Horrific Things You Only See As A Professional Body Piercer
WARNING: The following contains descriptions, but not photos, of graphic genital piercing mishaps. Your children should not be allowed to read this. Unless you're trying to talk them out of a piercing, we suppose.
Yes, today we're talking to a couple of professional piercers -- "Lindsay" and "Greg" -- to learn about the challenges of the professional "stab someone and then stick stuff in the wound" industry. Spoiler: When piercings go wrong, it gets ugly.
You Correct A Lot Of Gross Amateur Mistakes
If you or a loved one has a piercing horror story, you learned the hard way that piercers range from dedicated lifelong pros to uninterested teens whose training boils down to "Aim gun, pull trigger, hustle customer out of store if an unusual amount of blood emerges." Well, the former often get stuck fixing the gruesome mistakes of the latter. Or, even worse, the do-it-yourself piercers.
"Are you sure a kebab skewer is right for this?"
"They go through meat, don't they? Now go get my mouthwash so we can sterilize this."
Lindsay describes her old duties at a Claire's as "about the same amount of work as stapling papers, only with more screaming." Now, in her big-girl establishment, she often has to explain the quasi-mystical concept of "infections" to walking examples of bad judgment. If your mom ever told you about getting her ears pierced by a friend wielding an ice cube and a safety pin, she'll be thrilled to hear that those days aren't gone.
Lindsay says, "I had one girl, about 15, who had this giant hole that was still infected. I jokingly asked, 'What did you use? A thumbtack and rubbing alcohol?' She sat up and said, 'Yeah, how did you know?' Her earlobe is probably permanently bulged."
Which, to be fair, is totes punk.
Lindsay now has an intimate knowledge of anatomy. "Since pros pierce anywhere, we need to know if we are about to touch a nerve or punch out a blood vessel. When I was trained, it took a year. I would mark where I wanted to pierce and the person training me would say something like, 'That's a major vessel.' It was like a graphic version of Operation."
She also deals with good old-fashioned regret, because sometimes getting 17 skull piercings and insisting that all your friends call you Pinhead doesn't have lasting appeal. "I'd say about every fourth person is coming in for a piercing to be removed. Many are college kids who went down to Mexico, got one, then regretted it," she says.
"It keeps letting the light in when I'm trying to sleep."
Pros aren't infallible themselves. Hey, even the best surgeons occasionally lose one on the operating table. "Every piercer will eventually make a mistake. Like with two nose piercings I had -- I scraped the bone cartilage on the inside. It was hard to keep them from moving too much since it hurts like hell. I've hit tiny veins, and blood can really pool out like a never-ending nosebleed. A minor ear vein nick can end up looking like a scene from Saw."
But it's customer mishap that does the most damage. "One woman who came in actually had two earlobes since it split open when her kid yanked on her hoop earring and it tore down," she says. So if you've got a kid who wants piercings and you don't approve, just substitute "her kid" for "your bully" in that story and they'll stop bugging you for a while.
"Do you really want a torn ear and to give that asshole free gold in the process?"
Most mishaps occur well after the piercing -- healing takes months, and that's a long time to wait considering most people get impatient halfway through microwaving a Hot Pocket. Nipple piercings are especially problematic, although maybe don't share this story with your kid unless you've already had "the birds and bees who are into nipple play" conversation. One of Lindsay's customers "had both nipples done, and within a few months it became part of her [sexual] routine, despite my warning. He yanked too hard and it ripped off. I visited her in the hospital. It looked like she was shot. It healed, but her nipple is misshapen now."
Greg has a nipple story too, because something about them just seems to bring out the odd customers. "I had one client, after I'd done one he reached over to my tray, grabbed a needle, and pierced the second one himself. I have no idea why. As far as I could tell he wasn't fucked up on anything."
You Pierce So Many Genitals
People get genital piercings for a variety of reasons -- some want an intimate secret, others want erotic stimulation, and a select few want to wave their pierced dick at their partner and declare, "I am RoboCock. Dead or alive, you're coming with me, if you know what I mean."
Immediately followed by, "No wait, please don't leave!"
Whatever the motivation, genital piercings make up a lot of Lindsay and Greg's work. From the (links NSFW) Prince Albert, which is like a nose ring for your dong, to the Nefertiti, which goes in above the labia and comes out the clitoral hood, genital piercings have a long and storied history of being named after historical figures who almost certainly never had them. Lindsay explained the unique challenges of punching holes in places were most people are very satisfied with the current number of holes.
"Penises are easier, since you can see all the veins and I don't have to feel around as much," she says. "I have accidentally given customers an erection and I have to wait for it to die down. Usually explaining how I'm going to pierce it does it, because needles are not exactly a turn-on."
Or at least they aren't a turn-on more than once.
