How to talk to adult male about uncircumcised penis hygiene?
August 12, 2014 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever had to talk to someone about their uncircumcised penis hygiene? Has anyone ever had to make suggestions/requests about your foreskin odor? How did it go? What do you wish you had said/heard instead?

Someone I know is seeing a fellow who is uncircumcised. When they get started with sexy times there is sometimes an odor of urine. My friend says she knows what questions to ask, but wants some advice about framing.

The questions (in case you all have more suggestions)
Does your foreskin retract?
If yes, do you retract it to pee?
Do you wipe after you pee?
How/ are you cleaning it when you shower?

I suggested just saying (in a neutral private place) 'sometimes your penis smells strongly like pee. Is there anything you can do about that?' But none of my suggested lead ins were considered good.

Also I searched all the precious asks about circumcised vs not. And google has lots of advice about how to clean a penis, but not so much (that we could find) about how to talk about them.
posted by tulip-socks to Human Relations (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Personally, I think it is worse when people try to sugar coat personal things like this.
Just be direct and honest. You can be direct and honest while also being caring and supportive.
posted by Flood at 12:03 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't ask any of those questions. Your suggestion is good, maybe "I'd appreciate if you could look into ways to clean it more effectively" instead of "Is there anything you can do about that?" Don't micromanage the cleaning unless he asks. It's an embarrassing thing to say though, I know! Some questions on how to tell partners they have bad breath (that's just one found quickly, there are others) might be helpful, too, as they are similarly addressing hygiene issues with a significant other.
posted by brainmouse at 12:04 PM on August 12, 2014

Does your foreskin retract?
If yes, do you retract it to pee?
Do you wipe after you pee?
How/ are you cleaning it when you shower?

The problem is, she doesn't need or want answers to any of those questions.

She should ask for what she wants.
posted by General Tonic at 12:08 PM on August 12, 2014 [40 favorites]

"Ew, your dick is dirty, go wash it if you want me to be near it"
posted by oceanjesse at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2014 [11 favorites]

Why don't they have a shower together? While doing so she could take the cleaning into her own hands, as it were, and say something like "I'd always like this bit being really clean when we are having sex".
posted by epo at 12:14 PM on August 12, 2014

He is an adult and by now should know that the hygiene needed. If he is adult enough to have sex, he should be adult enough to clean himself well. Personally I would find this disgusting and would let him know that he needs to have proper hygiene.
posted by jellyjam at 12:16 PM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, those questions reflect an archaic understanding of hygiene for intact penises. Sounds like she needs to understand what hygiene for intact penises consists of before she broaches the details of this topic with her partner.

At that, she just needs to tell him he smells like pee and needs to wash better.

And for all that is good in the world, if she takes epo's suggestion (which is a good one!), under no circumstances should she retract his foreskin!
posted by zizzle at 12:17 PM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Hey, can you go take a shower / get cleaned up before we get started?"

Also, "hey, I really enjoy performing oral, but not when the area is not clean. (and then repeat the first question)".
posted by vignettist at 12:19 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think whatever you say is about what you'd want to hear when someone was discussing your stuff. Close your eyes and imagine someone saying something analogous to you. No, harder. Imagine it in that person's voice, really hear it in your head.

Refine your phraseology until you are comfortable.
posted by adipocere at 12:22 PM on August 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

She should handle it in the exact same way she would if he had a circumcised penis that smelled of pee: tell him politely that it's bothering her, and she'd like him to see to that. It might be awkward, but it is guaranteed to be a lot less awkward than interviewing him about the exact cleaning mechanics he uses and presenting him with Google results on how he should be handling his penis instead.
posted by Catseye at 12:22 PM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Hey, I am sensitive to the smell of urine. Can we go get cleaned up before we get down?"
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:28 PM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So. Asking for her because she doesn't know how she would want someone to say this to her. And because my suggestions (including ...maybe don't ask how he cleans it) were rejected becaus I'm not a person with a penis and have never needed to bring this up.

So. Can we stop calling people gross or immature and get back to specific things that did or did not work?
posted by tulip-socks at 12:43 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: After ten years of bachelorhood, I had sort of forgotten about the concept of morning breath. My gf said, one morning, "Honey, I really want to cuddle with you. Can you brush your teeth first?" That worked just fine - it was mildly embarrassing, but not a big deal because she didn't make it a big deal or try to be coy about it or anything. So my vote would be on the side of ask for what you want like it's a perfectly normal thing to want and ask for.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2014 [18 favorites]

This possibly works better in a British accent but a few minutes before things start getting heavy; "Darling, there's soap and a flannel in the bathroom."
posted by Middlemarch at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2014

Whatever you say to broach the subject, I actually think it should be done at a time when sex is not imminent (what a mood killer hearing how your parts are stinky would be).

