions to make, including what to believe about how to live their lives, how to deal with eventually dying, and yes, whether you should or should not have your son(s) circumcised.

Another reason for male circumcision, even for those who aren't religious, is tradition. Some men want their sons circumcised because they are circumcised, so it's what is familiar and seems "normal" to them for a man to be.

Unfortunately, just because people have done something regularly for a long time doesn't make it right. People beheaded and gutted each other as punishments for petty theft for centuries, and that didn't make it right, either.

If you couldn't tell from that last example, I personally am against male circumcision all the way -- or any circumcision, really. I think it's mutilation. Most people agree with me on the female version, and I think they only disagree about male circumcision because it has been a widely-accepted procedure for so long.

Think about it, though. The glans and corona are made to be covered up, as VivAnne says. If the male sexual organs were made to function best with no foreskin, men wouldn't be born with them.

aishia
Post 5

@oscar23 - Ouch! That does sound like a pretty awful condition for your husband -- good thing yeast infections are treatable so he could see an end in sight for that kind of discomfort.

I wanted to note here that male yeast infections are possible for circumcised men as well as men with a natural penis like your husband.

The likelihood of catching a penile yeast infection is a bit higher with an uncircumcised penis, because there is that hood of skin to catch more bacteria under, but since male yeast infections are almost always contracted through sex with a female partner who has a yeast infection, really hygiene isn't the deciding factor, here.

Men with circumcised penises (actually, the technical plural word is "penii", but nobody seems to recognize it) can still catch yeast infections almost as easily as uncircumcised men. The difference between the chances is so small that circumcision cannot rightly be recommended with the prevention of contracting yeast infections as one of the advantages.

I honestly don't feel too strongly about circumcision either way. It's a lifestyle choice that your parents make for you -- kind of like other big important things like your name and whether to pierce your ears when you're an infant.

VivAnne
Post 4

@JessiC - You're right, the guy had absolutely no business telling you whether you should have your son circumcised or not. However inappropriate, though, his comment about circumcision affecting the sensitivity of the male glans does have some truth to it.

In its natural state, the penis has a hood of skin over the glans -- that's the foreskin, of course. The foreskin, in addition to increasing sexual sensation from nerve endings inside of the skin itself, also serves the function of moistening and lubricating the glans.

See, the male glans are not supposed to be constantly exposed or to be dry. Much like the outer labia on a woman's vagina, the male foreskin protects the glans so that they can stay somewhat wet. When the glans are dry and desensitized to rubbing against things like clothing on a daily basis, it does in fact reduce the sensitivity of the glans in circumcised men.

In uncircumcised men, the glans do not touch clothing constantly since they are covered by the foreskin, so they remain more sensitive to stimulation. Uncircumcised men report that having their glans exposed while wearing close-fitting clothing is terribly uncomfortable, because they are so sensitive to touch there.

Just food for thought...unlike the guy who was talking to you out of the blue, since this is a post in a discussion about the male glans I'll assume it's okay to talk to you about it frankly.

oscar23
Post 3

My husband is uncircumcised and it has never bothered me or him. We both see it as natural and just fine in every way.

However, we did face a problem that we were not sure how to tackle and that was more than a little embarrassing to go to the doctor with. I had had a yeast infection, but didn’t know it. Needless to say, he contracted the same infection and developed swollen glans.

It was horrible! If we ladies think that a yeast infection is bad, let me tell you, it was utterly terrible for him. He actually tore and bled from it. I felt so bad about the whole thing.

nanny3
Post 2

We all know that men are pretty sensitive about their genitals, and seriously, who can blame them? That’s a pretty personal area, to say the least. I suppose this is where the great debate over whether to have an exposed glans or not has erupted from.

The fact is that both keeping the foreskin intact and removing it may or may not have many merits. There even appears to be people out there who think it’s their business to enforce laws which make it mandatory for others to do one or the other with their children at birth.

I can’t help but be curious about why these folks think that someone else’s penis is their problem in the first place.

JessiC
Post 1

I was amazed when I was speaking with a couple who were old friends and suddenly the topic of conversation somehow worked around to the circumcision of our children.

The male of the couple suddenly asked me in a heated tone whether or not I had had my son circumcised. I told him that we had indeed chosen circumcision for our son at birth.

He then went on to question whether or not I knew that we had greatly affected our son’s sex life before he ever even had the chance to have sex; that we had ruined the sensitivity of his male glans.

Not particularly feeling the need to explain myself, or appreciating his intrusion into something that was absolutely none of his business in such a snippy manner, I informed him that being circumcised didn’t seem to bother my husband a bit. We had the two kids to prove it.

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