A needle through the ear or nose, when done properly, is no more painful than getting a needle at the doctor's. But getting a needle through your junk is exactly as painful as everyone crossing their legs right now thinks it is. "The first guy I did just got out of the Marines. With a Prince Albert you need to take a needle, pierce the skin under the penis tip, into the urethra and out through the top, with the stud going in after. I was doing it right, but it was so painful that he started to scream. There's a point in some piercings where the customer realizes 'This isn't natural. Stop it!' and for genital piercings there are greater chances of people physically trying to get out midway."
Because fucking duh.
Vaginal piercings are generally easier, but threading a piece of metal through the flesh like you've seriously misunderstood the concept of flossing can be troublesome for reasons anyone who's owned or examined a vagina can probably guess for themselves. "Some types, like the Nefertiti, go through a lot of the body and can take a long time needling through. Women getting pierced won't complain as much as guys, but more get cold feet in the middle of the procedure," Lindsay says.
So, exactly who's getting genital piercings? Hardcore metalheads? People who spend their weekends at Eyes Wide Shut-style cult-orgies? Not according to Greg. "A lot of the people that come in for genital or nipple piercings tend to be teachers, lawyers -- more respectable professions," he says.
The statistics agree with him. Most men with genital piercings are educated, monogamous, straight, and middle-aged, so feel free to imagine your dentist getting some drilling done himself the next time you visit him. One client in particular stood out to Greg:
"There was a guy who came in one day saying that 'Jeffrey' wanted to get a piercing. I figured he meant his kid, or the guy was kind of schizophrenic, and it turned out Jeffrey was his penis. During the piercing, he let out the most bloodcurdling scream I've ever heard. He asked me for another bib, because he wanted to wrap it around his church pants -- he was going to church after his piercing. Within the next few weeks he came in to get a scrotum piercing, then waited about four or five months and came in to get them stretched."
So maybe it's not surprising that ...
You Pierce Everyone From Infants To The Elderly
Lindsay told us that the elderly get pierced a lot more than you'd expect, assuming you had the reasonable expectation of almost never. "Once they're retired, many older people just don't give a fuck," she says. "The reasoning I'm getting from many is because piercing was never really acceptable decades ago; they now want to do it. I'm piercing elderly guys' ears mostly, but I also get 70-plus women wanting their nips pierced. A lot of women in their 70s or 80s get a little nose piercing. Quite a few tell me they always wanted it, their husband wouldn't let them, but their husband just died."
If you're getting back into the dating scene at 80, you might as well have some fun with it.
Lindsay's strangest request came from a woman in her 70s who wanted a labia piercing, presumably so she could let her sewing circle know who the hell was in charge. "It blew my mind that she knew what it was, let alone wanted it. It took longer than usual -- piercing the elderly is pretty hard to do; their skin is saggier and sometimes thinner -- but I got it done. And she was overjoyed."
Remember that story the next time you visit grandma -- there could be a lot of interesting things under that old-fashioned dress of hers. On the other end of the spectrum, professional piercers meet a lot of new parents who want to have the toughest little tyke in preschool. While piercing an infant's ears is legal, pros are split. Greg says no, citing that he doesn't want to deal with crying babies. But Lindsay doesn't object. "Our rough-looking shop doesn't scream 'baby friendly,' but San Diego has a large Hispanic population, and many Hispanic families hold piercing babies' ears as being traditional."
It remains controversial, with some saying it's traditional and harmless and others arguing that it's cruel, and some of us just worrying that the next generation is getting cooler than us way too fast.
Look at her. She knows how cool she is.
Controversy aside, Lindsay explains that it's not exactly easy money. "They squirm around a lot, and they are going to cry. Those bloodcurdling shrieks can get to you, so the piercer really needs to focus 100 percent." So maybe think twice before opening Li'l Badasses Piercing.
Don't Trust Piercing Guns Or Nickel Piercings
If you're planning on getting pierced, remember that not all equipment is equal. Piercing guns are appealing for teenage mall employees because they're simple and fast, but Greg explains, getting shot with one is almost as undesirable as getting shot with an actual gun. "They can't be properly cleaned or sterilized. Guns also cause trauma to the tissue, because they force a pretty blunt-ended stud through your flesh, which just pushes all the tissue to the side."
Everyone from the Association of Professional Piercers to the heavily modded badasses at Good Housekeeping back Greg up on that -- guns aren't sanitary or effective. Single-use needles, meanwhile, are hygienic. "They actually remove the flesh you're piercing -- less trauma, faster healing time," Greg says. Plus they just look cooler.
Then there's nickel, a nemesis that's taunted us for far too long. Lindsay explained why you should avoid any piercings made of it. "Most first piercings usually go with the cheapest thing available: nickel. Nickel allergies are pretty common. Even if you're not allergic, nickel tends to have tiny imperfections in it due to its cheapness, and that carries bacteria. But if you're allergic? Expect a blotchy and oozy infection."
About 17 percent of women and 3 percent of men have a nickel allergy, so don't try to beat the odds -- spring for a better, less sexist metal. And don't mistake uncleanliness for character -- Lindsay's customers compare her store to a hospital room. Dives may have plenty of character and interesting stories, but you don't want someone performing what's essentially a miniature surgery on you with their "character." That's a good way to get blood poisoning, skin infections, hepatitis, HIV, or a weird-looking bit of flesh that will definitely get you made fun of at school.
