Body piercing

From Academic Kids

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captive bead ring

Body piercing usually refers to the piercing of a part of the human body for the purpose of wearing jewelry in the opening created. Body piercing is a form of body modification. The word "piercing" can refer to the act or practice of body piercing, or to a specific pierced opening in the body.

Some peoples practice piercing for religious or other cultural reasons, while many individuals, particularly in the modern West, choose to be pierced for spiritual, ornamental, or sexual reasons.


Body piercing in ancient times

Evidence suggests that body piercing (including ear piercing) has been practiced by peoples all over the world from ancient times.

Mummified bodies with piercings have been discovered, including the oldest mummified body discovered to date, which was found in an Austrian glacier. This mummy had an ear piercing 7–11 mm in diameter.

Nose piercing and ear piercing are mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 24:22 Abraham's servant gave a nose ring and bracelets to Rebekah, wife of his son Isaac. Nose piercing has been common in India since the 16th century.

Tongue piercing was popular with the elite of Aztec and Maya civilization, though it was carried out as part of a blood ritual and such piercings were not intended to be permanent. Ancient Mesoamericans wore jewelry in their ears, noses, and lower lips, and such decorations continue to be popular amongst indigenous peoples in these regions.

In Dreamtime by Hans Peter Duerr, it is claimed that nipple piercing became popular in 14th century Europe. It is sometimes claimed that the Romans invented nipple piercing and that soldiers attached their capes to the piercings (for example, see Doug Malloy ( This is a controversial theory that seems rather unplausible given the sensitivity of the area and the ease with which such a practice could have caused injury; it is much more plausible that capes may have been hung from rings attached to soldiers' armor.

Body piercing today

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Immediate disposal of used needles into a sharps container is standard procedure.

Societal attitudes

In the United States, and in other Western countries, ear piercing (for females only) was for a long time long the only common and socially accepted visible piercing. Jim Ward is often credited with popularizing body piercing in America, opening an early body piercing business in Los Angeles in 1975. Ear piercing for males became more common starting in the late 1970s, first as a form of anti-social rebellion in punk rock culture and as a statement of sexual identity in gay male culture, and later expanding into mainstream society.

Attitudes toward body piercing have grown more accepting in the West and in other parts of the world. In some areas, certain types of piercings, even those once considered radical, are becoming more accepted. For example, while ear piercing was long uncommon among middle- and upper-class Western males, today men with pierced ears can be seen working in banks and other traditionally conservative settings in some areas, though this is by no means universal. In other parts of the world, ear piercing is still considered inappropriate for males in many settings, as are multiple ear piercings on women.

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Female pierced through the following: Lobe (Ear), Septum (Nose), Labret (Lips)

Personal attitudes

Attitudes towards piercing can be divisive. Some regard the practice of piercing or of being pierced as spiritual, sometimes embracing the term "modern primitive", while others deride this approach as insulting, as cultural appropriation, or as faddish. Some see the practice as a form of artistic or self-expression, while others choose to be pierced as a form of sexual expression and/or for sexual stimulation or the perceived increase in sexual feeling that certain piercings are thought by some to create. For some people, piercing is part of an S-M lifestyle or relationship, or is incorporated into S-M play.

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. Some people choose to be pierced to symbolize certain relationships.

While some people consider body modification to be a sign of non-conformity, others deride body piercing as faddish. This can at times lead to prejudice or cognitive bias towards those with piercings or visible signs of past piercings.

Modern piercing procedure

All piercings require creating an opening in the body. Piercings that will be worn longterm (that is, those that are intended to be more or less permanent, as opposed to play piercings) are created by forcing a sharp object through the area to be pierced. In most modern Western contexts, a hollow medical needle is used to create the hole into which the jewelry is placed, and the procedure is carried out in a sterile manner. When done professionally, jewelry and equipment are usually autoclaved before use, and other precautions taken.

Indwelling cannula method

Many European (and other) piercers use a needle containing a cannula (hollow plastic tube). The needle is partly withdrawn, and the jewelery inserted into the other end of the cannula. The cannula is used to pull the jewelry through the newly created opening.

Piercing guns

Another technique common in modern Western piercing is the use of a piercing gun, to force a semi-blunt piercing stud through the region to be pierced. This technique results in greater trauma than needle piercing, is unsuitable for piercing most regions besides ear lobes, and is less likely to be sterile. However, piercings can be performed more quickly and consistently with minimal training using such equipment, which may also be perceived by customers as "safer" than traditional methods. It is a subject of controversy among professional piercers.

