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Sexual Wellness

The Truth About Nipple and Vulva Piercings

| 10/26/2021

Image shows two breasts against a pink background with purple barbells through the nipples. Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

From nipple clamps and group sex to anal beads and double penetration, all the way to remote-controlled dick cages, you’ve done it all. Now you’re ready to up the ante with a long-term bodily fixture: a nipple or vulva piercing.

For some, a nipple or genital piercing isn’t always about enhanced sexual pleasure. For sexual trauma survivors, nipple and vulva piercings can symbolize reclaiming one’s body — a constant sensory reminder that your body is yours, and yours alone. For non-binary and transgender people, getting a vulva or clit piercing might feel gender euphoric.

And, of course, a nipple or vulva piercing can add an extra layer or sex appeal. If you’re on the verge of getting one, you’re probably wondering: Is it worth it? How badly is it going to hurt? What can go wrong? Are there any new positions that my partner and I can try after getting my piercing?

These are all very important questions. Here’s a step-by-step guide to nipple and vulva piercings to help answer them.

Nipple piercings 101

Sported by celebs like Rihanna, Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner, nipple piercings are becoming more and more popular. They’re considered one of the most painful piercings by some, though others think they’re “totally tolerable.” All nipple shapes — inverted, flat, or raised — can be pierced, especially if you go to an experienced piercer.

Barbells are recommended for first-timers because they don’t move around as much as nipple rings, which can prolong healing time. Titanium is a budget-friendly option for jewelry, but you can also splurge on solid gold or platinum rings for a few hundred dollars. Each piercer has their own twist on aftercare recommendations, but generally, you need to wash your pierced nipples with soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) and water every day in the shower to prevent infection.

Once the piercing heals, you can change the jewelry yourself, but do it quickly. Nipple piercings can close in mere minutes, and you might have to have to get your nipple pierced all over again if it does close. You can always see your piercer again and ask them to switch jewelry out for you.

Healing takes 9 to 12 months, but you don’t necessarily have to wait until it’s completely healed to start playing with them during sex. Make sure you and your partner always wash your hands before sex to avoid infection. Nipples can become more sensitive because of all the nerve endings that get stimulated by the piercing once it’s in place. Besides physical sensation, having more pronounced nipples might make you feel sexier, creating a placebo effect. In some cases, nipple sensitivity isn’t affected at all.

Here’s how your anatomy dictates the kind of vulva piercings you can get

First of all, let’s scrub the colloquial phrase “clit piercings” from our vocabulary, unless we’re talking about an actual clitoral glans piercing. A clitoral glans piercing is pretty rare because not everyone has the anatomy to make this piercing work. The clitoris needs to be large and exposed to be a suitable candidate for a clitoral glans piercing. People who have been on testosterone for over one year are ideal candidates because the change in hormones causes clitoral growth (aka “bottom growth”).

Most genital piercings, however, are actually placed around the clitoris, on different parts of the vulva, to increase stimulation during sex. The most common kind of vulva piercing is The Vertical Clitoral Hood Piercing (VCH) using a barbell with two beads on either end. With a VCH, the barbell passes vertically through fine tissue of the clitoral hood, leaving the clitoris sandwiched between the two beads. Angel tells Mindbodygreen, “I’ve had plenty of clients say their ear or nose piercing was worse.”

This type of piercing works really well because it follows the vertical anatomy of the vulva. It takes 4 to 8 weeks to heal completely. Like all piercings, it’s recommended to let it heal completely before having sex. Having sex too early can result in tearing the piercing out accidentally (Ouch!).

Here are a few other kinds of vulva piercings and their respective healing times:

