August 7, 2008

Q&A: What Is The Perineal Raphe?

Q&A about the perineal raphe - what it is, what it does, and some basic information on male genitalia.

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Question: What is the ridge of skin that forms on the under side of the shaft of the penis? I have what looks like a skin tab or a seam that goes from the glans down to my anus. It doesn’t hurt, is never irritated, and it doesn’t swell. It looks like someone grabbed some extra skin and decided to decorate my shaft by crimping a narrow but long amount of skin. Is it just me or do other guys have this too?

Relax – It isn’t just you. The technical term for that ridge of skin is called the perineal raphe and – good news! – It is completely common and normal. In fact, all guys have a perineal raphe, even though most probably don’t know what it’s called. More commonly, men and their partners tend to use terms such as “seam” and “ridge” to refer to this area. On some men this seam-like skin is barely noticeable whereas on other men, it is strikingly prominent.

The background on the perineal raphe is this: During early stages of fetal development, males and females essentially look the same, and the genitals of both sexes look somewhat more female-like. At around seven weeks in utero, however, the genitals develop into either more male-typical or female-typical genitals. When a male fetus’ genital tissues change form and develop into the scrotum and penis, the way that they come together and fuse forms the perineal raphe.

The term “raphe” is a general term that is used to refer to ridge-like seams of two parts that come together. We have other raphes on our body – for example, if you look closely, you may see a seam at the roof of your mouth, and another on your tongue.

When it comes to men’s genitals, the perineal raphe extends all along the underside of the penis, down through the middle of the scrotum, and along the perineum toward the anal opening.

Some men don’t particularly feel one way or the other about this part. Other men find that they are sensitive along the raphe, and may enjoy stimulating part of it during masturbation by themselves, or asking a partner to stimulate them on their raphe during sexual play together. Although, again, rather than raphe, they probably say seam or ridge, which is completely fine and common.

Regardless of how you feel about this part of your body, it is good that you are comfortable enough to look at your genitals and to become familiar with them. Men and women both should look at their genitals and find out what looks and feels normal for them so that if anything ever changes, they can check in with a healthcare provider to learn more.

To learn more about the penis, check out The Penis Book by Joseph Cohen

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