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For Parents

No one under the age of 16 is allowed in the studio! Any minor between the ages of 16-17 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Both parties must have a valid photo state or federal I.D. Last names and addresses must match on I.D.’s

Body Modification:
What Parents Need To Know

This FAQ is compiled by and copyright © 2003 BMEZINE.COM LLC
For bibliographical purposes the author should be listed as “Shannon Larratt”
For more information, visit http://www.bmezine.com/

Version: 0.12a
Date: June 11, 2003
This document supersedes any prior parents FAQs released by BME and/or Shannon Larratt on this subject or under this title. Please ensure that you are viewing the most recent version of this FAQ by visiting BME.

For questions regarding this FAQ, please visit BME at http://www.bmezine.com/

WARNING: First of all I must emphasize that this FAQ is still very much a work in progress. In addition, it is important to note that while the author(s) of this FAQ are recognized on body modification, no medical review of this document has been done.



General Questions

First let me note that much of the advice for one modification applies to another. Readers are encouraged to read this entire document, and not just the specific questions they are interested in. There is no reason why a young person’s interest in body modification can not be used to strengthen family bonds rather than to break them down — in many cultures historically body modification was an integral part of social structure.

Why did you write this FAQ?

Body modification (piercing, tattoos, etc.) often seems quite alien and disturbing to parents who do not share the interest. Far too often it forms a rift between parent and child. This FAQ aims to briefly familiarize parents with information they need to know if their child starts expressing an interest in it, so they can work with them and make sure these interests are expressed safely and responsibly.

I write this as an adult, remembering what it was like to be a young person interested in these subjects, and thinking about the things that would have made my life easier at the time.

My child is looking for body modification information online. What will they find?

The Internet contains a lot of things, many of which may not be appropriate for younger readers. Everything from pornography to legitimate health information can be found, often without qualification, shields, or warnings of any kind. While there are tools that censor access to certain sites (ie. NetNanny), these have the unfortunately side-effect of banning much useful knowledge as well and are not particularly hard for kids to bypass. As such, we strongly urge parents to monitor their children’s Internet usage, and recommend that they work with them in a positive environment and teach them how to responsibly use the Net.

As far as “adult” body modification information, you can bet that they’ll find at least information — and probably photos — of genital piercing. They may also come across writing describing body modification in an erotic context. They may also come across writing and photos of very heavy advanced body modifications (and things that may even seem like torture) that could be extremely disturbing to those not ready for it.

While we have made every effort to present material on our own web sites in a tasteful manner, we still strongly urge parents to keep tabs on what their children are browsing online.

What does it mean if my child is interested in body modification?

Realistically, it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself for most people as the interest is common in all demographics. It could mean they’re a curious and creative child. It could mean that they are emulating a friend or celebrity. It could mean that they want to express some independence (also known as harmless rebellion) — I know I’d rather see kids getting piercings than doing drugs or being promiscuous!

Sadly, it could also mean that they are going through depression, as many young people do. Some people choose to “wear their problems on the outside”, and give themselves control over their problems by “translating” their mental pain into physical pain. If this is the case it is absolutely essential that the child not be attacked for these activities, but that instead, the root cause of the depression is addressed.

Body modification, in and of itself, has no pre-defined meaning. It is a tool that people use to express any number of ideas and ideals. Some are negative, but the overwhelming majority are positive.

Finally, let me again emphasize that body modification is for most young people a form of communication. By focusing on body modification as a problem, potential real problems are missed, and lines of communication become cut. If your child is expressing their problems in part through body modification that’s probably a good thing, since it means they’re trying to communicate in a way that makes sense to them (versus not communicating at all).

Is there a link between homosexuality and body modification?

On an iconographic level (ie. “the gay ear”) that may have been true fifteen years ago on a purely symbolic level, but there is effectively no objective link between these two things, especially in younger people, and the iconography is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Is there a link between body modification and promiscuity? What about drug use?

A child that is willing to experiment with their body using body modification may well be more willing to experiment sexually. Studies have shown that promiscuous young people as well as young people who smoke marijuana are more likely to have tattoos and piercings. This doesn’t mean the body modification is the problem — it just means you are both cursed and blessed with a curious child that wants to see what the world is all about.

