Body Piercing

Written by Henry Ferguson, oprac. Jarosław Skrobich
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Body piercing has been practised in almost every society as far back as it is possible to trace, but, it has usually been confined to the ears, mouth and nose. Notable exceptions are the practice of piercing the glans penis with a bone by a few tribes in Borneo, and the mention of penis jewellery in the Kama Sutra. Discussion of female nipple jewellery in Victorian journals suggests that this is not a completely modern idea, but most of the stories abort the origins of piercings, such as the idea that Psince Albert wore a penis ring to tie his member down are modern myths.

In fact most of the names given to piercings are made up. One of the pierces, Jim Ward invented a wide selectionof names and histories about piercing to make it more interesting. For example, based on a piece of sculpture he had seen At Versailles, he claimed that Roman centurions wore their short capes attached to nipple rings, where as in all likelihood, the rings were in the breast plate.

Medical prejudice

An observer of today’s fashion for facial piercings might think that only the young and extrovert or those interested in extreme sexual behavior get pierced. In 1985 after a motorcycle accident, I was taken to hospital with cracked ribs and vertebrae, a raptured spleen and a damage of both kidneys. I remembered that the emergency staff seemed to be less interested in saving my life than in getting me to remove my body jewellery during my short bouts of consciousness. Some of them were sure that I had to be a gay sadomasochist and therefore likely to have AIDS. These attitudes have changed. In fact, most body piercing is hidden beneath the clothes of ordinary, middle aged people. A survery of 134 pierced readers of Body Art magazine reveal that 79% were aged 29 or over and 58% were married. Less than 20% saw themselves as masochistics, sadistic fetishist, exhibitionists or narcissistic. The usual assumption is that being pierced must hurt and therefore the pierced people must be either masochists or „hard”. They are pierced because they like the way it looks and feels and becuase the piercings usually provide exciting new sensations.

Effects of piercings

One more milk ducts may be damaged when piercing a woman’s nipple but most women remove their nipple jewellery for the months of lactation. It is common for people to worry that genital piercing, especially of the clitoris or glans penis may damage the nerves locally and reduce erotic sensitivity. However it has never been heard of this happening.


A piercing which works for one person will not necessarily work for everyone else. The body’s tendency to reject foreign objects must be overcome. It helps if the piercing is short, the jewellery is shaped to fit and the body part does not change shape too dramatically. This expiains why ear lobes heal relatively easily and navel piercings are prone to failure. The piercing jewellery which is too badly positioned, the wrong shape, or made too thin can result in migration with soreness and inflammation. If the jewellery is satisfactory but the piercing has become infected, it is generally better to treat the infection with an antibiotic and leave it in place to help the wound to drain and heal. The fashion of piercing has increased the variety of jewellery, some of witch can causa trouble if it is made from a material to which the skin as allergic or which is able to harbour bacteria. Some people suffer from nickel allergies, which rule out the use of most grade of stainless steel. Piercing can occasionally become sore, even when well established, if a person becomes ill or run down, for example with the flu – but the most common causa of problems is the removal of jewellery. It is because the track of the scar tissue closes and it can be difficult or impossible to reinsert the jewellery without breaking down the tissue. Some people will always be drawn towards experiencing new sensations through piercing or similar body changes but even the most enthusiastic devotees find the interest in piercing difficult to explain, however, that’s just as true of pot holding, golf, crosswords, and train spotting.


piercing – przekłuwanie

nipple – sutek

glans – żołądź

centurion – żołnierz rzymski (setnik)

cape – peleryna

cracked – pęknięty, złamany

ribs – żebra

vertebrae – kręgi

ruptured – pęknięty

spleen – śledziona

bout – atak, nawrót

duct – kanał, przewód

lactation – karmienie piersią

lobe – płatek

navel – pępek

soreness – bolesność

inflammation – zapalenie

drain – sączyć się

harbour – być siedliskiem, np. bakterii

rule out – wykluczać

reinsert – umieścić ponownie

tissue – tkanka

pot holing – chodzenie po jaskiniach

spotting – ozdabianie, malowanie

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Tekst oryginału: Henry Ferguson, Body piercing. BMJ vol. 319, DEC 1999/