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Things to know about piercing

A survey* of UK gay and bisexual men found over a third had a body piercing:

26% had ears pierced
11% had pierced nipples
6% eyebrows
4% tongue
4% navel
2% nose
1% lips
The same survey found these figures for pierced genitals:

3% cock head (ampallang/apadravya/Prince Albert)
1% perineum (guiche)
1% other places (shaft/foreskin/scrotum)

Who’s doing it?

Younger men are more likely to get their face or navel pierced; older men their dicks.

Men with HIV are more likely to be pierced. Being pierced didn’t give them HIV; it’s just that piercing seems more of a fashion among these men. Poz men are nearly four times more likely to have their cock pierced and twice as likely to have their nose or nipples done.*

For more on HIV risks see the section on the Risk of HIV and hepatitis during piercing.

Age limits

There’s no legal age limit in the UK for piercings but many piercers and their professional associations follow guidelines saying body piercings (nipples, navels, eyebrows and tongues) should only be done on under 16s if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Guidelines, and some local regulations, say genital piercings shouldn’t be carried out on those under 18. Proof of age is needed. The decision to pierce is left to the piercer’s discretion: some see nipple piercings as genital, so follow a policy of not carrying them out on under 18s.

Before and after

The body can be anaesthetised before piercing with a painkilling spray or cream.

All piercings can bleed heavily for several days and take a few weeks to heal. More specialist ones can take longer.

If a cock is pierced, piss is usually sterile, so shouldn’t infect the wound. During the healing period wearing loose underwear is recommended.

Sucking a pierced dick while the hole’s fresh is best avoided to stop infections being passed on (mouths are full of germs). Avoid especially if the guy sucking has bleeding gums, ulcers or recent dental work as there’s a risk of HIV transmission.

Giving blood

People giving blood in the UK are asked if they’ve had a piercing (including ears) in the previous 12 months. Blood isn’t accepted from people who’ve been pierced in the previous four months.

Extra tests are done on blood donated by people pierced between four and 12 months previously. This is to cut the risk of someone giving blood infected with hepatitis or HIV before it can be detected in tests.


Facial piercings can be a barrier in some jobs. Someone wanting to join the police, for example, will have them judged according to where they’re worn, how prominent and provocative they are and any effect they might have on safety, such as during a struggle.


Stress, lack of sleep, poor diet and being diabetic all increase the risk of piercings getting infected. Some skin reactions look like an infection but can be a metal allergy (especially to nickel or brass).

Infection is most common when the piercing is fresh. Look out for yellow/greenish discharge and red, swollen, tender skin lasting longer than a few days. Don’t take the piercing out as this can spread any infection deeper into the body. Warm compresses can help but antibiotics may be needed. If you feel feverish or have body aches get to a doctor.

The risk of infection is less if a reputable piercer is used.

Keeping it clean

A piercing is an open wound and needs keeping as clean as you would any other wound. Washing hands before touching the piercing site helps avoid infection. Use a cotton bud – not a flannel or towel as they’re full of bugs – to wash twice a day for three to four minutes with unscented antibacterial soap and salt water solution: made with half a teaspoon of sea salt in one cup of water. Don’t leave any soap in the wound. Pat dry with cotton buds, tissues or cotton wool (not a towel).

Washing too much can interfere with healing.

Piercing aftercare sea salt sprays are available.

Mouth piercings

With mouth piercings rinse with antibacterial mouth wash after each meal: normal mouth wash isn’t strong enough. You can soothe the piercing by rinsing with a warm water salt solution and brushing teeth three times a day: use a new brush, not your old germ-covered one. Kissing’s best avoided during the first few weeks of healing.

* 2002 Gay Men’s Sex Survey, Sigma Research (figures rounded up/down to nearest percentage point)

Last review: 19/09/2018
Next review: 19/09/2021