I’d researched vaginal piercings for over a year before I decided to finally take the leap. I’d stay up late at night, covertly looking up pictures and testimonials of people who had gotten theirs done, feeling alternatively repulsed and titillated. Was I seriously considering getting my clit pierced? The thought was terrifying — after all, who wants to think about a needle going anywhere close to there — but for some reason, I kept coming back to the delicate, sparkly decoration.
After reading up on the many different ways women can bedazzle their vaginas, I finally settled on a vertical clitoral hood (VCH) piercing — a dainty and feminine option that was said to greatly enhance sexual pleasure. By far the most popular of vaginal piercings, the VCH is placed vertically through the clitoral hood so that one end rests visibly outside of the vagina while the other lays gently on top of the clitoris itself. Because of the high amount of blood flow to the area, VCH piercings heal quickly; and, since the clitoral hood is usually very thin, the chances of the body rejecting the piercing are small.
Okay, I thought. This is it. I’m doing it. Twenty minutes at my local piercing studio later, I emerged a new woman. The rest of the day, my face was wreathed in smiles. I had an awesome secret — I could feel it with every step I took -- and no one else knew. It was the biggest rush — and still is, even two years later.
A Brief History of Genital Piercings
Body piercing has been practiced in human societies as far back as we can trace, but have traditionally been confined to the ears, nose, and face. Genital piercings were far less common (or, at least, less well-documented).
The first reference to intimate piercings comes from the Kama Sutra, the legendary Sanskrit text on the art of lovemaking, around 300 AD. The writings describe intimate jewelry such as penis inserts and vertically-placed pins (called apadravya) as not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional in making sex more pleasurable for both partners.
However, this practice wasn’t confirmed by first-hand accounts until explorers encountered the Dayak peoples of Borneo in the latter half of the nineteenth century. One such explorer, Dutchman Anton Willem Nieuwenhuis, recounted his experience witnessing tribesmen undergoing penis piercings in a report titled In Central Borneo: Travels from Pontianak to Samarinda. In this publication, he describes how Dayak men would pass shards of bone horizontally through the penis glans in a process now called ampallang. These piercings were said to symbolize the protective power of the man over the family, but also had a clear sexual purpose; in fact, accounts of the practice report that “women of the Dayaks say the embrace without this ornament is like rice, but with it, it tastes like rice with salt.”
This period of exploration introduced many such hitherto unknown practices into the Western world, both through ethnographic reports like Nieuwenhuis’ and through sailors returning home with piercings or tattoos obtained during their travels. Inspired by these intrepid explorers, Western socialites gradually began adopting body modification practices as well.
Nipple piercings, for example, entered the wider social consciousness this way. The first instances of women with bejeweled breasts may date back to the court of Queen Isabella of Bavaria in the fourteenth century. Wealthy ladies of the court would wear “garments of the grand neckline,” daringly low-cut dresses that openly displayed their breasts, sparking a corresponding interest in jeweled nipples. Such adornments faded from popularity until the 1890s, when explorers reintroduced the practice into high society. “Bosom rings” became the new fashion craze, with many Victorian women linking their nipple rings together with delicate chains. The trend was not only endorsed by high society for its sexual benefits, but was even sometimes recommended by doctors to help enlarge the nipples and facilitate breastfeeding.
Intimate piercings largely fell out of the mainstream consciousness until the latter half of the twentieth century. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, genital piercing was reintroduced to the emerging body modification community in Los Angeles by piercing pioneers Jim Ward and Doug Malloy. Ward, who is often considered the “granddaddy of the modern piercing movement,” spearheaded new and innovative piercing techniques and equipment, effectively becoming the first body piercing specialist in America. His studio the Gauntlet became the epicenter of nontraditional piercings, and enthusiasts flocked from near and far to bedazzle their faces, nipples, and genitals.
Piercings in Pop Culture
For awhile, genital piercings remained largely practiced by subcultures like the body modification crowd and the so-called modern primitives; even the burgeoning punk scene, infamous for expressing rebellion through piercings and tattoos, only rarely pierced their private parts. In fact, in a 1989 interview, Ward revealed that in ten years he had only pierced the genitals of a dozen or so women.
But by the turn of the twentieth century, vagina piercings were front and center in the public eye as celebrities like Janet Jackson and Christina Aguilera publicly discussed their bejeweled parts and the heightened pleasure they experienced. Now, while it is certainly still provocative and edgy, female genital piercing has become somewhat more mainstream as more women experiment with their sexual pleasure.
Even still, vaginal piercings are rare: a 2015 study revealed that while 72% of women have piercings, only 2% of them are on the genitals. It seems that genital piercings -- especially for women -- remain largely outside of modern social mores and are subject to a lot of misinformation. Horror stories abound of clitorises that were permanently damaged from a botched piercing job, and many women are still unclear about exactly what down there gets pierced anyway. Some lawmakers have even gone so far as to outlaw vaginal piercings as a form of female genital mutilation, and reports of doctors treating women with pierced genitals less than favorably are not uncommon.
Why, then, do women continue to bedazzle their most intimate parts? Well, for starters, the prospect of better sex and more intense orgasms is a hard incentive to pass up. Clitoral piercings, for example, almost always involve some part of the jewelry in direct contact with the clitoris, resulting in maximum sexual sensation. Similarly, nipple piercings can make nipples more sensitive, enhancing erotic pleasure. I, for one, was more than ready to take my clit piercing out for a test drive.
Honoring Your Sexuality with Genital Piercings
But for many women (including myself), genital piercings are about more than just better sex. They are also a powerful symbol of owning your body and your sexuality. Indeed, women around the world have reported that their intimate piercings have enhanced their self-esteem and sexual confidence. One woman states that after she got her nipples pierced, she “felt pretty invincible.” Another reveals that her genital piercing was a “declaration of independence, and freedom of expression, regardless of what anyone [else] thinks.” Still another regards her intimate jewelry as a way of “honoring [her] sexuality.”
I feel similarly. In a time when women are still made to feel ashamed of their bodies and of their desires, piercing your private parts feels like an act of rebellion, a small, personal “fuck you” to the patriarchy. Choosing to bejewel my vagina was for me and only me -- an homage to my body and to my femininity. It represents a beautiful, sexy secret that no one knows about -- unless I choose to reveal it.
Emily L. Johnson is a 26-year-old Atlanta native currently working in copywriting to fund her coffee shop and Etsy addictions. Fun facts about Emily include that she was in the Peace Corps, she has a mild obsession with unicorns, and that she makes really, really good grilled cheese sandwiches.