Body piercing is the practice of puncturing or cutting a part of the human body, creating an opening in which jewelry may be worn. Body piercing is a form of body modification. The word piercing can refer to the act or practice of body piercing, or to an opening in the body created by this act or practice. The cultural norms reflected in body piercing are various. They may include religion, spirituality, fashion, eroticism, conformism, or subcultural identification.
History of body piercing
In ancient times
Evidence suggests that body piercing (including ear piercing) has been practiced by people all over the world from ancient times. It is said that people would pierce their ears so that evil spirits wouldn't enter their body. Mummified bodies with piercings have been discovered, including the oldest mummified body discovered to date, that of Ötzi the Iceman, which was found in a Valentina Trujillon glacier. This mummy had an ear piercing 7–11 mm (1 to 000 gauge in AWG) diameter.
In Book of Genesis of the Bible 24:22, Abraham's servant gave a golden earring of half a shekel weight and ten bracelets to Rebekah, wife of his son Isaac. In Exodus 32, Aaron makes the golden calf from melted earrings. Deuteronomy 15:12–17 dictates ear piercing as a mark of slavery. Nose piercing has been common in India since the sixteenth century.
Ear piercing, of either one or both ears, has long been practiced by men in many non-Western cultures. Other forms of body piercing have also existed continuously for as long as ear piercing. For example, women in India, Nepal and Pakistan routinely practice ear and nostril piercing, and have done so for centuries.
In western cultures
Nipple piercings, vertical labret piercing and a stretched ear.
Ear piercing has existed continuously since ancient times, including throughout the twentieth century in the Western world. However, in North America, Europe, and Australasia, ear piercing was relatively rare from the 1920s until the 1960s. At that time, it regained popularity among westernized women. It was gradually adopted by men in the gay, hippie, punk, and gangster subcultures, until ever-widening appropriation attenuated its subcultural associations altogether. Today, single and multiple piercing of either or both ears is common among Western women and somewhat common among men.
Body piercing folklore
The marketing of modern body piercing products and services has emphasized their connection to longstanding cultural practices, even as the image of body piercing is often one of indifference or even radicalism regarding cultural norms. Musafar connected modern body-piercing culture to longstanding practices in non-Western cultures. Retrospective and imaginary though these links may be, they have succeeded in making body piercing a central practice of modern primitivism.
Malloy took a different route, marketing contemporary body piercing by giving it the patina of a Western history. His pamphlet, Body & Genital Piercing in Brief, concocted fanciful histories of genital piercings in particular. These ersatz, and often homoerotic tales---which include the notion that Prince Albert invented the piercing that shares his name in order to tame the appearance of his large penis in tight trousers, and that Roman centurions attached their capes to nipple piercings---are widely circulated as urban legends, and Malloy's pamphlet is sometimes cited as evidence of their historical veracity.
The notion of an aristocratic European past of body piercing enjoys widespread appeal. Hans Peter Duerr argues in Dreamtime that nipple piercing became popular in fourteenth century Europe. There is evidence, both anecdotal and photographic, that nipple piercing was practiced in Europe during the late nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, but it was not a common practice.
Attitudes towards piercing vary. Some regard the practice of piercing or of being pierced as spiritual, sometimes embracing the term "modern primitive", while others deride this view as insulting, as cultural appropriation, or as trendy. Some see the practice as a form of artistic or self-expression. Others choose to be pierced as a form of sexual expression, or to increase sexual sensitivity. For some people, piercing is part of their practices of S&M. In most countries, some people find forms of body piercing distasteful and/or refuse to permit employees to display their piercings on the job as part of the dress code.
Some people choose to be pierced for symbolic reasons. For example, some survivors of sexual abuse have said that they experience piercing as allowing them to retake control over their own bodies.
Body Piercing in some religions is held to be destructive to the body and in others held as a sacred or spiritual act. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has taken an official position against piercings unless for medical reasons; also accepting piercings for women as acceptable so long as there is one set of piercings in the lower lobe of the ears and no other place on the body. Piercing beliefs in other religions has been the subject of debate. Many of these debates within Christianity refer to Bible references involving the body as a temple or holy place, usually citing 1 Corinthians.
