|the deviants' dictionary Factsheet Updated 17 May 1997|
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As with all such techniques the best way to learn is one-to-one with an experienced partner, but if you don't have this advantage then at least practise on yourself, with shallow piercings on innocuous sites such as just below the navel or through the surface flesh of the arm or thigh, before you unleash your needles on others and on more delicate regions of the body.
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For most people the biggest kick in play piercing is psychological, perhaps the feeling of being so intimately and invasively penetrated or penetrating. A thin needle through the surface skin of much of the body hurts only as much as a minor injection, though it seems to stimulate endorphins in quantities out of proportion to its physiological impact! Once the needle is in, it can be manipulated to stretch the skin, which will release a further flood of endorphins without really hurting much either. Pain junkies note, however, that piercing can be made painful by choosing the right sites.
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Needles designed to pierce the skin are not tapered to a point like sewing needles but instead are cylinders cut off at an angle at one end to provide a cutting edge: examples include the old fashioned piercers' needles, 'Medicut' canula needles and hypodermic needles intended for injections and blood sampling. Piercers' needles and medicuts are much better suited to permanent piercing (see the Permanent Piercing Factsheet). Hypodermic needles are by far the favoured choice of play piercers: they are thin, relatively cheap, sterile, disposable, and have a plastic fitting on one end designed to attach to a syringe but ideal as a handle and to prevent them being pushed right through the piercing.
Obtaining them can take some research and footwork: though they are legal to buy openly in many territories, and despite the health problems of drug users having to share needles, some pharmacists are still unwilling to supply them to just anyone. Good sources are the large pharmacies that supply to the private medical profession, such as John Bell and Croyden (see below), who charge about GBP7 for a box of 100.
Hypodermics are available in various sizes. The diameter, or gauge, is identified by the colour of the plastic cap, with the gauge numbers increasing as the thickness decreases. Each gauge is normally available in lengths of 15mm/0.5", 25mm/1", 40mm/1.5" and 50mm/2". The commonest gauges are shown in the table below.
|Gauge||Diameter in mm||Colour|
Generally speaking, the thinner the gauge, the less intense the sensation. Gauge 30 needles are almost impossible to feel in certain places, for example. Very sensitive areas require thinner needles such as 25 and 27; for general purposes gauge 21s are ideal, and for an intense sensation 19s can be used in all but the most sensitive areas.
Different lengths suit different purposes. In general, play piercings go right through the body, so 15mm needles are usually too short to be useful. 40mm is a good general purpose length, and 50mm affords the possibility of threading the needle through surface skin more than once.
Ordinary sewing needles are not ideal: they have to be sterilised (see Doing It Yourself in the Permanent Piercing factsheet) first and may not be sharp enough to go through the body with ease. Furthermore almost all the widely available ones are made of cheap chromium plated metal, and these should never be used, since the plating could come off in the piercing and give all sorts of infection problems. Solid steel needles are difficult to come by, though they are sometimes available for marine use, where they are required to be rust resistant. Pointed needles also hurt a lot more -- the tapered shape means that the skin is forced further apart after the initial penetration.
For suturing (sewing) the skin, hypodermics are clearly unsuitable, and if solid steel sewing needles are unobtainable or undesirable the alternative is to use surgical sutures from medical suppliers. These are small curved needles looking rather like toenail clippings (!), supplied in sterile packs already attached to a length of sterile nylon or silk thread. Unfortunately they cannot be handled successfully or safely by hand and must be used with forceps. Nylon is stronger but more difficult to knot; larger sized needles of at least 26mm (1") length are preferred for most play purposes. See Suturing below.
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Since you are about to breach the blood-air barrier and create what is actually an open wound, special hygiene precautions should be taken. Most importantly, you should avoid allowing infections into the wound and avoid blood contact.
Be careful not to accidentally jab yourself or another with a needle that's been in someone else's skin. The best way to avoid accidents like this and to do the neatest job you can is to be sensible about your work area. Have everything you need arranged conveniently and safely to hand before you start, just as a medical professional would, and make sure you can see clearly what you're doing - this is not a game to be played in a darkened playroom.
