The sebaceous glands of the penis are small glands that secrete an oily or waxy substance. They are found elsewhere on the body as well, and they serve to lubricate the hair and skin. On the penis, they may appear off-white or yellow in color. Although they are very small, the sebaceous glands may be visible because the tissues of the organ are thin and easier to see beneath.
Some individuals may have more noticeable glands than others. This is normal, and they cannot be removed through squeezing or poking them. Doing so could lead to an infection, so it is best to leave them alone. Occasionally, one may become swollen and inflamed due to a clog or infection. This will generally subside on its own, but an antibiotic may need to be prescribed.
Inflammation in the sebaceous glands of the penis can sometimes be mistaken for sexually transmitted diseases like genital warts or herpes infection. Swollen, sore, red, or oozing bumps should always be checked by a medical professional to rule out this possibility. Most times, infected glands will be firmer to the touch and they will subside more quickly than genital warts, but this is not always the case. It is important that patients not try and “pop” an infected gland, since this can spread infection to other glands.
Shaving the genital region, sharing towels and other linens, and failure to wash properly may increase the risk of infection in the glands in the penis. During an infection, all towels should be washed with hot water and razors used in the region should be thrown out. Washing with an antiseptic solution may reduce the risk of spreading bacteria.
The sebaceous glands of the penis often do not secrete much oil on a circumcised penis. Men who are not circumcised may have more active glands beneath the foreskin. This acts to lubricate and protect the penis from infection, much like a woman’s vagina secrete fluids to remove bacteria. The accumulation of oil and other secretions beneath the foreskin can develop a white or yellow substance called smegma. This can be gently cleaned by retracting the foreskin and rinsing it clean with water.