By W.J. Pijacker Hordijk, M.A  



Women wear two earrings, men don't except when they do; one or two, nose rings, navel rings, navel piercing (1), implantations or implants (2)--is that the same thing as pocketing? (3) Stamping (4), scarification (5), decorating your teeth (6), splitting the tongue (7), or a living corset with a ribbon (8), or. . .

There have been many new developments since the days of foot binding and tooth filing. Cows and pigs used to be fitted with nose rings to prevent them rooting around. Body piercing, anyone?


Visiting the dentist is still a necessary evil. Despite anasthesia it is no fun to have someone poke around in your mouth or pull your teeth. People today go to great lengths to avoid pain--yet they also worship it, in a way. Be different, push your boundaries. Change your body. This is actually possible: there is a store which specializes in these things. "Body Manipulations", the first piercing shop in Europe, is located in (where else) Amsterdam (9). What is one to think of this modern rage? And how do we respond as Christians?





Piercing originated in Africa and Asia. Among ancient Egyptians, a pierced navel denoted royal status. Aztecs pierced their lips (10). Caesar's body guards, Roman centurions, pierced their nipples. They wore nipple rings to display masculinity, fertility, courage, and to fasten their short capes. Moroccan women wore large nose jewelry, Eskimo men wore bone moustaches, and the Papuas pierced their septums (11). Until recently, it was an underground phenomenon in Western Europe and the United States. Modern piercing originated with American bikers and homosexuals (12). The trendsetters who brought body art from the west coast of United States to the Netherlands in the nineties, copied the style from the gay and s-m scenes, who, in turn had derived their ideas about body decoration from the Mayas, the Inuit, and other peoples. Those tribes mainly used piercing to express class differences or to initiate boys into manhood (13). Only certain groups of homosexuals, tattoo fanatics and s-m devotees were into piercing. During the fifties, piercing was taboo. A woman wearing more than one earring was considered a whore (14). Piercing, thefore, was the exclusive domain of sado-masochists and sexual adventurers. Punks gave piercing a political flavor when they started piercing their cheeks with safety pins. As was the case with tattoos, piercing was practised and advocated only by certain alternative groups. Today, however, no one raises an eyebrow anymore at "ordinary, law-abiding citizens" with piercings. In 2003, 2 million people in the Netherlands had at least one piercing. (15)





Techniques, risks, and politics


The verb "to pierce" means to drill through, cut open or perforate, but also "to shock deeply". . . A "piercer" is an awl, a hook or a drill, and "piercing" can mean "searching", "sharp", and "cutting" (painful). In Van Dale's 1984 English-Dutch Dictionary, none of the entries for this word describe the fad we are talking about here. In the 2005 edition, however, we read the following: Pierce: to make a hole in a body part in order to put a ring or some such object through it. And under piercing we read: 1. putting a ring or like object through a body part (as decoration or to generate feelings of arousal) 2. a ring or stud in a body part; also used in combination with body parts: clit piercing, penis piercing, nose piercing, ear piercing, nipple piercing, tongue piercing. The Dutch dictionary does not have a description yet of body piercing as body decoration.


Most people are familiar with earrings, of course. But piercing your eyebrow, nose, lip, tongue, nipple, navel, foreskin, penis, labia, and clitoris are options too, and people are doing it! About 10% choose a sexual piercing. There is a distinction between body piercing (in vital body parts such as tongue, nipple, and penis) and superficial piercing (on the surface of the body, such as eyebrow, navel, and skin of the scrotum). The piercing of the skin must happen under strictly sterile conditions. As with getting a tattoo, there is a risk of contracting AIDS and hepatitis-B (16). Remember that piercers are not surgeons! Medical experts write in the Infectious Diseases Bulletin, a publication of the National Institute for Public Health and Environment, that people with heart problems are advised to avoid piercings. There was one thirty year old woman whose tongue piercing got infected with a streptococcus bacteria. It subsequently entered her bloodstream and reached her heart. She had to have an emergency operation to replace a heart valve. (17)


Piercing also hurts, since no anasthesia is used unless it is done by a medical professional--only they can use anasthesia, for good reasons. (18) After the hole is made, a metal (surgical steel or gold, not silver since it can cause allergic reactions) object such as a ring or a chain is inserted.


The pierced body parts heal slowly and are susceptible to infections for quite a while (19). We are talking about a minimum of three weeks for an ear to a maximum of nine months for a belly button. Research by GG & GD in Amsterdam has shown that scores of serious infections are reported to doctors afterwards.


The metal of a lip piercing can cause the gums to recede, which in turn can lead to the loss of teeth (usually the front teeth). This process is irreversible. Cleaning your teeth is more difficult, which increases the chances of gum disease (20). The Attorney General even wonders whether piercing is always voluntary.