Make sure you're sober and undrugged, and particularly avoid stuff like poppers and speed that are liable to make your hands shake. You may want to wear surgical gloves, but unless they're sterile (and these are expensive and require proper sterile theatre practise to keep sterile) they aren't much more effective than a clean pair or hands, are no defence against sharps anyway and may impair your dexterity. A minor accident is not a cause for total panic, however: though a risk exists, the chance of transmission of HIV and Hep etc. through needlestick injury is not excessive.
Make sure all the skin surfaces and the needles are clean -- use fresh sterile needles from a sealed pack, or sterilise non-sterile needles (see Doing It Yourself in the Permanent Piercing factsheet). Do NOT re-use disposable needles, even on yourself. Wash your hands thoroughly, perhaps with an anti-bacterial soap like Hibiscrub or Hibiclens (available from pharmacies).
The following advice for cleaning the skin is summarised from On the Safe Edge (Jacques 1993:144-5):
Any part of the body that is to be cut or pierced should be thoroughly washed, preferably with an anti-bacterial soap [see above]. An unscented exfoliant, such as a rough-wash cloth, will help dislodge any ground-in dirt. This will usually still leave a thin layer of soap on the surface that could attract dirt. To remove this, wipe with a cloth or cotton wool dipped in rubbing alcohol. Now wipe the area first with hydrogen peroxide and then with Betadine or another iodine based cleaner. Do not touch the area again with anything that is not sterile until play is complete and the area has been properly recleaned and protected. Clean in a spiral shape working outwards from the area to be pierced.
The navel (belly-button) has unseen folds of skin inside. You will have to super-saturate it with Betadine on a cotton ball. Then work it around with small circular actions, pushing it into the navel and agitating it as you go. The foreskin must be pulled back to make sure any folds are carefully cleaned. The labia require you to get up under the hood, into the folds with a Q-Tip [cotton wool bud] with one end in Betadine first, then the other end dry. Repeat at least twice, then use a Q-Tip with rubbing alcohol in the same way to remove excess Betadine, which may cause you to slip.
Note that some of these substances, particularly alcohol, may cause stinging when in contact with delicate tissues such as those of the scrotum or vagina. Grit your teeth -- this will soon pass.
Handle the needles carefully. They come packed in cylindrical sheaths with the plastic fitting snug in the top of the sheath so they can be removed without touching the needle itself. Always hold them only by the plastic fitting, and avoid contamination by never touching the shafts or tips.
Have a disposal box to hand before you start. Used needles and the plastic sheaths they are packed in should ideally be placed in a proper sharps disposal box and sent to a hospital incinerator, though such facilities are not easy to find. If you have to dispose of them in household refuse (garbage) use something strong like a well-sealed plastic box or an old jam jar with a screw-on top wrapped in several layers of newspaper. It's good practise not to put a used needle back in its sheath so it can't be mistaken for a clean one.
Another rare hazards of piercing is fainting (see First Aid:Fainting. Take things easy, especially if you're dealing with a first time piercing bottom: keep the room warm and well-ventilated and the atmosphere relaxed, and avoid rigorous bondage. This is probably not a good game to play in the context of a heavy dom/sub scene except with experienced players.
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The easiest places to start are on fleshy areas like the thighs, or at the bottom of the navel with the needle aiming downwards. Clean the area as mentioned described above, then remove the packaging on a needle and take it out from its sheath. Handle carefully by the plastic fitting. Pinch up a few millimetres of surface skin on the site, and place the needle so it is aimed to go through the pinched up skin, with the longest side of the needle against the skin. Then push it all the way through and out the other side in one smooth movement until the plastic fitting of the needle comes to rest against the entry point. The needles are very sharp and should need little pressure to penetrate surface skin.
Here's a tip that sometimes makes things easier for those new to the game: when the needle is positioned ready for the piercing, breathe in deeply, hold your breath for a moment and then breathe out as the needle is pushed through the skin. It seems to hurt less that way, or at least is easier to cope with.
Now relax and enjoy the sight. You may like to try gently moving the needle around to see what effect that has too - but do this only by holding the plastic fitting. Avoid touching the needle on the other side of the piercing as that section has to be drawn back through the wound again on the way out.
One problem with needles once they are in is that the protruding sharp end of the needle could scratch and irritate the skin. See under Genitals below for suggestions about dealing with this.
