Pierced ears have long been a fashion accessory. By some estimates, more than 85% of women have pierced ears. For thousands of years, cultures around the world have also pierced other body parts. The practice, though, has only caught on in Western society over the last few decades.
Today, it's not unusual for people to pierce their tongue, lips, nose, eyebrows, and even that most sensitive of areas: the genitals. It's not just rock musicians and street artists who are getting genital piercings. A lot of professional women are hiding jewelry beneath their business suits.
Why do people get their genitals pierced?
Most people get pierced to show off their jewelry. But when it comes to the genitals, not too many people are going to be looking. One of the main reasons women give for vaginal piercing is sexual enhancement. Some women who've been pierced "down there" say it helped them reach their first orgasm. Other women say their vaginal piercing makes them feel adventurous, exciting, or naughty.
Are there different types of vaginal piercing?
The vagina can be pierced in one of these areas:
- Clitoris/clitoris hood. This is the most popular type of vaginal piercing. It's thought to stimulate the sensitive clitoral tissue during sex. Piercing the hood is preferable to piercing the clitoris itself. The clitoris is very sensitive and piercing it can cause pain and nerve damage.
- Outer or inner labia. The tissue of the labia is thick enough to accommodate more than one piece of jewelry or heavier jewelry.
- Princess Albertina. The female counterpart to the Prince Albert piercing in males is rarely done. That's because it's very difficult to perform. The piercing goes through the urethra and the top of the vagina.
Even if you're brave enough to get a vaginal piercing, you may not have the right anatomy for it. Many women don't have a clitoris large enough to accommodate a piercing. You also need to have enough skin in the inner and outer labia if you want to pierce in those areas.
How is vaginal piercing done?
First the skin around the area is cleaned with an antiseptic. This is very important because you can end up with a serious infection if the area isn't thoroughly cleaned. Then a 12- to 16-gauge hollow needle with a piece of jewelry attached -- usually a barbell or captive bead -- is passed through the skin.
The biggest question with genital piercings is, "Do they hurt?" It would seem likely that if you pierce some of the most sensitive tissue in your body, the pain would be excruciating. Yet the procedure is very quick, and some people who perform -- and get -- genital piercings say it doesn't hurt any more than piercing other parts of the body.
How quickly vaginal piercings heal depends on the location of the piercing. A labial piercing takes between one to four months to heal. The clitoris can heal in one to two months.
Are there any risks to genital piercing?
Any time you create an opening in the body there is a chance of infection. Going to a questionable piercing shop can put you at risk for tetanus, HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sometimes, vaginal piercings can lead to bleeding, scarring, or an allergic reaction. Piercing behind the clitoris may interfere with blood flow.
Here are a few precautions to reduce risks:
- Not all states have laws regulating piercings. It's important to make sure you choose a reputable shop. Look for someone who is a member of the Association of Professional Piercers (APP), which means that the person has at least one year of piercing experience, as well as training in anti-infection and first-aid techniques. The person who is doing the piercing should check your ID, clean the genital area thoroughly with antiseptic, wear gloves, and use a new sterilized needle.
- Choose stainless steel, niobium, or titanium jewelry to prevent an infection or allergic reaction.
- After you get pierced, follow all instructions for keeping the area clean. Wash the area regularly with a diluted saline solution and an antibacterial soap and water. Don't use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Betadine, or ointment.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid too much friction in the pierced area.
- Don't have sex for at least two weeks after getting pierced. When you do have sex, clean the pierced area with saline solution or clean water afterward.
- Avoid pools and hot tubs until the area has healed.
- Sometimes, jewelry can poke a hole in a condom or dislodge a diaphragm. So it's a good idea to use extra protection (a backup method or extra condom) when having sex.
It's normal to have some discharge after you get a piercing. But if that discharge is unusually colored (green) or foul smelling, you may have an infection. Leave jewelry in place, but clean the area with antibacterial soap and warm compresses. Ask your doctor if you need an antibiotic to help the infection clear up more quickly.