Genital piercing: the very idea of it is enough to send many of us, whimpering, into the fetal position. But it’s a practice, whether it intrigues or disgusts you, that’s becoming more and more popular for men and women alike.
“It isn’t something done only by the fringes of society,” says Elayne Angel, a professional piercer in New Orleans and Medical Coordinator for the Association of Professional Piercers. “Most people probably already know at least several adults who have genital piercings. They just haven’t had the occasion to find out.”
Often asked is whether genital piercings prevent sexual activity? The answer is no! The whole idea for most people is to enhance sex. That may be through simply the exciting and exotic visual of jewellery through tender flesh, or from the way the jewellery feels stimulating nerve endings on one’s self or one’s partner.
A Short History of Piercing Down There
Genital piercing has probably been around for a while, although just how long is difficult to say; histories of piercing tend to be woven with myths. According to Stirn, genital piercing of men has only been confirmed among a few tribes in Borneo, who implant bones in the glans, or head of the penis. There’s also some evidence from the Kamasutra — the ancient Sanskrit text that establishes the rules of love and sensuality in Hindu society — of men who had penis implants adorned with jewelry. However, claims that Arabs, Africans, or Greek cultures engaged in routine genital piercing — or that nipple rings were developed by the Romans to hold up sagging togas — are fabrications or legend, Stirn says.
In fact, while piercing as a general practice is common to many cultures, genital 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 as Angel and Stirn assert, 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.
The Western origins of genital piercing are also disconcerting to those uncomfortable with the practice, who would prefer to imagine it is a barbaric custom imported from far, far away and not something domestic. A public information officer at the American Medical Association in Chicago was disbelieving and then aghast when informed about the practice and asked, hopefully, whether it was a custom only “practiced in tribes somewhere.” Little did the she know, it was probably done every day at piercing parlors within a few miles of her office.
By the 19th century, some men and women in European society were having their genitals pierced. One common type of penis piercing — the Prince Albert — is actually named after Queen Victoria’s husband, the prince consort. The story goes that Albert had his penis pierced with a ring — called a “dressing ring” — so that he could manipulate his privates to prevent an unseemly bulge when he wore tight trousers. Whether there’s any truth to the tale is unknown, although the accounts of 19th century genital piercing do demonstrate that the Victorians weren’t quite the prudes that we imagine them to be.
Genital piercing became more common in Europe in America after World War II, but it only became popular — in a relative sense –since the 1970s. Piercing became fashionable with the punk movement and among some gay and S&M subcultures during this time, and practiced at landmark piercing studios like Gauntlet in Los Angeles, where Angel was manager. From there, the phenomenon moved out into mainstream society.
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