How much breathing space you allow the bottom between needles depends on the scene. An inexperienced bottom should be given some time to assimilate at least the first few needles while you watch carefully for any signs of a bad reaction. But some people find needle play easier to cope with if the piercings are made in fairly rapid succession.
Remove the needle as carefully as you put it in, keeping it straight and taking it out in one smooth movement. A few spots of blood are usually all you get from surface skin, though there are particular questions associated with piercings in more intimate places as described below.
Opinions are divided on aftercare. Some people swab with alcohol again, or a sterile disposable swab -- and as before you should wipe outwards from the wound itself, not swab potential infection back into it. Jacques recommends using a spray bottle with a mix of half-in-half Betadine and alcohol. Others just leave it open to the air - the little drops of blood that emerge will clean out nasties from the wound, though you may want to swab away the blood if there's a lot of it, without disturbing the wound itself. If properly done, the piercing should leave a barely visible hole that disappears after a couple of days.
See the Sourcesheet for some personal experiences of needle games.
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Many people are quite happy just piercing the surface flesh of the skin: thighs, buttocks, arms, tummies, shoulders, cheeks, and the area on the chest or breasts around the nipples are favourite sites; those with shaved heads may contemplate the sides of the scalp, though this tends to bleed a little. Some people create body art by piercing in patterns, such as a ring of needles around the nipples.
Others get into skin stretching games by attaching long, thin elastics to skin piercings and attaching them in various ways. Two dedicated London piercers like to face each other with matching piercings across the front of their upper torsos, attach each to its counterpart with elastics and then play on the elastics like a bizarre human harp. A legendary tale from New York recounts a scene with a man who was placed face up on an airbed and had over a hundred skin piercings attached to the ceiling: the airbed was then let down.
One US-based piercer says her favourite game is 'to put two parallel rows of needles down someone's chest, and then take silk cord and lace them together corset-style. This can be tightened, until eventually they end up slightly hunched over, in a perfect position for flogging. Making them sit up straight while cutting the laces makes it easier to see the facial expressions as the lacing comes loose.'
Proceed here with even more care than with the skin, and be forewarned that the essential cleaning of the area with spirit will be rather more uncomfortable than elsewhere!
Skin structures like the foreskin, scrotum, labia, clitoris hood, and the skin surface on the underside of the penis, can be pierced but special care should be taken to avoid any obvious blood vessels and irregularities in the skin surface. The sensation on most of these is moderately intense, but the male frenum (the web of skin that holds the foreskin to the glans) is surprisingly sensitive.
If a blood vessel is hit there will be little bleeding while the needle is in but the wound may bleed copiously when the needle is removed. This should cease in a short time. Another possibility is a haemotoma, a bubble of blood inside the skin. These are almost always no more than a centimetre or so in diameter and should subside in a day or so leaving just a bruise; large ones, or ones that keep getting bigger, require urgent medical attention (see Ball Torture for more information).
Another problem with piercing these sites is their irregular shape, making it difficult to prevent needles scratching the surrounding skin. Some people cut up little cubes of cork to tip the needle once inserted, but there are some hygiene concerns here. Corks are not sterile at purchase, but clean enough to use for bottling purposes, and their cleanliness can be further improved by placing them in a microwave oven for a minute, and then sealing them in a ziplock bag.
Penises with permanent Prince Albert piercings are easily dealt with - they can be tied to a piercing through the navel to keep them still. Or you can use a foreskin piercing to do the same.
A classic arrangement on the male genitals is to place a column of horizontal needles through the skin on the underside of the cock, continuing down the 'seam' in the middle of the scrotum. Here you can easily pinch a little skin up and put the needle through. This feels distinctly sharp and invasive. Alternatively begin at the base and gradually move toward the head, perhaps making the final two in opposite directions through the frenum.
Other intimate structures that can be pierced are of thicker and more sensitive material and consequently cause more intense sensations. Nipples are quite safe to pierce but are tougher than you might expect and the operation is one of the most painful in piercing play. The best way is to go in towards the back of the nipple, nearest the chest, through the edges of the corona. If you are careful in your placement and you have a serious pain pig on your hands, you can get two or even three needles through one nipple, perhaps in a cross or asterisk shape.