Find some time when you know you can both sit down for a few minute, basically NOT while running out the door like "hey honey have a great day at work and don't forget to wash your stinky penis."

There's really no smooth way to segue into personal topics, you just need to say, "I have something a bit personal to tell you." Then say what you need to say, "you are hot, I love fucking you, but your penis sometimes smells and that's a turnoff for me. I would appreciate if you could take care of this so nothing gets in the way of maximum fun."
posted by brookeb at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: From an anonymous commenter:
[My husband is uncircumcised. He grew up without his father and had to figure things out for himself. He has this to say]:

Just be warm and direct. She shouldn't imply that he does not clean it; it just gets dirty. She should tell him to clean it more frequently not clean it better. You can only get so clean.

So that's my answer. I had a hard time figuring it out. I would recommend getting diaper wipes and suggest wiping it up mid-day and/or in the evening as needed.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:51 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is a basic misunderstanding in the heading. One principal purpose of genitalia is to enable you to excrete urine. So of course in the absence of a wash afterwards your genitalia are going to smell of pee, this is as true of women as it is of men and has nothing whatever to do with circumcision or the lack of it. (It is true that inadequately washed non-circumcised men can smell of something much worse - the reason zizzle I suspect suggested not retracting the foreskin - but that would never be confused with urine.)

Back on topic: if she wants him to shower or wash before sex, she should ask him to do just that. And she should of course have the consideration and consistency to do the same herself. If possible, showering together makes this fun. Or get a bidet.
posted by epo at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

The questions (in case you all have more suggestions)
Does your foreskin retract?
If yes, do you retract it to pee?
Do you wipe after you pee?
How/ are you cleaning it when you shower?

These are not questions a grown-up should ask another grown-up. They are presuming that the answer is already known and that the guy just needs to be somehow led to it as if he is somewhat dim. That's not kind and it's likely to not be a great way to handle things. Present the problem as a preference she has and then he can be trusted to handle it. If, after some frank discussion, that has not happened, then you can move on to some "Okay how can this guy be incented to be cleaner in a way that will work for everyone?"

She shouldn't imply that he does not clean it; it just gets dirty.

Truth. People have smells and guys (all guys, not just uncircumcised ones) sometimes smell a little like pee which is somewhat normal and it's also normal to have this not be your thing. If he smells funky or otherwise rank down there, that could be a worse problem, a cleanliness problem, and something that might need to be dealt with in a slightly more direct matter. Otherwise just assume the guy has no idea how his junk smells, let him know, and presume he will take care of that. "Hey I like going down on you but sometimes you smell like pee. Can you keep some wipes around or something?" Direct, simple, over quickly.
posted by jessamyn at 1:21 PM on August 12, 2014 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but she says:

She doesn't like giving head so using that as an excuse to not smell this is problematic.

The odor is pretty strong. She's never put her face in his crotch and this goes beyond anything she's ever encountered in the variously scented penis and vagina crotches she did enjoy in the past. This is not her first penis, it is her first intact penis. She has gone down on men before and it's never been an odor problem but a trauma thing that has given her the reluctance to go down.

I will never agree to be a go between for anyone else's sex questions again. I have a difficult enough time with my own.

Also she wants me to tell you all 'thanks guys! i'd want to join but now i worry you'll know i'm the woman afraid of the stinky penis'

I'll give her a hug when I see her. Because everyone needs a hug. Maybe she'll let me update after they talk about this.
posted by tulip-socks at 1:57 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe the issue isn't hygiene. Maybe something in his diet/health causes his pee to be more potent that she has experienced in the past.
posted by missmagenta at 2:07 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to provide a possible perspective not mentioned - Her boyfriend may have phimosis without realising it. It is fairly common and men do not typically get any sexual health information about it so he might well not realise it, I had numerous girlfriends before I dated someone who knew enough to both notice and explain what was unusual about my junk. I can imagine that with a severe case it might trap a layer of urine without him realising it.

If that is the case, he will thank her in the long run for bringing it up because better sexy times await.

