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Will nipple piercings affect sensitivity?
January 24, 2011 5:12 PM   Subscribe

My female friend is considering getting her nipples pierced, but hasn't talked with many people who have gotten it done themselves. Her largest concern is losing sensitivity in her nipples. Is this likely? Are there any side effects other than potential bacterial infection that she should consider?
posted by gracedepapel to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had my nipples pierced about 6 years ago. While the results are different for everyone, they remain my most favorite of all my body modifications. I love the way they look, they're very easy to take care of, and they've SIGNIFICANTLY increased my nipple sensitivity.

I would highly, highly recommend that she discuss potential "side effects" with her piercer. A knowledgeable, professional, and well-trained piercer will be able to go over these issues with her.
posted by LittleKnitting at 5:17 PM on January 24, 2011


I had my nipple pierced 15 years ago. The worst part was the clamp the guy used. The actual piercing went smoothly, and healed up quickly. The reason ear and nose piercings take so long to heal up is that there is very little blood flow in cartilage - it also makes getting infections more commonplace. Lots of blood flow to nipples = very quick healing time and very little likelihood of infections. Mine never got infected, nor did it cause me any desensitization or any other problems. I took it out last year when I was about 6 months pregnant. My breasts were swollen and hurt, and the ring started to feel tight somehow. There was no difference in the effectiveness of breastfeeding between the pierced and non-pierced sides. Now that that's over with I don't think I'll bother putting it back in, but I know people who have. So tell her to go for it!
posted by lodie6 at 5:26 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had my nipples pierced twenty years ago. The piercing migrated out after several years due to allergies, leaving some scar tissue (honestly, I am the only one that can see the scarring). I have had no loss of sensitivity. I have also nursed four children with no problem at all.

I think they look pretty and miss them.
posted by saucysault at 5:28 PM on January 24, 2011


Anecdote is not data, but:

When I got my nipples pierced, they got much more sensitive. In fact, so sensitive that I removed them three years later, because they were too sensitive for the kind of fun I like. They remain more sensitive than pre-piercing, but not unpleasantly so.
posted by rosa at 5:49 PM on January 24, 2011


I would highly, highly recommend that she discuss potential "side effects" with her piercer. A knowledgeable, professional, and well-trained piercer will be able to go over these issues with her.

I definitely second this. The piercers I have been to who were unwilling to talk about stuff like this prior to the piercing were, in retrospect, totally ooky people I shouldn't have trusted my body with. The piercers I've known who were knowledgeable and gave reliable advice about the procedures they carried out were gems.

So... here is my anecdotal evidence as a nipple-pierced lady. Although for a few days following the piercing my nipple was somewhat more sensitive than normal, over the past couple of years the sensitivity has (for better or for worse) remained pretty much the same as pre-piercing, and I have experienced no numbness.

My experience was that it took a few months (4 - 6, perhaps?) for my piercing to completely heal. It didn't hurt or feel otherwise uncomfortable, but I found I had to keep using a mild disinfectant on the piercing for longer than I imagined (longer than I had to do so with nose/ears/lip for example). I'm happy with my piercing now though, and as you can tell from the answers above, people's reactions to piercings are all over the map and lots of people get through it hitch free.

Your friend might be interested in reading BME zine's wiki entry on nipple piercings, particularly the related risks section, if she really wants to freak herself out. There is a section there about nipple numbness, but I don't think it's an especially common thing.

Honestly I think common sense would rule out many of the side effects people can have from the piercing. Some important things are: getting a good piercer, disinfecting the piercing as it is healing with a mild disinfectant or salt water solution, and being generally gentle with the piercing as it heals. And obviously, seeking the advice of your piercer and medical attention if something goes really wrong.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 5:58 PM on January 24, 2011


The cat's pyjamas beat me to the BME link. There's a ton of information there, and well worth reading.

Do you (or your friend, I guess) heal well from other injuries? If you are super prone to infections, or tend to get huge-ass scars, I think this would be a bad idea.

My partner heals well, and her nipples healed up, with no infections, in just a few weeks. They are as or more sensitive than before, so no issues there. But unless you welcome a certain kind of attention, it does mean that you will need to pay some attention to your underwear -- pierced nipples show through clothes like you wouldn't believe, and people just can't help themselves but stare and comment, so sometimes getting dressed is a little more complicated. But that's not a big deal at all, really.
posted by Forktine at 6:06 PM on January 24, 2011


I had a nipple piercing 12 years ago and a breast reduction 16 months ago. My nipples still function perfectly.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:09 PM on January 24, 2011


Actually losing sensitivity does happen, but is very rare. Most people report as above: either increased sensitivity, or initial increase followed by a slow return to the norm.

Possible unrare negative outcomes include:
a) piercings that never fully heal either from being poorly done (including incorrect jewellery size or shape), having nipples unsuited for piercing, or just plain bad luck
b) piercings that the body rejects by pushing the jewellery up to the surface and finally out of the body for the same reasons as 'a'
c) piercings that are fully healed but don't seem to quite get over the last hurdle and produce liquid discharge or crusty debris at the holes on occasion (just dead skin cells and lymph mostly)
d) small, localized infection (like an oversized pimple that keeps coming back)
e) a more serious infection that can spread

Option C is most likely (it's almost common), followed by A, B, D, and E (which are rare compared to the number of people who have it done). E is the only problem that cannot be solved simply by removing the jewellery and/or a serious disinfection with something like hydrogen peroxide. Often the other problems can be solved by changing to jewellery of a different material or shape/size. The best jewellery (for most people) is PTFE barbells, with titanium barbells being #2.

