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Home / STIs / Why does my penis smell?

Why does my penis smell?

Common causes for penis smells and advice on what to do about them

It is completely normal to have some odour if you’ve been out and about all day, exercising, sweating or merely just going about your day. This is because your groin area is a breeding ground for bacteria. There are approximately 1,000 different species of bacteria and 80 genera of fungi on our skin.

Sweating, while wearing briefs and jeans over, traps moisture and creates a perfect environment for bacteria to breed, causing an unpleasant odour. The microbiome of your body is in a delicate balance and failing to maintain proper hygiene may cause, among many other things, an unpleasant odour.

Close up of a man holding his crotch in jeans and a shirt on a light blue background

What are the common hygienic reasons for a smelly penis?

The good news is that most penis odour is caused by hygienic reasons and can be corrected by proper hygiene. Below are some of the most common hygienic reasons your penis might smell:

Sweat

Our bodies are covered in sweat glands. We sweat from everywhere on our bodies, but not all sweat produces odour. There are two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands release a clear sweat and are located all over the body. For the most part, the sweat produced from the eccrine glands doesn’t have an odour. By contrast, the apocrine glands, which are found in the groin area, armpits and around nipples and breasts, produce sweat that contains proteins, lipids, and steroids and it has an odour. Bacteria prefer this type of sweat to feed on. If you’re in your briefs and jeans all day, you will sweat around your groin which will translate into an odour at the end of the day. As long as the odour disappears after a shower, it’s nothing to be concerned about.

Eating certain foods

It may not come as a surprise that certain aromatic foods can be responsible for a smelly penis, especially in the areas where apocrine glands are located. Excessive consumption of very spicy foods, such as garlic, onion, or strong smelling spice, can cause the sweat to smell more pungent, and by extension, your groin area.

Improper washing

Proper hygiene is important in order to eliminate or minimise the smell from the genital area. Uncircumcised men should pay particular attention to how well they clean their penis, especially behind the foreskin. If not properly washed, the oily secretions, dead skin and discharge can accumulate in the foreskin, which can cause a pungent odour. In addition to odour, improper washing of the penis can lead to the painful inflammation of the penis glans and foreskin, also known as Belanitis.

Residual urine can also cause a bad smell from the groin, so it is important to clean well to avoid unpleasant smells.

What causes fishy penis odour?

If you notice a fishy smell in your groin area, the culprit is likely to be an infection of some kind, rather than hygiene or an aftermath of a long day. If you do notice a fishy smell emanating from your groin, visit your GP or a sexual health clinic to get tested for STIs.

There are a few reasons why your penis may smell fishy:

Smegma

Smegma (colloquially known as ‘dick cheese’) develops under the foreskin of uncircumcised men due to the accumulation of dead skin cells and natural oily secretions. It may appear whitish, thick, and cheesy. The smegma becomes a breeding ground for bacteria if it is not cleaned regularly. As a result, these bacteria produce a foul odour and may even cause the foreskin to become inflamed.

Balanitis

Balanitis is an inflammation of the foreskin and penis glans (head of the penis), and is often caused by bacterial or fungal infection. It can often be triggered by smegma, and one of the symptoms of Balanitis is a pungent, fishy smell coming from the groin. Other symptoms include pain, difficulty pulling the foreskin back and thick discharge from under the foreskin.

Balanitis will affect 3-11% of males at some point during their lifetime. It affects approximately 1 in 30 uncircumcised men however, circumcised men are also susceptible to it as smegma is only one of many possible causes.

’Balanitis will affect 3-11% of males at some point during their lifetime.’’

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

A urinary tract infection is an infection of a urethra or the bladder, causing inflammation. It is most often caused by Escherichia coli bacterium, which lives in the intestines. One of the symptoms of the UTI in men is a fishy odour coming from the penis glans. Other symptoms include pain and/or a burning sensation when urinating and pink or cloudy urine. If you experience these symptoms, speak to your doctor.

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Yeast infection

A penile yeast infection is a condition triggered by the Candida fungus, and its most common symptom is an unpleasant, fishy smell coming from the affected area. This isn’t the only symptom of male yeast infection, so if you also notice an accumulation of a thick, white substance, swelling and pain urinating, it might be a yeast infection.

Non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU)

NGU, also referred to as Non-specific urethritis, is a sexually transmitted infection of the urethra that isn’t a result of gonorrhoea. Much like other infections we discussed above, NGU causes a fishy smell from the groin area.

Why does my penis smell fishy after sex?

After-sex fishy smell can also occur if the female partner has

NGU, also referred to as bacerial vaginosis (BV). This isn’t transmitted to men, as penis lacks the delicate balance of bacteria women have, whose imbalance causes BV. A shower should remedy the smell, however if the smell persists after washing, contact your sexual health clinic and get tested, as it might be an STI.

The best way to keep yourself free from STIs is to use a condom or refrain from sex when either partner suspects they have an STI.

What can cause other pungent penis smells?

Some infections can cause a very pungent smell that doesn’t necessarily smell fishy. A strong, pungent smell can be caused by the following infections

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. It targets moist and warm areas of the body, including the penis, and it is transmited through sexual contact without a barrier protection. One of the symptoms of gonorrhoea is a smelly penis, and this symptom may persist for a short time after the infection has been treated.


Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by the bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis. It can also be spread by sharing a sex toy with someone who has the infection or via the unprotected sex. In many cases, Chlamydia doesn’t cause any symptoms, however if you have the infection, you may experience a late onset of symptoms one of which is a strong, pungent odour emanating from the penis.


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Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis (also known as Trich) is a sexually transmited infection which, unlike Gonorrhoea or Chlamydia, is caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Despite the name, Trich can also infect men and one of the symptoms is a smelly discharge. Other symptoms include pain while urinating or ejaculating and an urge to urinate more than normal. Trich is very common and is easily treated, usually with Metronidazole or Tinidazole.

What causes a vinegary smell from the groin?

A vinegary smell from the groin is likely a result of a particular type of bacteria, which accumulates in the warm and moist areas of the body including the groin. There are several types of bacteria that produce acetic acid, which is what gives vinegar its distinct smell.

If you do not wash for some time, the sweat build-up in your groin, especially around the apocrine sweat glands, may attract a particular type of bacterial flora which will cause your penis to smell vinegary. This type of smell can typically be remedied with a wash, however, if you notice that the smell persists right after a wash, it may be a symptom of a bacterial or fungal infection, and you should see your healthcare provider.

What should a healthy penis smell like?

A healthy penis does not emit odours or discharges, except ejaculate and pre-ejaculate fluids which occur during sex or sexual arousal. Any other penile discharge may be a sign of an infection. If you have an infection or an STI, the smell will become more noticeable, and you will be able to recognise any odour that is overly pungent or unfamiliar to you. You know what is normal for you, and any smell that is unfamiliar and doesn’t go away after a shower should be a cause for a visit to the doctor, as it could be an infection.

What is normal for one person may not be normal for another, however as a general rule, a healthy penis should not have any noticeable odour. It should smell like skin, though it’s unlikely that it will be as odourless as your forearm.

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