Monday, March 31, 2014

Exotic Piercings: Beyond Our Earlobes

I was speaking with a group of retired senior professional women once when a conservatively-dressed silver-haired attendee stepped to the microphone to say that she’d just had her nipples done.

“Done?” someone asked. "Done?"

“Hexagonal captive bead rings,” she smiled.

Applause… Lots of applause...

Let’s be precise. Relying on outward appearances as a way to predict other folks’ intimate human behaviors is a bad idea. It’s false and wholly inadequate, leading to gross misunderstanding and pernicious misapprehension. Need I be more specific? No matter how conservatively attired, how demurely reserved or stereotypically “mainstream” a person might seem, the exhilarating truth is that surface appearances tell us next to nothing about the spiritualities, the beauties, the joys and wondrous complexities of our fellow human beings.

For example, business attire and sensible shoes notwithstanding, the impeccably professional co-worker who inhabits the office next to yours might actually sport a shiny golden rod pierced through the bit of flesh that hoods her clitoris. Or a guy you know as a deacon in your church might also be wearing a stainless steel bar - maybe two or three - poking ramrod straight through the glans of his penis, with one of them penetrating his urethra as well.

And the opposing calculus, of course, is also true. Regardless of how outrageously non-conformist people might seem, I’m thinking purple hair, tattooed upper lips, and the whole outwardly self-expressive gamut perhaps, they just might draw the line at sporting genital piercings of any kind. In fact, the simple thought of piercing below the earlobes might make them loose their lunch; shrink up in a semi-fetal curl. Or at minimum, take a flying leap for the door.

At best, the point I'm making here is elegantly simple. Appearances are the consummate tricksters, really - particularly when they’re fortified by stereotypes and a narrow, judgmental ignorance. Add to these the kind of silence that shuts down thoughtful contextualization and you guessed it – it’s time for us to talk about opening our minds. About the infinite range and variety of human expression. 

In this case, we're speaking about exotic piercing, a euphemism often employed in the US to describe boring a hole in the body for the purpose of inserting an enhancement anywhere other than the lobes of the ear. Even this usage ought to be qualified, though, since earlobes pierced and stretched to accommodate increasingly larger-gauged jewelry are also often described as exotically pierced.

Whether done for aesthetic reasons or a little something more, a maelstrom of questions swirls about the practice. Exactly who goes in for this sort of thing? And for heaven’s sake, why?

As is readily apparent if we’re paying attention, wearers of exotic piercings in contemporary culture cross all social, racial, cultural, educational and economic lines. Far from a new or counter-culture phenomenon, the practice goes as far back in time as recorded human history can take us. Cultures on every continent have histories of what we refer to as exotic piercings – the Sarawak tribes in Borneo, Samoans, tribes of Northern Africa, First Peoples of the Americas and cultures in the Middle East.

And although echoes of racist stereotypes still conjure bone-through-the-nose ideations of black and brown jungle-dwelling cannibals, nose piercing dates back to Biblical times at least. It’s clearly mentioned in the Old Testament when Isaac gave Rebekah a shanf, the Hebrew term for nose ring. For centuries in India, women pierced their nostrils, primarily the left one as a way to relieve menstrual pain since Ayurvedic medicine notes a woman’s left side as being intimately connected to her reproductive organs.

Also common in ancient times, nipple piercings among both men and women are commonplace today while still retaining something of a cache about them. We know from the historical record that Julius Caesar wore nipple rings, as did most members of the Roman army.

Among Europeans, nipple piercing began in Victorian times, as the necklines of noble women’s dresses plunged almost to the waist and women searched for new, eye-popping ways to adorn their breasts. The procedure rapidly became a coveted symbol of wealth and superior status, so much so that nipple jewelry increased in its level of elaborate, over-the-top detail until thin gold chains were worn threaded through gold nipple rings, called bosom rings, often made all the more sumptuous by the lavish addition of filigrees and colorful gemstones.

Long considered by many in the west to be the marginalized purview of wanton outsiders, genital piercings have come a long way, both in terms of their historical roots as well as how contemporary western societies have begun to embrace them. But in some very intriguing ways, they remain true to their age-old utilitarian beginnings.

In ancient Greece, athletes performed in the nude, and in order to keep his penis from flailing about, an athlete tied a narrow leather strip or thong tightly around his foreskin, lashing the ends of the thong to the base of his penis to keep said wandering organ secure and out of the way. Later in time, the foreskin was pierced and the thong passed through the hole, facilitating this method of tucking the penis back and away. It’s also true that foreskin piercings for men and labia piercings for women were used as early as the 12th century BC as a way to insure sexual fidelity by attaching the thong to a locking device similar to a padlock to prevent unsanctioned intercourse.


