Explorations in genital piercings

L Moore | Sex Columnist

While most Washington University students cringe at my mention of genital piercing, offering a “No comment” or an “Ew!”, these piercings are a common form of physical expression, whether for decoration or to enhance physical pleasure. In fact, genital piercing dates back to 19th-century England, when Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert allegedly pierced a ring through his penis to emphasize the bulge in his pants.

The “Prince Albert” piercing now refers to the most common male genital piercing, usually a ring or barbell through the glans (head) of the penis and exiting through the urethra. “Prince Albertina,” on the other hand, further refers to a female genital piercing also involving the urethra. This “Prince Albertina,” by contrast, is extremely rare and can be altered to an even rarer “Scrunty” piercing through the urethra horizontally. These three different piercings represent the variety of piercings found in modern Western culture. Other variations range from incorporating the hymen or even the pubic mound (“Christina” piercing).

I realize these details may still illicit your “Ew!”, but beyond a degree of masochism, piercings do have erotic value. The most common female piercings, VCH, vetically go through the clitoral hood (not the clitoris itself), directly stimulating the clitoris. Since the woman’s precious bundle of 8,000 nerves is not being directly punctured (and in most women, cannot be), loss of sensitivity is unlikely.

In males, the “Prince Albert” piercing and other piercings that stem through the glans can increase stimulation on that sensitive area when rubbed by a partner or a partner’s genitals. There is no publicized risk of losing sensation with male piercings. Furthermore, there is evidence that male piercings can stimulate a partner too, whether through contact with the anus, the clitoris or the G-spot. Mainly, pleasure can be derived from a combination of stimulation and one’s personal visual attraction to the piercing. Myths aside, the greatest dangers from genital piercings involve hygiene and the possibility of medical conditions.

While senior Alex Rosenberg shrieked, “Mercury poisoning!” in reference to such appendages, genital piercings are, in fact, relatively not dangerous. Though one could technically get lead poisoning, the main risks in genital piercing involve infection, bleeding, scarring, disfigurement, and tissue trauma and rejection in both sexes. For women, there is the added risk of bladder infections and potential for streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

Men have even reported recurrent genital warts or the trapping of their foreskins. In addition to these woes, creating an additional open avenue in the genital region has been speculated to increase risk of transmission of STIs and blood-borne viruses. If—by value of art or eroticism—you decide to get a genital piercing, the answer is, as it is with all sexually related topics, be safe.

For next week, if a student or faculty member has any comments on what it means—physically and mentally—to be a virgin, please contact Lucy Moore at lmmoore@wustl.edu.

  • Lynda Finn

    In fact genital piercing goes back much further than the 19th century and the story of Queen Victoria’s consort piercing his penis is almost certainly untrue. There is no record of this happening and as the Prince was not popular with all, his critics would certainly have mentioned this were it true.
    When writing any article a good journalist checks their sources, otherwise it’s fiction.

  • You provide some excellent information in your article, however, genital piercings date back much further in history than 19th century England. They’re mentioned in the Kama Sutra, an ancient Sanskrit text on the art of love circa first century C.E. It describes in detail a variety of penis inserts and pins as a means of enhancing sexual enjoyment for a man and his partner.

    The myth is pervasive that Prince Albert wore a genital piercing–but he didn’t. There is great deal of information about genital (and other) piercings and many other myths are dispelled in “The Piercing Bible–The Definitive Guide to Safe Body Piercing” (Random House, 2009).