Body piercing, which is a form of body modification, is the practice of puncturing or cutting a part of the human body, creating an opening in which jewelry may be worn, or where an implant could be inserted.

Body piercing has a rich history that spans various cultures and eras. It originated in prehistoric times when people used bone, stone, or wood to pierce their bodies, particularly the ears. Egyptians adopted body piercing as a symbol of wealth and status, primarily practicing ear and nose piercing.  

The Romans also embraced it, with nipple piercings signifying masculinity and honor among soldiers. India had a longstanding tradition of nose piercing, often associated with marriage and female beauty. Indigenous cultures worldwide incorporated body piercing into their customs, often marking coming-of-age or spiritual rites. In the 20th century, body piercing experienced a resurgence linked to counterculture movements. It continued to evolve with standardized practices, safety regulations, and the rise of professional piercing studios.  

Today, body piercing is a mainstream form of self-expression, encompassing various piercings and body jewelry, influenced by pop culture and celebrities, and celebrated for its diverse cultural and aesthetic significance. Learn more about the history of body piercing to explore its cultural significance.

The word piercing can refer to the act or practice of body piercing, or to an opening in the body created by this act or practice. It can also, by metonymy, refer to the resulting decoration, or to the decorative jewelry used. Piercing implants alter body and/or skin profile and appearance (e.g. golden threads installed subdermal, platinum, titanium, or medical grade steel subdermal implants). Although the history of body piercing is obscured by widespread misinformation and by a lack of scholarly reference, ample evidence exists to document that it has been practiced in various forms by multiple sexes since ancient times throughout the world.

Ear piercing and nose piercing have been particularly widespread and are well represented in historical records and among grave goods. The oldest mummified remains ever discovered had earrings, attesting to the existence of the practice more than 5,000 years ago. Nose piercing is documented as far back as 1500 BCE. Piercings of these types have been reported globally, while lip and tongue piercings were historically found in African cultures and so many more but are actually from the Middle East. 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. The history of navel piercing is less clear. The practice of body piercing has waxed and waned in Western culture, but it has experienced an increase in popularity since World War II.

The reasons for piercing or not piercing are varied. Some people pierce for religious or spiritual reasons, while others pierce for self-expression, aesthetic value, sexual pleasure, to conform to their culture, or rebel against it. Some forms of piercing remain controversial, particularly when applied to youth. Schools, employers, and religious groups have restricted the display or placement of piercings. In spite of the controversy, some people have practiced extreme forms of body piercing, with Guinness bestowing World Records on individuals with hundreds and even thousands of permanent and temporary piercings.

Contemporary body piercing practices emphasize the use of safe body piercing materials, frequently utilizing specialized tools developed for the purpose. Body piercing is an invasive procedure with some risks, including allergic reaction, infection, excessive scarring, and unanticipated physical injuries, but such precautions as sanitary piercing procedures and careful aftercare are emphasized to minimize the likelihood of encountering serious problems. The healing time required for a body piercing may vary widely according to placement, from as little as a month for some genital piercings to as much as two full years for the navel.

Some piercings may be more complicated, leading to rejection.


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