The most important thing for getting a piercing to fully heal is to keep it free of irritants. That means no oral contact, no unwashed hands, no playing with it until the healing period is past. Extra cleaning, disinfection, and other after-the-fact steps are no remedy for, ah, enjoying it before its time--they are merely damage control.
posted by K.P. at 6:34 PM on January 24, 2011


I had my left nipple pierced about 12 years ago (christ, I'm getting old) and have absolutely no difference in feeling between it and it's unpierced friend. It is slightly bigger now though and would probably look a bit odd if I took it out.
posted by Wantok at 6:39 PM on January 24, 2011


It's obviously possible that there will be some kind of fluke nerve damage or other sensitivity-reducing situation. That's certainly not why people get it done, so as long as she's willing to accept a certain amount of risk the odds are in her favor.

I think barbells are now the more common jewelry. I have a ring and once every year or so I have some kind of stupid accident (hairbrushes are the #1 culprit, but once I had a 22lb cat stand on the ring and get his claw stuck in the bedsheet underneath, pinning me until we got the situation sorted) that could have ended with sensitivity-reducing damage. It's an ongoing risk, to a certain degree.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:13 PM on January 24, 2011


I've had both of mine done for 10+ years now. They are slightly more sensitive than they used to be. I do get some discharge from them on occasion, but nothing a shower can't take care of.

I am also someone who had every surface piercing I ever had reject - I never had any problem of that nature with my nipples.

The healing for me SUCKED. It was a pretty painful piercing, and the healing wasn't very fun. Lots of compresses and ibuprofin for me. If I ever have to remove them and they close, I doubt I would get them redone. But I like them and am glad I have them. Y(H)MMV.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:03 PM on January 24, 2011


How big are her breasts? The larger-breasted women I know (D and above) have had much more trouble with their piercings migrating out. Don't try to talk anyone into a thinner-than-standard gauge size -- the recommended gauge for nipples starts at 14 ga for good reason.

They are notoriously schmutzy piercings, but nothing that can't be solved with two seconds of extra attention in the shower. In professional/dressy environments, pierced nipples mean that you really have to wear a bra lined at least lightly with a bit of padding, or the jewelry will be quite visible.

The piercing itself is painful, but fast -- I think it was over before I registered anything beyond shock. No loss of sensitivity. At all. At all. Even 15 years later.
posted by desuetude at 8:39 PM on January 24, 2011


As a woman with larger breasts (I think they were D at the time), I had a lot of trouble healing nipple piercings (17 years ago!), and eventually gave them up. They were pretty, though! I had one done at 16ga, and the forceps hurt more than the piercing. I had the other done at 14ga. while stretching the other to 14, and *that* hurt like bejeezus.

Absolutely no problems with sensitivity, either more or less. If you were staring intently at my nipples, you might notice the scar tissue.

My overall impression is that they are harder to heal if your breasts are larger.
posted by endless_forms at 9:15 PM on January 24, 2011


One thing to keep in mind is the issue of snagging. If you are, for instance, washing your chest with one of those bath poufs, or leaning around a door frame while topless, or sleeping under a loosely-knitted blanket in the nude... well, it's possible to snag the jewelry and receive a dose of pain and bleeding far worse than the initial piercing was. This may be less of an issue with rings as compared to barbells. Basically, just Be Aware.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:35 PM on January 24, 2011


Anecdotal (male) data point: have had one nipple pierced, large gauge, for almost 9 years. Had a little crust/goo as describe in point C above for a loooooong time, occasionally even to this day. And I do have to say that while it can be sensually fun to play with, I have way less sensitivity in that nipple than the unpierced one. Not the permanent nip-on I was hoping for!
posted by yellowbinder at 9:50 PM on January 24, 2011


Thanks so much for the feedback everyone. It's been very helpful and I appreciate your honesty.
posted by gracedepapel at 5:05 AM on January 25, 2011


With a good, responsible piercer I (larger breasted) had no problems or reduction in sensitivity at all. I started with barbells and haven't changed from my rings in years. I love them!
posted by ldthomps at 6:57 AM on January 25, 2011


c) piercings that are fully healed but don't seem to quite get over the last hurdle and produce liquid discharge or crusty debris at the holes on occasion (just dead skin cells and lymph mostly)

this = me.
i have had my nipples pierced for a number of years now and at least one of them does this a lot.

at first, they were much more sensitive. one of them still is. the other one (the one that does the above) has become LESS sensitive. or at least less sensitive than when i first got it done. my nipples were never very sensitive to begin with, so i didn't see much potential for loss.

please tell your friend to prepare to not want to wear a bra for awhile afterward. and sea salt soaks in shot glasses will be her new best friend.
posted by itsacover at 8:28 PM on January 25, 2011


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