Genital Piercing

What, Where, Why ?

Piercing can be defined as “an opening in any part of the body through which jewellery can be worn”. Among the most common forms of female genital piercing is the clitoral cap, of which there are different types. The clitoral gland or lips can also be pierced. In some cases, the labia minora or labia majora may be pierced one or more times, to be crossed by one or more rings to form a “chastity ring” (Kelly & Foster, 2012).

Female genital piercings (as well as male genital piercings) are legally practiced in non-medical piercing and tattoo studios around the world. In Europe and North America, they have become increasingly popular in the 21st century as celebrities have talked openly about them. There is historical evidence of genital piercing among women and men from various countries and ethnic groups. They appear to be increasingly popular in some African countries, such as Ghana (Ghanaweb, 2016).

Historically, outer labial rings have been used to prevent wives and slaves from having sex. Today, however, most women (and men) who undergo genital piercing do so voluntarily for aesthetic and/or sexual reasons and as a marker of their individuality. There are many stories on the Internet of women explaining why they wanted a genital piercing.

Consequences of genital piercings

An exploratory study, done on clients of one piercing studio in the US in 2003, identified a positive relationship between “vertical clitoral hood piercing and desire, frequency of intercourse and arousal. There were no dramatic differences in orgasmic functioning.” (Millner et ał, 2004)

While some experts argue that genital piercings may increase the risk of infections or compromise the integrity of barrier contraception (Preslar and Borger, 2019), a US study found that few of the pierced participants (men and women) had problems with sexually transmitted infections and that the great majority were happy with their piercing. (Caliendo et al, 2005). Nevertheless, compared to the piercing of the clitoral hood, the piercing of the clitoral glands may involve more risks such as injury to the nerves and blood supply of the clitoral structures leading to future fibrosis and diminished function. (Moulton & Jernigan, 2017).

Controversies around (female) genital piercings (members’ contribution)

In the UK, a public debate broke out after it was announced in the media that the National Health Service would register genital piercings in women as “FGM type IV”. Several organizations and activists strongly opposed the idea that a genital piercing chosen by adult women could be compared to FGM imposed on infants and children. They argued that adult women should have the right to consent to alterations of their own body. (Kelly & Foster, 2012)

« The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation » is part of the « Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM » project, supported by the « UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM ».
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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