Canadian Brent Moffat set the world record for most body piercings (700 piercings with 18g surgical needles in 1 session of 7 hours, using “play piercing” where the skin is pierced and sometimes jewelry is inserted, which is worn temporarily). In the United Kingdom, a record was made by piercer Charlie Wilson on subject Kam Ma, with 600 permanent piercings in just over 8 1/2 hours. Officially titled “most pierced woman” Elaine Davidson of Scotland set the record for most permanent piercings (1,903 permanent piercings) and she first broke or created this record in 2000 upon verification by Guinness judges (462 body piercings, with 192 at the time being around her head and face). Unofficially Dwaine Scum attempted to break the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive body piercings (1000 needles over his stomach and chest in 5 hours). Benjamin Drucker (U.S.) allowed 745 18-gauge (1.2 cm (0.5 in) long) surgical needles inserted into his body by Nate Adams (USA) in 2 hours 21 minutes at Ix Body Piercing of Taos, New Mexico, U.S. on July 12, 2003.
Contemporary piercing procedures
Immediate disposal of used needles into a sharps container is standard practice.
Permanent body piercings (as opposed to play piercings) are performed by creating an opening in the body using a sharp object through the area to be pierced. This can either be done by cutting an opening using a needle (usually a hollow medical needle) or scalpel or by removing tissue, either with a scalpel or a dermal punch.
Contemporary body piercing studios generally take numerous precautions to protect the health of the person being pierced and the piercer. Tools and jewelry are sterilized in autoclaves and non-autoclavable surfaces are cleaned with disinfectant agents on a regular basis and between clients. Sterile, single use gloves are worn by the piercer to protect both the piercer and the client. Commonly, a piercer will use multiple pairs of gloves per client, often one pair for each step of setup to avoid cross contamination. For example, after a piercer has cleaned the area to be pierced on a client, the piercer may change gloves to avoid recontaminating the area with the gloves he/she used to clean it.
Surgical stainless steel and titanium are ideal materials for initial jewelry in a fresh piercing.
There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding appropriate material for an initial piercing. For example, there is a widespread belief that "solid 14 karat or higher white or yellow gold containing no nickel is safe as initial jewelry (in a fresh piercing) ”. However, the common alternatives for nickel (copper, silver) in the alloy pose equal or greater risk compared to nickel. Also, gold is a soft metal, making it prone to dents and scratches which can irritate piercings and harbor bacteria.
Standard needle method
The standard method in the United States involves making an opening using a hollow medical needle. The needle is inserted into the body part being pierced. While the needle is still in the body, the initial jewelry to be worn in the piercing is pushed through the opening, following the back of the needle. Piercing using hollow medical needles does not actually remove any flesh—the method cuts a "C" shaped slit and holds it open in the shape of the cross section of the needle: in this case, a circle. In this method, the needle is the same gauge (or sometimes larger as with cartilage piercings) than the initial jewelry to be worn. Piercings that penetrate cartilage are often pierced one or two gauges larger than the jewelry, to reduce pressure on the healing piercing, and allowing space for a fistula (internal "skin tube" that connects the two ends of the piercing) to form.
Indwelling cannula method
Many European (and other) piercers use a needle containing a cannula (hollow plastic tube placed at the end of the needle, also see catheter). Procedure is identical to the standard method, only that the initial jewelry is inserted into the back of the cannula and the cannula and the jewelry are then pulled through the piercing. This method reduces the chance of the jewelry slipping during the insertion procedure, and also protects the fresh piercing from possible irritation from external threading (if used) during initial insertion.
In this method, a dermal punch is used to remove a circular area of tissue, into which jewelry is placed. This method is usually used to remove both skin and cartilage in upper ear piercings, where cartilage must be removed to relieve pressure on the piercing to ensure proper healing and long-term viability of the piercing. Healed fistulas created or enlarged using dermal punches will shrink over time, but at a much slower rate than 'dead stretched' fistulas.
Main article: Ear piercing instrument
Piercing guns are commonly used in retail settings to perform ear piercings. They work by blunt force trauma due to the fact that the needle used is normally dull and are designed for piercing the earlobe only. In many states it is against the law to pierce the cartilage with the piercing gun because of the damage the device can do to the tissue. The sheer blunt force of the piercing gun shatters the surrounding cartilage from the entry point of the jewelry and over time can cause the whole ear to deform, commonly known as 'cauliflowering'. Piercing guns have also been found to be a less hygienic way of piercing due to the limited cleaning quality of the plastic the gun is usually made of. Piercing with a piercing gun causes microsprays of plasma and blood, which are then unable to be cleaned in an autoclave system. Cross contamination can then spread pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis A, B, and C.
Many professional body piercers discourage the use of these instruments. The autoclaving of piercing guns is impossible, because the plastic used in their construction would be melted if autoclaved. Even though they are occasionally and wrongly used for other purposes, ear piercing instruments are designed for earlobe piercing only.
