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Body piercing

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 01 January 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:00011627
  1. Henry Ferguson, editor, Body Art1
  1. 1PO Box 32, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk NR29 5RD

Body piercing has been practised in almost every society as far back as it is possible to trace, but it has usually been confined to the ears, mouth, and nose. Notable exceptions are the practice of piercing the glans penis with a bone by a few tribes in Borneo, and the mention of penis jewellery in the Karma Sutra (probably through the foreskin). Discussion of female nipple jewellery in Victorian journals implies that this is not a completely modern idea, but most of the stories about the origins of piercings, such as the idea that Prince Albert wore a penis ring to tie his member down and prevent an offensive bulge in the breeches, are modern myths.

In fact, most of the names given to piercings are made up. This was revealed in an interview with Jim Ward,1 a piercer who in the late 1970s started Piercing Fans International Quarterly and making Gauntlet body piercing jewellery, all of which was financed by his friend Doug Molloy. It seems that Molloy felt that piercing needed a bit more romance surrounding it. He invented a wide selection of names and histories to make it more interesting, and now that they have appeared in print the names have become accepted as fact. Ward continued: since his death I have tried to do some research [but] the only two piercings with any verifiable history are the ampallang and the apadravya. He even made up a history of some of the piercings. For example, based on a piece of sculpture he had seen at Versailles, he claimed that Roman centurions wore their short capes attached to nipple rings, [whereas] in all likelihood, the rings were in the breast plate, not the men. [His comment was that] it didn't matter since it made a good …

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