Piercings: Wikis


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Nipple piercings, vertical labret piercing and a stretched ear

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 history of body piercing is obscured by a lack of scholarly reference and popular misinformation, but ample evidence exists to document that it has been practiced in various forms since ancient times throughout the world. In Western culture, body piercing has experienced an increase of popularity since World War II, with sites other than the ears gaining subcultural popularity in the 70s and spreading to mainstream in the 1990s.

Contents

History

An earring found in an Alamannic grave in Germany, dated ca. 6th or 7th century C.E.

Body adornment has only recently become a subject of serious scholarly research by archaeologists, who have been hampered in studying body piercing by a sparsity of primary sources.[1] Early records rarely discussed the use of piercings or their meaning, and while jewellery is common among grave goods, the deterioration of the flesh that it once adorned makes it difficult to discern how the jewellery may have been used.[1] Also, the modern record has been infiltrated with the 20th century inventions of piercing enthusiast Doug Malloy.[1] In the 1960s and 1970s, Malloy marketed contemporary body piercing by giving it the patina of a Western history.[2] His pamphlet Body & Genital Piercing in Brief included such commonly reproduced urban legends as 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.[3][4] Some of Malloy's myths are reprinted as fact in subsequently published histories of piercing.[1]

Ear piercing

Ear piercing has been practiced all over the world since ancient times, particularly in tribal cultures. There is considerable written and archaeological evidence of the practice. Mummified bodies with pierced ears 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.[5] The oldest earrings found in a grave date to 2500 B.C.E. These were located in the Sumerian city of Ur, home of the Biblical patriarch Abraham.[6] Earrings are mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 35:4, Jacob buries the earrings worn by members of his household along with their idols. In the Exodus 32, Aaron makes the golden calf from melted earrings. Deuteronomy 15:12–17 dictates ear piercing for a slave who chooses not to be freed.[7] Earrings are also referenced in connection to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi in the Vedas.[1] Earrings for pierced ears were found in a grave in the Ukok region between Russia and China dated between 400 and 300 B.C.E.[8]

A Karen woman from Burma with traditional ear plugs

Among the Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest of America, earrings were a sign of nobility and wealth, as the placement of each earring on a child had to be purchased at an expensive potlatch.[9] Earrings were common in the Eighteenth dynasty (1550-1292 B.C.E.) of Egypt, generally taking the form of a dangling, gold hoop.[10] Gem-studded, golden earrings shaped like asps seem to have been reserved for nobility.[11] The ancient Greeks wore paste pendant earrings shaped like sacred birds or demi-gods, while the women of ancient Rome wore precious gemstones in their ears.[12]

In Europe, earrings for women fell from fashion generally between the 4th and 16th centuries, as styles in clothing and hair tended to obscure the ears, but they gradually thereafter came back into vogue in Italy, Spain, England and France — spreading as well to North America — until the 1930s when the newly invented Clip-on earring came into vogue and eclipsed the custom of piercing.[13][14] According to The Anatomie of Abuses by Philip Stubbs, earrings were even more common among men of the 16th century than women, while Raphael Holinshed in 1577 confirms the practice among "lusty courtiers and "gentlemen of courage."[15] Evidently originating in Spain, the practice of ear piercing among European men spread to the court of Henry III of France and then to Elizabethan era England, where earrings (typically worn in one ear only) were sported by such notables as Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset,Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles I of England.[15] Common men wore earrings as well. From the European Middle Ages, a superstitious belief that piercing one ear improved long-distance vision led to the practice among sailors and explorers.[16] Sailors also pierced their ears in the belief that their earrings could pay for a Christian burial if their bodies washed up on shore.[17]