One game might be to arrange a series of needles, perhaps in a star shape, around the nipple first. Measure this by placing a spare needle of the same size as the ones you intend to use against the skin so its tip is just short of the corona. The point where you need to make the piercing is just where the bottom of the plastic head lies: either make a mental note of it or mark it with a surgeon's sterile marker. Try a cross, a St Andrews Cross, a 6-needle asterisk or an 8-needle star: you will be surprised at the different sensations and levels of sensitivity in the skin of the breast or chest. In all cases the needles will seem to point towards the conclusion the piercing of the nipple itself.
The surface of the glans (cockhead) and clitoris can also be pierced safely but painfully. It is best to keep the piercings shallow, and expect them to bleed a little. Piercing the penis shaft should be avoided, since it contains arteries and many other blood vessels.
The balls can be pierced safely but great care must be taken. The most important thing is to make sure the balls do not move within the scrotum while the piercing is taking place or when the needle is in: otherwise the outer covering of the testicle could be ruptured, with serious and extremely painful results. Bind the balls firmly both around the top of the scrotum and between each ball so that the scrotum is stretched freely over the balls. Keep the bottom still and avoid violent movements or any sudden or undue stress on the needles.
The direction of the pierce is also important: you need to avoid the epidymis, the attachment on the top of the ball. There are basically two safe pierces: one going from underneath the ball using a short needle that will reach the middle but no further, and one going laterally across the ball, perhaps slightly nearer the bottom and out the other side. Skewering both balls on a single needle is very difficult and dangerous and requires an unusually long needle.
Choose a thinner needle to minimise the amount of internal tissue damage: a gauge 27 for example. Clean the surface, then make the piercing slowly and steadily with a very firm hand. Don't leave the needle in for too long, and certainly don't attempt to masturbate the bottom with the piercing in. Remove the needle as carefully as you put it in. Bleeding is unusual, but you may find a clear fluid squirts out either through the needle while it is in or at the moment it is removed. This is the interstitial fluid from inside the ball and a loss of a little of it is harmless. But be prepared for it so it doesn't make you jump!
The experience for the bottom is more of a 'mind-trip', since although the balls are sensitive to pressure they have no pain receptors inside them. You will feel the prick as the needle breaches the scrotum and then a slight ache as it enters the ball, followed by a background throbbing while it is in. Any serious pain is a sign that something is seriously wrong: the piercing should be removed immediatly -- but carefully, so don't panic. If the pain continues you may have to seek medical help.
Anyone contemplating this procedure is advised to familiarise themselves with the physiology of the balls and what can go wrong with them -- see the Ball Torture Briefing.
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The precautions for suturing are much the same as for ordinary play piercing. It can be achieved with sterile solid steel sewing needles and sterile thread (see What to Use above), and, since the whole length of the needle has to pass through each pierce, the hands that handle it must be sterile too. This means proper sterile surgeon's gloves, not just examination gloves. As explained above, there are other disadvantages to sewing needles, and proper surgical sutures are a better alternative. But these require learning the surgeon's technique of sewing using forceps, which requires some dexterity and practise.
A simple form of suturing that gives something of the effect is to use a single long hypodermic needle, 50mm or 2", to make several piercings in a row. A careful hand should be able to manage three piercings (six holes) and you can achieve some of the skin stretching effect of sutures. Alternatively use silk thread in conjunction with piercings as described under Surface Skin above.
The most popular purpose of sewing in SM games is infibulation, the fastening of genitals to prevent sexual intercourse or arousal. In women either of the two labia can be sewn together; in men the foreskin can be sewn shut or the flaccid penis sewn within the folds of the scrotum. The lips can also be sewn shut. Stretches of skin on back, buttocks and thighs can be sewn in such a way as to pull the skin together.
We've also heard of a technique apparently used in hospital casualty (emergency) departments to tame excessively drunk and violent patients. The doctor will make several stitches through the top of the lower arm, and then tie off the thread to each side of the bed. The patient could, in fact, easily break the stitches or the thread, but the mere idea of being restrained in this way is said to be effective.
It is hoped to include more information about suturing here in the future.
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