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For you romantics out there, piercing may conjure up an image of Cupid’s golden arrow passing through your heart. But what about your penis, labia, nipple, nose or tongue? A piercing, like an earring, is a decorative ring or bar that is placed through a flap of your skin or, in the case of your tongue, a muscle. It’s a popular procedure among gay and straight people alike.

Why get pierced in the first place? “It’s an expression of oneself, a way to be different,” says piercer David McCammon of San Francisco’s Gotham Body Piercing. He added that piercing certain body parts “can heighten sexual sensitivity.”

What is it?

The procedure itself is simple. A needle punctures your skin or tongue, then a bar or ring is inserted through the opening. Don’t remove your piercing during the healing process, or the hole will close up! When done correctly, anesthesia is not required.

If you try it on your own, you increase your chances for both infection and an improperly placed piercing. Go to a professional who can help you choose appropriately sized jewelry and give you detailed instructions on how to care for your piercing.

How much does it cost?

Rates do vary, but generally speaking, expect to pay around thirty dollars for a piercing above the waist, and around fifty dollars for one below the waist. The jewelry costs extra and can range from ten dollars to hundreds, depending on your taste.

Important considerations

A piercing is more than poke and play-it can bleed, tear become infected, and it may not close up if you change your mind. The healing process can take from 6 weeks to 5 months or more, during which time you’ll need to diligently cleanse and care for your new toy. If you’re not sure you’re ready for the responsibility, you might want to give it more thought before trying it.

Don’t be surprised if everyone doesn’t love your new piercing. Sure, the decision to get one is yours, but if you’re dating someone, you might want to talk with him or her beforehand. If the reaction you get is a wide-eyed, “Ick,” try explaining your reasons for wanting a piercing in the first place.

If a penis bar or ring is your thing, be sure that the jewelry you choose is properly sized. If it’s too small, it may keep you from having a comfortable erection. If it’s too big, it may slide around too much when you’re soft and irritate your penis. Keep in mind that you can pierce your foreskin, scrotum, the skin on your shaft, and even the head of your penis, but don’t pierce straight through the shaft! This could impale a blood vessel and cause serious bleeding, or damage your erectile tissue.

Apadravya, Ampallang and Prince Albert may sound like an invitation to a United Nations party, but in reality these are three piercings that go right through the head of your penis. An apadravya is a rod passed through your urethra vertically, an ampallang is a rod that is passed through horizontally but misses your urethra, and a Prince Albert is a ring passed through the opening of your penis (the urethra) and out through the bottom of the shaft. Urinary tract infections can occur with these types of piercings, so see your doctor if you have a burning sensation or pass blood when you urinate. And don’t forget, an apadravya and a Prince Albert go smack through your urine flow, so you’re likely to spray. The good news is that your urine, which is usually sterile, will cleanse the wound and help it heal faster.

Even with a penis ring, using a condom is very important. You may need to use a larger condom to accommodate your jewelry, and be sure to avoid rubbers that are sheer — they might tear. Remember guys, your love ring can also injure your partner’s teeth or the inside of his or her anus and mouth, so use caution and be gentle.

If a labial ring is your thing, you’re in luck! There are several places in your vaginal area that can be pierced including the hood of your clitoris, your lower vagina and your inner and outer labia. For the record, piercing the clitoris itself is a tricky procedure because the area is so sensitive. If you must have it done, choose someone experienced. And always be sure to have your professional piercer correctly size the jewelry you choose.

Possible side effects

The main side effect of piercing is infection. Bleeding is rare and usually stops if you apply a little pressure to the wound. If you have an allergic reaction to the jewelry, you’ll usually get a rash. Titanium, platinum, gold and surgical-grade steel are usually non-reactive, so stick with these types of rings or bars. Beware of silver; it’s very reactive and can give you trouble!

Dangerous complications

You should make sure your piercer uses clean and sterilized equipment because it’s possible to contract HIV and Hepatitis B and C, among other blood borne diseases, from a piercing needle. Hepatitis B can survive outside the body for days, so your chances of contracting it from a contaminated needle is greater than your risk of HIV, which dies quickly once outside the body.

As a general rule, an improperly placed piercing is more likely to cause infection than a properly placed one. For this reason, leave the procedure up to a professional. If you do get an infection, don’t ignore it. An abscess could develop-and your doctor might need to drain the infected area (ouch!).

If you have diabetes, you’re at a higher risk for infection in general. Before getting pierced, consult your doctor. If you are prone to forming keloids (thick scars), you may want to avoid piercing altogether. Otherwise, be prepared for scars to be part of the aesthetic. Having HIV is not a reason to avoid piercing. If you are healthy and want one, go for it.

If you’re already pierced, make sure you remove all your décor before undergoing surgery — and not because of homophobia. Depending on the operation, your jewelry can react with the operating equipment and cause a serious burn. Talk about a shock!

How long is the healing process?

Be patient. The healing process can take from 4 to 6 weeks for a tongue and 5 months or longer for a nipple. As your skin heals, expect yellow fluid to drain and crust on your ring or bar. This is normal. Your chance of infection is greatest right after the procedure, so keep the area clean by washing twice a day with antibacterial soap until the oozing subsides. Keep in mind, this oozing is a body fluid and can transmit diseases, so protect it with a condom or dental dam during sex. Don’t remove your jewelry, or the hole may close! Finally, don’t be rough until the piercing has healed completely because you might cause it to bleed or tear.

How do you reverse it?

If you change your mind about your piercing, simply remove the jewelry and the hole may close. (Keep in mind that some holes don’t ever close, which is particularly true with penile piercings). If your piercing isn’t freshly done, you may end up with a small scar. Don’t forget to keep the area clean so it doesn’t get infected.

By Jon Garbo
Gay Health

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