In every culture, in every era, people have modified their bodies. Corsets. Jewelry. Makeup. Hair dye. Tattoos. You name it, people have done it in the name of beauty, and even more to the point, in the name of sexual attraction and stimulation.

One form of body modification that is frequently done for both reasons is genital piercing.

You heard me right. Genital piercing.

It’s really just another form of body piercing, not so different from ear or nose piercing (barring the location, of course), and can be done in a variety of different ways and styles. Interestingly, genital piercing is illegal for women in the U.K.

In the U.S., it’s only legal if you’re over the age of 18. It can be done with a piercing gun or needles, and a variety of jewelry can be worn once the piercing wound has healed.

It’s hard to pin down, no pun intended, exactly what the history of genital piercing is. Some argue that it has been around for centuries. It has been suggested that some tribes in Africa have been known to participate in genital piercing, and the Kama Sutra bears some evidence of men with penis implants or adornments.

A variety of cultures have taken part in piercing practices in general. But genital piercing seems to be a predominantly recent and Western phenomenon. It wasn’t until the1970s that the various styles of genital piercings were given their exotic names. Genital piercing is particularly popular in the BDSM culture where piercing is done for decorative purposes, sexual stimulation and/or fetish fulfillment.

Here’s the lowdown on some of the most common types of genital piercings.

Female Piercings
Clitoral hood piercing
– Just as its name implies, this piercing goes through the clitoral hood surrounding the clitoris. The piercing can either be vertical or horizontal. The clitoris itself, however, is not pierced in this instance. Healing time for this type of piercing is relatively short.

Labia piercing – These can be placed either through the labia minora or the labia majora. Simpler and more common than other genital piercings, labia piercings are often done in symmetrical pairs. Depending on placement and jewelry choice, such piercings may be sexually stimulating to one or both partners during sexual activity. Rings are the most common type of jewelry worn in labia majora piercings, but either type of labia piercings can be stretched so the wearer can don larger jewelry and create sexual stimulation either temporarily or constantly.

Clitoral piercing - This piercing goes through the clitoris itself, of course. It’s a highly unusual kind of piercing and can be done vertically or horizontally. Clitoral piercing is known for being particularly sexually stimulating. A relatively large clitoris is necessary for this type of piercing.

Triangle piercing – In this style, the piercing passes from side to side, beneath the base of the clitoral hood tissue where it meets the inner labia and under the clitoris. The triangle piercing is known to greatly increase the intensity of sexual stimulation during sex and is the only genital piercing able to stimulate the clitoris from behind it. To get this piercing, the back of the clitoral hood must extend outward from the body somewhat, which is relatively unusual.

Male Piercings
Apadravya piercing
- This piercing passes through the glans vertically from top to bottom. It’s almost always placed centrally and it passes through the urethra. These can also be done off-center yet still passing through the urethra.

Ampallang piercing - This piercing penetrates horizontally through the glans and may pass through the urethra. It can also be done by penetrating the shaft of the penis horizontally. When combined with the apadravya piercing, it is sometimes called “the magic cross.” This is generally a highly painful procedure that can take a year or more to heal. But once it does heal, it is rumored to be highly stimulating to the internal penis tissues. It can also provide excellent G-spot stimulation for the receiving partner.

Prince Albert – The Prince Albert is one of the most common genital piercings for men. It extends along the underside of the glans from the urethral opening to where the glans meets the shaft of the penis and is a ring-style piercing." The reverse Prince Albert piercing, as its name implies, goes in through the urethra and goes out through the top of the glans.

This piercing is named after Queen Victoria's husband. Rumor has it that Albert had his penis pierced with a "dressing ring," enabling him to discreetly adjust himself to avoid unsightly bulges. Some argue that this is nothing more than a silly story while others firmly stand by its validity.

If you like the idea of the look but not of the permanence or the pain, there are companies that make non-piercing versions of a variety of jewelry worn in genital piercings, which you can find online at places like Arabesque.

Even if it’s not your thing, you have to be impressed by the lengths people will go for pleasure. Thank goodness, in most cases, you don’t really have to go very far.

Jenny Block is a freelance writer based in Dallas. She is the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage." Her work appears in "One Big Happy Family," edited by Rebecca Walker and "It’s a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters," edited by Andrea Buchanan. Visit her website at www.jennyonthepage.com or check out her blog at wwww.jennyonthepage.blogspot.com.