Body piercing usually refers to the piercing of a part of the human body for the purpose of wearing jewellery 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.
There is a considerable body of information about body piercing on the internet, one of the best sources is BMEzine who also run their own wiki. Many of the links on this, and other wipipedia articles, link directly to the BMEzine wiki.
Modern history and societal attitudes
Ear piercing has been done continuously since ancient times, including throughout the 20th century in the Western world. However, in european culture it was largely restricted to ear piercing in women until the late 60's when it was adopted by men in the hippie and gay communities, and later the punk subculture. Ear piercing, of either or both ears, has always been practised by men in many non-Western cultures. By the 1980s, male ear piercing had become somewhat common in the UK and US. Today, single and multiple piercing of either or both ears is extremely common among Western women, and fairly common among men.
Less conventional forms of body piercing have also existed continuously for as long as ear piercing, but generally not in Western cultures. For example, women in India routinely practise nostril piercing, and have done so for centuries.
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.
Piercing and BDSM
Piercing has a strong association with the BDSM and fetish scene. Some of this is to do with the fact that the people who are prepared to push at the boundaries of their sexuality will also want to experiement with the use of the body as a form of self-expression. Genital piercings in particular can also play a direct role in the practice of BDSM scening. At a basic level, piercings can be used to cause discomfort to the submissive by hanging weights from them or to hold an object such as a vibrator in place. They can also be used to immobilise people by acting as anchor points for ropes (although there is a risk that the piercing may tear if the victim struggles too much). At a more extreme level, chastity piercings can be used for orgasm denial or enforced chastity scenes.
Contemporary piercing procedure
Permanent body piercings (as opposed to play piercings) are created 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 jewellery are sterilised in autoclaves and non-autoclavable surfaces are cleaned with sterilising 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.
Most professional studios will only pierce with stainless steel or titanium jewellery. Some use one or the other exclusively. Piercers who use titanium exclusively will note that even stainless steel can sometimes contain too much nickel to be safe for a piercing. Jewellery made of pure platinum as well as 14k and 18k gold is not considered safe for piercing, but is often used for decorative jewellery when the piercing has healed. However, many piercers also claim that 14k gold contains too much copper, opting for at least 18k for any jewellery piece.
Decorative jewellery bought at retail stores is often highly discouraged by piercers, as much of it contains components that can be irritating or even toxic. Even some jewellery that is claimed to be titanium is often composed of cheaper metals such as nickel and iron. Silver in any use or form is also highly discouraged due to the threat of argyria and possible carcinogenic effects of various silver compounds.
Much like tattoos, it is often much better to avoid bargains and low prices, and instead opt for reasonably expensive jewellery and procedures.
Standard Needle Method
The standard method in the US involves making an opening using a hollow medical needle. The needle is inserted into the body part being pierced, but not all the way through. While still in the body, the initial jewellery 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 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 larger than the initial jewellery to be worn. Piercings that penetrate cartilage are often pierced one or two gauges larger than the jewellery, to reduce pressure on the healing piercing, allowing for a fistula to form properly.
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). The procedure is identical to the standard method, except that the initial jewellery is inserted into the back of the cannula and the cannula and the jewellery are then pulled through the piercing. This method reduces the chance of the jewellery slipping during the insertion procedure, and also protects the fresh piercing from possible irritation from external threading (if used) during initial insertion.
Pierce and Taper
Similar to the standard method, this is a more advanced technique, sometimes used to pierce where large-gauge initial jewellery is desired. In this method, after the needle is inserted and the opening is created, a tapered steel bar (usually one gauge larger than that of the needle at the large end) is inserted instead of initial jewellery. Then the jewellery is pushed through the opening, following the tapered bar. The success of this method depends on the elasticity of the skin in the area being pierced, the skill of the piercer and the type of piercing being done.
In this method, a medical scalpel is used to cut a slit, allowing for the insertion of large-gauge jewellery. This method is often used in the creation of large-gauge ear piercings. Scalpelling can also be used to correct an improper placement on piercings; an example of this would be cutting existing large gauge ear piercings to match symmetrically. If the jewellery is removed from a scalpelled piercing, the fistula may not shrink or close over time and unwanted piercings may have to be surgically repaired. Scalpelling is most commonly used on earlobes, but can be used anywhere where large-gauge piercings are desired.
In this method, a dermal punch is used to remove a circular area of tissue, into which jewellery 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. Like scalpelled piercings, the healed fistulas created or enlarged using a dermal punch will usually not shrink over time.
Piercing guns are commonly used in retail settings to perform ear piercings. These gun-shaped devices are designed for piercing the ear lobe only; they are not marketed or designed for use on any part of the body other than the ear lobe, and should never be used on the upper ear. Piercing the upper ear (through cartilage) with an ear piercing gun often results in longer healing times, and possible increased discomfort.
