The practice is common among many indigenous peoples, but was almost unknown in industrialized civilizations until the mid 1970s. Some cultures practice piercing as part of religious traditions. In industrialized countries, most piercing is performed for ornamental or sexual reasons.
Piercing the body carries with it a number of risks, most notably the risk of infection and the risk of delayed healing. The risk of infection varies; good sterile practice greatly reduces it, whereas the risk is considerable with "do-it-yourself" piercing. An infection in the cartilage of the upper ear or of the earlobe, can lead to a permanent lump called a keloid. All piercing sites should be kept clean until they are healed. The piercing healing time (see below) varies depending on what sort of piercing has been performed.
Piercing has ancient origins. The oldest mummified body in the world discovered in an Austrian glacier was found to have ear-piercing 7-11 mm in diameter. Nose piercing is mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 24:22 Abraham gave a nose-ring to Rebekah, wife of his son Isaac. Nose piercing reached India in the 16th century and rapidly became accepted. Tongue piercing was popular with the Aztecs and Mayans and was carried out as part of a religious ceremony. In Dreamtime by Hans Peter Duerr, it is claimed that nipple piercing became popular in 14th century Europe. On many websites it is claimed that the Romans invented nipple piercing and that soldiers attached their capes to the piercings. This is just a myth and in reality the capes were hung from rings attached to their armor.
Some regard body piercing as a kind of artistic expression, others as a form of sexual expression and/or stimulation. Genital piercings are some of the most common, and some piercers report that the Prince Albert piercing is the most popular of all. Many wearers of genital piercings keep their jewelry in during sexual intercourse and other sexual activities, but others find it uncomfortable. It depends to a large degree on the design of the jewelry and the type of sexual activity.
In the United Kingdom, decorative piercings are legal but those done in a sexual context are not. In R v Brown 1994 the court held that sado-masochistic piercing was "violent" and "cruel", and that there was no public interest in allowing people to consent to it.
Male Genital Piercings:
Female Genital Piercings:
Different types of piercing take different amount of times to heal. Below is a rough guide to the times taken for some different types of body piercing to heal.