Re:Mark{able} Females: Sexual Pleasures, Risks and Rewards of Tattoos, Genital Piercings and Holistic Sexual Health



One of the most basic forms of human interaction is through our sexuality. According to the World Health Organization (2002), Sexual health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality that incorporates the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity in an individual. The aim of this report is to offer an empirical, holistic examination of how certain body modifications (e.g., tattoos and genital piercings) that may have been obtained the purpose of individual sexual pleasure can have unintended consequences and effects upon health thereby compromising the individual’s sexual health. The findings of this report can best serve to foster a better comprehension in the vivid dynamics linking the female psyche to tattoo/genital piercing acquisition with sexual identity, self-esteem, feminine sexuality, and health.


Saunders, (1989) offers a remarkable, in-depth exploration of tattooing as a profound art form. The author discusses the extensive history, anthropology and sociology of tattoos from an occupational and consumer experience focusing on the ways sexuality, gender and ethnicity are being reconfigured through tattooing. Myers, (1992) gives an in depth discourse on the prevalence of body modifications for several centuries and the myriad of reasons why they continue to be practiced world-wide. The investigator goes on to highlight the ever increasing popularity of tattoos and body piercings prefacing the need of comprehending the individual psychodynamic motivations for obtaining body piercings and tattoos. This report offers ten motivational categories, consisting of general motivations for obtaining body piercings and tattoos. Historically speaking, tattoos and body piercings have been documented to serve the sensual, erotic, and emotional aspects of the psyche across various cultures. In some societies, tattoos are indelible marks of tribe or of status which can signify a difficult passage to adulthood, or identify the owner’s skills. Tattoo has long been an object of both human fascination and revulsion, but never more so than when the tattooed subject is a female. Tattoos have been discerned on the bodies of mummies dating back to 2000 to 4000 B. C. Tattooing experienced a revival during the Suffragist movement and it became fashionable yet again to have a tattoo among the upper classes becoming fashionable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for aristocrats (including females). At this time, tattooing was very expensive and people paid large sums for their designs. Body piercing has been practiced in almost every culture around the world for thousands of years. According to anthropologists, body piercing and other body art (tattooing) can be a method for group identification, body beautification, or even showing marital or financial status. Over time, some tattoos and piercings have signified expressions of ethnic heritage, while other piercings are adapted for sexual gratification. Nipple and genital piercing have also been practiced by various cultures, with nipple piercing dating back at least to Ancient Rome while genital piercing is described in Ancient India c. 320 to 550 CE (Sandhyarani and Huddar, 2013). In the recent past, body adornment with piercings has become quite fashionable.

Holistic Sexual Health Implications

Maxwell (2013) defines sexual health as an approach to sexuality which is founded in the personal awareness, accurate knowledge, and self-acceptance, whereas individual values, emotions, and behaviors are integrated and congruent within an individual’s greater personality composition and self-concept. Sexual health has a coincidental aspect, reflecting not only individual respect, and self-acceptance, but a respect and appreciation for individual differences and diversity of others, as well as a sense of belonging to, and engagement in one’s own sexual culture(s). Sexual health includes a sense of self-esteem, personal attractiveness and competence, as well as affirmations of sexuality as a positive force, thereby enhancing other dimensions of one’s life. A 2014 report by Simunovic & Shinohara examined the ancient practice of tattooing stating that varied clinical complications such as non-tuberculous mycobacterial infections and hypersensitivity reactions can result. Their research reported the difficulty in diagnosis and management stating that there is a genuine possibility for other malignancies to develop in tattoos. They concluded that the safety of tattoo ink and its role in carcinogenesis should be examined further.

The body undergoes certain physiological effects when subjected to specific body modifications such as tattoos and genital piercings. The presence of foreign substances (e.g., tattoo inks, and metals used for genital piercings) injected into the body increases the susceptibility to infection, and nontraditional sites, once infected, may have more complications because the punctures are deeper. In spite of a transition from metal salts to industrial azo dyes in tattoo pigments, scores of clinical reports documenting hypersensitivity reactions continue to surface. Allergic reactions to metal, excessive bleeding at the site, nerve damages (e.g., loosing feeling at an area that gets pierced/tattooed), and keloids at the site are also potential health risk factors. Reports of various health issues associated with genital (and breast) piercings have become more common among women and have been well documented over the past few decades including breast abscess developing after a nipple piercing, superficial lymphadenopathy in association with local inflammation or infection, viral hepatitis and other blood-borne viral pathogens such as Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. Atkinson, (2001) investigated commonly associated health risks from tattoos and genital piercings which can include: Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, HIV /AIDS, bacterial infections, blood-borne pathogens, tissue rejection, and other infections. Although modern, professional tattoos and genital piercings administered in a sterile environment are generally safe, health complications can arise. Tattoo-related infections (ranging from days to decades) after tattooing/piercing that may range from acute pyogenic infections to cutaneous tuberculosis.

