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What is Foreskin?

Foreskin is part of the male reproductive organ of almost all mammal species, other than egg-laying mammals such as the platypus. In human males, the foreskin is an extension of the skin on the penis that covers, and possibly helps protect, the glans penis or glans, which is the tip of the penis. Most non-human mammals also have a similar anatomical part of their bodies, but it is often a sheath that the penis is retracted into when not mating. The foreskin of a human male is sometimes removed in a surgical practice called circumcision, leaving the glans exposed.

There is a great deal of debate regarding the purpose and usefulness of foreskin for adult males, and this has often colored people’s views of circumcision and other practices. Circumcision is typically performed due to religious or cultural beliefs and practices. In these situations, the anatomical removal may have ties to ritual sacrifice, efforts to increase fertility, or as a rite of passage that demonstrates that a boy has become a man. When not practiced as a rite of passage, the circumcision is typically performed on a boy when he is only a baby, during the newborn period of time just after birth.

Circumcision is a common practice among various tribal religions in numerous regions of Africa, among Orthodox Jewish men, and though it is not strictly commanded within the Qur'an, many Muslims also circumcise their male children as part of their faith. The World Health Organization estimates that globally around one-third of males over the age of 15 years old are circumcised. Among those who do not have any particularly strong religious beliefs tied to circumcision, there has been a great deal of debate regarding the use of the practice.

Some sociologists have decried male circumcision as a form of mutilation, and protest against parents forcing it upon their children. They believe that boys should be allowed to choose once they are old enough to make an informed decision about their own bodies, and that it should not be performed upon them as infants. The medical community is fairly split regarding the issue, with little concrete evidence in support of or opposed to the practice. A medical procedure known as foreskin restoration is also available that uses various methods to replace the foreskin and re-cover the glans.

Some studies have suggested that the covering of the glans by the foreskin helps keep the penis cleaner and protects from disease. There have also been some reports that the foreskin makes sexual intercourse more pleasurable for men and their partners. All evidence indicating this, however, has thus far been circumstantial and testimonial, rather than empirical and proven through any reliable form of experimentation. There is also some evidence to show that circumcision may help in reducing the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), to men during sexual intercourse. Foreskin removed through circumcision has also been used as biological material for medical research and in the development of anti-aging and anti-wrinkle creams and treatments.

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