Many professional body piercers discourage the use of these instruments. The major complaint is that ear piercing instruments perform the piercing using a great deal of force with a relatively blunt ear piercing stud. Because of this, it is more difficult to direct the piercing than with a body piercing needle, and healing is prolonged due to the additional trauma involved. Also, the autoclaving of ear piercing guns is difficult or impossible. Even though they are occasionally used for other purposes, ear piercing instruments are designed for ear piercing only.
Internally Threaded Jewelry
A number of piercing shops exclusively use jewellery that is internally threaded. That is, the ball ends of the jewellery screw into the bar, rather than the bar screwing into the jewellery. Though more expensive to produce than externally threaded jewellery, piercers who use internally threaded jewellery 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, and allows for safer healing.
The healing process and body piercing aftercare
A new piercing will be sore, tender or red for several days, maybe 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 jewellery 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, or exposed to mouth contact or unwashed hands before fully 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 jewellery may be changed or removed for short periods.
Behaviour that promotes healing
- Revisiting the piercer for an evaluation at any time, if needed
- Practising good hygiene
- Following the recommended aftercare guidelines
- Taking sufficient iron and zinc supplement tablets
Behaviour that hinders 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 parasit]s found in non-chlorinated water can lead to infections.
For tongue, lip, cheek, and labret piercings, it is recommended to rinse the mouth after smoking, eating and drinking (except water). 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 hot or spicy foods. Some recommend cold foods such as ice cream bars, slushies, and the like. Blended foods are a great alternative - anything soft.
It is generally advised by piercers to use a sea salt rinse (1/8 teaspoon per 8oz of distilled or boiled water); proportionate mixes are marketed and sold by companies such as H2Ocean) or a medical saline rinse, which could be placed in a shot glass and held to the piercing for about 10 minutes, no more than twice a day. The solution could also be soaked into a cotton ball and used to gently cleanse the piercing morning and night. Overcleaning is a common cause of irritation and redness in a piercing, as well as inappropriate cleansing agents. Table salt (sodium chloride) is considered to be less natural than sea salt, but in equal concentrations table salt may be less irritating than sea salt because table salt almost always has fewer contaminants than sea salt. Another technique is sometimes practised in which a new piercing is left to heal completely on its own without any cleansing, under the philosophy that the body will treat it like any other minor wound. This is commonly called the KIS method, which stands for "Keep It Simple". Piercers who use this method compare the healing process to getting stitches to heal up surgical wounds. Since one wants the body to accept the jewellery and create a clean, firm fistula, piercers who use this method advise that any solution or chemical could irritate the piercing and cause rejection and promote scarring and keloids.
The debate over what constitutes proper aftercare is belied by the simple fact that a healthy clean piercing that isnâ€™t made to become irritated through harsh treatment (of any kind) will almost always heal perfectly; but personal preferences will vary.
Changing of initial jewellery to allow for swelling
For some piercings (in particular tongue piercings), changing the initial jewellery is an essential step. In the case of tongue piercing, this is because the initial jewellery is significantly longer than the jewellery for a healed piercing, to allow for 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, 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 jewellery, particularly nickel. This risk can be minimized by using high quality jewellery 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.
- 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 to a fresh piercing, usually associated with unintended entanglement of the piercing jewellery with another object. This risk is always present, but can be reduced by using jewellery appropriate for the piercing, and covering or taping over jewellery during sports activities. Also, larger gauge piercings will tend to resist tearing better than smaller gauge piercings.
- 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 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 jewellery prior to installation.
Chhosing a piercing studio (from NHS Direct)
Upon choosing a body piercer, you should take advice from people who have used the piercer before. Ask them questions about how much information they were given about looking after their piercing and how to take jewellery out safely. Check that the staff were helpful and professional.
A few days before having your piercing, visit the shop in order to identify any potential health risks. After looking around, make sure that you can answer yes to the following questions:
- is the piercing area a no-smoking zone?
- are pets kept well away from the piercing area?
- is the piercer wearing clean, practical clothing, with long hair tied back?
- do they use non-sterile surgical gloves that are changed and discarded between each customer?
- do they wash their hands regularly and use disposable paper towels to dry them?
- have they covered any cuts or wounds on their hands with waterproof dressings?
- are the premises clean, with wipe-clean surfaces throughout (including the floor)?
- do they use â€˜single useâ€™ needles and discard them after each piercing?
- are other instruments kept in an autoclave (steriliser) until needed?
- is the jewellery used appropriate for the type of piercing?
- is it made of non-nickel metal? Has it been sterilised immediately before insertion?
- will the piercer refuse to pierce more than two sites on the body during one visit?
- does the piercer have a clear policy regarding age restrictions and parental consent?
- Some local councils keep registers of approved piercers who have passed hygiene and safety standards set out by the council, and who are regularly inspected by health and safety officers. This is in accordance with the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1982. Contact your local Borough, City or County Council for further information about approved piercer schemes.
- BodyMod.org - Piercing Galleries and an online community of people from around the world with interest in Body Piercings.
- American Association of Professional Piercers' website
- Body Modification E-Zine -A very extensive source of pictures ,convention etc'
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