So yes, if your child comes home with a tongue piercing, do have that “sex and drugs talk” with them if you haven’t already. Just make sure it’s positive, not accusatory… But there are also a vast number of young people who consider themselves “straightedge” (no alcohol, drugs, or promiscuous sex) who use body modification to express themselves.

As I mentioned, young people drawn to body modification may be drawn to many culturally “questionable” activities, but the connection between drug abuse and body modification, especially in young people, is a flawed argument.

To give you an alternate example with the same flaw, we know that most criminals drink alcohol. However, it does not follow that most people who drink alcohol are criminals (although those who drink alcohol are statistically more likely to be criminals than those who do not). If your child expresses an interest in body modification, there is no logical reason to believe that they are abusing drugs unless you have other reasons to believe that.

How can I stop my kid from doing this stuff? I don’t like it!

To be blunt: you can’t stop it. If your son or daughter really wants to do these things, they’ll do it with or without your support and short of kicking them out of your house or using other totalitarian threats that will eventually end your relationship with them, you really can not stop them. So you’re better off figuring out how to use it to improve your relationship rather than damage or end it.

My church says body modification is wrong.

Your church may say that, but God does not. Neither Jews nor Christians have any restrictions on body modification except in very special circumstances (such as Leviticus-era bans on pagan cutting funerary rituals or tattooing “I am Lord” on yourself) or as a part of a different sin (pride). Even a cursory read of the Bible shows that the Israelites were both tattooed and pierced people with the subject being mentioned in passing in many places.

Far too often people attribute their own prejudices to God in order to avoid being asked “why” they adhere to prejudices — a more common example would be the proclamation that the Bible declares a certain race superior to another.



Body Piercing

Is ear piercing at a mall safe?

In the past ear piercing booths at malls used guns that could not be properly sterilized and could easily spread diseases like hepatitis (and did). At this point, most piercing booths are using disposable tools that have far less potential for spreading disease, but it is still possible if the staff don’t have a solid understanding of the issues involved (in the same way that a modern firearm is less likely to blow up in the shooter’s hand, but people still do get hurt by guns).

In addition, most industry professionals and piercing gun manufacturers agree that ear piercing studs are not appropriate jewelry, especially for anything other than earlobes due to their short length (which means they can not properly compensate for swelling) and dull point (which means additional damage during the piercing may be done).

Realistically, if you get your ears pierced at the mall you’re probably going to be just fine. It’s just not the best way to do it.

Is piercing at a piercing studio safe?

If you go to the effort to seek out a quality piercing studio, they will practice levels of sterility control similar to what your dentist uses. Anything that the client comes in contact with is either single use (for example the needles) or can be sterilized in an on-premises autoclave. In addition, they will take care to not contaminate any of these items either during or before the procedure.

Finally, while ear piercing booths at a mall tend to have a few hours of training, most piercers serve an apprenticeship of a year or more and many of the better ones will also have additional training such as recognized blood-borne pathogen courses, CPR, and other medical skills.

How can I find a good studio? What are some questions I should ask?

Nowadays most larger urban centers have multiple piercing studios. We strongly urge you to visit as many of them as you can to get a feel for your options. Never just go to the first one; you can’t make a good decision without knowing your options.

When you first enter the studio, notice how the general appearance of the studio is — is it clean? Is there dust on the shelves? If they’re not willing to keep their reception area clean, do you trust the rest? Do you get a good “vibe” off their staff? Piercing is a service industry, and a studio that doesn’t have friendly and receptive counter staff isn’t one that I’d trust personally.

Next you’ll want ask about their sterilization protocols and general procedures. Any decent studio will be able to explain quite clearly what they are doing to keep you safe — they’ll be willing to show you the procedures they use, as well as showing you a spore test (where an independent medical laboratory verifies that their autoclave is functioning properly) and explaining what the local health regulations are. In areas where there are local health regulations studios may be granted certificates stating that they have met or exceeded these standards.

Some studios will also be members of professional organizations such as the APP (Association of Professional Piercers — check their website at www.safepiercing.org for more excellent information). While many excellent studios have not chosen to become members, you can bet it’s a good sign if one is. The APP maintains high standards for its members. In addition, many better piercers will go to the effort to get First Aid and CPR credentials; this is an extremely good sign that the piercer cares about your safety.

