Calling a body part by its actual name communicates respect. If adolescents can communicate about their own body respectfully, they’ll be better at treating other bodies with respect. Both young men and young women should know the correct names for male anatomy (as well as female anatomy).
Male sexual anatomy, also called the genitals, has both external and internal parts. If you would like an educational visual of the anatomy, the Visible Body Learn Site1 is a great free resource for introductions to the body systems.
External male anatomy
The penis has three parts. The root is where the penis attaches to the abdominal wall. The shaft is the body of the penis. The glans is the cone-shaped end of the penis which contains the opening of the urethra at its tip.
The glans, or head, is covered with a loose foreskin at birth. All boys are born with a foreskin. Circumcision is when the foreskin is removed by medical personnel or religious clergy because of hygiene concerns, cultural influences, or religious beliefs. This is usually done within days of a boy’s birth. It is generally agreed that all penises work and feel the same whether a boy has been circumcised or not.
The shaft of the penis is made up of a spongy tissue that can expand and contract. The skin of the penis is loose and elastic which allows it to change size. When a male is sexually aroused, this spongy tissue fills with blood and causes the penis to become erect. Ejaculation is when semen and sperm exit through an erect penis. If ejaculation happens during intercourse, it can cause the female to become pregnant.
The testicles, or testes, are two oval shaped organs about the size of a large olive. The testes lie in the scrotum and are responsible for making sperm and the hormone testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for many changes during puberty, including stimulating the production of sperm.
The epididymis is a coiled tube that sits on the back of each testicle. It is responsible for storing the sperm and bringing those sperm to maturity.
The scrotum is the loose sack of skin that hangs behind the penis. It contains the testicles. The scrotum acts as a climate control for the testicles since sperm is produced at a temperature slightly lower than body temperature. The scrotum will shrink and become tighter and closer to the body to maintain warmth, or it will relax and become more loose to cool off.
Internal male anatomy
The internal parts of the male reproductive system are also called the accessory organs.
The urethra carries both urine and semen to the outside of the body. It starts at the bladder, goes through the prostate and ends at the tip, or opening, of the penis.
The vas deferens is a long tube that transports sperm from the epididymis to the pelvic cavity in preparation for ejaculation.
The seminal vesicles are small pouches that connect to the vas deferens at the base of the bladder. They create a sugar-rich fluid to give the sperm energy before ejaculation.
The prostate gland is a walnut sized structure that lies below the bladder. It provides a fluid that helps nourish the sperm.
Common concerns about anatomy
Not something many parents talk about, but here’s the basics. Some look big, some look small, some have peculiar bends, colors, or hang on one side or the other. The size of the penis, whether erect or not, has no effect on sexual satisfaction. Any size is a normal size. Boys need to know this.
Adolescents are great at comparing, and this is no exception. Locker rooms or changing clothes in front of siblings make this comparison easy to do. If your son is the recipient of locker room teasing, help him figure out how to handle it.
During sexual development, the penis continues to grow until puberty ends, typically between ages 16 and 18.
Circumcised vs. uncircumcised
Boys are born with a foreskin covering the end of the penis. For religious or cultural reasons some parents may choose to have this foreskin medically removed.
But every penis, circumcised or not, works and feels the same. There should be no difference in future sexual satisfaction or ability to arousal no matter how the anatomy looks.
Similar to feeling the abdomen or looking in the throat, a doctor may do a testicular exam during normal check-ups. A doctor will gently roll each testicle between their thumb and first finger to feel for lumps. They will also feel for hardness or enlargement.
This simple measure can help the doctor become aware of hernias, testicular cancer or other concerns in a developing body.
Some males may get an erection during a testicular exam. This is pretty common and won’t bother the doctor. It’s just a normal body response to being touched, so it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
Boys should be taught how to do testicular self exams. If they’re aware of how their testicles feel when they are healthy, they’ll catch problems better. Make sure boys know to talk to parents and doctors about any testicular swelling, achy feelings or lumps. These issues could be a sign of disease and are not something to keep quiet.
Pictures of the genitals, aka sexting
It’s common for an adolescent to want to know what his genitals look like and if they look normal. This is where a mirror comes in real handy. But adolescents should be clearly taught not to take pictures of their genitals, even for their own curiosity.
Sexting, sending pictures of genitals to another person, most typically through texting, is not a wise choice. Neither is forwarding sexual images you might receive. There are very real legal consequences to these actions, especially for minors.2
Boys should also be aware that innocently searching for male anatomy on the internet could bring up images and information that is the opposite of what they are actually trying to find.
There are a lot of books and internet sites devoted to explaining puberty and male anatomy in a respectful, informative way.1 Help your son find these sources.
It’s natural for adolescents to be curious about their changing body. Let them know that you are open and willing to answer their questions. In fact, you don’t even have to wait for them to ask.
- Victor C. Strasburger, Harry Zimmerman, Jeff R. Temple, Sheri Madigan. “Teenagers, Sexting, and the Law.” Pediatrics. May 2019, 143 (5) e20183183; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-3183