Internally threaded jewelry
A number of piercing shops exclusively use jewelry that is internally threaded. That is, the ball-ends of the jewelry screw into the bar, rather than the bar screwing into the ball. Though more expensive and difficult to produce than externally threaded jewelry, piercers who use internally threaded jewelry advise that since the bar that is being inserted into the skin has no sharp threads on the end, it will not cut or irritate skin; this allows for safer healing.
However, in today's world of body piercing, most manufacturers of quality body jewelry agree that if externally threaded jewelry is going to be used, it must have a tapered end on it so that at the very least, the threads can slip into the back end of the needle, thus protecting the piercee's tissue from being threaded during the initial piercing.
The healing process and body piercing aftercare
A new piercing will be sore, tender or red for several days up to three weeks. Complete healing normally takes several weeks or more. Below are more specific healing time estimates. During this period, care must be taken to avoid infection. Touching—or, for genital and oral piercings, sexual activity—is usually discouraged.
Primary healing usually takes about as long as is listed below; the jewelry should not be removed during this period. The healing time should not be rushed. Very often a piercing that seemed to be healed will start to have problems when it is handled roughly, exposed to mouth contact or unwashed hands before it has truly healed.
Full healing starts after primary healing is complete and usually takes about as long as primary healing, during this period the skin thickens and starts to gain elasticity. An additional "toughening up" period takes place after full healing is complete, this "toughening up" period also takes about as long as the primary healing time. During "toughening up" the skin remodels itself developing an internal texture in the fistula tube that replaces the shiny scar-like internal surface.
Approximate primary healing times:
Monroe piercing: 6-12 weeks
Bridge: 2-3 months
Cheek/Anti-Eyebrow: 3–6 months
Ear cartilage: 6-12 months
Ear lobes: 6-8 weeks
Eyebrow: 6-8 weeks
Tragus: 6–12 months
Lip / Labret: 3–4 weeks
Nostril: 2-3 months
Septum: 2-3 months
Tongue: 4-6 weeks
Frenulum: 6-8 weeks
Female Nipples: 3-6 months
Male Nipples: 3-6 months
Navel piercing: 4–6 months
Hand web: 1 year
Surface: 6–8 months
Female Genital Piercings
Clitoral Hood: 2-4 weeks
Clitoris: 4-6 weeks
Christina piercing: 3–4 months
Fourchette: 2–3 months
Isabella: 2-3 months
Labia Minora: 2–3 months
Labia Majora: 2–3 months
Triangle: 2–3 months
Male Genital Piercings
Ampallang: 4–6 months
Apadravya: 4–6 months
Dydoe: 4-6 months
Frenum piercing: 2-5 weeks
Guiche: 4–6 months
Prince Albert: 2-4 weeks
Reverse Prince Albert: 2-4 weeks
Scrotum: 3–4 months
Foreskin: 2–3 months
Pubic: 10-12 weeks
Lorum: 1-3 months
Over time, after the piercing, the resulting wound is allowed to heal, forming a tunnel of scar tissue called a fistula. When the piercing has fully healed, the initial jewelry may be changed or removed for short periods.
Behavior that promotes healing
Revisiting the piercer for an evaluation at any time, if needed;
Practicing good hygiene
Following the recommended aftercare guidelines;
Taking sufficient supplement tablets of iron and zinc.
Behavior that hinders healing
Contact between the new piercing and another person's skin or bodily fluids;
Excessive and unnecessary touching of the piercing, especially with unwashed hands;
Failure to take proper aftercare measures;
Smoking and drinking alcohol (in the case of oral piercings, if not cleaned properly and rather close to the time of drinking or smoking);
Exposure to irritating substances such as cosmetics, perfume, lotion, some topical ointments, etc.;
Immersion in chemically-treated pool water, or natural water (i.e. lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans) which contains bacteria, protozoa, and parasites;
Cleaning with tea tree oil, as it keeps the wound open;
Lack of sleep or low health.
Changing of initial jewelry to allow for swelling
For some piercings (in particular tongue piercings) changing the initial jewelry is an essential step. In the case of tongue piercing this is because the initial jewelry is significantly longer than the jewelry for a healed piercing, to allow for swelling.This should be changed down about 7 to 10 days after the initial piercing. Most piercers will include this piece of jewellery in their price and ask you to return.
Discharge on the jewelry
Dried sebum deposit on body jewelry.
