Aim. The purpose of this paper is to report the findings of a study exploring factors associated with female and male intimate body piercing, with particular emphasis on health issues.
Background. Nipple and genital piercings (intimate piercings) have become common types of body art. Scant medical and nursing literature is available, leading to little understanding of these body modifications by health care providers.
Method. A convenience sample of intimately pierced individuals (63 women and 83 men) from 29 states in the United States of America was surveyed via an author-developed questionnaire. Questions focused on demographic characteristics, decision factors and health problems related to intimate piercings. Self-reported characteristics were compared between female and male participants, and participants were compared demographically to United States general population.
Results. Participants reported wearing nipple piercings (43%), genital piercings (25%) and both types (32%). Respondents were significantly younger, less ethnically diverse, better educated, less likely to be married, more often homosexual or bisexual and they initiated sexual activity at a younger age than the US population. Deliberate, individual decisions for procurement of the intimate piercings were made. Average purchase consideration was at age 25 (nipple) and 27 (genital); average age to obtain the piercing was 27 (nipple) and 28 (genital) years. Purposes for obtaining the piercings included uniqueness, self-expression and sexual expression. Most participants still liked their piercing (73–90%). Health concerns related to intimate piercings were described by both those with nipple piercings (66%) and with genital piercings (52%) and included site sensitivity, skin irritation, infection and change in urinary flow (male genital). Few STDs (3%) were reported and no HIV or hepatitis. Usually non-medical advice was sought for problems – often from the body piercer.
Conclusions. Understanding client rationale is not a necessary prerequisite for providing quality patient care; however, awareness of purposes and decision-making in intimate piercing can help nurses to be sensitive to client needs and plan appropriate health education.