 The preceding information was taken from a Columbia University Health Services article, supplied by a guest author who discussed the associated health risks of body piercing including allergic reactions, infections, scarring and physical injuries. Female genital piercings carry the potential risk of damage from cumbersome piercing jewelry or excessive accidental pulling which can lead to torn genital tissue (requiring surgical repair). Many health issues can be minimized by following the simple advice of a professional tattoo and piercing artist such as avoiding sexual intercourse, avoid immersing the affected site directly in water, and wound care precautions for a few days immediately following such body modifications. Some females with genital piercings have reported experiencing enhanced sexual pleasure while a number of others also report having an increased libido (temporarily). Genital piercings are not intended to be permanently stimulating. Increased pleasure sensations may be a common consequence when nipple or genital piercings are handled. Typical female piercing sites include the clitoral hood and inner and outer labia. Other less common female genital piercings include: triangle piercings, (the jewelry is placed behind the clitoris), fourchette piercings (piercings of the flap of skin at the rear rim of the vulva), and Princess Diana piercings (basically two vertical clitoral hood piercings done off to either side of the clitoral hood) as an alternative for women who don’t have the right anatomy for a triangle piercing. Female perineal piercings and piercing the clitoris itself are less common.

 The clitoris can be pierced, but it’s rarely done because the outcome can often be extreme: (a) nerves in the clitoris may be damaged, desensitizing a woman temporarily or permanently, or (b) it can cause such constant over-stimulation that it could drive a woman to distraction. Millner, Eichold, Sharpe & Lynn, (2005) attempt to identify a positive correlation between vertical clitoral hood piercings, frequency of intercourse, desire, and arousal. Their report cites no significant differences within orgasmic functioning. Current studies reveal that there has been no major reported physiological basis for permanent damage to sensation from any of the common piercing placements if the piercings are properly placed and handled according to standard practices. Some females occasionally report diminished sensation in the localized area after genital piercings. This can usually be attributed to the typical spike in sensitivity following the piercing, and normalizing of sensation once it has settled and the wearer has become accustomed to it. Overstimulated nerve endings calm as healing begins and the body grows accustomed to the constant stimulus of the jewelry (typically within the first week or so).

Psychodynamic Motivations, Reasoning & Implications

Strohecker, (2011) examined general beliefs that individuals with tattoos typically follow two divergent planes of deviance (either as an outward manifestation or future) or a new form of identity formation and meaning. Strohecker incorporates constructs of social psychology to demonstrate how tattooing can now illustrate as pro-social behavior rather than as anti-social behavior expressing social disaffection utilizing the concepts of coping, narratives, self-efficacy, and mastery, as part of self-expression (2011). While a solitary tattoo may be little more than body ornamentation, with no psychopathologic significance, this can also be an indicator of subversive psychological imbalances. In our modern culture, many females are motivated to be pierced for sexual gratification. Some females do not find their genitals attractive or appealing. When a female makes a choice about the appearance of her own genitals by piercing and adorning them with jewelry, it can be highly liberating, and for many it inspires a harmony with their bodies that could not be achieved through any other means.

An ever-increasing number of females have been acquiring tattoos over the past century according to documented research. In their research report, ‘Tattoos Can Harm Perceptions’ Resenhoeft, A., Villa, J., & Wiseman, D. (2008) sought to understand possible individual perceptions of tattooed females by society and potential implications for college student healthcare providers using an experiment involving 158 female college student participants concentrating chiefly on influential self-acuities and subsequent behaviors associated with having a tattoo. The conclusion of the study was that the act of procuring tattoos lead to in a change in how participants viewed themselves and their behavior. Kang and Jones (2007) proposed that a more comprehensive and holistic approach be applied to understanding the motivational and situational links between tattoos, self-esteem and positive self-regard suggesting that the complex motivations of females who get tattoos can be viewed through a historical/cultural lens which often conveys unintended/undesired meanings between the tattooed and the public who reimagines and reinterprets their meanings real and otherwise. Kang & Jones (2007) stated that the average tattooed persons “see their tattoos as unique aspects of themselves, but sociologists who study tattooing focus on group patterns and overall trends.”