  • The Triangle Piercing is done by piercing the tissue behind the clitoral shaft, putting a post at the base of the clitoral hood. Another rare piercing, this feat requires the right anatomy — clitoral tissue that you can pinch away from your body with your thumb and pointer finger. This piercing engages the entire clitoral shaft, resulting in more intense clitoral stimulation, especially as a result of doggy-style. A triangle piercing takes 12 to 18 weeks to heal completely.
  • The Horizontal Clitoral Hood Piercing (HCH) isn’t necessarily pleasure-enhancing, but it looks great. The piercing goes through a small bit of clitoral hood tissue. The jewelry rests on top of the clitoral hood, not the actual clit. An HCH piercing takes 6 to 8 weeks to heal completely.
  • The Princess Diana Piercing, aka The Duke Piercing for trans and enby folx, is similar to the VCH piercing that goes vertically through the clitoral hood, but done off to the side. Some people will even get one Diana/Duke piercing on each side, then a VCH in the middle for maximum sensory stimulation. A Diana/Duke piercing takes 4 to 8 weeks to heal.
  • The Fourchette Piercing is placed at the bottom entrance of the vagina, near the perineum. It can provide some sensation for a partner with a penis during penetration. Healing time takes 4 to 12 weeks.
  • The Christina Piercing is a vertical piercing that looks similar to a belly button piercing that goes through the mons pubis. With a lengthy healing time of 6 to 9 months, many piercers advise against this piercing because it can actually prevent people from experiencing pleasure in frontal positions like missionary or cowgirl.

What to expect at the piercing shop while getting a vulva piercing

First, your piercer will inspect your vulva carefully to see which types of piercings and jewelry will work best for your anatomy. To avoid risk of allergic reactions, make sure your jewelry is implant grade, or 14karat gold or higher. If you’re getting the VCH, your piercer will start by conducting a Q-Tip test.

Your piercer will sanitize and lubricate a Q-Tip and gently insert it into your clitoral hood to see if there’s enough space to conduct that piercing. A Q-Tip test may also be used for different kinds of piercings, such as the Princess Diana/Duke piercing. Your piercer will explain each step of the process to you to ensure minimal pain.

When it comes time for the actual piercing, hold! Still! Any sudden movements can cause serious damage to such a sensitive area, including temporary or permanent loss of sensation. Don’t leave without thorough aftercare instructions, which will differ based on the kind of piercing you get. If you change your mind within your healing period, return to your original piercer to get the jewelry removed. If you want to remove your piercing after the healing period, you can remove the jewelry by yourself.

So does a vulva piercing really increase sexual pleasure?

We asked sexual psychophysiologist Nicole Prause, PhD, who says, “There are no studies investigating whether piercings of those areas increase or decrease sensation, so it is difficult to advise.” Prause adds that people should wait for the piercings to heal completely before having sex to reduce the risk of infection — or worse, accidentally pulling the piercing out and damaging sensitive tissue on the vulva.

“Anecdotally, I have heard from clients with long-term piercings who believe that the piercing caused them to become more easily orgasmic,” says Prause, but she wonders whether it’s a physical sensation, or a placebo effect of feeling like “you did something ‘badass’ to your genitals.”

On the other hand, Elayne Angel, who has pierced thousands of people — sometimes up to 22 VCH piercings in a single day! — says that several of her clients who have previously experienced anorgasmia (continual difficulty or inability to experience an orgasm) were able to have an orgasm after getting a Triangle piercing.

Overall, pleasure enhancement is going to depend on where the piercing is placed, how well aftercare is performed, and what kind of jewelry you get. Picking the right piercer is key to this whole process. When picking a piercer, consider how many years of experience the piercer has and if they adequately address all of your concerns about getting a vulva or nipple piercing. In some cases, if you’re getting a rare piercing like the Clitoral Glans or the Triangle, your piercer might ask if it’s okay for other piercers to watch your session so that they can learn how to do it.

Unfortunately, there are very few accreditation and training programs for people who specialize in genital piercings. The Association of Professional Piercers is a great place to start, but make sure you do your research before getting a vulva piercing.

Ready, set, metal.

Now that you know what to expect from nipple and vulva piercings, here comes the fun part: adding new sexual play to your repertoire.

Once your piercings have healed completely and you feel comfortable and confident stimulating those areas again, start with temperature play. Grab an ice cube and circle the area around your partner’s nipple piercing slowly, gradually increasing speed as your partner begs for more.

If you and your partner feel ready for a little bit of vibration, start by using Kip, a lipstick vibrator with a pointed tip, to tease the vulva around a clitoral hood piercing. Wait for your partner to get wet and slick before inserting two fingers or a trusty g-spot vibe like Arc into their vagina and watch them writhe with pleasure.

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