Piercings are an extremely popular form of personal decoration (at the time of writing) as they do not have the permanence of a tattoo, they are much quicker to have done and there are many high-profile celebrities who have made piercings trendy. Mel B of the Spice Girls owes much of her 'Scary' reputation to her tongue piercing, for instance.
Once the exclusive domain of masochists and royalty, body piercing is now commonplace, and has never been easier to do. However, the thought of having needles stuck in them, let alone through their nether regions, is enough to make some people's skin crawl.
Due to its increasing popularity, body piercing is now practised by a lot of unqualified 'piercers' who see it as a means to make a quick and easy profit. Proper safe and hygienic body piercing requires experience and specialised knowledge, particularly of proper sterilisation procedures. Just like tattooing safely, precautions must be rigorously observed due to the high risk of possible infection or transmission of viruses such as HIV and hepatitis. It is of the utmost importance that the piercing is performed using fresh or stringently sterilised instruments, gloves and the chosen jewellery, and the wound covered by a sterile bandage once the piercing is complete.
When deciding on having a piercing the most important step is finding a licensed, reputable and competent piercer. Ask around and see who has the best reputation; talk to people who have had a piercing at the parlour in question, and find out about their experience. It is infinitely preferable to go to a person who specialises purely in body piercing, instead of a tattooist who dabbles in it, for instance, as a specialist will have much more relevant training and experience. It is wise to check if the piercer has any genuine qualifications, or if a tattoo parlour or similar has official recognition. If so, make sure that the person who will be doing the piercing is the person whose name appears on the certificate.
It is also worth bearing in mind that some countries have laws determining which age you can have your body pierced without parental consent.
The Piercing Process
The first thing that is usually done before the piercing is carried out is choosing the jewellery. After this, the area that is going to be pierced is cleaned, either with a disposable antiseptic wipe or a spray and a wipe.
After cleaning the area to be pierced, the next thing is to mark that area, so that the jewellery can be placed exactly as the 'piercee' desires.
After the area is marked, then a small clamp can be applied to the area. This might sound worryingly painful, but it's less horrid than it seems. The clamp serves several purposes; if the area is to be frozen, or numbed, the clamp will isolate that area. Alternatively, if the area is not being numbed at all then the slight pressure of the clamp will reduce the blood flow through the area to be pierced. The clamp also holds the skin in place, so that the piercing can easily be made through the markings applied earlier.
When the clamp has been applied and any necessary numbing carried out, the piercing can be performed. The piercing needle (a needle with a plastic sheath surrounding it) is passed through the site, and is then withdrawn, leaving the hollow plastic sheath in place.
With the plastic tubing in place, the clamp can be removed and the jewellery can be inserted through the tubing, which is then withdrawn. When the jewellery has been fastened the whole thing is over!
Most piercings are performed in less than a minute from the clamp being applied - the whole process is usually very quick and painless, even if the area is not numbed.
Common Unisex Piercings
Earlobe - The most common method of piercing the ear is with an ear-piercing gun. Whille this is good enough for the soft fleshy areas of the ear, if cartilage is to be pierced (as in the upper part of the ear) then this should be done with a special body piercing needle.
Eyebrow - A ring or barbell (a bar with a small ball at each end) can be worn on either side of the face anywhere along the eyebrow line. The ring or barbell is placed perpendicular to the eyebrow, going through the skin on the edge of the brow ridge.
Lip - The piercing can be placed anywhere on or around the mouth area with a ring or labret stud being used. A labret stud is a stud with a flat surface that goes on the inside of the lip or the underside of the tongue.
Navel - Rings or banana-bells (a curved barbell) may be placed in this piercing which can be done at either the top or bottom of the navel. This is a popular area to be pierced, mainly for women, because it is a traditionally sexy area of the body and provides a quite unusual place to wear jewellery.
Nipples - A ring or barbell may be used for this piercing which can either be placed vertically or horizontally through the base of the nipple. The nipple is the one of the most popular piercings as it can look very sexy and can make your nipple very sensitive to touch.
Nostril - A ring or stud may be used and best results are achieved with a body piercing needle. The nose is usually pierced where the curve of the nose indents. The nose can be pierced with the same gun used for ear piercing.
Septum - This is a piercing which is very visual and can sometimes be slightly intimidating to others. The thin partition of skin beneath the central nose cartilage is pierced with a ring or barbell.
Skin - Piercings in the skin have a tendency to 'grow out' but can be placed anywhere there is sufficient loose skin on the body.
Tongue - The tongue is pierced in the middle, slightly towards the front of the mouth, avoiding the two large veins that run along the lower sides of the tongue. Barbell or labret studs are used in this piercing. This type of piercing is becoming increasingly prevalent because it heals within two weeks and can reputedly revolutionise one's sex life.
Tragus - This is the piece of skin at the front and middle of the ear where it joins the head. This is always pierced with a body piercing needle and a ring or stud is worn.
Female Genital Piercings
Inner Labia - This is probably the most popular of female genital piercings and it is usually done through the upper front of the labia with a ring or barbell.
Outer Labia - This piercing is done with a ring or barbell.
Clitoris Hood - The piercing can either be placed vertically or horizontally through the clitoris hood with a ring or barbell.
Male Genital Piercings
Ampallang - This involves placing a barbell through the head of the penis horizontally above or through the urethra.
Apadravya - Virtually the same as the Ampallang except it goes through the head of the penis vertically.
Foreskin - The piercing is done with a ring through the loose skin.
Frenum - Piercing of the loose flesh beneath the penis head.
Prince Albert - This piercing involves placing a ring through the urethra of the penis at its head, exiting some 6mm away. Its name derives from the fact that Prince Albert was alleged to have had such a piercing for the purpose of binding his genitals to his leg whilst wearing tight jodhpurs to avoid embarrassing bulges.
Reverse Prince Albert - This piercing is done with a ring and instead of emerging from the urethra, it emerges from the head of the penis.
Shaft - A piercing or piercings that can be placed along the length of the penis wherever they are required.