Washing the penis and keeping it dry cuts the risk of HIV infection in both circumcised and uncircumcised men.
Researchers from Ealing Hospital, London, suspected that penile wetness would increase HIV acquisition risk, and that keeping the area under the foreskin dry may reduce that risk.
To test the theory they studied 386 uncircumcised South African men. They found half had some degree of wetness on their penises. Around 80 per cent were judged to be slightly wet, 19 per cent as wet, and two per cent as very wet.
By comparison, only one of 36 circumcised men had wetness.
Factors associated with penile wetness were younger age, low level of education, low income, higher lifetime numbers of sexual partners and not washing after sex.
Two thirds of the men defined as having wet penises were HIV positive, compared to 45.9 per cent of those with no wetness.
The authors noted that HIV prevalence among uncircumcised men without penile wetness was close to that of circumcised men (42.9 per cent).
Although many factors associated with penile wetness were poverty-related, the researchers recommended provision of more information, education, and communication programmes that included advice on pre- and post coital washing.
Interventions to improve genital hygiene may also be effective in reducing HIV infection risk.
JAIDS 2006; 43: 69-77, 117-118