Your genital piercing got infected? Bummer.

  piercing

If you’re freaked out by eyebrow piercing, the kind of person who can’t look directly at your Starbucks barrista,  stop reading now. Even if you are a devotee of “body art,” you may reflexively cross your legs as you read this.

The latest craze is genital piercing. If you can imagine it, you can pierce it. Even if you can’t imagine it, you can pierce it. Aficianados of genital piercing like to claim that they widely used among indigenous peoples, but the reality is much more prosaic. According to WebMD:

…[G]enital piercing is largely a recent and Western phenomenon. This may be disconcerting to a few ill-informed proponents of the practice, who might prefer to imagine that they are rediscovering a venerable and ancient rite of passage, rather than practicing a newfangled invention. But … most of the exotic sounding names for different types of genital piercings were actually made up in the 1970s in the U.S. and Europe…

Genital piercing is believed by some to enhance sexual satisfaction. The existing scientific evidence (yes, someone has actually studied this) is equivocal. According to one paper, First glimpse of the functional benefits of clitoral hood piercing, which studied arousal, desire, lubrication, pain, orgasm, and overall sexual satisfaction:

 … We observed significance in only 1 of the domains, desire (0.414, P = .017). Other sexual functioning indexes were negligible. We expected to see a change in the orgasm frequency and/or satisfaction. Yet, contrary to popular belief, we saw no dramatically significant difference in orgasm.

Devotees of genital piercing, both female and male, are nothing if not creative. The About.com guide to female genital piercing lists no fewer than 8 different piercing sites including clitoral hood (two types) and inner and outer labia. The guide to male genital piercing also lists 8 separate types, many known by exotic names such as Ampallang and Apradravya.

Most of the scientific literature on genital piercing deals with complications, and there are quite a few. All body piercing has risks, the most common being infection and transmission of disease:

  [T]he procedure has the potential to pass on any number of diseases, including leprosy, tetanus, tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, and other STDs.

But there are additional risks specific to genital piercing:

… More invasive kinds of piercing, such as a piercing that runs through the head of the penis, should only be done by experienced piercers if by anyone at all…. Such piercings can result in serious bleeding and “the risk of impotence caused by hitting the erectile tissue by mistake is simply too high,” … Piercing the clitoris itself, rather than the clitoral hood, is also a potentially risky procedure…

Once you decide that you want a genital piercing, and you decide which piercing you want, the most important step is choosing piercer. The Association of Professional Piercers, the professional organization of the piercing industry, publishes guidelines to choosing a safe piercer. These guidelines range from the obvious, choose a studio that is licensed and clean, to the esoteric, ask to see the autoclave (sterilizer) and the spore count test results.

In addition, they suggest looking at the piercing portfolio:

… Are piercings placed to accent the anatomy or do they look awkward and poorly matched to the individual? If the portfolio features unusual looking placements, are there pictures of healed piercings, showing the actual viability of the placement?

The other key to safe genital piercing is scrupulous aftercare, including cleaning and handling of the piercing, as well as sexual limitations.

Do not allow your piercing to come in contact with any bodily fluids for the first few weeks while it is healing. This includes saliva as well as semen. So, you are not restricted from sexual activity, but a condom or dental guard must be used for any and all sexual contact, or you are putting yourself at risk for infection. This includes masturbation and/or the use of sex toys.

Whether genital piercing is ancient or modern, whether it does or does not enhance sexual satisfaction, one thing is clear: it is critically important to follow all guidelines in order to avoid infection. Contrary to what you might expect, the piercing itself is reported to involve little pain. However, an infection, and its complications can be very painful, as well dangerous and possibly threaten your fertility or your life.

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