Meanings of Different Body Piercings

Benna Crawford
gum piercing

Piercings That Make a Statement

Body mod that takes the form of piercing is a personal choice that typically has a deep and specific personal meaning. Punching one or more holes through part of your body to insert jewelry is about more than simple adornment. It's your own singular and adventurous statement, and it may come with historic symbolism, intended or not.

man with pierced ear

Pierced Ears

The most common piercing, ear studs and hoops are cultural and fashionable. Indian, Hispanic, African, and other cultures pierce ear lobes and cartilage in accord with ethnic tradition. A 5,000-year-old mummy found frozen in an Austrian glacier had pierced ears. A portrait, reputedly of Shakespeare, shows the bard with a poetic left-ear gold hoop. Left or right ear piercings have nothing to do with gender preference, and everything to do with decoration and personal taste.

woman with nose piercing

Nose Piercings

Nose piercings used to be considered rebellious and daring - now, not so much. Nostril piercing, left or right, is a delicate and low-key embellishment. In India, a nostril piercing was associated with reproduction and easy childbirth. In nomadic tribes, nose jewelry was an indication of wealth.

Septum piercing, the area between the nostrils, was a sign of fierceness in warrior cultures, a display of wealth and status in Aztec and Mayan cultures, and a coming-of-age ritual in many indigenous tribes. Septum rings, barbells, and horseshoes are still eye-catching and unconventional enough to advertise your free-spirit bona fides.

eyebrow piercing

The Eyebrow

Eyebrow piercing is a relatively contemporary practice that developed out of the rebellious search for more and more outrageous visual body art. It has no strong tradition of tribal or historic custom, but takes advantage of the loose skin over the brow ridge and the ease of inserting a barbell or a more provocative safety pin, nail or needle ornament. Eyebrow piercings take six to eight weeks to heal, about the same as earlobe piercings.

woman with pierced tongue

The Tongue

Tongue piercings are risky and risque. Infection, swelling, loss of taste or sense, chipped or broken teeth, and nerve damage can turn a novelty into a nightmare. However, tongue piercings are big statements of nonconformity, and enhancements to oral sex.

Popular today among young people and young adults, tongue piercing was an important Mayan religious ritual, reserved for rulers and high priests. Indigenous shamans of the American Northwest and Middle East pierced their tongues in order to enter a trance state. You might pierce yours as a sign of devotion to your Significant Other -- or just because you like the way it looks.

labret piercings

The Cheek and Lips or Labret

Externalize your inner beauty with a can't-miss-it face piercing. Labret -- lower lip -- piercings have a long history of tribal use, signifying pure adornment or the abandonment of independent identity to a committed relationship. Tribal meanings range from a rite of betrothal to an elaborate mark of membership in a higher class.

Contemporary labrets are often titanium or stainless steel, easy to keep sterile. Stainless steel or titanium barbell cheek piercings will irrevocably scar a smooth expanse of skin but are fairly uncomplicated to insert, and completely unmissable. A cheek piercing adds to a gallery of facial piercings for the true devotee of skin puncture art.

male nipple ring

Pierced Nipple

Piercings that can be camouflaged by clothing venture into the realm of private seduction and titillation. Nipple piercings enlarge and sensitize the nipple through constant stimulation (men's and women's). These may have once been recommended to prevent inverted nipples and facilitate breastfeeding. Low-cut medieval necklines exposed the breast, making gem-encrusted nipple rings high style according to some historians.

Today, nipple piercings just look extremely 'hawt' and daring. The arousal from clothes rubbing against the ring -- or partners playing with it -- was and is reserved for audacious and bold personalities. If that sounds like you, a discreet nipple piercing or two may be in your future.

navel piercing

The Navel

Why waste a perfectly good bikini on a boring old belly button when a navel piercing will draw attention to your flat abs and your alluring innie or outie? These days, it seems as if everyone has a navel piercing, but beware. A puncture in your belly button takes four months to one year to heal properly -- that's a lot of care and tending for a bit of belly bling.

Navel piercings for women are pretty modern, and they have been a trend among women in current years. Many just like the way they look. Any sexual symbolism may come from the jewelry's proximity to the genitals and the slight resemblance of an innie belly button to the folds of the labia.

man and woman on beach

Sexy Bits

Most are not piercing the clitoris or foreskin just to show off gold or gemstones. Genital piercings are not only exotic in appearance, but are also about the sensation. Clitoral hood piercings -- a declaration of sophisticated sexuality -- are typically uncomplicated. The small fold of skin can be punctured without much risk to nerves. They provide very private stimulation and an unexpected surprise to sexual partners.

Men are no slouches when it comes to genital piercing. A Prince Albert (a ring worn inserted through the glans and out the urethra to adorn and excite the penis) provides visual and sensory pleasure to both wearer and partner. Scrotum, perineum, and foreskin piercings have tribal antecedents but are all billboards for and enhancements of sexual pleasure.

Whether you choose a simple ear piercing or a more private body part, the most important meaning of your piercing is what it means to you. Choose an area you are comfortable with, and safe, sterile, jewelry to express yourself and your personal style.

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Meanings of Different Body Piercings