Of course, it might not be, but even so, talking about it medically with regards to foreskin retraction seems by far the most adult & sensitive way into a potentially difficult conversation.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:11 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's really no smooth way to segue into personal topics,

Try 'someone at work was arguing that 'clean behind your ears' is actually a euphemism'. What do you think?
posted by biffa at 2:12 PM on August 12, 2014

Maybe this is the gay male privilege talking (or just raised by wolves), but I don't think it is in any way out of bounds to say "You need to go wash your junk off before we fool around." Like, as a general principle.
posted by PMdixon at 2:12 PM on August 12, 2014 [14 favorites]

Subtle can be worse than direct, and this is one of those times. "Sweetie, I love having sex with you, but right now you've got an odor situation. Do you mind taking a shower and cleaning under the rim? I'll join you if you want help."

No judgement, just a statement of fact, with a suggested solution to the problem.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:18 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

> This is not her first penis, it is her first intact penis.

That should not make this much of a difference. As someone who's had sex with both kinds, I can tell you that from experience. Intact penises do not normally have this kind of funk.
All signs point to either a medical issue or a hygienic one.

To rule out the latter, I would simply go with something like 'Sweetie, you're kinda stinky right now, why don't you/we take a quick shower and clean up a bit first.'
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:25 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

If she can smell pee on this guy without even putting her face in his crotch, it might be that the odor is strong enough that other people can smell him, too - so if she tells him, "Honey, you need to wash your junk," she's doing him a favor.

It's possible that he has some sort of medical and/or anatomical problem, or that he really loves asparagus; but she should feel free to tell him that he needs to shower regardless.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:02 PM on August 12, 2014

I'm not circumsised and it took a couple times pointing it out to realize that a good shower that morning and even a quick wipe up before a night out were not enough to get a dick clean smelling enough for people who don't like it. A discrete freshen up, a quick warm water wash in the sink, and you're good to go.

Even w good dads there is basically no instruction I thought smegma was the issue, and that does clean up easy in the morning. Its more like armpit funk. It comes back super fast.

So from experience the only thing that works is asking to clean while you're still clothed.

Of course with a scent as strong as your friend implies and the retraction question I'd consider that there's actually just a bunch of smegma built up that he doesn't really notice. I literally did not know you had to clean there until I was sexyally active and started hearing frank complaints.

In that case read some of Samuel Delany's porn novels and open up your mind ;).
posted by kittensofthenight at 4:05 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

FWIW, there was a very similar question on the Savage Love podcast somewhat recently; he also advocated the direct "go clean up" approach expressed by PMDixon above. (Savage used the phrase "you wash that thing, I'll suck that thing" which I see doesn't quite apply here, but still.)

(His archives aren't particularly searchable; it may have been this episode.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:01 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

"You know I love your penis, right? I mean, I loooove your penis. So, yeah, but sometimes it's got a certain... scent. You know? Not all the time, and not a BAD smell, but sometimes it's a little salty. I think because of your being uncircumcised, maybe sometimes when you wash there's still a little bit of man-aroma left in there that you didn't notice. So, maybe you need to be extra thorough when you wash up. Actually, here, maybe I should just show you how to do it..."

You gotta find the fun in things. She doesn't have to make it shameful, or even make it about pee stink. Use is as an excuse to scrub him up, and then when they're having sexy times she can growl something about how he smells SO GOOD and it's turning on her so much and whoo, baby. He'll never have a stink-dick again.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:37 PM on August 12, 2014

I may not have been completely sober when I wrote that.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:33 PM on August 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

"Honey I love you but if you wanna get with me you've gotta go freshen up down there first. Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere..."
posted by Drexen at 5:29 AM on August 13, 2014

"Ew, your dick is dirty, go wash it if you want me to be near it"

Yeah, no. Worst possible way she could bring it up. Shaming each other is not something intimate partners should be doing.

PMDixon has it right: queer men, generally, have very little difficulty saying "I like to play with clean junk."

A possible way for her to bring it up is "Hey, our sex is awesome, but I really prefer it when we're both squeaky clean all over." She's asking for what she wants without causing undue feelings of shame or embarrassment.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:56 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if he does have phimosis--inability to retract his foreskin when erect (and if it's really bad, when flaccid)--talk to a doctor yes, but circumcision is not the answer and hasn't been for years. Phimosis can be fixed within a couple of months with gentle stretching and some cortisone cream.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:58 AM on August 13, 2014

I'm with PMDixon - if I nudge my husband, smile, wink, and say "Hey, why don't you grab a quick shower?" he knows exactly where it's leading and is more than happy to comply.
posted by RogueTech at 9:43 PM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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