Now about tongue piercings. These can seriously damage the teeth, because the metal rods and balls damage the enamel and break little pieces off teeth and molars. Once enamel is gone, it never grows back. The metal is also a breeding ground for bacteria and fungal infections (21). One 25-year old woman had such a bad allergic reaction that her mout swelled up to the point that she couldn't swallow. If the person isn't treated immediately, he or she will suffocate. A tongue piercing can have the same effect as a wasp sting in the mouth (22).


Some piercers, by the way, make their clients sign a form to release the piercer of all responsibility (23), in case someone gets the piercing while they are drunk or high, or on a whim at a pop festival (24).


Mr. Hoogevorst, Minister of Health, has good reasons for wanting to set a minimum age for piercings and tattoos. He is still discussing the matter with Mr. Donner, his collegue from the Ministry of Justice, but he is willing to make an exception for earrings. A House majority is in favor of age limits, but they are divided on the question of what the minimum age should be (25). Earlier, Mr. Hoogevorst did not want to make piercings and tattoos for children under 16 illegal.(26) The ministers of Health and Justice don't see the point of criminalizing piercings or tattoos for children under 16, for the following reasons: The police does not have the time to enforce it, the Ministry of Health has other priorities, in our society there are varying opinions about such procedures, and criminalizing may lead to an illegal market. The VVD calls these reasons excuses(27). But is it acceptable for police officers themselves to wear visible piercings and tattoos? Mr.Eerdmans, LPF member of Parliament, thinks police departments need to make a better effort to model civil behavior. He points to the Amsterdam-Amstelland force, whose chief of police, Weltings, banned visible tattoos and earring for men. According to the LPF representative, the way police officers come across is as much a cause of growing violence against officers as the increasing aggression among civilians themselves. (28)


Meanwhile, it is now illegal to give piercings or tattoos to children 12 years and younger. Ony earrings are allowed. Children 16 and older are free to decide for themselves. Children 12-16 must be accompanied by a parent if they want to get a tattoo or piercing. (29).


How much does it cost? A piercing will set you back about 25-50 euros (35-75 dollars) (30).


Heavy make-up for women used to be fashionable. Then it became trendy to look as natural as possible. Now piercing is a fad. Where is the boundary for defying taboos? Will it get to the point that we have to be dressed up like a christmas tree in order to stand out? How far do we push the boundaries of pain to create a special look, and how much are we willing to pay in terms of financial cost and health risks? Sooner or later people without body decorations will be the ones who stand out. Doesn't the human body have a natural beauty of its own?








According to Esther Sanalda, owner of Body Manipulations, piercing is the ultimate expression of individuality and toughness. Pierded individuals emphasize the fact that their life is in their own hands, even if it involves some unpleasant consequences (31). Piercing and tattoos share an element of self-determination and ritual, although piercing is less permanent. When you remove a nose stud or a navel ring, the worst you're left with is a tiny hole. Some people do it to rebel against something or someone. Others want to decorate their bodies like primitive tribes, or they want to spice up their sex life. However, since piercings have become more common, they are not so much a symbol of rebelling against, as a symbol of conforming to a particular group (such as punks, skaters, Hells Angels, and goths). According to Bert Sliggers, organizer of the exhibition "The Decorated Individual, a History of Piercing and Plugging" at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, todays youth culture is influenced by the behavior of super models and pop artists in the late eighties and early nineties (32). One scene where tattoos and piercings are standard is at so called "house parties". According to the flyers, rude and shocking are de rigueur. Even hell and the devil are flaunted. How can a Christian feel at home in such an environment?


Piercing is a fashion trend, primarily decorative in nature, but it is also said to be an aphrodisiac. Piercing is closely related to sado-masochism, that is, sexual activity characterized by sadism (33) and masochism (34). It goes without saying that this is about self-gratification rather than tender love.


The cosmetic and commercial goals of piercing go hand in hand. These "body manipulations" are fairly pricey, but that's usually not a problem for the modern western consumer. We could say, then, that it is a luxury phenomenon.



Piercing from a christian perspective


"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates (piercing!) even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). (35) Of course the word "penetrate" is used here in a metaphorical sense; the word of God does not actually decorate or maim anyone. Is the word also used in a literal sense in the Bible? Exodus 21:5,6 (cf. Deut 15:16, 17) says,


"But if the servant declares, "I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free," then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life."


The earmark served as a sign that this slave could have been free, but chose to keep serving his lord. The slave was bound to the house forever, so to speak. The earmark was a sign of private property. It was probably a hole without anything in it, so it would not be the same thing as modern piercing.