Trust your gut though; if you’re not comfortable with a place you visit, find a better studio.

What should be done before getting pierced?

It is essential that a person being pierced be well rested and in good health. In addition, it is important that they eat before getting pierced. Not eating makes a person far more likely to get woozy or even faint.

Will I be able to go in and hold my child’s hand during the piercing?

Most studios will permit this depending on the layout of the piercing room.

Can I get a piercing too?

It is not uncommon for a parent to get a piercing — often even the same piercing — along with their child. This is an excellent way to strengthen the familial bond, and it helps you understand what they’re going through. Assuming you have some interest in a piercing, this can be a very rewarding experience for everyone.

What is the piercing experience like, start to finish?

Following is roughly the procedure that will occur. If any of these things are omitted, you may want to consider patronizing a higher quality studio (although I will say that different studios do things differently).

  1. You enter the studio and see that it’s a clean and friendly place.
  2. You tell the person at the counter what piercing you want, and they answer any questions you might have about it.
  3. You show them ID, and fill out a consent form which should contain general questions about your health that are relevant to the piercing procedure. If the consent form does not include questions about allergies, medical conditions, and so on, and the piercer doesn’t ask them to you directly, you should avoid that studio as they may be overlooking essential issues.
  4. You pay either before or after, depending on the studio. You may have to wait for your appointment depending on how busy the studio is that day (piercing is usually done on a walk-in basis).
  5. You’ll enter the separate and private piercing room (quality studios don’t pierce people in public), and sit down either at a chair or on a bench.
  6. The piercer will explain the procedure to you (perhaps as they’re doing it).
  7. They will have their tools, needles, and some cleaning supplies on a tray and will open these in front of you. You’ll see that they’re handled carefully and that nothing “dirty” is touched to contaminate them.
  8. Assuming you didn’t already choose the specific size and style of jewelry already, that will be done now. Everything will come out of sterile packages.
  9. The piercer will clean your skin around the piercing location, and then mark where they think it should go. They’ll show you and make sure you’re happy with the placement. You may be offered some options, but remember that the piercer will recommend what they thing will work best.
  10. Depending on the piercing (and the piercer’s style), they may put a clamp over the piercing marks to help them keep everything on target — there’s nothing wrong with not using a clamp. It’s simply a matter of their preferred technique.
  11. The piercer will put a little lube on the piercing needle, and then quickly pass the needle through the piercing. This only takes an instant, and shouldn’t hurt terribly. They will then hold the jewelry up to the back of the needle, and simultaneously remove the needle and insert the jewelry in one smooth motion. This may be done as a single step depending on the piercing. If a clamp is being used, it may be removed either before or after the jewelry is followed through, depending on the piercing and the piercer’s style.
  12. The piercer will clean the piercing if needed, and assuming the client is ready, everything is done. Most piercers will talk to you for about five minutes after the piercing itself just to make sure you’re OK and not feeling lightheaded.
  13. Aftercare will be explained, and an aftercare sheet to take home is given. It’s important to keep the aftercare sheet, because in the excitement of the piercing, most people forget the vast majority of instructions they’re told.

I heard that tongue piercing can lead to brain infection. Is that true?

Perhaps in something like one in a million cases. You are far, far more likely to be killed in a car crash on the way to the piercing studio. Not only that, but you are actually more likely to be hit by lightning.

Piercing isn’t risk free, but don’t mislead yourself by focusing on these far-out risks. There are far more likely things such as minor scars (sort of like acne scars) from removed piercings, or chipped teeth from a tongue piercing that’s got too long a barbell in it (tongue piercings are done using long jewelry to accommodate swelling, and are then shortened a month later).

That said, there are certain heart conditions such as mitral valve prolapse which can make piercing dangerous. If you suffer from any medical conditions you should definitely consult your doctor and be sure to inform the piercer as well. Additional information on risks of body modification in general can be found at http://www.bmezine.com/risks/

How old should a person be to be pierced?

It is not uncommon in our culture for babies to have their ears pierced. In many cultures young people got piercings, tattoos, or scars, as a part of growing up. From a physical point of view, assuming that there will be no major growth changes, there is no reason why young people can’t be pierced, so ultimately it’s an ethical question.

