Piercing Basics: History, Forms, Advice, And Care


The History and Many Forms of Body Piercing

Cartilage of the Ear: This is found in Africa, North and South America, Indonesia, and India. It is meant to signify beauty and wealth. New types of cartilage piercing are called “daith” and “rook”.

Cheek Piercing: Men from the Aleutian Islands used cheek piercing when they went seal hunting. By piercing their cheeks with rods, they looked like they had whiskers. Their intent was to imitate the appearances of the seal and they felt this increased their chances for a successful hunt.

Ear: This type of piercing was meant to mark life stage changes in group affiliation.

Eyebrow, Nasion, and Navel: The Egyptians used this as a sign of royalty.

Female Nipples: In the 14th century, Bavarian women had diamond-studded rings through their nipples and passed gold chains through them.

Lips: This is a ritual to celebrate the passage from childhood to adulthood. It also mimics facial beauty marks. This type of piercing comes from Australia, New Guinea, Africa, India, North and South America, and Indonesia.

Female Genitals

There are two different kinds:

1. Labia: Trukese women pierced their labia and hung a little bell from their labia to attract a male partner.

2. Clitoris: This is a modern technique that is done to enhance female orgasms.

Male Genitals

The main reason for this type of piercing is increased sexual enhancement, as well as initiation into adulthood. It is meant to establish male sexual identity. There are the many variations:

1. Dydoe: This is a piercing of the gland along the coronal ridge of the penis of a circumcised male. It originated in Southeast Asia and India and was felt to enhance female pleasure during intercourse.

2. Foreskin: Roman athletes pierced their foreskin to keep their attention on the games. A metal ring was placed on their foreskin. It was welded shut and called a “fibula”. It prevented erections. It was used also used on Roman slaves to prevent procreation. The Greeks also used it on their athletes. They fastened a ribbon around the foreskin and tied the end to the base of the penis. This decreased chafing and “flapping” during the games.

3. Guiche: Samoan men pierced the flesh between their testicles and their anus. This was a ritual of puberty and was believed to stimulate the prostate gland.

4. Kandoekoe: Borneo tribes used round-like marble devices and implanted them under the skin on the shaft of the penis. This was meant to increase the stimulation of the vagina and increase the girth (circumference) of the penis.

5. Palang: This method used a rod that transected the gland of the penis. It would increase blood flow causing the gland to swell. It was thought to make erections last longer and would make orgasms more intense. In Borneo, some tribal women refused to marry a male that had not had this type of piercing done. The Kama Sutra recommends this for impotence.

6. Rhinoceros penis: A rigid cross bar is placed four inches behind the tip of the penis and projects two inches on either side, looking like a rhinoceros. It comes from China and Borneo.

7. Scrotum: French soldiers used this to signify passage from childhood into adulthood.

Male Nipples: This signified masculine status in Roman centurions. This was seen as a sign of courage.

Nose Piercing: The people of India view this as a sign of beauty.

Septum: Aborigines would pierce their septum with bones. This signified a warrior status.

Tongue: The Mayans performed this type of ritual when they wanted to talk to the spirits of their ancestors.


Store Safety

If you are considering any type of body piercing make sure you are dealing with a reputable business. Ask lots of questions and scrutinize the store and the equipment. In particular, ask the store operator how the instruments are cleaned. An autoclave machine is used to sterilize the instruments after each use.

Inquire as to how long the piercing operator has been performing body piercing. Currently there is no law mandating that they have a license to do body piercing, but there is a law stating that they must have a business license. You should use someone who has a lot of experience.

The piercing establishment must be regulated by the health department and the certificate should be posted in the store and it must be current.

All needles should be disposable and sterile. The jewelry should also come in sterile packaging. The operator should wear sterile gloves while doing the procedure. The client should request references from previous customers. A reference from a friend or someone you know well would be most important.

The customer may be asked to sign a release or consent form and this should be thoroughly understood before providing your signature.

Remember it’s your body and you have the right to ask any questions you want. Don’t feel embarrassed. If the proprietor does not answer your questions or make you feel uncomfortable, leave the store. There are other piercing establishments.

Piercing Care

The time it takes for piercings to heal depends on the location of the piercing and after care. Some take a few weeks, other types of piercings in more delicate areas can take up to 9 months to heal.

Once the piercing procedure has been performed, avoid touching or turning the jewelry to insure proper healing of the skin. If you do need to touch the area, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly prior to touching the site. If you experience a great deal of pain, redness or tenderness at the piercing site you should notify the piercing establishment and consider contacting your physician. You may have developed an infection at the piercing site.

If there is mild swelling, itching, or redness at the piercing site, you may be allergic to the jewelry that was use. Notify the piercing store, as well as your physician. You may need to replace the jewelry with a type of metal that you are not allergic to.

The day following the piercing you should clean the piercing site twice a day. Begin by thoroughly washing your hands with an antibacterial soap. Clean the piercing site with a Q-tip, antibacterial soap and warm water. Be gentle.

The jewelry should not be removed for several months. If the jewelry needs to be removed for medical reasons (e.g., an X-ray), a lubricated piece of monofilament nylon fishing line can be placed through the piercing site until the jewelry can be replaced.You can also go to the piercing store and they can do this for you—usually for a fee.

Piercing stores also sell retainers that can be put into a pierced site in place of the jewelry in order to keep it open.

The amount of pain experienced during piercing depends on the area which is pierced. The more nerve endings in the area, the more painful it might be. Pain also varies depending on a person’s individual tolerance for pain. Most piercing stores are not allowed to “numb up the skin”, unless the piercing operator is also a registered nurse or a physician. Scarring at the piercing site is unusual but may result from infection, allergic reaction to the jewelry, or piercing technique. A small amount of scarring may also be visible at the piercing site if the jewelry is permanently removed.

The jewelry that is used for piercing should be non-allergenic. Types of metals which are commonly used are stainless steel, gold, titanium, and platinum.

The jewelry that is placed at the piercing site should be sized for the area that is to be pierced. This will vary from person to person. If the jewelry is too large, it could cause some tearing of the tissue and this may result in excessive tearing.

Some types of piercings require slightly different care. With tongue piercings, healing time is approximately three weeks. To keep this area as clean as possible, use an antiseptic mouthwash two to three times a day. Oral contact with other persons should be avoided for several weeks. Ice may be used to decrease swelling. Initially, avoid hot liquids and spicy foods.

With genital piercing, avoid oral or sexual contact for several weeks. A barrier during sexual contact should be used for up to six weeks. There is no need to clean the area after urination, as urine is sterile.


This type of “body art” is less common. Any type of stretching should be done very gradually. If it is not done slowly, a person can develop excessive scarring. It should be noted that stretching of body parts is a permanent change, and may not age well. Areas of the body that have historically been stretched include: ear lobes, labia, lips, neck, and the penis.


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