By Hans Niedermair
Still scandalized by your neighbor's son with his
pierced left ear? Get with the times ?body piercing has come a long
way, and if your kids are going to do it (and they likely are),
there are a few things you need to know?
"Alex", a businessman from Toronto in his mid-twenties, had both of
his nipples pierced about five years ago. He asked not to be named
for a specific reason: not everyone knows about his nipples.
In a North American society where men with pierced ears have become
commonplace, people are going to greater lengths to differentiate
themselves from the masses. Wander down the streets of any major
city and you're bound to see folks with pierced eyebrows, navels,
noses, and even necks.
Although body piercing has come a long way since the 1970s, when
punk rockers bounced about with safety pins through their cheeks,
the practice has not gained acceptance from all corners of society.
Some still think that body piercings can pose health risks, and that
they may even denote a person of lower moral standards.
A recent study, reported in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found that
a fifth of New York college students with body-piercings have
experienced bacterial infection, excessive bleeding and tissue
Jason King, the vice president of the Association of Professional
Piercers (APP) and owner of 23rd St. Body Piercing in Oklahoma City,
says that as long as people take proper care of their piercings,
these types of problems should not arise.
"Infection is always the single biggest problem. One suggestion for
all body piercings is to apply saline for 10 minutes twice a day,"
King says. "In terms of healing times, the more vascular the tissue,
the faster the healing time is." This means that in the case of an
ear lobe piercing versus an ear cartilage piercing, the lobe will
heal faster because its tissues have a higher concentration of blood
Elaine Angel, the APP's medical liaison, stresses the importance of
having a piercing done by a professional. The president and founder
of the Rings of Desire piercing shop in New Orleans says that
professionals know how to place a piercing properly and have access
to the proper sterile disposable equipment and jewelry.
While King has pierced everything from eyebrows to genitals, he
figures the strangest piercing he's ever done is the nape of the
neck. This is an example of a "surface piercing," which means the
piercing of an area of the body that has no sides. King says that
one must be extra-cautious with surface piercings because they pose
a higher risk of infection.
In terms of health benefits resulting from piercings, King says that
none have been confirmed, but that some of his customers swear that
piercings curb their cravings to smoke. In addition, Angel says that
some of her customers have felt their sinuses clear up as a result
of nostril and septum piercings. Angel also sees a psychological
benefit to piercing, as it allows some individuals to get more in
touch with their bodies.
Of course, different people have different reasons for getting
"For teens, it's a lot more peer-motivated and for aesthetics,"
Angel says. "They are far less likely to be doing it for
introspective reasons. Adults often get piercings to mark passages
in their lives."
"It used to be, 10 years ago, that the people we were piercing were
much more 'fringe,'" King adds. "Of the 10 piercings I've done
today, I'd say that four of the customers were over 30."
As for teenagers, King says that the days of piercing for rebellion
are long gone.
"They're having it done because they like how it looks," he says.
"Kids generally don't get pierced to piss off their parents anymore.
Piercing has become so mainstream that even Britney Spears has her
In early May, pediatrician Timothy Roberts of the University of
Rochester Medical Center presented research at the annual conference
of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Baltimore. His research
concluded that teenagers with body piercings are more likely to take
part in risky behavior like sex and drugs than their unskewered
"When doctors see a teenager who has a piercing, they should ask
whether they smoke, ask about their friends, and maybe spend a
little more time asking about their sexual behavior," claimed
Roberts. "Seeing a pierced body part should help a doctor decide how
to spend his or her time with the patient."
Angel says the study is skewed because it did not sample a fair
representation of North American society. However, she concedes that
she doesn't really think minors should get pierced. Rings of Desire
will pierce nothing but the earlobes of clients under the age of 16,
unless they have the permission of a parent or guardian who is
Despite this, Angel, whose father is a doctor, admits that she was
fascinated with piercing from an early age. Today, she has about 40
piercings, including five in her tongue.
"I was piercing myself in 1972; we used to have piercing parties in
high school," she says. "I've just always had an innate, driving
urge for piercing ?I don't really know where it came from."
Getting back to "Alex", he says he had his nipples pierced "to freak
people out". He's never had any infections as a result of his
piercings, and he was engaged in teenage debauchery long before he
got his nipple-rings.
However, one of his pierced nipples did cause him a physical
problem. Three years ago, while working at one of Canada's largest
banks, he was casually strolling through the office when he
accidentally caught a nipple-ring on the corner of a cubicle. As a
result, he nearly tore his nipple off, and bled profusely.
The moral of the story? Piercings can be perfectly safe, unless you
rub cubicles the wrong way.
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