Just as some people get their ears pierced, others choose to pierce their genitals and nipples with jewelry. There are different reasons why people make the decision to pierce their genitals. Some say that piercings are a unique way of expressing and affirming their sexuality. Others report that piercings enhance sexual enjoyment for both themselves and their partners. As with any other form of piercing or body art, genital piercings are also chosen for their aesthetic value. Whether you are thinking about getting your first piercing down there, or you are a veteran in the piercing parlours, there are procedures you can follow to minimize the health risks.
Reputable tattoo and piercing establishments offer detailed descriptions of these techniques and outline the healing times associated with the various piercing sites.
Women generally pierce the clitoral hood (the area surrounding the clitoris) rather than the clitoris itself, which is extremely sensitive. There are two types of clitoral hood piercings that are commonly done. The horizontal piercing is placed in the tissue directly above the clitoris. The vertical piercing is inserted above the clitoris and rests under the clitoral precupe, and provides more sexual stimulation than the horizontal piercing. The labia majora and minora can also be pierced with single or multiple rings.
For men, the most common site for a piercing is the penis. The most popular piercing is known as the Prince Albert. The Prince Albert piercing is inserted through the external urethra and exits where the glans and the shaft of the penis meet. Another popular piercing is called the Jacob’s Ladder or Frenum Ladder and is characterized by multiple barbell piercings on the top, sides or underside of the penis. Other areas for piercings include the skin between the scrotum and the anus, the foreskin, or the juncture of the penis and the pubic mound.
It is not recommended that anyone practice self-piercing, and needles should never be shared under any circumstances. It is possible to spread bacterial skin infections, and other infections like herpes, HIV, Hepatitis B and C, through improper piercing practices. Look for an experienced practitioner with professional training, and ask if he or she follows the Infection Control Guidelines for body piercing. Practitioners must always wash their hands before wearing latex-gloves and handling equipment, and use new needles that have been sterilized for each treatment. Piercing guns with fixed parts should never be used because the components that make contact with the body are not disposable. Medical needles are the standard method for genital and body piercing.
Before the genital area is pierced it should be treated with an antiseptic, just like a piercing anywhere else. This prevents any bacteria or viruses present on the skin from entering the body and causing infection at the site of the piercing. The skin is kept taut, sometimes with the use of surgical forceps, and a needle is passed through the tissue. The jewelry is then pushed through the opening. A heavier gauge of jewelry is used for genital piercing than is used for other body piercings, since genital tissue can be easily stretched or torn by the use of thinner wires. When jewelry is removed, genital piercings tend to close very quickly. If jewelry is removed for longer than a brief period of time, it is recommended that a temporary spacer (i.e. non-metallic sterile tubing or suture) be used to ensure that the piercing does not close.
Personal hygiene and sex with genital piercings
Genital piercings need to be cleaned twice a day with a diluted saline solution and soap and water, as well as after sexual activity. There may be a small amount of bleeding for 1 to3 days following a piercing, especially male piercings. The use of condoms and dental dams are essential during the healing period, which can last anywhere from a couple weeks to months. It’s important to use condoms with larger receptacle ends (the space at the tip of the condom) during genital contact and oral sex to prevent the pierced area from getting infected, and to accommodate jewelry. Gentle sexual activity can be resumed when the piercing site is no longer sensitive. As with all body piercings, swimming pools and hot tubs should be avoided for at least 2-4 weeks post piercing.
Studies of men and women reveal few major health concerns associated with genital piercings. While some medical literature has suggested that genital piercings may lead to increased transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and STI, this has not been borne out by recent (2011) research.
Studies show no reported increase in pregnancy or delivery related problems among women with genital piercings. Men with Prince Albert piercings may experience some problems with urinary flow and aim since the jewelry passes through the urethra. Some men with this piercing prefer to sit down while urinating. Issues such as impotence and sterility are not associated with genital piercings. More than half (65%) of women and almost half (47%) of men with genital piercings report no complications at all. The most frequently reported complications are related to urinary flow for men and hypersensitivity of the piercing site for women. However, with the proper piercing techniques and attention to hygienic aftercare, there should be little health concern associated with genital piercings.
Health and Safety Concerns
Risks to men and women:
- Bleeding and infection
- Possible transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B and C
- Chipping teeth or choking from performing oral sex
- Excessive scarring on the tissue
Men with genital piercings have reportedly suffered from the following conditions in rare circumstances:
- Erection unwillingly lasting over four hours (Priapism)
- Foreskin trapped behind glans penis (Paraphimosis)
- Recurrent genital warts
- Trauma to the penis or anus
- Urethral damage
Women have reportedly experienced the following conditions:
- Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, a rare but fatal disease caused by bacterial toxins that can enter the body when the body’s mucosal tissues are pierced, which include the nose, mouth and vagina
- Trauma to the vagina or anus
- Inflammation of the breast (from nipple piercing)