The Complete (& NSFW) Guide To Getting A Genital Piercing

Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
The genital area is by far the most polarizing place to get pierced. According to the pros, it's just as easy as piercing your nipples, or your belly button, or even your ears, but it's one that's shrouded in a whole lot more mystery. Even the mere mention might make you shudder with fear — or pique your interest. Hell, maybe you even have one. But regardless of your initial position, you're probably at least a little curious.
Piercing your vagina (to be clear, the most accurate term is 'vulva,' but 'vagina' is what the industry uses most) isn't necessarily a trend sweeping Hollywood or bubbling up in underground parlors across New York. At least, there's no way of knowing if it was. The private piercings are far from new, yet it's easy to assume that they're reserved for those with the highest sexual prowess or a taste for adventure. But according to Cassi Lopez, head piercer at New York Adorned, and celebrity piercer J. Colby Smith, these assumptions are way off base.
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With over three decades of combined experience — and thousands of pierced vaginas under their belts — we asked Lopez and Smith to lift the veil on this controversial piercing spot. The answers to all our most burning questions, ahead...
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An inner labia piercing. | Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
First things first: Why would someone get a genital piercing?
Many reasons. Like any other piercing, the aesthetic value ranks highest. But for others, the meaning goes a little deeper. Smith says a lot of his clients work conservative jobs, but they themselves aren't necessarily conservative in their personal lives or ideals, so they love hidden piercings. He's also experienced a lot of people looking for a breakup piercing. "I see women going through breakups and they say, 'I always wanted this, but my boyfriend didn't want me to have one,'" he says.

Lopez has worked with many clients who have been in abusive, controlling relationships and are looking at the vagina piercing as a source of freedom. "I had a woman who was in a really bad relationship for a long time whose fiancé didn't allow her to do a lot of things," she says. "When they finally parted ways she was like, 'I'm going to get pierced for myself.'"

How many types of genital piercings are there?
Turns out, those with a vulva have a lot of different options to adorn it. Our pros report that the most common are vertical and horizontal piercings on the clitoris, plus both the inner and outer labia. (See illustrations.) Of course that's not all. Smith tells us that there are less popular options, like "the fourchette," a thin fold of skin at the back of the vulva, or "the Christina" piercing, the skin on your pubic bone. "It really just comes down to your anatomy," he says. Remember, everyone's body looks different, so not every piercing is right for every vulva.
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A vertical clitoral hood piercing. | Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
But really though, who's getting these piercings?
Smith says that his clients are every age imaginable, but it's the 30-somethings who waltz in ready for the most personal piercing possible. "From my experience, it's the early- to mid-30s client that's starting to feel more comfortable with their bodies," he says. "They're looking for a little something extra, sexually."

Unlike your new conch piercing, or even your nipple, the one below the belt is really just for you. "It's private. I think with ear piercings, or even some nipple piercings, it's more like you're going to show it off. I think [a genital piercing] is a secret between you and your partner, or whoever is going to see it. Nobody else has any clue," Smith says.

How much does it cost?
Like most piercings or tattoos, the price can vary. Both Lopez and Smith agree the jewelry plays the biggest role — depending on your material of choice. (Smith tells us the most expensive vaginal piercing he's ever seen cost $850 because the jewelry was loaded with diamonds.) Expect a bill that ranges from $100 to $600.

How do I find an experienced piercer I can trust?
There's no easy answer for this one: You have to do work. Check Yelp, look for reviews any place you can find them online, make sure the shop is clean, the tools are sterile, and the piercer is experienced. Then check again.

Will it bleed?
"Generally I don't see a ton of blood," Smith says. However, that's not because the skin won't bleed. Smith simply plays very close attention to the size of the needle, choosing a gauge that makes the smallest hole possible, based on the jewelry you pick. "It keeps the pressure nice and tight," he explains.
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A fourchette piercing. | Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
How long does it take?
"In terms of speed, it's like piercing a belly button," Lopez explains. "Three minutes, total." Most female genital piercings are thin pieces of skin, so it's very fast.