Nose piercing

Indian woman with ear, septum and nostril piercings

Nose piercing also has a long history. Ca. 1500 B.C.E., the Vedas refer to Lakshmi's nose piercings,[1] but modern practice in India is believed to have spread from the Middle Eastern nomadic tribes by route of the Mughal emperors in the 16th century.[18] It remains customary for Indian Hindu women of childbearing age to wear a nose stud, usually in the left nostril, due to the nostril's association with the female reproductive organs in Ayurvedic medicine.[19] This piercing is sometimes done the night before the woman marries.[18]

Nose piercing has been practiced by the Bedouin tribes of the Middle East and the Berber and Beja peoples of Africa,[20] as well as Australian Aborigines.[21] Many Native American and Alaskan tribes practiced septum piercing. It was popular among the Aztecs, the Mayans and the tribes of New Guinea, who adorned their pierced noses with bones and feathers to symbolize wealth and (among men) virility.[16] The name of the Nez Perce tribe was derived from the practice, though nose piercing was not common within the tribe.[22] The Aztecs, Mayans and Incas wore gold septum rings for adornment, with the practice continued to this day by the Kuna of Panama.[20] Nose piercing also remains popular in Pakistan and Bangladesh and is practiced in a number of Middle Eastern and Arabic countries.[20]

Piercings of the lip and tongue

A Mursi woman of Ethiopia

Lip piercing and lip stretching were historically found in African and American tribal cultures. Labrets were sported by the Tlingit as well as peoples of Papua New Guinea and Amazonia.[8] Aztecs and Mayans also wore labrets, while the Dogon people of Mali and the Nuba of Ethiopia wore rings.[23] The practice of stretching the lips by piercing them and inserting plates or plugs was found throughout Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and South America as well as among some of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Africa.[24] In some parts of Malawi, it was quite common for women to adorn their lips with a lip disc called a "pelele" that by means of gradual enlargement from childhood could reach several inches of diameter and would eventually alter the occlusion of the jaw.[25][26] Such lip stretching is still practiced in some places. Women of the Mursi of Ethiopia wear lip rings on occasion that may reach 15 centimetres (5.9 inches) in diameter.[27]

In some Pre-Columbian and North American cultures, labrets were seen as a status symbol.[28] They were the oldest form of high status symbol among the Haida women, though the practice of wearing them died out due to Western influence.[29]

Tongue piercing was practiced by the Aztec, Olmec and Mayan cultures as a ritual symbol.[8][16] Wall paintings highlight a ritual of the Mayans during which nobility would pierce their tongues with thorns, collecting the blood on bark which would be burned in honor of the Mayan gods.[30] It was also practiced by the Haida, Kwakiutl and Tlingit, as well as the Fakirs and Sufis of the Middle East.[23]

Nipple and genital piercing

The Kama Sutra describes genital piercing to permit sexual enhancement by inserting pins and other objects into the foreskin of the penis.[8] Nipple piercing was a sign of masculinity for the soldiers of Rome.[31] Nipple piercing has also been connected to rites of passage for both British and American sailors who had traveled beyond a significant latitude and longitude.[32] Western women of the 14th Century sometimes sported pierced as well as rouged nipples left visible by the low-cut dresses fashionable in the day.[16][32]

Growing popularity in the West

Woman with several facial piercings (Monroe, Septum, and Lip)

It is widely reported that in the 1890s, nipple rings called "bosom rings" resurfaced as a fashion statement among women of the West, who would wear them on one or both sides, but if such a trend existed, it was short-lived.[32][33] By the early part of the twentieth century, piercing of any body part had become uncommon in the West.[34] After World War II, it began gathering steam among the gay male subculture.[34] Even ear piercing for a time was culturally unacceptable for women, but that relatively common form of piercing began growing in popularity from the 1960s.[34] In the 1970s, piercing began to expand, as the punk movement embraced it, featuring nontraditional adornment such as safety pins, and Fakir Musafar began popularizing it as an element of Modern Primitivism, which incorporated piercing elements from other cultures, such as stretching.[34]

