When Did Body Piercings Become Popular?

Sep 07 — 3 mins read

Throughout history, humankind has had a fascination with piercing the body and adorning ourselves with decorative forms of jewelry. While this hasn’t always been stainless steel dermal anchors or titanium barbells, different cultures have used precious materials to decorate our bodies and enhance our features.

Below, we’ll take a brief look at the history of this practice, ask when this became more commonplace and try to understand the reasons people get piercings to begin with.

Earliest evidence of piercings

The earliest concrete evidence we have of piercings comes from the now infamous Otzi, a 5,300 year-old mummy found near Austria and Italy. Otzi is the oldest mummy ever found and lived around 3,300 BC. As his skin tissue was preserved in icy conditions, we can tell that he had both ears pierced. These holes are large gauged holes and suggest a cultural habit of stretching ear lobes.

Recent evidence suggests that piercing goes even further back with a 12,000-year-old skeleton found in Tanzania indicating facial adornments. Analysis of the teeth of this skeleton suggests cheek and lower lip piercings with decorative jewelry wearing down the tooth enamel.

It appears, then, that we have been interested in piercings since time immemorial. Since this time, piercings became a cultural norm throughout most of the world, coming in and out of fashion over time. From the ear piercings of ancient Egyptian royalty to the infamous Girl with the Pearl Earring of the renaissance period to our modern-day fascination, piercing has long been part of our species’ history.

Why do we get piercings?

There are 3 main reasons people get piercings.


For some people, body piercings help complete their look, letting them be themselves. This can be anything from a simple lobe piercing to an ornate septum clicker ring, with body jewelry giving people extra confidence and the ability to express their personality in even more ways.

Cultural significance

Across the globe, piercings take on a variety of different meanings. Almost universally, piercings and body jewelry are used to signify beauty and encourage self-identity.

In Indian culture, for example, a nose piercing in some traditions is considered a coming-of-age passage that ushers in womanhood, grace, and a sense of eschewing childhood things. It can also be a milestone marker with some cultures using piercings like noserings when married.

A body piercing can help keep you in touch with your cultural roots, reminding you of your heritage and allowing the world to see pride in this tradition.


Some piercings also play a role in sexual stimulation. Clitoral and nipple piercings, for example, can heighten sexual climax and make the experience more enjoyable for others.

When did piercings become popular?

Modern-day piercing began as something of a subculture in the 1970s in the Western world. This took hold of the following decades with body jewelry becoming quite mainstream in the 1990s and 2000s.

While it would have been hard to find somewhere to get a body piercing in the 1970s, by the 1990s there were plenty of shops available in most towns. This helped legitimize the practice despite certain piercings are still considered unusual. This, however, is also part of the appeal with piercing retaining something of its rebellious origins.

Are piercings addictive?

While some people just enjoy wearing a lot of body jewelry, it is true that piercings can be addictive. This is not necessarily a problem, however.

Conducted with due care and attention, a piercing is a harmless procedure that simply enhances a person’s appearance.

However, getting too many piercings in too short a time can be a sign that an addiction has turned harmful. This compromises the healing process and welfare of the individual.

Most piercing shops will recognize the warning signs of piercing addiction and have procedures in place to safeguard customers they are concerned about.

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