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.
Evidence suggests that body piercing (including ear piercing) has been practiced by people all over the world from ancient times. 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 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.
The modern body piercing culture emerged from the gay leather and BDSM subcultures. In 1967, New York jewelry maker Jim Ward joined the New York Motorbike Club, a gay S&M group, and experimented with nipple piercing. Ward then moved to Colorado, where he and other members of the Rocky Mountaineer Motorcycle Club experimented more broadly, with genital piercing in particular. In 1973, Ward moved to West Hollywood (a gay village of Los Angeles) where he met Doug Malloy and Fakir Musafar. Together these men developed the basic techniques and equipment of modern body piercing. Malloy introduced the use of the autoclave and hypodermic needle; Ward developed the fixed bead ring and internally threaded barbells. With funding from Malloy (derived from his work with the Muzak corporation), Ward began using his home as a private piercing studio in 1975. Dubbing his studio the Gauntlet, he drew an initial clientèle by running classified ads in local gay and fetish publications. After three years of continued refinement with techniques and equipment, Ward opened the Gauntlet as a commercial storefront operation in West Hollywood on November 17, 1978.
In the mid to late 1980s, a wave of body piercing studios modeled after the Gauntlet opened throughout the US, Europe, and cosmopolitan centers. The display of body piercing by celebrities like Madonna and Axl Rose helped to grow the market for these studios' products and services. The decisive migration of body piercing from sexual fetishism to commodity fetishism came with the Lollapalooza traveling festival of music performances, which began in 1991. These events greatly popularized body piercing by enlisting piercing studios as on-site vendors. At this point body piercing became a rite of passage for college-age, middle-class Westerners. By 1997 body piercing had become mainstream as the Miss America Pageant, as one of the contestants displayed a pierced navel during the contest.
In a study among Israeli young-adults, 4.3% had present or past body piercing (not included earlobe, lip or intra-oral piercing), and 5.7%, 6.2% and 15.7% had present or past lip piercing, body tattooing and intra-oral piercing, respectively.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ear 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 jewellery and over time can cause the whole ear to deform, commonly known as 'cauliflowering'. Piercing guns have also been found to be a less sterile 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.
Many professional body piercers discourage the use of these instruments. The autoclaving of piercing guns is usually impossible, because certain materials used in their construction would be destroyed if autoclaved. Even though they are occasionally used for other purposes, ear piercing instruments are designed and advertised for ear piercing only.
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.
Arguments have arisen that using internally threaded jewelry can be just as, if not more, dangerous for the body on occasion. For example, if one gets one's tongue pierced with an internally threaded barbell and the threading is not properly screwed down by the piercer or becomes loose because of playing with the jewelry, one runs the risk of swallowing a ball. Whereas an externally threaded ball would simply pass through the body (because it has nothing protruding from it), an internally threaded ball would scrape the throat, stomach, and intestines with its threads as it passes through. However, this risk is only evident with oral and, rarely, nasal piercings.
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:
Female Genital Piercings
|Male Genital Piercings|
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.
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.
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: