Brooke* had both her nipples pierced when she was 18. At first, she says, she was simply drawn to the aesthetic. Upon further research, she learned that nipple piercings could increase sensitivity, which she saw as a much-welcome bonus. A decade later, at 28, Brooke says the horizontal barbells have made her sex life better and continue to turn her on — and her partner can't get enough.
The fancy name for being turned on by body piercings and tattoos (body modifications done with a needle) is stigmatophilia. The term can be applied to both those turned on by their own piercings as well as the enjoyment of their partner's piercings and tats. While body piercers say genital and nipple piercings are on the rise, and celebrities from Rihanna to Kendall Jenner have had their nipples done, there's not much research on stigmatophilia. Though we definitely can't make assumptions about anyone's motivation for getting a genital or nipple piercing, one study published in the 1993 issue of Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality found that of the 362 surveyed individuals with pierced nipples (292 men and 70 women) the majority reported having them done for sexual interest.
While some folks, like Brooke, head to a reputable piercing shop, others see the piercing experience as a sexual act, which they may do with a partner or even a pro-domme. "Piercings fit into a larger category [of kink] called needle play. It's a common thing that pro-dommes see," says Michael Aaron PhD, a kink-friendly NYC-based sex therapist and author of Modern Sexuality: The Truth about Sex and Relationships. Mistress Bettie Bondage, a professional dominatrix and BDSM educator, says many of her clients ask to be pierced. "As a sadist, I am more than happy to comply," Bondage says.
Unlike Brooke's nipple piercings, which are still in use a decade after she had them done, most of the piercings Bondage performs on her (primarily male) clientele are done with needles and are temporary. That means she'll pierce them with needles during their session, then remove the needles when the session ends without actually inserting jewellery. Bondage says that the puncture holes will last a few days to a week, and other than small bruising, the evidence of her client's kink will fade fairly quickly without leaving permanent marks.
Like most kinks, stigmatophilia casts a wide net. Compared to those like Brooke, who are drawn to the aesthetic and sexual pleasure piercings in erogenous zones can provide, Aaron says that people who go to professional dominatrixes to satisfy their desires typically enjoy being pierced for the intense physical sensation of being penetrated with a needle.
If you're turned on by the idea genital and nipple piercings and think you might want to try it, first take the time to consider what you like about them, and proceed from there. If you just want your nipples or clitoral hood pierced because you enjoy the aesthetics and are curious about the increased sensitivity, make sure to do your research and seek out a reputable piercing parlour that follows safety and sterilisation guidelines.
It's also important to consider health and safety if you're looking for the sensation of needle penetration itself, outside of a parlour. Professional dominatrixes such as Bondage use RACK (risk aware consensual kink) and SSC (safe, sane, and consensual) guidelines when working with clients: These are standards adopted by the BDSM community that help keep any risky fetish activities safe and consensual. Bondage says she also keeps surfaces clean and sterile when using piercing instruments, opting for hospital-grade cleaning products for counters and trays, wears gloves, and always sanitises both herself and her clients.
But it's important to be aware of the risks, too. Even when done at reputable studios, complications from sexual piercings can arise, resulting in temporary or permanent loss of sensation. If you're new to piercings and simply interested in a lasting sexual piercing rather than being someone's pincushion, seeking out a licensed professional piercer is the best place to start.
*Last name has been withheld for privacy.
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