That said, there may well be legal reasons (see above) — if you live in a jurisdiction that does not permit piercing below the age of 16 or 18, then outside of any other arguments, it means that quality studios are not an option. That alone should be enough reason to ask your child to wait. Many studios will permit younger people to get pierced if their parent accompanies them and signs a release form.

If you maintain a good relationship with your child then you should be able to answer this question on your own. In my personal experience, most children are mature enough to understand the implications of a piercing (and to care for it) by the age of sixteen.

What if it gets infected?

If your piercing gets infected or you have ANY questions at all about the piercing, you must contact your piercer. If that is not an option for some reason, contact your doctor (understand though that while doctors are medical professionals, they may have little to no experience in the care of piercings).

That said, the vast majority of the time what is assumed to be an infection is simply normal discharge from the healing (some white or yellowish discharge is normal). Infections are far more rare than most people assume.

What if they decide to take out their piercing?

Piercings should only be removed if they are not infected. If a piercing is removed and it is infected, it is possible to trap this infection under the skin where it can grow into an abscess (although this is uncommon). Other than that, piercings can be removed any time, generally leaving no more than a dot-sized scar (in the case of an eyebrow piercing there may be some damage to hair follicles causing hair not to grow back in that spot).

Can they take the piercing out for school/work/church?

Realistically, no. Taking a piercing in and out is just begging for additional scarring due to all the irritation. In addition, regularly covering up a piercing with a bandage (as some dress codes ask) can easily irritate both the piercing and the surrounding skin. By forcing a person to take a piercing out or cover it on a regular basis that person’s health (and the piercing) are put at risk.

If a person gets a piercing on “public skin”, they must be willing to show it pretty much all the time. If this isn’t an option, then they’ll need to decide which activity is more important to them.

My kid just got suspended for their piercing. What are my options?

If you’re attending a private or religious school, most likely there is no option short of removing the piercing since a non-public school has a great deal of leeway to institute dress codes as they see fit.

If the school is a public school, then odds are they are overextending their rights in restricting students freedom on this level. Courts in the US and other countries with “freedom of speech” rights have tended to rule in favor of the students in the case of dress codes that are not implicitly gang related or damaging to other students.

Especially if your child has good grades or at least isn’t a problem student a call to the local media almost always immediately reverses these decisions.



Tattoos

Is tattooing safe?

Done responsibly, tattooing is relatively safe. As long as no blood is being passed between clients, the primary risk is esthetic. Blood can be passed between clients of low-grade tattoo artists who either share needles, re-use ink, or do not properly clean their equipment and/or work surfaces. To be perfectly honest, assuming the tattoo artist is meeting all industry standards, the artist is at more risk than the client.

But I will emphasize that the biggest risk is ending up with a tattoo you don’t like five years later, either because (a) your life outlook changed dramatically, or, more commonly (b) it’s too small and has wrecked a “good canvas”.

How old should a person be to be tattooed?

Legally the age is 16 to 18 in almost all areas, with very few studios being willing to tattoo those under 18 even if it is legal. That said, young people tend to change their minds a lot (and when I say young people, I’d extend that up to 25 or so). While piercings can be taken out with minimal long-term implications, removing a tattoo is a costly and painful process that should no more be treated as an option than abortion be treated as birth control.

If a person wants a tattoo, they would be strongly advised to make the decision, then wait a few months. If they still feel it’s the right tattoo for them, go for it! That said, I would strongly urge parents — and friends — to urge people under 25 to give serious consideration to whether they have reached a point in their lives where they can make decisions that will affect them for the next fifty years or more.

My feeling on this subject is that children should be strongly discouraged from getting tattooed until they are adequately mature.

What does the process of tattooing involve?

