Is penile discharge normal?
The fun stuff
NSW Government
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Penile discharge is a watery or thickened fluid that sometimes comes out of the penis. It travels down the middle of the penis to the opening at the head (glans) through the urethra, which is a tube that also carries urine (pee) during urination or semen (cum) during ejaculation. Discharge from the penis (aside from ejaculation) can be concerning, but they’re not always something you need to worry about. However, it’s good to be able to distinguish between ‘normal’ discharge-like fluids and ones that could indicate something else going on. 

What does penile discharge look like?

This depends on the cause…it’s possible to experience it at different times and in different situations — penile discharge can be normal.

Is it normal for a person with a penis to have white discharge under the foreskin?

In short, yes – this is probably smegma. Smegma is a white cheesy-like discharge, produced by small glands that can collect under the foreskin of uncircumcised penises. As long as there’s no pain associated with this substance, or unpleasant smell, then it’s totally normal. A good hygiene practice ensures there’s no build up of bacteria, we advise washing the area regularly.

Mucous-like fluid before ejaculation

Mucous-like fluid is also totally normal. If you’re experiencing a clear to white-ish fluid when the penis is erect or sexually aroused, then this is likely ‘pre-cum’. It can vary in amount and as the name suggests, and will occur sometimes before ejaculation. 

Cause for concern

Now we know what ‘normal’ is, you may be wondering what else causes penile discharge? There are a few STIs that can cause penile discharge, so if you notice any of the following symptoms associated with it, you should get an STI test as soon as possible. There are plenty of STI testing clinics in NSW and it’s always best to be safe. It’s quick, easy and mostly free to get tested. Here’s what to lookout for:

It’s painful when you pee or there’s discharge from the urethra (eye) of the penis

We know a white-ish discharge can also be the harmless ‘smegma’, but if it’s coming from the urethral opening (eye), or coupled with a burning sensation when you pee then it could be a symptom of chlamydia or gonorrhoea. However only 50% of these infections will experience any symptoms at all, that’s why if you’re sexually active — it’s best to get regularly tested, regardless of symptoms as chlamydia is one of the more common STIs in Australia.

Fluid-like discharge without arousal

Watery discharge is ok if it happens when sexually aroused (as we discussed earlier in this article), however if it’s happening all the time or comes with pain — it could be a sign of infection, and you should get tested

Angry foreskin, coupled with discharge

Tightened or red foreskin and discharge can be caused by balanitis, which is an inflammatory condition rarely caused by an STI. It is mostly experienced by those with uncircumcised penises. Usually avoiding soaps and other irritants is enough, but if persists you should see a doctor.

Wow. What a list! Remember, safe sex practices and simple hygiene habits can help prevent these infections. Use condoms with all vaginal, anal (bum), and oral sex, and test regularly for STIs. Remember, also keeping the penis clean is a good idea. Wash it daily and pull back the foreskin to clean and dry the glans thoroughly.

See a doctor or find your local sexual health clinic if you have any concerns about discharge or STIs. Or you can ring 1800 451 624 between 9:00am and 5:00pm Monday to Friday to talk with a sexual health nurse. It’s confidential and free if you call from a landline. Or of course ask Nurse Nettie!

Why not join the conversation on the Play Safe sex and relationship forum or ask Nurse Nettie a question. If you would like to find out more about STI testing and STI treatment in Sydney and NSW, you’ll find all the information you need here.

Could I have an STI?