(Apologies if this is a too weird/inappropriate question in this forum. I only thought that I ask it since it happens to be part of human life.)

The skin on a human typically blocks many substances that could be harmful for the organism. One area that is not covered by skin, however, is the "glans penis" (the tip of the penis).

Considering that the surface on this area seems to become more stretched during erection, it would look like erection causes the tip to allow more substances to pass through than otherwise.

Are there any studies about how erection affects the porosity in this area of the body?

  • $\begingroup$ What kind of porosity are you thinking of? Do you have an example of a substance you think would pass through the glans in larger amounts? Substances normally exit the penis through the meatus, not the glans. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ @March Ho, I would think that if porosity is increased, it is increased for all substances. Why would it not? $\endgroup$
    – x457812
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ I think better title would be Dynamics and Histological Characteristics of Glans Penis. Like AtlLed Says the porosity is just one factor. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 14:20

2 Answers 2


So if you're interested in the detailed anatomy of the glans penis, I recommend this as a nice article to go to after you've checked general references. Opening two sentences are worth quoting here:

The human glans penis is covered by stratified squamous epithelium and a dense layer of connective tissue equivalent to the dermis of typical skin. Rete ridges of the epidermis are irregular and vary in height depending on location, age, and presence or absence of a foreskin. The papillary layer of the dermis blends into and is continuous with the deep connective tissue forming the tunica albuginea of the corpus spongiosum of the glans penis.

And as pointed out in The Last Word's answer, foreskin covers the penis if you look at humans in an evolutionary scale of time. The exception being an erection, which should lead to foreskin retraction (at least at some level).

So the question then becomes if the squamous epithelium and connective tissue are more prone to infection than the dermis. First, it's worth pointing out that the epidermis is not equally protective across the body. Think about the skin on your face vs. the bottom of your foot, or vs. a baby's.

I think comparing the glans penis directly to the surrounding tissue -- the prepuce (foreskin), fossa navicularis, and urethra -- makes the most sense. To make a plumbing analogy, is it the pipe (urethra), the fitting (glans penis), hole (fossa navicularis), or insulation (prepuce) that is most prone to infection?

Well, first we need to look at our pathogen, "what's doing the infecting?" For HIV, probably the urethra, but if you're interested in bacterial infection, the best things to look into are balanitis and balanoposthitis. That would be the inflammation of the glans or glans & prepuce. Here is a good review on infectious causes.

Unfortunately, there is going to a strong sampling bias due to circumcision rates. Also most studies are not going to be asking the the specific question we are trying to answer here. And it would be hard to prove that infection occurred during the erection, not immediately before or after.

I have found little evidence of bacterial infection of the prepuce but not the glans penis. I do know of cases of the reverse however, which may indicate that the glans has a greater infection rate.

However, I think it's worth pointing out the difference is not likely to be drastic, and that the surface of glans has many similarities to skin. For example, it has an epidermis and dermis. It stretches quite well, and I think dryness will be an issue far before porosity.

  • $\begingroup$ That is a pretty good answer, as I was curious about overall porosity (or "the level at which the surface of the tip may allow anything to pass through", for lack of better word). $\endgroup$
    – x457812
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ @x457812 If you're interested in more of the bio-physics, I recommend reading up on the elastic fibers of the dermis. Incidentally they are quite abundant in the glans penis. $\endgroup$
    – Atl LED
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 4:52

I do not think that it is a correct statement to proclaim that the "glans penis" is uncovered by skin. This would be true only if the penis is circumcised. Under foreskin section of this article it is clearly stated

The foreskin in the adult male either partially or completely covers the glans penis (reference).

So, it would be safe to say that unless erect, the penis is completely protected by the foreskin against the entry of foreign particles (reference). The second part deals with the porosity of the penis while erect.

Some males, well endowed with a generous foreskin, have the glans fully covered even when the penis is fully erect (reference).

I couldn't find any studies that compared the entry of bacteria in an erect or a flaccid penis but I would say that even if circumcised, your chances of getting an infection without indulging in unsafe sexual practices remain quite slim. Of course, in case of cuts or abrasions on the penis, chances of infection increase.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Diabetes is actually a good way to get an infection w/o risky sex, just as an aside. $\endgroup$
    – Atl LED
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ Diabetes $\to$ penile ulcer $\to$ infection / STD. Risk factor even poor hygiene then. clinical.diabetesjournals.org/content/23/4/191.full $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for pointing that but I did say that the chances of contracting the disease were slim and not non-existent. There might be other reasons too and not just diabetes. Nothing to down-vote over. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ @TheLastWord Don't know why this was on my notice so much later, but I actually up voted... $\endgroup$
    – Atl LED
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 19:03

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