Kegel exercises, vagina facials, and adult novelties are proven ways to enhance sexual pleasure, but what about piercings? Can putting a ring on your genitals really lead to lasting pleasure in the bedroom? I decided to investigate.

The Origins of Body Piercings

“Intimacy piercings” seemed to go mainstream in the 90s, with celebrities like Tommy Lee allegedly sporting a Prince Albert. Although Lee’s has never been seen publicly, he once said, “Unless you've got a bolt through your genitals, you're not making it in the 90s.” Then in 2011, Lady Gaga went viral as “Lady Labia” after debuting a vaginal piercing in an accidental slip.

Genital piercings are nothing new; they’ve actually been around for centuries. Though the exact origins remain unknown, the earliest reference to penile piercings and sexual pleasure is in the Kama Sutra, which dates back to the second century.

In it, Vatsyayana wrote about apadravyas, which can be dildos or piercings that pass through the glans. Either way, the purpose is the same: The man puts them “on or around the lingam [penis] to supplement its length or its thickness, so as to fit it to the yoni [vagina].” As for piercings, he writes that “the people of the southern countries think that true sexual pleasure cannot be obtained without perforating the lingam, and they therefore cause it to be pierced.” Moreover, he adds that apadravyas should be soft, cool, well fitting, and sexually provocative in order to get the job done.

Anatomically speaking, men have ample space for genital piercings with at least eight different styles. The rates of piercings in men has steadily increased in time, and 2 percent of men and 0.8 percent of women between the ages 18 and 50 have at least one. The most common in males is the Prince Albert.

Although men have more sites capable of being pierced, women tend to report a greater number of general body piercings. Perhaps this is because it’s more socially acceptable for women to wear jewelry compared to men.

As with penile piercings, the origin of clitoral hood piercings isn’t exactly understood. The majority of female genital piercings are located in the labia and clitoral hood. The amount of tissue in the vagina determines where the genital piercings are placed.

Belly button piercing
Belly button piercing. Butz.2013, CC BY 2.0

“We are restricted in various choices of piercing location by our anatomy,” Cindy Barshop, sexpert and founder of VSPOT MediaSpa, told Medical Daily. “For instance, while piercing the clitoris is possible, it is rare that a person actually has a clitoris large enough to accommodate. The labia majora and minora can also be pierced with single or multiple rings.”

No Pain, No Gain — In Pleasure?

Beyond aesthetics, men and women get genital piercings to enhance their sexual arousal. But let’s be honest: putting a hole in your hoo-ha is obviously painful — initially, at least.

Typically, men opt for the Prince Albert because it is also believed to please their partner. That piercing is traditionally placed through the underside of the shaft, toward the head of the penis. A piercing needle is passed up into the urethra, followed by jewelry, which then sticks out the other side. It’s most likely to stimulate a female partner during doggy style, since this position puts the ball of the piercing in direct contact with the woman's G-spot.

For women, clitoral hood piercings are commonly put in vertically or horizontally. Most go vertical with a surgical steel bar running perpendicularly through the covering of skin that protects the clitoris. One steel ball at the end of the bar can be seen, while the other rests on top of the clitoris under the little skin flap .

Meanwhile, the horizontal piercing is placed in the tissue directly above the clitoris. Because it touches the clitoris, the vertical piercing is the more sexually stimulating of the two, Barshop said.

A 2005 study from the University of South Alabama found vertical clitoral hood piercings do increase female sexual satisfaction and desire. Piercing the hood in either direction lifts the skin and enhances the sensitivity and stimulation of the clitoris during sex. Vertical piercings can also help women who have difficulty reaching orgasm. In a case study, a woman was able to climax daily after adorning her clitoris with jewelry.

Genital Piercings and Health Risks

Some people avoid intimate piercings because it’s rumored that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and genital piercings go hand in hand.

In a 2005 study involving 146 men and women with intimate piercings, researchers found only 3 percent contracted an STI after getting pierced. Similarly, another study of 445 men with genital piercings found only 12 percent reported contracting an STI prior to their piercing, while 18 percent reported STIs after being pierced. It should be said that for both studies, participants might not have been tested regularly, or reported their health histories accurately.

The rate of STIs isn’t as high as expected, but these piercings are prone to other risks. Piercers commonly report health complications including skin irritation, non-sexual infections, and ripping or tearing of skin on the piercing site. Moreover, jewelry can poke a hole in a condom or dislocate a diaphragm, so it’s always a good idea to use extra protection when having sex.

Types of piercings
Types of piercings. Wikimedia Commons

The reality is, when you create an opening in the body, there is a chance of infection. Vaginal piercings can lead to bleeding, scarring, or an allergic reaction, while piercing behind the clitoris may interfere with blood flow and affect the ability to get erect.

Nevertheless, more than half of women and almost half of men with genital piercings report no complications at all. The most frequently reported complications are related to urinary flow for men and hypersensitivity of the piercing site for women. Despite their placement, these piercings do not increase pregnancy or delivery-related problems.

Although there are certain risks associated with genital piercings, the majority of piercers are happy with their decision. For this group, the perceived sexual benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Piercings and Sex: The Verdict

Before booking an appointment with a piercer to put a ring on it, keep in mind that sexual arousal is subjective. It’s not a one-size-fits-all quick fix for your sexual woes. A Prince Albert or a bar through the clitoral hood seems like a hip and alternative way to enhance sexual pleasure, but are the pros worth the potentially harmful cons?

Before sending your nether regions to get pierced, get familiar with the risks and read up on the safety precautions that should be taken afterward, such as maintaining genital hygiene and avoiding unprotected and rough sex during healing. Even when you’ve mustered up the courage to get one, you may not have the right anatomy for it. Some women do not have a large enough clitoris to accommodate the piercing, nor enough skin in the inner and outer labia, should they want to pierce them.

The idea that a piece of jewelry can give our sex lives a boost may seem like a hot idea, and many people certainly entertain the thought of getting one. After all, we've become a nation of eager beavers, rushing to try gimmicks and potentially absurd ideas just to achieve better sex. But maybe it would be better if we just showed our partners outright what we want in the bedroom.

Genital piercings are clearly for the bold and daring.They're a way to spice up our sex lives, but not the only way. No piece of jewelry will guarantee sexual pleasure or better orgasms without actual effort from the people involved in the sexual activity.