You’ve heard the word smegma, I’m sure. Maybe you were even saying it when you were young (like me) without knowing what the hell it meant. You just knew it had to do with genitals, and it was nasty, which made it super fun to refer to.
But let’s get down and dirty (no pun intended) about what smegma actually is, how to deal, how to clean, and what we need to teach our kids about this. Because it really is a thing, and if we don’t teach them how to properly clean themselves, no one will.
Scary Mommy got the facts from Dr. Kin Langdon, an OB/GYN from Parenting Pod, and we aren’t afraid to dish them out.
First, the word smegma comes from the Greek and Latin root meaning “to clean,” which is a bit odd considered you get smegma from not cleaning your special area.
Second, it is not exclusive to men who have not been circumcised or who are loosely circumcised. If you are a person with a clitoris, that clitoris has a small hood and lots of stuff can get caught up in there if you aren’t careful. In fact, according to the latest search data available, female smegma is searched for nearly 5,000 times a month. A month!
WATCH: How To Clean Your Vagina
Other common places where it likes to hide are under the foreskin, in the folds between the “labia major (outer lips) and minor (inner lips),” says Dr. Langdon.
These folds in your genital area, whether you are a person with a penis or a vagina, are places where “dead cells, secretions, bacteria, and soap debris” can collect. According to Dr. Langdon, all these things are components of smegma.
Smegma is commonly found in the external genitalia because, as skin exfoliates, it builds up along with biofilms, which are plaques filled with bacteria. These plaques are very similar to slime (yikes) and thrive in areas with low oxygen. Over time, they produce a fishy, foul smelling odor. If not removed quickly, smegma can harden and make removal difficult and damage the underlying skin, even cause infection.
For some women, this production of smegma goes haywire and produces a lot of lubricant during pregnancy. Don’t be nervous if you notice this while you’re expecting — all you can do is continue to wash gently.
Dr. Langdon reminds us that our bodies naturally keep the skin clean, but once smegma is exposed to bacteria, things can get sticky — literally. And by that we mean harder to remove and clean.
Another important but little-known fact is that new smegma is actually healthy. Who knew? Accordingly to Dr. Langdon, it creates lubrication and can has a PH normalizing substance.
So what do we need to look for? First, lift up your hood and check for redness, or swelling of glans of the penis, foreskin, clitoris, or hood on a regular basis.
If you have a foul odor, ulcers, discharge, itchiness, or yellow or white crust, you need to wash up with warm water and mild soap — that’s all that’s needed to take care of mild smegma, says Langdon. You should also wear underwear made of material that promotes breathability, like cotton, and avoid wearing tight pants for a little bit. Let your lady area breathe and recover.
Be careful though–over-washing can traumatize the tissue and make smegma worse. So can putting creams or lotions on the external genitals–never use perfumed anything on your genitals, ever.
Langdon says after washing, pat dry or allow the genital area to air dry, and avoid wiping with cotton swabs or tissues.
There are a few things to watch out for that could be a problem. If you can not eradicate the build-up with a regular routine of washing with warm water and mild soap, or your symptoms worsen, it’s time to see a doctor. And if you are having pain while urinating, persistent penile or vaginal discharge, pain in the area while cleaning, you may have balanitis, which is an infection on the skin that can be due to smegma build up.
Take a minute or two in the shower to check under your hoods and in between your folds to make sure all is well, and teach your kids how to do this as well. It’s never too early to teach kids about their anatomy and good hygiene.
It might not be the highlight of our week, but it’s too important to neglect our delicate parts so larger problems don’t pop up.
We make sure to clean out ears, deep-condition our hair, and keep our pubic hair trim and tidy. This is one other thing that needs constant attention and care.