Smegma, which comes from the Greek word for soap, is a combinaton of dead skin cells, oils, moisture, and bacteria that accumulates under the foreskin and within the vulva. It has a characteristic strong odor and taste, especially when allowed to build up unchecked. All mammals produce smegma, male and female.
Periodic cleaning of the genitals, especially of males, is recommend to keep smegma from building up too much which can be unhealthy. It is made partially of dead skin cells which can begin to decay within the foreskin, which can allow bacteria to accumulate. Smegma is thus often used as a reason to circumcise, as circumcision tends to greatly decrease its accumulation. A much more intelligent way of dealing with this hygiene issue would be to simply wash the penis daily with warm water while retracting the foreskin.
Smegma, a white emollient, provides moisture to the genitals, keeping them smooth and suft. Smegma can protect both the penis and vagina from dirt and infection because of its antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is quite beneficial to overall genital health. It provides lubrication during sex, which may be one reason why intact males and their partners tend to have better sexual experiences.
Researchers have tried to link it to penile and cervical cancer, but they have not been successful as all evidence has proven that it has no carcinogen effect. If this were true women would be much more at risk of cancer, being that females produce more smegma than males, and yet we circumcise men believing that it will decrease their chance of cancer by inhibiting smegma accumulation. The American Cancer Society does not list circumcision as a means of fighting penile cancer, making it pointless to deprive a man of this useful substance.
Smegma is one of the most misunderstood substances associated with the human body. It has been considered dirty over the years, though it is actually very clean and promotes good hygiene. Inhibiting the accumulation of smegma is thus not an adequate cause for circumcision, being that smegma promotes health. A much better way to prevent infection is to simply wash up, something which men are perfectly capable of doing and only takes a momentary swish under the shower spray.
Paul M. Fleiss, “The Case Against Circumcision.” Mothering. URL: http://www.mothering.com/articles/new_baby/circumcision/against-circumcision.html
Unknown, “Smegma.” Wikipedia. URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smegma