It will vary slightly from studio to studio, but to generalize it usually goes like this:

  1. You enter the studio, and see that it’s a friendly and clean place. The staff will answer any questions you may have, including technical issues like showing you a recent spore test for their autoclave. You ask to look at the artist’s portfolio (photos of tattoos they have done) and you ignore the “flash” on the walls (it has no bearing on the quality of the artist — they just buy it from suppliers).
  2. If you like the quality of this artist’s work (emphasis on “if”), you will speak to them about the tattoo you want. You’ll describe what you want, and show them any source artwork you’ve brought with you.
  3. Assuming you see eye-to-eye, you’ll leave a deposit and an appointment will be made.
  4. By the time you return (usually a week or two later), the artist will have drawn up the custom design for you, and, assuming you’re happy with it, the work can begin. If not, you’ll work with them to get it to exactly what you’d like.
  5. The location being tattooed is cleaned (usually including shaving), and a stencil of the drawing is applied.
  6. The artist will confirm that you are happy with the placement.
  7. Before tattooing, you’ll see that the artist has their supplies laid out on a clean desk or table, and the tattoo machine has a plastic “condom” over it and the first length of its power cord. Anything that comes in contact with you is either disposed of or thoroughly cleaned.
  8. The tattoo is applied. When this is completed, all ink left in the caps on the desk is disposed of (since tattooing the next person with the same ink could pass disease).
  9. Your tattoo is bandaged, you will be given aftercare information, and sent on your way. Healing should take one to two weeks.

What is involved in tattoo removal?

Tattoo removal involves going through a fair amount of physical pain (although methods are improving all the time), and, perhaps more importantly, spending a great deal of money. In addition, the results are not always satisfactory. Tattoo removal should not be considered as an option.

What about these temporary five year tattoos?

There are some artists offering tattoos done using organic inks that can in theory be broken down by the body over time. However, to generalize: THEY DON’T WORK. This should not be considered as an option. Odds are stronger that there will either be no fade at all, or the tattoo will partially fade, leaving what looks like a badly scarred and horribly done tattoo.

Is henna a kind of tattooing?

No, henna is just a temporary dying of the skin and is entirely different. Henna lasts a week or two and is more like a form of body painting than a tattoo.



Scars and Cutting

What is scarification?

Scarification is the voluntary application of scars to the body. In general this is done for esthetic reasons (just like tattooing), although there are young people who will cut themselves to express some pain they are feeling. This almost always manifests itself in self cutting, rather than work by a professional.

How can I tell if my child is a “self cutter”?

Scarification done for esthetic reasons (where the individual feels they are improving themselves on some level) can be easily identified as you’ll see geometric patterns and pictures. If this is the case, you should probably still talk to your child about the long-term consequences of such actions, but odds are good that they’re not suffering from more serious problems.

If on the other hand the scars are more like haphazard “slashes”, or scratched out words, then your child may be using cutting to try and communicate and control some pain that they’re feeling on the inside. While it’s important that they stop hurting themselves, it’s more important that they be allowed to express the root of their pain so it can be excised. As such, you should work with them and encourage them to express themselves and communicate in a less self-destructive manner. Cuts of this type are almost always regretted later in life.

What should I do if my child is a cutter?

They need to know that you love them and are concerned about them, and that you support them, and most importantly that you’re not angry at them for the cutting. Always remember that they’re cutting in an attempt to communicate. The important thing is to find out what is bothering them so much that they felt it was easier to express their pain physically than it was to confront it. Remember that many young people are very sensitive — it might not be even anything that serious causing the problem.

Assuming you have addressed the root problem (otherwise you’re just attacking a symptom), most cities have support groups for self cutting — it is a very common problem. Ask a local hospital or your doctor for more details.

Is it appropriate for a child to get elective scarification?

Well, on a historical level it’s certainly not uncommon, but we don’t live in those times or those cultures of course. Very few professional scarification artists would be willing to work on a minor, even with parental consent.

How do I find a professional scarification artist?

Most scarification artists are also piercers, and asking around at piercing studios is a good way to find artists local to you, but I must emphasize that few if any reputable scarification artists will be willing to work on a minor, with or without parental consent. For that reason I would urge people to wait until they’re 18 to pursue this type of modification.

In addition, a scarification artist should have a solid understanding of anatomy and physiology as well as training in first aid and CPR to help deal with any (relatively unlikely) contingencies.



Ritual

What is suspension and flesh pulling?

There is more information on this in BME’s suspension FAQ, but to simplify “flesh hook suspension” is the lifting of the body by hooks inserted through temporary piercings in the flesh. Pulling is a variation whereby instead of being lifted off the ground, a “tug of war” is done. Due in part to its high media profile, many young people are very interested in these activities.

Is suspension dangerous?