"Are they wearing surgical masks? Latex gloves? Do they have first-aid training? If the answer is no to any, that's a giant warning sign," she says. "I saw one guy in Mexico performing a piercing where his bare hand touched [the hole the needle made]. That's like poking an open wound -- you don't do that! Make sure it's just like a clinic."
Just one whose employees have a smidge more personality than usual.
And once you've decided on only the finest clinic and metal to make it look like your boner is lifting weights when you waggle it up and down, keep in mind that ...
Piercings Can Stop You From Peeing Straight (And Cause Other Long-Term Damage)
If you're a guy and want to get your dick pierced, that's between you and any sexual partners you want to impress with your dong's pain tolerance. But take a moment to consider Lindsay's warning that you might lose your ability to shoot straight (that's another link that's super NSFW). "I've [seen] some pretty horrifying long-term effects," she says. "Over time, the new urethra hole will grow loose, causing urine to come out of the hole. Guys have to sit down to pee for life after that."
Have fun learning the true horror of Porta-Pottys, guys! Lindsay's also seen tongue piercings go sideways, and not in the cool stylistic way you were asking for. "That new piercing will chip teeth and really fuck up your mouth years later. When I gave additional piercings to a person who had a tongue piercing their mouth looked like they were a meth binger."
Turns out your gums really don't like being constantly pummeled by a metal stud.
In Greg's experience, tongue piercings and lip rings will crack at least one tooth nine times out of 10. And those are the piercings from qualified professionals. If you're thinking of getting the used-needle discount at Back Alley Bob's Piercing Shed, well, Lindsay has another fun horror story for you:
"One girl had just come back from Tijuana with an ear cartilage piercing, and it had ballooned out -- it was this brownish lump of blood. I sent her to the doctor. A year later she [came in for] a piercing. I wouldn't even know it was her, but she told me how she was here before. Her upper ear was drooped down from the cartilage damage like a border collie -- it never healed right. I'm not saying this to scare anyone away, since these only happen if you are careless. A ripped nipple or earlobe can be fixed. But teeth won't, and dicks are hard to patch up."
Without the fur, this really isn't a good look.
Tijuana infections, in addition to being the name of our punk band, are among the most common reasons people want Lindsay to remove a complicated piercing. If you get something complex done by an amateur, it shouldn't come as a surprise when it ends badly, which is both common sense and the official judicial ruling in Cracked Backyard Bear Jousting v. Angry Customers. "Some places might not clean out your ears first or will sometimes forget to clean equipment, leading to mini piercing-disease outbreaks."
Piercing disease, aside from being the name of our other punk band, can become an outbreak when a "shifty mall kiosk" quality establishment fails to practice the un-punk but important ritual of hygiene.
And there's one final possible side effect you should be aware of ...
There's Still A Huge Social Bias Against Piercings
Good piercers don't want impulsive customers who are going to come back two weeks later to have the piercing removed: They'll leave those customers for that little shop in the bar district, Regrets You Won't Remember Piercings. At Lindsay's shop they repeatedly ask people if they're sure they want to go ahead before they sign the paperwork, and even that doesn't completely eliminate regrets.
"I'm just saying, a full corset piercing is a pretty big commitment."
"I get several people who remove because of ridicule," she says. "Some teenagers are threatened with being kicked out of the house until they remove it. Many are also told by their work to get rid of it. I once removed an eyelid piercing off a patent attorney the day after I gave him it because everyone [at his firm] lost their shit and didn't think it was professional."
He should have seen it coming; one survey found that 37 percent of managers would hesitate to promote someone with a piercing, although 37 percent of managers are also probably squares you wouldn't want to work for anyway. Another survey found that 39 percent of people think visible tattoos and piercings reflect poorly on an employer, so be prepared for some snarky eye-rolls if you work with the public. But the real surprise is that even hidden piercings can cause unforeseen problems.
"One guy was a head sales rep," Lindsay says. "A few days after I gave him a Prince Albert, he and other reps flew to Acapulco for a conference. He kept the piercing in since it takes several weeks for it to heal. At the airport it tripped off the metal detector and he missed his flight because none of the security guards believed you could even get a piercing there."
Marking the one and only instance where airport security might prefer it was a concealed knife.
"He had to tell everyone why he was held up, and once he got there he was a pariah. No one who worked for him respected him anymore -- clients found out and wanted someone who didn't [pierce their genitals]. I hear about a piercing causing a work or personal problem at least once a week."
Let that be a lesson, kids: Sometimes, no matter what you hear about tolerance and the freedom to express yourself, people are going to give you funny looks if they know you have a dick piercing. Time your flights accordingly.
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, writer, and interview finder guy for the Personal Experience team. If you have an awesome experience/job you want to share, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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