Body piercing was also heavily popularized in the United States by a group of Californians including Malloy and Jim Ward, "the founding father of modern body piercing".[35] In 1975, Ward opened a home-based piercing business in West Hollywood, which was followed in 1978 by the opening of Gauntlet Enterprises, "the first professional body piercing specialty studio in America."[35] From it, Ward disseminated the pamphlet which Malloy had written and Ward illustrated, disseminating much misinformation but stimulating interest in more exotic piercings.[36] As word of body piercing spread to the wider community, Ward, Malloy and Musafar collaborated on launching the first publication dedicated to the subject, PFIQ.[35]

A significant development in body piercing in England occurred in 1987, when during Operation Spanner a group of homosexuals—including well known body piercer Alan Oversby—were convicted of assault for their involvement in consensual sadomasochism over a 10 year period—including acts of body piercing.[35] The courts declared that decorative body piercing was not illegal, but that erotic body piercing was.[37] Subsequently, the group Countdown on Spanner formed in 1992 in protest. The group appealed the decision before the High Court of Justice, the House of Lords and finally the European Commission on Human Rights, attempting to overturn the verdict which ruled consent immaterial in acts of sadomasochism, without success.[38] In spite of their repeated failures, the situation publicized the issue, with The Times editorializing the court's decision as "illiberal nonsense" in 1993.[38]

A screen shot from "Cryin'", featuring Alicia Silverstone and body piercer Paul King.[36]

Body modification in general became more popular in the United States in the 1990s, as piercing also became more widespread, with growing availability and access to piercings of the navel, nose, eyebrows, lips, tongue, nipples and genitals.[34] In 1993, a navel piercing was depicted in MTV Video Music Awards' "Music Video of the Year", "Cryin'," which inspired a plethora of young female fans to follow suit.[36] According to 2009's The Piercing Bible, it was this consumer drive that "essentially inspired the creation of body-piercing as a full-fledged industry."[39] Body piercing was given another media-related boost in 2004, when during a Half-time performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII singer Janet Jackson experienced a "wardrobe malfunction" that left exposed Jackson's pierced nipple.[40] Some professional body piercers reported considerable boosts in business following the heavily publicized event.[40]

A 2005 survey of 10,503 people in England over the age of 16 found that approximately 10% (1,049) had body piercings in sites other than the earlobe, with a heavy representation of women aged 16–24 (46.2% piercing in that demographic).[41] Among the most common body sites, the navel was top at 33%, with the nose and ear (other than lobe) following at 19% and 13%. The tongue and nipple tied at 9%. The eyebrow, lip and genitals were 8%, 4% and 2%, respectively.[41] Preference among women followed closely on that ranking, though eyebrow piercings were more common than nipple piercings. Among male responders, the order was significantly different, descending in popularity from nipple, eyebrow, ear, tongue, nose, lip and genitals.[41]

Reasons for piercing

A Hindu man in a religious procession with a trident piercing his cheeks

Reasons for piercing vary greatly. Some people pierce for religious or spiritual reasons, while others pierce for self-expression, for aesthetic value, for sexual pleasure, to conform to their culture or to rebel against it

Piercing combined with suspension was historically important in the religious ceremonies of some Native Americans, featuring in many variants of the Sun Dance ceremony,[34] including that practiced by the Crow Nation.[42] During the Crow ceremony, men who wished to obtain visions were pierced in the shoulders or chest by men who had undergone the ceremony in the past and then suspended by these piercings from poles in or outside of the Sun Dance Lodge. Some contemporary Southeast Asian rituals also practice body piercing, as a form of spiritual self-mortification.[43] Generally, the subject attempts to enter an analgesic trance prior to the piercing.