Penis piercing to enhance both male and female sexual pleasure is mentioned around 700 AD in the storied Indian erotic love manual, The Kama Sutra. The piercing process itself is described in painstaking detail and stems from the enduring cultural belief that the greatest, most exquisite sexual pleasure can’t be obtained without it. In some cultures, like the Dayak of Borneo, women have the ability to require that their male partners wear an ampallang – a horizontal bar through the penis with small pear-shaped balls attached at either end, since the sensation this produces in the vaginal canal is considered highly pleasurable – and every woman’s right.

For men today, the types of genital piercings are numerous indeed; while it’s easy to suspect young, entitled, new-age guys as the most ardent supporters and sporters of adornments down below, in fact, most men who’ve taken the genital piercing plunge in the US are white, middle aged or older, well educated and successful, often ensconced in mainstream businesses at the upper managerial level. Surprised? Of course you are!

And it doesn’t matter what sort of male piercing you’re talking about. All of them seem to have their ardent supporters, both among the men who wear them and the partners who enjoy them. For starters, there are guiche (pronounced geesh) piercings between the anus and the testicles, Hafada piercings that adorn the scrotum, and variations of these, all with specific uses related to their aesthetic appeal and their ability to heighten pleasure.

Most however, like the well-known Prince Albert piercing, involve penis perforation – placing a hole or holes through the head of the penis or just under it, depending upon the look the wearer wants to achieve and the sensation he wants the piercing to produce for himself and/or his partner. 

As long as we’re talking history here, the Prince Albert is said to have been named after Europe’s Prince Albert, reputed to have had quite a large penis, and since men’s fashions of his time featured tight, revealing trousers, it’s said he had his penis pierced and fitted with a gold ring that matched up with a hook on the inside of his trousers, thereby preventing the appearance of an awkward bulge.

But for women, the utilitarian history of the so-called exotics finds its rightful place in countless contemporary women’s sexual lives. Nipple piercings today can be just as elaborate as they ever were in Victorian times. Now as then, nipple piercings can serve to heighten women’s sexual pleasure by making the nipples larger and more sensitive, and by providing a constant source of sexual stimulation.

Ask a devotee of female genital piercings, however, and by devotee I mean a woman who’s been there and done that, as they say, and she’ll likely tell you that the procedure changed her life. Changed it immensely for the better, if the work was properly done, and for the regrettably definite worse if it was not.

The origins of clitoral hood piercings aren’t well documented, although we know that the ancient Greeks had a word to describe the clitoris itself some 2,500 years ago.

According to the Association of Professional Piercers, female genital piercings fall into five main types, most of which focus on the areas surrounding the clitoris – rather than the actual clitoris - since many women’s clitorises simply aren’t built for it. In fact, piercing a clitoris that’s too recessed or too small can result in permanent damage and severe loss of sensation. Understandably, then, women are urged to choose practitioners to do their work with the utmost care. Consultation first is an absolute must, as is checking with previous clients to assess prior results.

Whether or not one's clitoris lends itself to piercing, it's important to remember that the entire vulva is extraordinarily responsive, however, and clitoral hood piercings -  labia piercings, as well - can also provide continuous pleasurable sensations for women, since the correct placement of the jewelry by an expert in these surrounding areas can make for an intense, constant stimulation of the clitoris without being placed directly into it. 

Depending on type and placement, the gentle pressure from jewelry worn in labia and a clitoral hood - the loose, fleshy covering under which one's clitoris hides - can create warm waves of constant pleasure, no matter where you are and what you’re up to in the course of your busy day. Add in a partner or not, the piercing still does its work, and the choices of beautiful, aesthetically stunning jewelry are seemingly without end.

And when it’s all said and done, whether we pierce for appearance or pleasure, there’s got to be something tasty and outrageously affirming about having gold and precious gems nestled amid our folds, making their presence known so hotly between our legs as we wait in the grocery check-out line or fill our cars with gas.


Have you considered a so-called exotic piercing for yourself? If so, what kind? If not, why not? Would you be interested in your partner having one?

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1 comment:

  1. No I have never considered getting an exotic piercing. No reason in particular though I just never been interested in doing so. I would not mind if my partner had one if that is what he wants.