Beginner's Guide to Piercing: From Fashion to Fetish

The pierced punk is a classic Berlin cliché. Since the 80s, music culture has led to a boom in the frequency and variety of facial and body piercings in mainstream western culture. Lip-rings, eyebrow studs and noses pierced with safety pins once evoked shock and disgust, signifying the wearer as a dangerous outsider of society. Even just having your ear pierced as a male used to raise eyebrows in my home town.

These days, body piercing (meaning places other than your ears) is pretty common across a variety of body parts and many different walks of life. Piercing culture (or perhaps society in general?) has grown up and the shock-factor has almost worn off, to the point where having a facial piercing will no longer prevent you getting a job.

In typical Berlin fashion, what was once considered “underground” is now largely accepted and ubiquitous, although there are still those that push the boundaries. While your dad might have one, facial and body piercings remain associated with street-level style and a rebellious or erotic aesthetic. Perhaps this could explain the high percentage of pierced among the population of Berlin; especially in the edgier districts of Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Schöneberg.
Fortunately, increased popularity has led to an increased awareness of safety and higher professional standards, so these days piercing is a relatively safe, sterile procedure. Modern practitioners are usually well-trained, helpful and informative about the preparation and aftercare required for a healthy, happy piercing experience.

Titanen Piercing studio in Schöneberg is an example of this professional approach to piercing. In a clinically sterile environment, manager and head-piercer Brian ensures his clients are aware of their responsibilities, as well as his own, before proceeding. Typically, (it is Germany, after all) a waiver form is required to be filled out first. Like a work contract or "Arbeitsvertrag", this is to protect the rights of both parties, and you should be wary of any studio that doesn’t provide one.
People making spontaneous decisions often try to rush into a new piercing or over-stretch existing ones. Stretching involves slowly increasing the size of your piercing over time. With an incredible range of custom jewellery available today, it is understanding how people are tempted. Brian is often approached by people wanting help to up-size their jewellery faster, but with 18 years of experience, he refuses to compromise his professional principles. Rather than making a sale at the expense of his clients' safety, he prefers to inform people about their choices. He advises no more than a 1mm increase per month for stretching ears, otherwise you risk tearing the skin and the formation of permanent “double ear-lobes”. Go ahead and Google "piercing blow-outs" if you don't believe me…

It is also worth keeping in mind the material of the jewellery you want, as some are unsuitable for fresh piercings. Professionals usually use only surgical steel or titanium for piercing, to reduce the risk of infection or an allergic reaction to the nickel content of standard steel. Artificial materials like silicon (rubber) can also cause an allergic reaction like swelling, so are best avoided for new piercings or stretching.

Once healed, there are a range of choices and styles to choose from. Not everyone likes the "heavy metal" look. Neon-coloured acrylic is less hard-core looking and often reacts under UV light making it a favorite of psy-trance ravers and tribal techno-warriors.

While acrylic jewellery is usually cheaper, it can also accumulate a "funky" smell from rubbing against skin. This is of the many reasons natural, porous materials like wood or stone are becoming more preferred. Bone, wood and precious stone tend to be used for creatively constructed and unique jewellery, although these often require a bit more care than metal.

When contemplating a piercing, it's not just about choosing your jewellery or what to pierce. It is really worth investigating and selecting a good piercing studio. Don't just go to the first place you find, or the cheapest. Talk to the piercer and check out their practicing standards. Like choosing your doctor, you may think you'll only see them once, but if you need to go back, whether for problems or further piercings, you want someone that's easy to talk to.

Piercing is not an industry where the customer is always right. Pay attention to the advice you are given and be wary of studios who are willing to do anything for a sale. Someone who’ll make a piercing with jewellery straight out of a display cabinet is not concerned for your well-being.

I asked Brian (of Titanen Piercing Studio) and Enrico Gerstung, (piercer at Naked Steel, Friedrichshain and Titanen) about some of the myths and legends of body-piercing, and got some basic do's and don'ts for first-timers.

What is the most frequently requested piercing?
Brian: Septum (the part between your two nostrils) or PA (a “Prince Albert”, piercing through the head or glans of the penis).
Enricho: Septum. I think this is popular as it is a good looking first-time facial piercing.

Weirdest piercing request you've had?
B: Nasallang (piercing through the bridge of the nose)
E: Shaft ampellang (through the shaft of the penis, below the head), but right through the middle, halfway down. I refused, as it is too risky. This would pass through the main blood flow.

Favourite piercing you have given/received?
B: Given would be the daith (inner-ear cartilage). When done well, it looks great and  is not so common. Favourite received would be my Prince Albert.
E: Ear projects, involving cartilage. Favourite received is my scalpel underlip— more of a body modification than strictly a piercing.

Favourite jewellery/materials?
B: Titanium, glass, and precious stone. Titanium as it is the highest quality for metal. Glass is easiest to clean,and precious stone for both the aesthetic and the energy releasing properties.
E: Glass, as it is easy to clean & one of the oldest materials for piercing, plus it has great light capturing properties. Titanium for the best quality metal, and wood for the colours and unique craftmanship of this jewellery.

Most frequent piercing misconception you come across?
B: Over-stretching ears. People trying to rush into a bigger ear size too soon.
E: Turning jewellery when healing. Apart from cleaning (usually 2-3 times per day), it is better to leave the piercing alone, as much as possible.

What is the worst piercing disaster someone has brought to you to fix?
B: Infected nipple piercing.
E: Infected nipple. Often with older piercings. Even when a piercing is healed, it is important to clean it regularly.

Most common errors with piercings, both new and experienced?
B: Playing with them too much, and not cleaning properly.
E: Too much manipulation of the piercing, or changing jewellery too soon. New piercings really need calm!

First piercing do's/don'ts:

Don’t drink alcohol right before or after a piercing. This thins the blood, causing more bleeding, for longer.
If you're not good with pain, don't eat a big meal beforehand.
Be patient afterwards and don't play with it.
Clean with saline solution (salt-water or "Kochsalzlösung" from the Apotheke) NOT concentrated alcohol.
Avoid swimming pools or public baths while healing.

Both piercers I spoke to emphasised the right of the client to back out if they change their mind. If you're not comfortable in the studio, or have second thoughts at ANY point, you can stop the process— right up to when the piercer is sitting before you with a needle. While it is natural to be nervous, if you don't like how someone is behaving or their methods, you have the right to leave without explaining yourself. Of course, it might help the piercer to let her or him know what they did wrong!

I've included links below to Titanen Piercing Studio, Naked Steel Piercing and Body-Modification and AKA Tattoos/Piercing Studio, where I had mine done. I can recommend the service at these studios and their websites have more info about their practices, as well as more examples of piercing. Viel Spaß!

Neal James
Neal follows music, art, good food, bad food and great beer wherever it takes him. Currently he resides in the dreamworld of Berlin where he tries not to be too content or productive.
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