About 15 years ago LiGee decided his dick would look better with a cobra on it. "If I could suffer through a tattoo on my dick and anyone sees it," he told me over the phone while driving to his home in New Jersey, "they will know that I had the stomach to do it. And that I have the balls to do it. Other people might want to do it, but they can't take that pain."
LiGee was committed to the idea, but he couldn't find a tattoo parlor willing to help him realize his dream. As a compromise, he got a snake tattooed just above his cock, with its tail pointing down toward his member. But as the years rolled by he still couldn't get the idea of a tattooed cock out of his mind. He found a few parlors in New York City willing to help him out, but they all wanted to charge a "handling fee." Eventually, while on vacation in Florida last year, he found a shop willing to do it without an upcharge.
LiGee got 14 chevron stripes that start at the snake's tail, or his pube hairline, and run all the way down to the tip of his dick. About six months after the first five-hour session, he decided to get one more just under his head to make it an even 15.
"As soon as everyone sees it they ask if it hurt and if I had to get hard when I did it," LiGee told me. "Obviously it hurt and no I did not have to be hard." That said, when LiGee gets erect there is a bit more room between the stripes.
Tattoo artist Luke Wessman is absolutely covered in ink, including a dick tatt that reads "Hubba Hubba." He's had it for about 15 years. "At the time, as a young kid, I was thinking of it as a cool, funny thing," he says. "I had it narrowed down to 'bada bing' and 'hubba hubba' and I got 'hubba hubba.' My friend that did it has 'va va voom' on his."
He said getting it done didn't hurt any more than any of his other tattoos, but there was something strange about having a needle buzzing below the belt. "It was more of a mental thing than a pain thing," he says. "It's an area where you don't want any pain. I just remember it being weird and awkward."
Of course the inherent floppiness of a limp penis makes it a bit harder to tattoo than other parts of the body. As anyone who has watched the Showtime show Gigolos is aware, its star Nick Hawk has most of the area around his nether regions covered in black ink. "My artist agreed to do it but I had to hold it, stretch it, and bend it over my thumb," he said. "It's hard to take your mind somewhere else when you're involved in the process."
Both Hawk and Wessman say that there isn't a huge difference in the look of the tattoo when they are hard or soft. "I'm considering getting the Utimate Warrior's face paint beneath my head on the underside and it is a concern," Hawk said about how it will look in its excited state. "I think if you stretch it during the process you're safe in that aspect. 'The Ultimate Warrior' is what I nicknamed my penis, by the way."
Related: Watch VICE's documentary about a tattoo artist who works inside an abandoned communist bunker
Though I easily found several subjects with below-the-belt artwork, cock tatts are still relatively rare. An informal survey of New York City tattoo parlors found that most of them wouldn't provide the service and, as LiGee found, those that would do it charge a "substantial fee." One tattoo artist said in his ten years he's never been asked to do it once, and other parlor owners said that when people call up to ask about it it's usually a prank call.
Wessman has also given exactly one penis tattoo in his career, to a friend of his who wanted "Love" with a broken heart on one side, and "Destroyer" on the other. "It definitely can't be erect, but I don't think anyone would be," he said. "At the time I had him stretch it a bit because it's little because you're nervous. It definitely has a lot of extra stretch, so I think that's important to consider. But if you're not paying attention when you retract it then it could come out crooked or curved. You have to factor in the whole accordion feature."
LiGee told me the worst part of the process wasn't the actual tattooing, but the artist rubbing off the excess ink with gauze over and over again, which eventually started to chafe his penis. Still, he regrets nothing. "I've always loved my penis, but I do like it a lot more now that it's striped," he says. "People are always trying to see how many stripes they can get in."
It's good for Hawk's business as well. "It's a turn on to almost all women," he says. "It's different, and different is good in the bedroom."
While there have been studies examining the psychological reasons behind the desire to get a tattoo, none have looked specifically at why someone might want to get one on his dick. Because of that, Dr. Viren Swami, a psychology professor at the UK's Anglia Ruskin University who has done significant studies about body art, didn't have any firm answers. He did, however, have some theories.
"One of the main motivations for getting a tattoo, at least in Western cultures, is to promote a sense of uniqueness," Swami told me, adding that a genital tattoo probably has little to do with sex. "But what do you do when tattoos have become mainstream—in the US and Western Europe, close to half the adult population now have at least one tattoo, and tattoos are also becoming more visible in popular culture. One response might be to get tattooed on less 'traditional' parts of the body—'Everyone has a tattoo on their arm; I'm going to get a tattoo on my penis.'"
But aesthetic tastes change over time, and not all men remain happy with the sort of individuality a penis tattoos provides. Jade Field owns a tattoo removal parlor in Melbourne, Australia. When a friend of hers was unhappy with the submarine tattoo he had on his boner (because it's full of semen, get it?) she offered to remove it for free and posted the session on YouTube. It's excruciating to watch.
"He sat down, I gave him one shock and his penis shriveled back into nothing. It turtled away from me," she said. Even though she applied numbing cream to the area, you can still hear him screaming in pain while having it done. "It kept going back into itself because I was scaring the fuck out of it."
Luckily he only needed one session of laser treatment. Field explains that laser tattoo removal works with the lymphatic system, so doing a part of the body closer to the lymph nodes, like the penis, always yields better results. With places like hands or feet, further away from the nodes, it takes multiple trips under the laser.
No one I talked to had any experience with tattoos on the nuts, but Hawk is contemplating it. "I have considered doing my scrotum but it's a lot of skin so it would definitely be a challenge," he said. "And who knows what that would look like down the road."
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