I researched vertical clitoral hood piercings for almost a year before I decided to get one. I talked myself out of it for months, pretending the time wasn't right and I was too busy, or that I hadn't done enough research. When I ran out of links to click and pictures to examine, I finally accepted that it was now or never. If I really wanted it, I would need to stop thinking about it and simply do it.
Vertical clitoral hood (VCH) piercings are the most popular female genital piercings, because of the quick healing time its natural conformity to the anatomical shape of the wearer. Aside from its aesthetic value, the VCH piercing increases clitoral stimulation during sexual activity and offers the possibility of more pleasure. The piercer places a surgical-steel bar (similar to those used in belly button piercings) through the little covering of skin that protects the clitoris so that one steel ball at the end of the bar is visible to the naked eye, while the other rests gently on top of a woman's clitoris under the little skin flap.
Obsessive by nature, I took my investigation into the world of genital piercings very seriously—I wanted to be absolutely sure before I began poking holes down there. At first, I encountered horror stories of women who went in for clitoral hood piercings and came out with nerve damage, caused by inexperienced piercers who permanently maimed their clients by piercing the clitoris along with the hood. While my insides clenched at the thought of being stabbed through my clitoris, I was relieved to find out that these cases of butchery were rare, and there were a surprising number of genital piercers with excellent reviews in my area.
What if someone at the piercing place laughs at me? Will I ever be able to cross my legs again?
After months of explicit internet searches, I decided that I loved the way they looked: delicate and feminine, but with an undeniable edge. And the prospect of having better sex and more intense orgasms was certainly intriguing. As far as piercings went, the VCH was also affordable: with an approximate service fee of $40 and a jewelry cost between $20 and $40, a VCH piercing would cost only a few dollars more than a belly button or tongue ring.
Although enthusiastic to get the piercing, I was still too ashamed to tell anyone aside from my boyfriend what I was doing. While 72 percent of American women have piercings of some kind, only 2 percent have piercings on the genitals. I'm a nice, normal girl. And we nice, normal girls just don't do things like pierce our vaginas—which is probably why the National Health Service in the UK now views consensual vaginal piercings as a crime, and why some doctors treat women with genital piercings less favorably.
Besides those concerns, my anxieties about the piercing were too personal to share: What if I lose all sensation and it ruins sex forever? What if someone at the piercing place laughs at me? Will I ever be able to cross my legs again? Will it show through my pants? What if I hate it?
I also grappled with my existence as a straitlaced, disciplined athlete who had never misbehaved in any major way in her entire life. I wondered how I might come to terms with what I saw as a transgression from my own identity, eagerly welcoming wildness into my otherwise orderly life. I wasn't the kind of person who did these sorts of things. And yet, I wanted so badly to get this piercing.
Early one Saturday afternoon I gritted my teeth and hailed a taxi, determined to go through with it. In the cab, I reminded myself that whatever happened, I would (most likely) return alive and could easily pretend the whole episode had never occurred. After all, I hadn't told anybody what I was doing in the first place.
As I approached my destination, my cheeks burned with insecurity. I briefly wondered why I was even there, doing something I shouldn't in a place where I didn't belong. Tucking my chin and folding my arms, I did my best to look small (not an easy task at over six feet tall) as I exited the cab. I saw the glass storefront of the piercing parlor and hustled to the safety of its cloud-colored walls.
I scuttled inside and approached the counter, brimming with false confidence. I still felt painfully out of place; this piercing parlor, in spite of its spa-like motif, was no different than any other. There really wasn't a nice, quiet place for normal girls like me to get their vaginas pierced.
"Hi there, what can I help you with today?"
The receptionist had a jewel-embossed piercing the size of a dime in the space between her chin and her bottom lip that sparkled when she talked.
"Hi, I'd like to get a VCH piercing?"
On the word "piercing" my voice hitched and rose, squeaking out a question in place of the confident declaration that I intended. I used the piercing's abbreviated name to sound sophisticated, and mostly to avoid saying "clitoral." I was intensely uncomfortable with the word clitoris, even when I was asking another person to pierce the skin above mine.
The receptionist prepared paperwork and invited me to browse the jewelry, where I scrutinized each piece. I refused to decorate my lady-bits with anything plastic, colored, or cheap-looking, though I appreciated the irony in wanting a "classy" genital piercing. I settled on a plain steel bar with a cubic zirconium stone on the visible ball end of the jewelry. I filled out my consent forms as the receptionist rattled off information:
"As I'm sure you know, we sterilize all of our equipment in an autoclave to avoid infections. You'll go over aftercare instructions and payment with your piercer after you're all done, but it'll be about $75 today. Please sign here to indicate that you understand all of our policies and procedures. Your piercer today will be Ed; he'll come get you when he's all set."
A man. A man would be touching my vagina, poking a hole in it! The only men to ever even see that part of my body were my ex and current boyfriend, and now a perfect stranger who was a man would not only see me; he would also pierce me. I knew in the corner of my mind that I could probably wait a little longer and ask for a female piercer instead, but such a prudish request would be too humiliating. As far as I was concerned, the kind of girl who got her clitoral hood pierced was not the kind of girl who cared about the gender of her piercer. I would maintain the façade of being that kind of girl if it killed me.