A 2001 survey in Clinical Nursing Research, an international publication, found that 62% of people who pierced had done so in an effort "to express their individuality."[44] People also pierce to commemorate landmark events or to overcome traumatic ones.[45] According to the assistant director of the Frankfurt University Teaching Hospital for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, some sexual abuse survivors choose body piercing as a means of "reclaiming body parts from memories of abuse".[46] Piercing can also be chosen for simple aesthetic value, to highlight particular areas of the body, as a navel piercing may reflect a woman's satisfaction with the shape and condition of her stomach.[47]

Some people pierce, permanently or temporarily, to enhance sexual pleasure. Genital and nipple piercings may increase sexual satisfaction.[44][48] Some people participate in a form of body play known as play piercing, in which piercings may be done temporarily on the genitals or elsewhere on the body for sexual gratification.[49]

Bridging the gap between spiritual piercing and self-expressive piercing, modern primitives use piercing and other forms of body modification as a way of ritually reconnecting with themselves and society, which according to Musafar once used piercing as a culturally binding ritual.[46] But at the same time that piercing can be culturally binding, it may also be a means of rebellion, particularly for adolescents in Western cultures.[50]

Piercing prohibitions and taboos

While body piercing has grown more widespread, it can remain controversial, particularly in youth. In 2004, controversy erupted in Crothersville, Indiana when a local high school featured a spread on "Body Decorations" in its yearbook that featured tattoos and body piercings of teachers and students.[51] That same year, in Henry County, Georgia, a 15-year-old boy remained in in-school suspension for a full month for violating school policy by wearing eyebrow, nose, labret and tongue piercings to school before his mother decided to homeschool him.[52] According to 2006's Tattoos and Body Piercing, corporate dress codes can also strictly limit piercing displays. At that time, Starbucks limited piercings to two per ear and jewelry to small, matched earrings.[53] Employees of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts were not permitted to display piercings at all.[54]

Body Piercing in some religions is held to be destructive to the body. Some passages of the Bible have been interpreted as prohibiting body modification because the body is held to be the property of God,[17] including Leviticus 19:28.[54] 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.[55] Wearing of nose rings on the Sabbath is forbidden by the Talmud.[21]

World records

Elaine Davidson, the "Most Pierced Woman" in the world as of 2009

Officially titled "Most Pierced Woman", Elaine Davidson of Scotland holds the Guinness World Record for most permanent piercings, first setting this record in 2000 upon verification by Guinness judges of 462 body piercings, with 192 at the time being around her head and face.[56] As of June 8, 2006, her Guinness-certified piercings numbered 4,225.[57] In February 2009, The Daily Telegraph reported that she had 6,005.[56] The "Most Pierced Man" as of 2009 was Luis Antonio Agüero, who had 230 permanent piercings, with 175 rings adorning his face alone.[57]

In January 2003, Canadian Brent Moffat set the World Record for most body piercings in one session (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).[58] In December of the same year, Moffat had 900 piercings in 4 1/2 hours.[59] . On March 4, 2006, the record was overturned by Kam Ma, who had 1,015 temporary metal rings inserted in 7 hours and 55 minutes.[57] The record for most body piercings with surgical needles was set on 29 May 2008, when Robert Jesus Rubio allowed 900 18-gauge, 0.5 centimeters (0.2 in)-long surgical needles to be inserted into his body.[60]

Contemporary piercing practices

Contemporary body piercing jewelry

Body piercing jewelry should be hypoallergenic.[61] A number of materials are used, with varying strengths and weaknesses. Surgical stainless steel, niobium and titanium are commonly used metals, with titanium the least likely to cause allergic reaction of the three.[62] Platinum and palladium are also safe alternatives, even in fresh piercings.[63] Initial piercings should never be done with gold of any grade, as gold is mixed with other metals, and sterling silver is not a good alternative in a piercing of any age, as it may cause allergies in initial piercings and will tarnish in piercings of any age.[62] An additional risk for allergic reaction may arise when the stud or clasp of jewelry is made from a different metal than the primary piece.[48]

Body piercing jewelry is measured by thickness and diameter/length. The thickness of the metal is measured on different charts, such as the U.S. Brown & Sharpe American wire gauge gauging system, which assigns higher numbers to thicker middles.[63] 00 gauge is 9.246 millimeters (0.364 in), while 20 gauge is 0.813 millimeters (0.032 in).[64]

Piercing tools

Permanent body 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 puncturing an opening using a needle (usually a hollow medical needle) or scalpel or by removing tissue, either with a dermal punch or through scalpelling.