 The authors of Tattoo and the Self (Horne, Knox, Zusman, & Zusman, 2007; Laumann & Derick, 2006) used their study to expand that limited intellectual details regarding general comprehension of how tattoos may sway self-perceptions and behavioral changes. In addition, according to Horne et al., (2007) reported discovering that the number of females getting tattooed has surpassed that of men. Seeking validation of personal appearance could present tremendous impact upon motivational bias for acquiring tattoos in females. An extensive overview of the literature including Brumberg (1997, p. 196) on female tattooing and sexuality indicates that the feminine tattooed body was both interpreted and viewed in the context of a hyper-sexualized media driven society as cited by Benson (2000). There was not a single explanation accounting for the popular increase of tattoos/genital piercings and researchers have found that most females use tattoos/genital piercings in an attempts of self-presentation (who they feel that they are, what they have endured, and how they view themselves) in comparison to others and to their social environments to date. Studies have found that females cannot fully control the meaning of their own tattooed/genital pierced bodies; the social contexts in which they live shape the responses to and interpretations of their tattoos by others.


For the sake of brevity, the scope of this investigation was limited to expressing the modifications of tattooing and genital piercing among contemporary females. This report offers a comprehensive account of how tattoos and genital piercing of the female body continues to be interpreted within the context of female psychosexuality and a psychodynamic health paradigm. This exploration of scholarly articles concerning the correlations amongst self-congruence, sexual expression, tattoos and genital piercings of females was extensive. This report was intended to serve as a means to elucidate the contemporary practice of the particular body modifications of tattooing and genital piercing as one that is simultaneously physical and social, with multiple levels of constructed meaning. Works Cited

“A Brief History of Tattoos.” Tattoo You. 21 November 2004 .   <http:www.powerverbs.tattooyouhistory.htm>.

Armstrong, Myrna L., Donna C. Owen, Alden E. Roberts, and Jerome R. Koch. 2002.. “College Tattoos: More Than Skin Deep.” Dermatology Nursing 14(5): 317-323.

Armstrong, M. L., Koch, J. R., Saunders, J. C., Roberts, A. E., & Owen, D. C. (2007). The hole picture: risks, decision making, purpose, regulations, and the future of body piercing. Clinics in dermatology, 25(4), 398-406.

Atkinson, Michael. “Tattooing and Civilizing Processes: Body Modification as Self-Control.” La Revue Canadienne de Sociologie et d’Anthropologie 41 (May 2004): 125-146.

Benson, S. (2000). Inscriptions of the self: Reflections on tattooing and piercing in contemporary Euro-America. In J. Caplan (Ed.), Written on the body: The tattoo in European and American history (pp. 234–254). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Caliendo, Carol, Myrna L. Armstrong, and Alden E. Roberts. 2005. “Self-reported Characteristics of Women and Men with Intimate Body Piercings.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 49(5): 474-484.

Demello, Margo. Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Health Services at Columbia University, “Pierced Clit,” Go Ask Alice! (questions and answers), (accessed April 22, 2015).

 Horne, J., Knox, D., Zusman, J., & Zusman, M. E. (2007). Tattoos and piercings: Attitudes, behaviors, and interpretations of college students. College Student Journal, 41(4), 1011.

Kang, M., & Jones, K. (2007). Why do people get tattoos? Contexts, 6, 42–47.

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Kosut, M. (2006). Mad artists and tattooed perverts: Deviant discourse and the social construction of cultural categories. Deviant Behavior, 27(1), 73-95.

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Millner, V. S., Eichold, B. H., Sharpe, T. H., & Lynn, S. C. (2005). First glimpse of the functional benefits of clitoral hood piercings. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 193(3), 675-676.

Myers, J. (1992). Non-mainstream body modification: Genital piercing, branding ,burning, and cutting. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 92 (21), 267-306.

Patterson, M., & Schroeder, J. (2010). Borderlines: Skin, tattoos and consumer culture theory. Marketing Theory, 10(3), 253-267.

Resenhoeft, A., Villa, J., & Wiseman, D. (2008). Tattoos can harm perceptions: a study and suggestions. Journal of American College Health, 56(5), 593-596.

Sandhyarani B, Dayanand Huddar – Oral Piercings: A constructive genius or a destructive devil?? – published at: “International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications (IJSRP), Volume 3, Issue 1, January 2013 Edition”.

Saunders, (1989). Customizing the body: The art and culture of tattooing. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Simunovic, C., & Shinohara, M. M. (2014). Complications of Decorative Tattoos: Recognition and Management. American journal of clinical dermatology, 15(6), 525-536.

Strohecker, D. P. (2011). Towards a pro-social conception of contemporary tattooing: The psychological benefits of body modification. Rutgers Journal of Sociology, 1, 10-36.

Tiggemann, M., & Golder, F. (2006). Tattooing: An expression of uniqueness in the appearance domain. Body Image, 3, 309–315.

Vaughn S. Millner et al., “First Glimpse of the Functional Benefits of Clitoral Hood Piercings,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 193, no. 3 (September 2005): 675–76.

Wohlrab, S., Stahl, J., & Kappeler, P. M. (2007). Modifying the body: Motivations for getting tattooed and pierced. Body image, 4(1), 87-95.




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