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Phimosis is a condition where the foreskin cannot be retracted (pulled back) over the glans (head) of the penis. Phimosis can cause difficulty urinating, swelling of the foreskin, and pain or discomfort during sexual activity. It can also make washing under the foreskin difficult, increasing the risk of infections such as balanitis. Phimosis can occur naturally or develop after an infection, injury or inflammation.

While the symptoms of phimosis may be uncomfortable, the condition itself is not serious. The symptoms of phimosis are easily treated with no lasting effects. Treatments for phimosis vary depending on the kind and severity. Your doctor can help you decide the best treatment for you.

Signs and Symptoms

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  • Inability to retract the foreskin, either partially or at all
  • Pain around the foreskin associated with erections or sexual activity
  • Pain when you pee
  • Difficulty peeing
  • Swelling of the foreskin while peeing (ballooning)
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Swelling of the urethra/opening of the penis
  • Skin infections on the penis

Common Causes

There are two kinds of phimosis

Physiological phimosis when the foreskin naturally does not retract. This is normal in children and usually resolves by the end of puberty. Adults with physiological phimosis may not require treatment unless it causes issues for the person. 

Pathological (secondary) phimosis is caused by scarring of the foreskin from injury, infection (including STI), inflammation, or skin conditions. It will not resolve naturally and is more likely to cause complications.


Phimosis-related complications are treatable. Here’s what you need to know about treating it.   

Treatment Method/s

  • Steroid creams (over-the-counter or prescription, usually for a couple of weeks)
  • Daily manual retraction (pulling the foreskin back yourself to condition it to retract)
  • If necessary, full or partial circumcision, or surgical widening of the foreskin

Costs and Other Information 

  • The cost and nature of your treatment depend on your individual circumstances. Your doctor will discuss which one is best for you.

How might this impact my work? 

Practical Considerations

  • Phimosis can make sexual activities painful or uncomfortable.
  • Sexual activity can rip or split the foreskin, but condoms and lube significantly reduce this risk.
  • Phimosis can make it challenging to get and/or keep an erection.
  • Phimosis can increase the risk of STI transmission and STI-related conditions.
  • Pulling the foreskin up while putting on a condom can reduce the amount of movement and potentially reduce discomfort/pain.

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