Like tattoos, body piercing has an extensive history across both ancient and modern cultures. While it is not uncommon for youth to decide that they want their ears pierced (once or multiple times), other youth choose less conventional piercing locations such as tongues, noses, belly buttons, or even intimate body parts, such as genitalia and nipples. Any body part can be pierced where a flap of skin can be punctured with a hole and fitted with a post, rod, hoop, or other piece of jewelry. Most piercings are created when an electric-powered "gun" quickly punctures the skin and a piece of jewelry is simultaneously inserted into the hole just created.
As with tattoos, many states have laws about teens and body piercings. Many states require youth to be 18 years old to get piercings or for parents to be present during piercings. As with decisions regarding tattoos, parents can be an important resource for their children to make an informed decision about piercings. Parents can help their teens weigh the benefits they hope to receive, with risks of body piercings. Some body locations carry greater risks than others. For instance, tongue piercings can be more difficult to care for, may take longer to heal, and carry a greater risk of infection. All piercing can be dangerous if not performed by a qualified professional.
Youth may desire body piercings for a variety of reasons. For some youth, body piercing provides them a way to adorn their body and to enhance their appearance. Others are interested in body piercing as a way to express their independence, to stand-out from the crowd, and even to shock people or call attention to themselves. Still others are trying to fit in with a group of peers who are attracted to body piercings. Sometimes they want to do this just so they can have a shared experience with their peers, or they may worry that their friends won't respect them as much if they don't get the piercing.
Sometimes youth feel pressure from friends or romantic partners to get a particular piercing. For instance, some young men will request their partners get tongue piercings in order to enhance their own sexual pleasure during oral sex. While it is natural to want to fit in with friends, or to please a romantic partner, modifying one's body simply to please someone else is rather extreme. If parents have any concern that their child is considering a piercing because of general peer pressure or demands from a particular friend or partner, parents should discuss these concerns with their child. Just as parents would help youth consider the potential benefits and consequences of piercing in general, parents can help their youth think about the potential benefits and pitfalls of getting a piercing simply to please someone else. Parents can ask their youth questions in a non-judgmental manner, to help youth to evaluate their interest in piercing and the reasons for that interest. For example, "Do you think you would still want that piercing if things between you and John don't work out?" "Suppose your friend Carmen was in the same situation and Anthony was pressuring her to change her body, when she wasn't sure if she wanted to make this change. How would you help Carmen make a good decision for herself?" If parents suspect that their youth is considering a mouth piercing for the purpose of oral sex, parents should educate the youth about the increased risk of sexually transmitted infections due to the piercing compromising the protective skin layer of the tongue and possible open mouth wounds or abrasions from the tongue jewelry.
Unlike tattoos, body piercings are usually not permanent. If a youth gets a piercing and then dislikes it, they can simply remove the jewelry in the piercing and the hole will eventually grow closed again on its own. However, because piercings and the jewelry can be quite expensive, this would be a rather costly mistake to make. Similarly parents and youth should also check to be sure certain piercing placements do not violate school or employment dress codes. Because new piercings can close very quickly (sometimes within a few hours), youth cannot simply remove the jewelry during school or work hours. Again, this lack of planning could result in a costly mistake.
Infection is the greatest risk to piercings. If piercings are not performed by a qualified professional, adhering to strict hygienic procedures, serious infections can be spread from one client to the next, including HIV, Hepatitis, and Tetanus. Even if the piercing is performed hygienically, infections still can occur. This is because the skin is the body's armor against infectious agents from entering the body. Thus, piercing this armor increases the risk of infection. Following a piercing procedure, youth will receive very specific instructions about how to care and clean the pierced area. If youth do not faithfully follow these instructions they will most like acquire an infection. Piercing infections are especially common in nose and tongue piercings. This is because the nose and mouth are places in the body that already harbor many, many germs.
Aside from infection, youth also risk uncontrollable bleeding at the time of piercing as well as nerve damage if a piercing is put in the wrong place. Youth can also develop abscesses or boils and excessive inflammation after the piercing. If youth ever decide to remove a piercing, some piercings may not heal perfectly and leave scarring. Furthermore, mouth piercings can have secondary physical side effects. The metal in the mouth can cause dental problems, like chipped teeth, as well as gum problems.
If a youth decides to get a piercing after weighing the perceived benefits and risks to piercing, they need to make sure they are getting the safest piercing possible. It's important to pick a reputable piercing artist or store for the piercing. Teens should never allow their friends to pierce them, nor should they go to any other "underground" piercer, as these people are less likely to follow the proper hygienic procedures and other safety standards. Piercing artists should always use medical gloves for the procedure and should use a fresh, one-time-use, pre-packaged needle and a sterilized piece of jewelry for each piercing. Artists should also wash their hands before and after each piercing as well as sterilize their work space and properly dispose of used needles, gloves, and other waste.
After the piercing, youth must be extremely careful to follow the aftercare instructions provided by the piercing technician. Most piercings will need to be frequently cleaned throughout the day, often for several weeks in order to prevent infection. The jewelry piece will need to regularly rotated to prevent skin tissue from attaching to the metal post, rod, or hoop that was inserted through the skin. The exact piercing care will depend on the type and location of the piercing. Youth also need to pay attention to the piercing for any warning signs of infection. If youth develop a fever, or experience a significant increase in pain, redness, inflammation, or pus, they should visit their family doctor to have the piercing site examined.