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Dr. P by Dr. Pranzarone

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“Dear Dr. P., Do tongue and genital piercings really enhance sexual pleasure? Are they safe and worth it?”

Rosanna Arquette’s character in “Pulp Fiction” explains her new tongue piercing with, “It makes oral sex more interesting.” Whether this is true is relatively subjective. To paraphrase the old saying, “It’s not whether the tongue is pierced or not, but how you use it.” Genitals or nipples which are pierced, as in Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl revelation with a nipple shield ornament, may or may not be sensitized to enhance erotosexual sensations. Many persons with genital jewelry claim easier achievement of orgasm—but a few don’t. Because of the increasingly popular trend of piercing and tattooing the body—including genitals, nipples and mouth parts, the health safety of body ornamentation must be examined.

First, be certain that any piercing or tattoos are done by someone who is trained to use sterile technique. Needles for piercing or tattooing should be disposable for one-time use only. Any kind of piercing of the tongue, lip, labrette, and any tattooing at all can significantly increase the risk of contracting the HIV virus. A tongue piercing, especially, has a long healing period and the process of removing and replacing the stud or ring often reopens the site so that an open bleeding lesion occurs. This is a pathway for the HIV virus to enter the circulation. An unhealed, scabbed tattoo site is also a route for infection.

I was once asked in Human Sexuality class, “Should I floss before sex?” This was actually a valuable, rather than flippant or joke question. I responded that if you considered the gum cuts that occur with a vigorous flossing, the answer should be “No!” Flossing is not safe, particularly if oral sex were to be part of the sexual interaction. The bleeding that occurs with flossing, and with an unhealed piercing, would indicate an open lesion through which the HIV virus, present in semen and to a lesser degree in vaginal fluids, can enter and infect the body.

Genital or nipple piercings also may become injured and bleed if the ornaments are roughly displaced or disturbed during sex. In a few cases, the rings or studs are torn completely free of the tissue, with bleeding the result. In an infected person, the HIV-tainted blood would be dangerous to the partner; conversely, the wounded area in an HIV-negative person presents an opportunity for infection. The conclusion is that whatever the supposed enhancement in sexual sensation a piercing may provide, the risk for HIV infection greatly increases.

Stigmatophilia, or a strong love or interest in tattooing, piercing or branding, is often a paraphilia in which attraction and sexual excitement depends on the process of piercing or tattooing one’s body, or on having a partner pierced or tattooed, especially in the erogenous zones. In some individuals, the activity can become obsessive or addictive, with numerous piercings and tattoos being sought sequentially with ever increasing frequency. The mechanism behind this is the rush produced by the endorphins secreted by the brain whenever we are subjected to pain. Endorphins are the brain’s own opiates and provide the same pain relief and euphoric pleasurable sensations produced by morphine, heroin or OxyContin. We may become addicted, according to Richard Solomon (1974, 1980) by an “opponent-process” that, over repeated exposure, converts a noxious or painful stimulus into one which provides pleasure and excited euphoria. The opponent-process converts a stimulus that is initially pleasurable into sensations that are experienced as aversive or unpleasant. This is the neurological basis for the sexual subculture that involves sadomasochism (S&M). In most S&M scenarios, the supposed “masochist” is actually the one who controls the limits of the scene and experiences enhanced pleasure, euphoria and orgasms. Piercing, tattooing or branding is often considered a part of the S&M scene, for this reason.

The first piercings or tattoos are often the result of peer conformity, rebellion, or curiosity. These initial ones hurt! As subsequent piercing, tattoo or body modifications are experienced, these tend to hurt less and less, but the euphoria following the procedure increases. The anticipation of the procedure becomes a stimulus for the flow of endorphins. People get excitedly high before, during, and after the piercing or tattooing. Sometime later, there occurs a craving for a new body modification. These can become extreme and truly bizarre with persons voluntarily hanging suspended by hooks through their flesh (bmezine.com).

Stigmatically yours,

Dr. P