Ear and nose rings are mentioned in the Old Testament: Ge 24:47 (amulets), Ex 32:2,3 (boys wore earrings, too! Here they are offered to the golden calf), Ex 35:22 (gifts for the tabernacle), Num 31:50, Judges 8:24-26, and Isaiah 3:16-23. Women always wore their nosering through the right nostril, so the ring dangled over the mouth and had to be lifted when eating. There is nothing new under the sun. God himself gave his (symbolic) wife (Jerusalem) a nosering and an earring! (Ezek 16:12) Based on these passages, it seems wearing this kind of jewelry is acceptable.


Even before the fourth century B.C. Greek statues had perforated earlobes which were decorated with earrings.


However, rings were not used exclusively as jewelry: prisoners were led away like dangerous animals by means of ropes attached to rings or hooks through the nose or chin. (Isa 37:29; Eze 19:4,9 29:4 (fish hook) 38:4). These were not decorations, but means of keeping people under control.


In the New Testament jewelry isn't mentioned as often. Peter does caution women, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Pet 3:3,4 cf. 1 Tim 2:9) In other words: don't flaunt your looks; is your inner self attractive? The way you look is a reflection of your inner self.


"Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful women who shows no discretion" (Prov 11:22). The men in this culture were probably not as "decorated" as the women, either.


Why does someone set his heart set on getting a piercing? What are your motives? Do you really have to follow the latest trends? Do you want to shock people? Provoke them? Is it a cry for attention and acceptance? Self-hate? Do you get a kick out of it? Think about the inevitable hangover, the risks. Are you trying to fill an emptiness? Piercing is like drinking salt water: it can never quench your thirst. If your worth and fulfillment are not in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will keep searching for something to fill that emptiness. How far are you willing to go, where are your boundaries?


Do you not know that a Christian's body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? (1 Cor 6:19) Who is the "landlord"? The temple was not subjected to all kinds of drilling to attach strange decorations. Piercing is accompanied by a stinging pain and the new sensation of an alien object in your body. Is pain enjoyable? Infection and tearing are not imaginary risks. This toughness makes you vulnerable. Piercing also means suffering pain. Some people get a kick of the pain that follows piercing, a kind of surrender to pain. They also play with the rings, chains, and other jewelry for the partner's sexual enjoyment. (36). What signals do you send by doing this to your body? What do you want to communicate? What is your deepest motivation for getting a piercing? Have you asked God? If you are a minor, are you willing to obey your parents in this? What do I want others to think (or not think)? Do merely like the way it looks? Or do I enjoy the provocation? Do I need the piercing to be myself? Glorify God with your body, do everything to honor Him, and do not give offense. Do your best to be modest in the way you present yourself. (37, 38).


As with tattoos, piercing should not become too big an issue. After all: it is better to have long hair than to be short-sighted. It is so easy to judge or even condemn people based on their looks, without knowing the first thing about what motivates them. Whether or not someone has a piercing or a tattoo does not determine their eternal destiny. These two controversial body decorations must not become a shibboleth. (39) There is field of tension between christian freedom and not causing offense. The bottom line is always faith in the Jesus our redeemer. "Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him" (Rev 1:7).





If you think that with this latest trend the well of outrageous behavior has been exhausted, you are wrong (40). People without God are always looking for a new kick, a better high: by willfully causing scar tissue and burn injuries, for example. Man is empty by nature and will always try to fill that vacuum in bizarre ways. Pain, expense, and self-mutilation are not important--on the contrary. Does self-mutilation lead to self-destruction? Is bloodshed required? Yes! Jesus was pierced on the cross and his blood was shed to reconcile people to God. If we put our trust in him, the meaningless vacuum we are all born with is filled completely. This is true peace.


What would Jesus do?





drs W.J.A Pijnacker Hordijk

April 1998, updated April 2008


Translated By Mariette Brotnov





1. A small ring through the nail, to which other things can be attached, such as little hearts, ladybugs, bells. You can also glue tiny images on the nails, such as little fake diamonds or stars. No decoration is too wild for going out at night. The nail piercing can be attached to a little chain which in turn is attached to a ring on the finger. This ring can also be attached to something else. The nails may tear, of course, if the chain catches on something. A variation on nose piercing: nail piercing simone Barneveld, NCR Handelsblad, 2/4/99


2. Implantations, or implants: little metal rods (24-karat gold and 0.25% titanium) are implanted under the skin by means of a hollow needle. This costs about $750. Precious metals under the skin, implants new trend in body decarating, Robert Haagsma, Algeneen Dagblad, 7/30/98


3. Pocketing is a Canadian invention; metal rods are attached to, or imlanted under the skin. Piercing is for everyone, Sarah-Mie Luyckx, Trouw, 3/7/98