Tools used in body piercing include:

The piercing needle
The standard method in the United States involves making an opening using a beveled-tip hollow medical needle, which is available in different lengths, gauges and even shapes.[65] While straight needles are useful for many body parts, curved needles are manufactured for areas where straight needles are not ideal. The needle selected is typically the same gauge as the initial jewelry to be worn, with higher gauges indicating thinner needles. The needle is inserted into the body part being pierced, frequently by hand but sometimes with the aid of a needle holder or pusher. 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. In this method, the needle is the same gauge (or sometimes larger as with cartilage piercings) than the initial jewelry to be worn. Jewelry is often inserted into the hollow end of a needle, so that as the needle pulls through the jewelry is left behind.[66]
The indwelling cannula
Outside of the United States, many piercers use a needle containing a cannula (or catheter), a hollow plastic tube placed at the end of the needle.[67] In some countries, the piercing needle favored in the United States is regarded as a medical device and is illegal for body piercers.[67] The procedure is similar to the piercing needle method, but the initial jewelry is inserted into the back of the cannula and the cannula and the jewelry are then pulled through the piercing. More bleeding may follow, as the piercing is larger than the jewelry.
The dermal punch
A dermal punch is used to remove a circular area of tissue, into which jewelry is placed, and may be useful for larger cartilage piercings.[68] They are popular for use in ears, though not legal for use by nonmedical personnel in some parts of the United States.[68]
Piercing guns, like this one with its plastic, non-autoclavable handle, are not professionally favored or recommended, even for ears.[69][70][71]
The piercing gun
Piercing guns, which were originally developed for tagging livestock, are typically used for ear piercing, but may be used for other body parts as well.[69] They cause more trauma to tissue than piercing needles and are generally not favored by professional body piercers as well for hygienic reasons.[69][70] Piercing with a piercing gun causes microsprays of plasma and blood; the guns frequently contain plastic components which are unable to be cleaned in an autoclave system, while surface cleansers do not kill all bacteria.[69][70] Piercing guns are frequently encountered in retail outlets, where those wielding them may be inadequately trained.[69] The Association of Professional Piercers recommends that piercing guns not be used for any piercing, including ears.[71]
Cork
Cork may be placed on the opposite side of the body part being pierced to receive the needle.[67]
Forceps
Forceps, or clamps, may be used to hold and stabilize the tissue to be pierced.[67] Most piercings that are stabilized with forceps use the triangular-headed "Pennington" forcep, while tongues are usually stabilized with an oval-headed forcep. Most forceps have large enough openings in their jaws to permit the needle and jewelry to pass directly through, though some slotted forceps are designed with a removal segment instead for removal after the piercing.[72] Forceps are not used in the freehand method, in which the piercer supports the tissue by hand.[73]
Needle receiving tubes
A hollow tube made of metal, shatter-resistant glass or plastic, needle receiving tubes, like forceps, are used to support the tissue at the piercing site and are common in septum and some cartilage piercings.[74] Not only are these tubes intended to support the tissue, but they also receive the needle once it has passed through the tissue, offering protection from the sharp point. Needle receiving tubes are not used in the freehand piercing method.[73]
Anethesia
Anesthesia is supplied by some piercers, particularly in the United Kingdom and Europe.[75] The anesthesia may be topical or injected. Piercers and other non-medical personnel are not legally permitted to administer anesthetics in the United States.