Do I need to shave first?
Lopez assures that you can come as you are. The amount of hair down there doesn't really matter and won't make a difference in the piercing process.

Will I be screaming in pain?
Probably not. Both Smith and Lopez agree that most people come in thinking the pain will be off the charts, but in reality, the pain is a solid three or four on a scale of 10. In fact, the biggest problem most people face is the pressure put on the skin to pinch the needle through the exposed area.

How intimate does the appointment actually get?
According to both Lopez and Smith, shit could get pretty real in the piercing room. "I've had women go into full orgasm during the piercing. I've also had someone ask if they could masturbate," Smith tells us. "Strangely enough, it wasn't sexual. It wasn't towards me or anything, it was just like her thing that she needed to go through and needed to happen."

What's the weirdest part of the process?
"It's not necessarily any more difficult," Smith says, "but people get a lot more scared about it because you spend most of your life protecting [your vagina] and then all of a sudden you're very exposed."
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A horizontal clitoral hood piercing. | Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
What kind of jewelry is best?
Essentially, the type of jewelry you're putting through your ear or tongue runs the same rules as your vagina. According to Smith, whether it's gold, platinum, surgical steel, or titanium, the only thing that really matters is that you're not allergic to the material.

What looks and feels the best?
For a clitoral hood piercing (the most popular of them all), Smith suggests a ring or a curved barbell — the curved part of the ring increases stimulation thanks to the curve of the ring rubbing against your clitoris. "It's going to give you the extra stimulation, even if you're just walking around," Smith says.

What's the healing process like?
Celebrity piercer Brian Keith Thompson reminds us that the healing time is entirely dependent on how well the individual takes care of their piercing. Also, different areas heal differently — as do different people — so expect anywhere between one to four months. (Smith notes that the hood piercing is easy to heal, and you'll feel back to normal in just a few weeks.)

How do I clean it after the fact?
If you regularly use a cleanser on your vulva, Smith suggests gently rinsing the pierced area with mild soap and water when you shower. Be mindful of the ingredients in the cleanser you're using down there, because products with strong fragrances can cause irritation. Lopez adds that most other piercings require saline solution, but the vulva is pretty good at cleaning itself, so it's best to keep it clean, but try not to touch it too much. In this case, less care is the best care.
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A Christina piercing. | Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
When can I have sex again?
No one can tell you not to have sex, but most piercers will say it's smart to avoid putting any bodily fluids near a new piercing. Lopez suggests just waiting out the healing process, which can be months. Realistically speaking, Smith says that not every client listens. "Just be careful," he says. "Something like the [clitoral] hood piercing is up and out of the way, so you could still have penetration as long as you're not banging it around or hooking it on things."

Does it affect sex once healed?
According to Smith, the piercing may very well increase pleasure down there. "I've heard a few of my clients say that it's a massive increase [in stimulation], even if they're walking down the street or they're sitting at school. It's just like a little extra pep-in-their-step kind of thing," he says. "I've also had clients say nothing extra at all — but on the flip side, it makes them feel really sexy."

Will my partner be intimidated by my piercing?
Maybe. Smith says he's had clients before who have come in because their partner isn't the biggest fan of the jewelry. However, the piercing won't affect penetration, so you can reassure your partner that part is really NBD.

What about exercise?
This one is tough. Smith's rule of thumb: "If something hurts, don't do it. If it doesn't hurt, it's fine."
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A outer labia piercing. | Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
What's the risk for infection?
"There is definitely always a risk," Smith says. "But I can't say that I've ever seen one in all my years." This one is tricky, too: Even with ear piercings, what we think is an infection is often just irritation or an allergy to the jewelry. "There's a huge difference between a basic irritation and a real infection," Lopez says. "If you do notice something strange, or liquid oozing, visit your physician to check it out."

Does the hole ever close?
It depends, but probably not, if it healed correctly. Lopez says that some super-small punctures can technically close, but the second-time piercing won't nearly feel as uncomfortable as the first because of the old opening. Smith adds that the hole will most likely shrink up over the years and can just be stretched and resized for a new piece of jewelry.
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