4. Stapling: putting staples in the skin of the arms or legs. You can create any shape you want, and if you leave the staples long enough, they turn into a tattoo. Piercing: age-old phenomenon, Anke Sprakel, Metro, 1/23/2002


5. Scarification is causing lasting scar tissue to form on the skin by means of burning or laserbeam. Into the new millenium complete with implan, Machteld Leistra, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, 12/18/99. Scarification "is deliberately causing burn injuries" Piercing is for everyone, Sarah-Mie Luyckx, Trouw, 3/7/98


6. Attaching a little crystal, silver, or gold ,on a tooth. Decorating teeth, Haarlems Dagblad, 7/17/2000


7. The forked tongue looks like the tongue of a snake or a lizard. Besides the cosmetic effect, this procedure is also said to increase sensual sensations. Potential infection and a speech impediment are included for free. . . Prohibition against forking the tongue demanded, Algemeen Dagblad, 5/17/2003


8. Bjork modeled a living corset in her videoclip: two rows of rings in her back with a ribbon through them. Piercing and plugging, Annemart van Rhee, Algemeen Dagblad, 2/20/2003


9. Cool, a rod through your nipple, "Going to the dentist hurts more", Teije Brandsma, Vrij Nederland, 4/17/1993


10. Piercings are a hip, but age-old phenomenon John Maes, Vita, 3/20/2003


11. Piercings in the dark room, Pause magazine #6, March 2003


12. Body piercer has his eye on Utrecht "Modern medicine man" wants to open a store and start a magazine, Maarten Venderbosch, Vrij Nederland, 8/29/1995


13. Dad, can I get a branded, John Hoogerwaard, Trouw, de Verdieping, 8/9/99


14. Lean back in an easy chair while they pierce any body part you want, It takes nine moths for a belly button to heal, Frans Bosman, Het Parool, 4/17/93


15. The devastating effects of tongue piercing, Afra Botman, Trouw, 4/26/2003


16. Hepatitis danger seriously underestimated, Haarlems Dagblad, 5/22/2000

17. Tongue piercing is bad for your heart, Nederlands Dagblad, 7/12/2007; Piercing destroys heart valve, Nederlands Dagblad 3/20/2008


18. Piercing: will that be with or without anasthesia, sir? Algemeen Dagblad, 12/19/95


19. One in five students in new York suffer from infections and bleeding because of piercings, according to researchers from Pace University in Pleasantville. One in Five gets infection after piercing, Splts, 1/9/2002, and Piercing hutst for a long time, De Volkskrant, 1/9/2002. Dr. Lester Mayers warns against terrible cauliflower ear, a result of piercing the cartilage in the ear. He also states in a professional journal" "this morbid hobby puts heavy demands on our health care system."


20. According to research by the University of Ohio and warnings from the British Dental Association. Lip Piercing bad for the gums, Splts, 3/30/2005


21. Tongue piercing devastating for the teeth, BN / De Stem, 1/29/2005


22. Be careful with tongue piercings Dentists warn against "the same effect as a wasp sting". Sylvie d'Hoore, Het Nieuwsblad--De Gentenaar--'t Stad, 7/23/99


23. GG & GD hope piercing will not become popular, Raymond van den Boogaard, NRC, 4/14/93


24. Really being yourself with rings and rods, Jan Haerinck, de Volkskrant, 9/27/96


25. Age limits for piercing, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 4/20/2006


26. Ban on piercings for youth no longer discussed, Splts, 12/7/2005


27. Tattoo done on child not punishable, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 5/13/2005


28. No piercing or tattoos for police officer, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 6/15/2006


29. Tattoos and piercings for children illegal, Reformatorish Dagblad, 6/28/2006


30. Dangers of body piercing, Teije Brandsma, Friesch Dagblad, 9/20/93; Piercers work on the whole body, Marc van der Eerenbeemt, de Volkskrant, 11/7/94


31. Piercers work on the whole body, Marc van der Eerenbeemt, de Volkskrant, 11/7/94


32. Piercing and plugging, Annemart van der Rhee, Algemeen Dagblad, 2/20/2003


33. Inflicting pain on the object of desire before and during orgasm


34. Psychological orientation, where experiencing humiliation and physical abuse is necessary for reaching an orgasm.


35. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. RSV; The King James and the NAS also use "piercing".


36. A rod in the tongue is particularly exciting--Body piercing: mutilation or decoration? Renee Lamberts, Opzij, June 1993


37. 1 Cor 6:20, 10:31-33, 1 Tim 2:9


38. Piercings, Ronduit Insite, September 2004


39. Identifying word from Judges 12:4-6, now means: expression which indicates a particular viewpoint or characteristic.


40. If you think with piercing body decoration has pretty much run its course, you're wrong: after piercing comes burning and cutting, Jerry Goossens, Trouw, 7/2/94












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