Genital piercing -- among men and women -- is a form of body adornment. It is similar to other, more visible types of body piercings. A needle is used to make a hole, and a piece of jewelry is attached to the body by threading it through the hole.
Health professionals as well as piercing professionals point out that the practice is not without risk and should not be considered lightly.
How Is a Genital Piercing Done?
A genital piercing should always be done by a licensed professional piercer. Not all states require piercers to be licensed, which means in some areas, someone with very little training can open a piercing salon. One indication that you've found a qualified professional is a certificate that indicates they are registered with the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) -- an organization that makes safety rules for people who do piercings. To be registered with the APP the person needs to demonstrate compliance with the organization's standards.
To do the piercing, the piercer will first clean the skin and then mark the location where the piercing is supposed to be. Then the piercer will thread the needle with an attached piece of jewelry through the skin. After the procedure is over, the piercer should give you instructions for how to care for the piercing.
How Would Someone Know the Piercing Is Being Done Safely?
There are several things to look for when you choose to have a piercing:
- As mentioned above, the piercer should be registered with the APP.
- The room where the piercing is done should be clean and sanitary.
- The procedure should be performed using only sterile, new, unopened, and disposable instruments and unopened, sterile jewelry. You should see the piercer open the instruments and jewelry at the time of the procedure. It should not be opened before you arrive.
- If the piercer doesn't use disposable instruments, they should be sterilized in an autoclave, a special device that sterilizes equipment and supplies. Do not have a piercing done at a place that uses a piercing gun. Most piercing guns can't be sterilized in an autoclave.
- The piercer and others working in the salon should wash their hands and wear gloves when opening instrument packages and performing procedures.
Are There Risks Associated With Genital Piercings?
The most common complications associated with genital piercing include:
- Bacterial infection
- Nerve damage
- Allergic reaction to the jewelry
- Thick scarring at the piercing site
There is also a potential risk of hepatitis B and C as well as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and other infectious diseases. These risks can be minimized with the use of new, sterile needles.
Particularly with certain male piercings there is a risk of narrowing of the urethra as result of scar tissue. Impotence is also a potential risk if the needle mistakenly pierces erectile tissue.
You can reduce the risk of infection and allergic reaction by using proper jewelry made out of such metals as surgical stainless steel or titanium. Genital piercings need to cleaned daily with diluted saline solution and soap and water, as well as after sexual activity.
People with chronic medical conditions should talk to their doctor about piercing beforehand.
What Are Some Common Types of Genital Piercing?
One of the most common types of female genital piercing is known as the vertical clitoral hood or VCH. This is a vertical piercing that's done through the skin that lies above the glans -- the rounded head -- of the clitoris. This results in direct stimulation of the clitoris during sexual intercourse. The VCH is popular partly because the direction of the piercing conforms to the natural shape of the woman's body. This kind of piercing typically takes four to six weeks to heal.
The clitoris itself is seldom pierced directly. In most women, the clitoris is not large enough to support the jewelry. Also, there is a very high risk of causing serious nerve damage if the clitoris is pierced.
Other common female piercings include:
- Horizontal clitoral hood or HCH. This is basically the same as a VCH, only the piercing goes in a horizontal direction in the skin above the clitoris.
- Triangle. This piercing is the same as the HCH only it's below the clitoris rather than above it. It also provides direct stimulation to the clitoris but on the underside.
- Labia piercings. Either the inner or the outer labia -- the lips of the vagina -- can be pierced. Often with labia piercings, there are multiple piercings. That's because the thickness of the tissue can support multiple pieces of jewelry.
One of the most common male genital piercings is the Prince Albert or PA. With the PA, a ring is inserted through the urethra at the tip of the penis and then out through the bottom of the glans of the penis, which is the rounded head. After the piercing heals, the ring increases sensitivity of the pierced area, enhancing sexual pleasure. It also can enhance the pleasure for the man's partner. A PA typically takes four to six weeks to heal.
Other common male genital piercings include:
- Dydoe. This piercing is done through both sides of the rim of the glans on circumcised men.
- Foreskin. A ring is inserted through both sides of the foreskin above the head of the glans. This piercing deliberately makes intercourse difficult.
- Hafada. This is a piercing of the scrotal skin between the scrotum and the penis. Either a ring or a barbell shaped piece of jewelry is used. This piercing is considered more decorative than a sexual enhancement.
Tips for Caring for a Genital Piercing
Here are tips to minimize the risk of complications following a genital piercing:
- Be sure you understand and then follow all instructions for keeping the area clean, washing regularly with a diluted saline solution
- It's important not to handle or let others handle the genital piercing while it is healing.
- Always wash your hands before touching or cleaning the genital area.
- Avoid sexual intercourse for at least two weeks after a piercing.
- When you do have sex, clean the pierced area with saline solution afterward.
- Use a condom or other barrier protection when engaging in sexual activity.
- Clean the area prior to urination if the piercing is located near the urethra.
- Do not use a hot tub or go swimming until the piercing has healed.
- Remember that infections can occur at the site of the piercing even after it has healed. Bacteria can enter under the skin at that point. So watch for signs of infection and contact your doctor if any of the following symptoms occur. Don't try to treat the infection on your own.
Signs of infection include:
- Bad smell
- A rash at or around the piercing site