During the primary healing process, it is normal for a white or slightly yellow discharge to be noticeable on the jewelry. Provided there is no pain or swelling, it does not usually signify an infection. The discharge is composed of dead skin cells and blood plasma and may be a little difficult to remove as it can become solid very quickly. Another name for such discharge is "lymph" which is a fluid produced by the body's lymph nodes. This tends to be a regular occurrence in the healing of a piercing as well as long as there are no signs of pain or swelling.
Risks associated with body piercing
Body piercing is an invasive procedure and is not without risks. When properly performed, these risks can be minimized, and most individuals who receive their piercing from a professional piercer, and who take care of their new piercing as recommended by their piercer, will enjoy a safe and healthy piercing experience.
Risks of note include:
Allergic reaction to ingredients of products used to clean the new piercing, or of ancillary products used in proximity to the piercing (e.g., soap, hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, antibacterial products, antiseptic medicines, makeup, hair spray, swimming pool chlorine, etc.). This risk can be minimized by cleaning the piercing as recommended by a professional body piercer (different piercers will have differing recommendations), by not contaminating the fresh piercing with irritating products, and by not swimming in chlorinated water.
Chlorine from swimming pools may cause the pierced area to dry out, which may cause the piercing to be torn out very easily.
Allergic reaction to the metal in the piercing jewelry, particularly nickel. This risk can be minimized by using high quality jewelry manufactured from Titanium or Niobium or similar inert metals
Bacterial infection, particularly from Staphylococcus aureus, group A streptococcus and Pseudomonas spp. Reports at the 16th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in 2006 indicated that such infections are seldom serious, but that between 10-20% of piercings result in local benign bacterial infection. Infection due to piercing of the tongue can be fatal.
Parasitic and protozoan infections may occur by swimming in lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans during the healing period. The best way to reduce this risk is to avoid swimming in these locations.
Excess scar tissue, which can be caused by improper piercing, cleansing, and stretching. This may result in loss of sensation and difficulty piercing and stretching that area of skin in the future.
Keloid formation can sometimes occur, particularly among people who are pre-disposed to this condition through heredity.
Trauma, usually associated with unintended entanglement of the piercing jewelry with another object. This risk is greatest for fresh piercings, but is always present. It can be reduced by using jewelry appropriate for the piercing, and covering or taping over jewelry during sports activities. Also, larger gauge piercings will tend to resist tearing better than smaller gauge piercings. Soft tissues such as earlobes, nipples, labrets or eyebrows should be at least 14 gauge, intricate ear cartilage work can be 16 gauge, whilst nostril piercings can be 18 gauge. But as a general rule, it is better to use 14 gauge jewelry, if not larger.
Viral infection, particularly from hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. However, it is important to note that although hepatitis has been transmitted through the practices of ear piercing, body piercing, and tattooing, there have not been any documented cases of HIV transmission associated with these procedures (see CDC Fact Sheet: HIV and Its Transmission). As with bacterial infections, the risk of viral infection is minimized when proper piercing techniques are used, particularly by the use of brand-new disposable piercing needles, the autoclaving of jewelry and the autoclaving of equipment prior to installation. Piercing guns have been documented to spread HIV and hepatitis (A, B and C).
Recession of gingival tissue affecting 19% to 68% of subjects with lip and/or intra-oral ornaments.[ In some cases, the alveolar tooth-bearing bone is also involved, jeopardizing the stability and durability of the teeth in place and required a periodontal regeneration surgery.
Dental fracture and wear, affecting 14% to 41% of subjects with lip and/or intra-oral ornaments.
Proper removal of piercings is rather simple. Carefully remove the jewelry making sure not to pull or irritate the piercing. Once removed the piercing should heal on its own, although it may leave a hole, a mark or a scar. It is not advised to remove jewelry when there is an infection present, and doing so may result in trapping infectious waste in your body if the hole closes, causing an abscess. Once the infection has passed, then it is safe to remove the jewelry if it is no longer desired. In some cases the jewelry may need to be removed by a professional.
Body Jewelry Sizing
Gauge Millimeters Inches
18g 1.0 mm 5/128"
16g 1.2 mm 3/64"
14g 1.6 mm 1/16"
12g 2 mm 5/64"
10g 2.4 mm 3/32"
8g 3.2 mm 1/8"
6g 4 mm 5/32"
4g 5 mm 3/16"
2g 6 mm 1/4"
0g 8 mm 5/16"
00g 10 mm 3/8"
000g 11 mm 7/16"
12.7 mm 1/2"
14 mm 9/16"
16 mm 5/8"
18 mm 3/4"
22 mm 7/8"
25 mm 1"
2 years ago