Suspension is a traumatic activity that is painful and intense, but it should pose no special risks to those in good health. People interested would be strongly urged to talk to their doctor if they have any specific worries.

Is suspension healthy for young people?

I have seen many young people — often accompanied by their parents — have remarkable and positive experiences with suspension and pulling. On a historical level rituals of this type have been embraced by many cultures as an important part of growing up.

What is play piercing?

Play piercing is temporary piercing (that is, piercing is done, but no jewelry is inserted) done (usually) for the feeling. Pain, sensation that we shy away from, is still a valid sensation and some people enjoy experimenting with it. Many people use these activities as a positive form of self discovery.

In general play piercing is nothing more than that, but if you notice it’s happening regularly, especially if coupled with scarring and other self-abusive behavior, please be sure to read the section on scarification (“self cutting”) as well.



“Extreme” Body Modification

My child is expressing an interest in some very freaky things like people cutting fingers off! What should I do?

Assuming your child is stable and you are confident that they are mature enough to understand what they read, then there’s probably no harm in them reading about what people do. These heavy mods aren’t generally done “lightly”, and odds are they’re just curious about an unusual act, which isn’t surprising going by how many television shows have glorified these activities.

That said, if you notice that your child has ordered scalpels or anesthetics or other first aid supplies (which are legally and readily available in most areas), you should definitely talk to them. Again, remember that you need to approach them in a non-confrontational manner or you risk them simply learning that they have to go behind your back.

An active interest (rather than just reading about it) in these subjects at a young age is more likely simply either a confidence problem (for example, young men don’t know what is expected of them sexually, and may believe that a genital modification could make them “better”), or a BDD (Body Dismorphic Disorder) problem. BDD is when the person’s internal body image doesn’t quite line up with their actual body, and the person keeps unsuccessfully attempting to align the two by body modification and plastic surgery and so on.

Wouldn’t we be better off just banning these things?

It’s a question of how many innocent people are you willing to punish to ensure that a guilty person also receives punishment. While these modifications are utterly inappropriate for young people, they can have a very positive impact on the lives of many adults. Banning things that are not universally harmful is never the answer in my opinion.

In addition, when you ban an activity that goes on in private or solo, all it achieves is pushing them underground — society (and its members) are far safer when everything happens in the light.

My child wants to split their tongue after seeing it on TV. What should I do?

Tongue splitting can be safely done by an oral surgeon. It can not be safely done in a home environment, nor can it be safely done by a body piercer. For more information see BME’s tongue splitting FAQ.

My daughter wants a “hood splitting”. What is this, and what should I say?

Because the clitoris is covered by the clitoral hood (to different degrees in different women), some women receive less physical stimulation than they need to achieve orgasm. Some people choose to split the hood open to expose the clitoris more fully. This can be a very positive procedure for many people leading to dramatically increased enjoyment of their sex lives, and is becoming a fairly common elective procedure for plastic surgeons.

That said, assuming they are of age, in my opinion many young women seeking this modification would be strongly advised to discuss it — and the concerns that lead them to it — with an experienced sex therapist first. Then, if it is pursued, it should be done via a cosmetic surgeon, not a non-medical practitioner.

My son keeps talking about castration. What should I do?

Castration (the removal of the testicles, not the penis) is a surprisingly common interest among men. It is not unusual for many young to fantasize about it for various reasons. The castration desire is often very deep (similar to men who seek sex change surgeries), and almost impossible to eliminate even after extensive therapy — although some men develop it due to feelings of inadequacy or other issues.

Young men with this interest should seek counseling of course. If the therapist feels that they may “need” this procedure to be happy, there are chemical castration drugs that can relatively safely eliminate testosterone from the system, simulating the effects of castration.

However, I can think of no circumstances where an underage person should be electively castrated short of sexual reassignment surgery done by a qualified surgeon.

In conclusion, if your child expresses an interest in a heavy modification (or body modification of any kind), your goal should be to support them (support them, but not the modification specifically necessarily), and in a loving way do what you can to keep them from harm.


This document is copyright © 2003 BMEZINE.COM Inc. Please be aware that body modification is far from an exact science, and we don’t know everything about it. The information in this document may contain numerous errors, mistruths, and omissions, including advice that may be dangerous.