The cotton swab's aggressive intrusion into the most sensitive part of my anatomy felt foreign and heavy. Was this how my piercing would feel?
I looked up and saw Ed shuffle out to greet me, a gentle smile on his face. He was a short, overweight Hispanic man with a close beard and dreadlocks on the parts of his head that weren't shaved. Like everyone else in the shop aside from me, his face was amply decorated with rings, bars, and glittering studs. He looked a lot friendlier than I was expecting. I followed him into a procedure room that looked like a doctor's office, only its padded table was black and only half the length. I perched on the edge and dangled my legs as Ed and I chatted about my piercing.
"I'm going to ask you to take your pants and underwear off, and lay down on the table with your legs in a butterfly position when we get started."
"Oh, that's fine, that's what my waxer has me do!" My nerves induced me to over-share, but Ed wasn't fazed.
"Great, and so at that point I will take a look and see if you're anatomically suited for the piercing. I wouldn't worry about this. Most women are. From there we will use a needle receiving tube under your clitoral hood, or NRT, to place the jewelry."
I almost interjected again to declare that I knew all that already. From my extensive research, I knew that the NRT technique was the most advanced way of performing a VCH piercing, and I presumed that I knew exactly what to expect in the piercing process. Instead of speaking, I simply nodded and smiled as Ed talked me through everything in his soft, understanding voice. I wondered if Ed was gay. He had a maternal tone and the touch of an experienced nurse, and though I usually consider myself too progressive to just assume a person's sexual orientation, I unquestioningly accepted my presumptions of Ed's same-sex inclinations. It felt less uncomfortable to have my vagina examined by a gay man than to lie spread-eagled in front of a straight one.
I took off my pants and underwear and climbed onto the table as Ed instructed, crossing my arms over my chest and watching him as he prepared his tools. He held up a cotton swab with the soft cotton removed, saying, "I'm going to check your hood now to make sure we can do the piercing; I'll be placing this through the opening of your hood and it will be resting on your clitoris where the jewelry will sit. OK?"
"OK," I squeaked as he turned his attention from my face to my vagina. I suppressed the urge to giggle at the word hood and stared at the ceiling. I felt intense pressure and the pull of the cotton swab on my skin, and my eyes widened. It hurt more than I thought it would. The cotton swab's aggressive intrusion into the most sensitive part of my anatomy felt foreign and heavy. Was this how my piercing would feel?
"The opening of your hood is a little tight, but you're suited for the piercing! I'm going to get started."
I felt the cottonless cotton swab withdraw and the coldness of iodine in its place. I put my hands to my face and exhaled deeply. As Ed worked, I considered the absurdity of discussing the tightness of my hood with a strange man. I shivered with pent-up nervous laughter.
All humor quickly evaporated as I felt the same pressure as with the cotton swab, followed by a sharp stab of pain. I wrinkled my nose and squinted against it, careful not to move my lower body.
The pain faded to a powerful sting as Ed secured my jewelry and swabbed off the remainder of the iodine. In less than a minute, it was done.
He handed me a mirror, and I speechlessly took it and angled my newly ornamented anatomy into view... I loved it.
"You doing OK, Gen? That wasn't so bad, was it?"
I could hear the reassuring smile in his voice as he spoke, and I wanted to slap him. He wasn't allowed to be cheerful while I was still suffering from the shock of what had just transpired.
"I'm OK... Yeah, that hurt more than I was expecting, 'cause everything I saw online said it was so easy—that it was just a little pinch because the skin down there is so thin..." My voice felt weak, emptied of all its energy from the unexpected pain.
"Here's a mirror so that you can take a look at it. What do you think?"
He handed me a mirror, and I speechlessly took it and angled my newly ornamented anatomy into view. I held my breath while I peeked, and exhaled slowly as I took in the unadulterated appearance of my own body.
I loved it. It looked exactly like all the pictures I'd spent so many minutes staring at. And I'd made the perfect choice with the cubic zirconium; my piercing had just the right amount of sparkle.
Scared to touch it, I handed the mirror back to Ed, beaming at the results of what had been a perilous journey for me. I walked gingerly to the corner and hailed a cab, incredibly pleased with myself for having the courage to actually go through with it.
Three weeks later, my piercing was almost completely healed. I had already gotten enthusiastic approval from my boyfriend in a very exhibitionistic Skype call, where he declared it "really hot." I was discovering how to move, sit, stand, and bathe in new ways to avoid disturbing the tender, healing skin and the powerful sensation that flared any time I so much as nudged the piercing. All sexual activity was forbidden for at least four weeks, so I had yet to investigate claims of enhanced pleasure.
As I learned how to navigate my newly adorned body, I gave up trying to navigate my own silly binary of what was "normal" and what wasn't. I wasn't as simple and straightforward as I had once thought. I was my own version of a nice, normal girl: one who happened to have her vagina pierced.
Read more stories about piercings on VICE.com.