Expansion of body piercings

Some people with piercings expand them beyond the initial narrow gauge they are pierced with. This may be done gradually, by stretching, or rapidly by scalpelling.

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. The below table has 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.

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.

Behaviors which tend to support successful healing

  • Revisiting the piercer for an evaluation at any time, if needed
  • Practicing good hygiene
  • Following the recommended aftercare guidelines

Behaviors which tend to contribute to unsuccessful healing

  • Contact between the new piercing and another person's skin
  • Touching the piercing, unless cleaning it, in which case only with washed hands
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol(in the case of oral piercings)
  • Contact between the piercing and bodily fluids, perfume or cosmetics
  • Oral sex and genital intimacy, where this could cause one of the above
  • Swimming in public swimming pools, lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans as they may be too harsh to promote skin cell healing. Chlorine in swimming pool water may be an irritant. Bacteria, protozoa, and parasites found in non-chlorinated water can lead to infections.


Oral piercings

For tongue, lip, cheek and labret piercings, the rinsing of the mouth after eating, drinking (except water) and smoking is not recommended. Some piercers recommend using Listerine, while others, claiming that Listerine is too harsh on the piercing thereby hindering the healing process, recommend a non-alcoholic mouthwash such as Oral-B Non-Alcoholic or Biotene, or a diluted saline solution. Kissing and oral sex are advised against for 4-6 weeks after the piercing, as are excessively cold or hot foods.

Genital piercings

It is recommended that both male and female piercings are cleaned with saline solution, as with other piercings. Tight clothing and genital intimacy are recommended against for a period of 4-6 weeks. The urine of the pierced person is sterile (to them), so will not infect their piercings.

Most other piercings

For piercings other than oral and genital, soaking in saline solution, either pre-packaged or home-mixed (1/8 tsp. sea salt to 8 oz. water) is a technique often recommended and used. Antiseptic rinses are generally not recommended, as they can be too harsh on the exposed flesh. Rotation of the body piercing jewelry is often regarded as a potential aid to healing, provided it is carried out after careful cleaning; however many piercers do not recommended rotation of body jewelry as it can pull in dirt and bacteria into the piercing, and irritate the fistula which is trying to form, if there is even the slightest negligence in cleaning beforehand.

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.

Approximate healing times

The length of time required for healing a given piercing will vary according to many factors, including but not limited to the type of piercing and jewelry, the aftercare, and the overall health of the person. The following table provides typical estimates (with superficial healing accomplished at the lower time range and more complete healing occurring at the higher time range) and should be used as a general guide only. A professional piercer or medical doctor should be consulted for specific information.

Bridge piercing 8 – 10 wks Navel piercing 6 – 12 mos
Cheek piercing 10 – 12 wks Nipple piercing 6 – 12 mos
Clitoris piercing 4 – 6 wks Nostril piercing 6 – 12 mos
Ear cartilage piercing 2 – 12 mos Septum piercing 6 wks – 8 mos
Ear lobe piercing 6 – 8 wks Tongue piercing 4 – 6 wks
Lip piercing 2 – 6 mos

The end of the process

When a piercing is fully healed and is no longer painful or prone to infection, and when the jewelry can be removed for long periods without the opening re-healing, it is said to be "seasoned." Seasoning can take a year or more.

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 faithfully 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, hairspray, 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.
  • Allergic reaction to the metal in the piercing jewelry, particularly nickle. This risk can be minimized by using high quality jewelry manufactured from surgical stainless steel or similar inert metals.
  • Bacterial infection, particularly from staphylococcus aureus. However, this risk is greatly reduced when the piercing is performed by a professional body piercer using best practice piercing techniques, and when appropriate steps are taken during the aftercare period to avoid infection. Blunt force piercing, such as that associated with the use of ear piercing instruments, increases the chance of a bacterial infections. For that reason. among others, piercing guns should never be used to pierce any part of the body other than earlobes.
  • 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.
  • Trauma to a fresh piercing, usually associated with unintended entanglement of the piercing jewelry with another object. This risk is always present, but 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.
  • Viral infection, particularly from hepatitis B 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 has not yet been a case 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 autoclaved disposable piercing needles and the autoclaving of jewelry prior to installation.

List of piercing types

Facial piercings

Body piercings

Male genital piercings

Female genital piercings

Related articles

Related Media

External links

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