Genital Piercings: What is Known and What People With Genital Piercings Tell Us

Myrna L. Armstrong; Carol Caliendo; Alden E. Roberts


Urol Nurs. 2006;26(2):176-179. 

In This Article

Self-Reported Data from Individuals with Genital Piercings

To obtain information from those who have genital piercings, a 260-item questionnaire requesting objective and subjective data was sent to interested, intimately pierced people who answered a national or alternative newspaper advertisement. One hundred forty-six subjects participated in this study and results are reported elsewhere; a synopsis of the study appears in Figure 2 (Caliendo et al., 2005).

Figure 2.

Self-Reported Characteristics of Women and Men with Intimate Body Piercings

The current discussion concentrates on the data subset of 37 subjects who specifically self-reported only genital piercings. General demographic information includes 15 females and 22 males; age range 18 to 59 years; residence across 16 states; 84% Caucasian; and 54% single. Almost half had completed some college and a quarter had an undergraduate degree. While 63% of respondents reported church attendance when growing up, now they rated their current religious faith in two distinct groups, either moderately strong to very strong (39%) or moderately weak to very weak (39%). Most (84%) reported good to excellent health with many (73%) having annual physical examinations.

Over half of the respondents (53%) obtained their genital piercing in their home region and paid between $40 and $75 for the piercing. Thirty-eight percent reported no bleeding during the actual piercing event. Pain during the procedure ranged from a small (39%) to a large amount (22%). Healing time was not asked.

Participants were asked if they considered themselves to be risk takers. One subject said "sometimes" yet another stated "I take calculated risks, not stupid ones." As to actual high-risk behavior, only 8% reported drinking or using drugs before their genital piercing procedure (routine alcohol consumption was not asked). A subject commented that it was the "policy of the artist to prohibit alcohol as it thins the blood." Almost half (49%) of the participants reported no cigarette smoking; however, 30% smoked one-half to one pack or more daily. Caliendo et al. (2005) have already reported that these respondents denied STDs, HIV, hepatitis, recurrent enlarged lymph nodes, allergies, or urinary tract infections.

While this population is unique just by having genital piercings, Caliendo et al. (2005) felt the sample did not reveal great differences from mainstream society. One subject explained:

I have three adult daughters (who are also pierced and tattooed) plus two grandchildren. We all have respectable jobs — I worked for the state for 6 years and also have my degree in British & Russian history. We aren't deviants — we're all well-educated, family people who just live an alternative lifestyle.

Many replied, as one subject stated, "my piercing was my own desire and decision w/plenty of deliberation (over a year)"; another said "I wanted one for a long time, but it was only a few minutes when the opportunity presented itself." Another subject, a health care worker, stated:

My piercings have not affected my career. I do not discuss or bring up the topic of [genital] piercings with my patients or co-workers. My tongue piercing is far enough back that it does not inhibit my speech and is not easily seen. My tattoos are also covered and not noticeable.

The three frequently reported purposes for obtaining their piercings were sexual expression, sexual enhancement, and uniqueness (Caliendo et al., 2005). One woman said, "I'm more sexual than I use[d] to be." Another subject expressed his feelings this way:

In general, I feel good about my genital piercing. I had to enlist assistance of my partner to change out my first barbell, because the balls were screwed on too tight. Other than that, I haven't had any problems. I feel it has enhanced the degree of sexual pleasure I experience alone, or with a partner. My piercing experience was a declaration of independence, and freedom of expression, regardless of what anyone thinks of my piercing. I got it for me. It was the first decision I got to make alone. When I turned 18, my body was finally mine. I got to decorate it as I see fit. It's like moving into your own place for the first time. I can hang pictures, posters, repaint, and it's all mine. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to share my piercing experience.

A female stated:

My genital piercing has made me more interested in sex, and I enjoy it a lot more. It doesn't ever bother me, most of the time I can't even tell it's there. I also like the fact that if people know I had one they would be shocked. When you look at me, you can't see any tattoos, just my earrings and nose ring (when I wear it). A lot of people, like the people I work with, think I'm "sweet and innocent." My piercing has completely changed my sex life. I'm willing to experiment (to an extent), and I'm just more open.

Aesthetics also seemed to surface in the subjective data with both genders. The subjects spoke of "seeing it and liking it," "I liked the way it looked," "I wanted to visually enhance my vaginal labia," and "want[ing] to be unique." Another called his piercing a "new accessory for an old toy."

Almost all of the subjects reported a daily skin care routine for their genital piercings as washing with antibacterial soap and water in the shower at least once a day, then rotating the jewelry, followed by another washing and rinsing. "I wash as I always have" was a common report. Most made comments such as, "You need to keep your hands off the piercings — that's what causes problems." Emphasis also was on a thorough cleaning around the genital area following urination and bowel movements. Many of the subjects reported only removing the piercings to change the jewelry, or as one reported, for short periods of time such as for the "metal detector at the airport, surgery, and a MRI at [the] hospital."

Heavier grades of jewelry (up to 1.75 inch thick) are recommended for genital sites to support the surrounding tissue and "avoid rejection, migration, or tearing" (Armstrong, 2004 p. 50). Respondents reported wearing jewelry with gauges ranging from 2 to 14. The smaller sizes represent very heavy gauge (typically used for males), while the larger gauges tend to be used for female piercings. One subject described what could happen if a heavy enough gauge is not used:

"I got pierced by an 'apprentice' and he used the wrong gauge...18-gauge ring which turned out to be too small in diameter to pierce that kind of flesh. Thus 2 years later...the hole had stretched to about a 12 gauge or more...some piercers call that the piano wire effect."

Of the men (n=22) in this data subset, 17 (77%) had a Prince Albert piercing. One stated:

I personally have...a Prince Albert (PA)...It is very pleasurable for both partners during intercourse as for a male it rubs and pulls on the head of the penis and for the female adds a rigid rubbing sensation and fullness...many tell me they love their PA penis piercing except for one minor thing. During urination while standing you must hold your thumb over the point where jewelry enters the penis behind the glans, as the pressure of the urine stream will force some urine out of a small opening occasionally spraying their shoes.

Three of the males combined their Prince Albert piercing with an ampallang and apadravya (see Figure 1). Another described a frenum ladder of six barbells running horizontally toward the scrotum. No artificial penile nodules or beads were reported.

Of the 15 women with genital piercings, seven had clitoral hood piercings, while six combined clitoral hood piercings with labia piercings. One woman reported that she combined genital piercings "as a way of honoring my sexuality." Another stated, "My piercings (labia and clitoris) gave me a feeling of control in my life when I needed it."


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