Risks associated with body piercing

Body piercing is an invasive procedure with risks. In a 2005 survey of 10,503 persons over the age of 16 in England, complications were reported in 31% of piercings, with professional help being necessary in 15.2%.[41] 0.9% had complications serious enough to require hospitalization.[41]

Autoclaves such as this one are standard equipment in professional piercing studios, helping to prevent infection.

Some risks of note include:

  • 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.[76][77]
  • Infection, bacterial or viral, 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 bacterial infections are seldom serious, but that between 10-20% of piercings result in local benign bacterial infection.[78] Infection due to piercing of the tongue can be fatal.[79] The Mayo Clinic estimates 30%.[80] Risk of infection is greatest among those with congenital heart disease, who have a much higher risk of developing life-threatened infective endocarditis, hemophiliacs and diabetics,[81] as well as those taking Corticosteroids.[48] In 2006, a diabetic woman in Indiana lost a breast due to an infection from a nipple piercing.[82] Viral infections may include hepatitis B, hepatitis C and, potentially, HIVm[76] although as of 2009 there had been no documented cases of HIV caused by piercing.[83]
  • Excess scar tissue, including keloid formation, can occur.[76] While piercings can be removed, they may leave a hole, mark or scar.[84]
  • Physical trauma including tearing, friction or bumping of the piercing site, which may cause edema and delay healing.[84][85] The risks can be minimized by wearing properly sized jewelry and not changing it unnecessarily, by not touching the piercing more than required for aftercare, by being conscious of environmental factors (such as clothing) that may impact the piercing.[85]
  • Oral trauma, including recession of gingival tissue and dental fracture and wear. Recession of gingival tissue affects 19% to 68% of subjects with lip and/or intra-oral ornaments.[86][87] 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.[88][89] Dental fracture and wear affects 14% to 41% of subjects with lip and/or intra-oral ornaments.[87]

Contemporary body piercing studios generally take numerous precautions to protect the health of the person being pierced and the piercer. Piercers are expected to sanitize the location to be pierced as well as their hands, even though they will often wear gloves during the procedure (and in some areas must, as it is prescribed by law).[90] Quite frequently, these gloves will be changed multiple times, 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. Tools and jewelry should be sterilized in autoclaves,[91] and non-autoclavable surfaces should be cleaned with disinfectant agents on a regular basis and between clients.

In addition, the Association of Professional Piercers recommends a class in blood-borne pathogens as part of professional training.[71]

The healing process and body piercing aftercare

Dried sebum deposit on body jewelry

The aftercare process for body piercing has evolved gradually through practice, and many myths and harmful recommendations persist.[92] A reputable piercing studio should provide clients with written and verbal aftercare instructions, as is in some areas mandated by law.[93]

The healing process of piercings is broken down into three stages:[94]

  • The inflammatory phase, during which the wound is open and bleeding, inflammation and tenderness are all to be expected;
  • The growth or proliferative phase, during which the body produces cells and protein to heal the puncture and the edges contract around the piercing, forming a tunnel of scar tissue called a fistula. This phase may last weeks, months, or longer than a year.
  • The maturation or remodeling phase, as the cells lining the piercing strengthen and stabilize. This stage takes months or years to complete.

It is normal for a white or slightly yellow discharge to be noticeable on the jewelry, as the Sebaceous glands produce an oily substance meant to protect and moisturize the wound.[95] While these sebum deposits may be expected for some time, only a small amount of pus, which is a sign of inflammation or infection, should be expected, and only within the initial phase.[95] While sometimes difficult to distinguish, sebum is "more solid and cheeselike and has a distinctive rotten odor", according to The Piercing Bible.[95]

The amount of time it typically takes a piercing to heal varies widely according to the placement of the piercing. Genital piercings can be among the quicker to heal, with piercings of the clitoral hood and Prince Albert piercings healing in as little as a month, though some may take longer.[96] Navel piercings can be the slowest to heal, with one source reporting a range of six months to two full years.[96] The prolonged healing of navel piercings may be connected to clothing friction.[48]

Related media

References

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