The recommended first aid for frostbite is not Elizabeth Ardern cream (Image: Tina Tiller)
The recommended first aid for frostbite is not Elizabeth Ardern cream (Image: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureJanuary 27, 2023

How common is penis frostbite actually?

The recommended first aid for frostbite is not Elizabeth Ardern cream (Image: Tina Tiller)
The recommended first aid for frostbite is not Elizabeth Ardern cream (Image: Tina Tiller)

In his memoir Spare, Prince Harry revealed he attended the future King and Queen of England’s wedding with a frostbitten penis. A veteran of Antarctic expeditions says it’s not an issue that crops up often, if at all.

Now that the avalanche of coverage about the Duke of Sussex’s memoir has subsided and we’re left with a light dusting of salacious snow, it’s time to answer one of the most important questions raised in the book – just how common is penis frostbite? 

Among the many details we’ve been whacked in the face with is the revelation that Harry attended the wedding of the future King and Queen of England with a frostbitten penis after an Arctic expedition. Penile misadventure from young men named Harry is canonical in this country, which has left us no choice. Of all the countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, Aotearoa New Zealand is unfortunately best placed to serve the realm by investigating the issue of genital frostbite. 

Sorry if you were hoping that this would be the last time a penis belonging to a Harry would be written about (Image: Tina Tiller)

Blake McDavitt is a lead field training instructor for Antarctica New Zealand and has been working in that role since 2004. McDavitt has an extensive background in search and rescue work and has done eight trips to Antarctica, spending a total of 1,000 days on the frozen continent. He’s been safety lead for traverses across the Ross Ice Shelf, a trip that heads out 1,000 km or more from Scott Base in convoys of sleds. In all his time in Antarctica, he has never once encountered frostbite of the penis.

Frostbite, or the less severe version, frostnip, is damage to skin and tissue caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. All our cells contain moisture, McDavitt explains, and in freezing temperatures that moisture can freeze. Frostbite will feel like a burn and can affect any part of your body, but as McDavitt points out, it’s most common in the extremities like the hands, feet, ears, nose and lips. It’s also quite common along the top of your cheeks, an area that can sometimes be exposed between protective neck coverings and eyewear. Wind can also up the odds of getting frostbite.

You could define a penis as an extremity, but as McDavitt explains, it’s part of your core, which is generally the warmest part of your body. The duke told Stephen Colbert his “todger” was frostbitten because he didn’t wear a “cock cup”. The duke then had a bespoke penis “cushion” made for a trip to Antarctica in order to protect him from a second dose of genital frostbite. McDavitt simply recommends good clothing, training, awareness of your environment and looking after one another as the best means of preventing frostbite to any part of the body.

It may be that McDavitt has never encountered penis frostbite before because of the very high level of safety training and awareness the team at New Zealand’s Antarctic outcrop gets and has. We might have all sniggered about a frozen royal rapier but the risk of frostbite is very real and taken very seriously by those who spend their time in Antarctica. 

“Regardless of whether you’re going to be at Scott Base or out in the field, you’ll have training in frostbite because there is probably one of the things that is more likely to happen if you don’t keep an eye on it,” says McDavitt.

In his book, Harry revealed that he put Elizabeth Ardern cream on his frostbitten penis. One assumes he’s referring to the reasonably magical 8-hour cream but still. He also said the smell reminded him of his mum, but that’s an analysis for another day. McDavitt says immediate treatment of frostbite involves trying to warm the area and get circulation going as frostbite essentially stops blood flow. If that’s not possible, it’s actually best to keep the frostbitten area frozen. He says they don’t have “creams” and would mainly be covering the affected area to prevent blisters from breaking.

Frostbite obviously doesn’t just happen in Antarctica. It can happen anywhere where temperatures reach freezing level including in many alpine areas of New Zealand. For those not travelling to Scott Base who won’t be receiving McDavitt’s training, he has some advice to prevent frostbite. First of all, don’t doubt that it can happen and don’t think it’s something you don’t need to worry about. Invest in good clothing and always be aware of the environment you’re going into. Do your research, and if you’re just starting out in your cold adventures, join an alpine or ski club so you don’t have to join the dubious club of the frozen elite.

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