Body modification

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Scarification in progress Scarification by Lestyn Flye.jpg
Scarification in progress

Body modification (or body alteration) is the deliberate altering of the human anatomy or human physical appearance. [1] In its broadest definition it includes skin tattooing, socially acceptable decoration (e.g., common ear piercing in many societies), and religious rites of passage (e.g., circumcision in a number of cultures), as well as the modern primitive movement.


Body modification is performed for a large variety of reasons, including aesthetics, sexual enhancement, rites of passage, religious beliefs, to display group membership or affiliation, in remembrance of lived experience, traditional symbolism such as axis mundi and mythology, to create body art, for shock value, and as self-expression, among other reasons. [1] [2]


Early stages of getting a navel piercing First piercing.jpg
Early stages of getting a navel piercing

What counts as "body modification" varies in cultures. In western cultures, the cutting or removal of one's hair is not usually considered body modification.

Body modification can be contrasted with body adornment by defining body modification as "the physical alteration of the physical body [...] can be temporary or permanent, although most are permanent and modify the body forever". [3]


Some invasive procedures that modify human genitals are performed with the informed consent of the patient, using anesthesia or sterilised surgical tools [4] [5] The phrase "genital mutilation" is sometimes used to describe procedures that individuals are forced to undergo: castration, male circumcision, and female genital mutilation in this way. [6] Intersex campaigners say that childhood modification of genitals of individuals with intersex conditions without their informed consent is a form of mutilation. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Clitoridectomy or clitorectomy is the surgical removal, reduction, or partial removal of the clitoris. It is rarely used as a therapeutic medical procedure, such as when cancer has developed in or spread to the clitoris. It is often performed on intersex newborns. Commonly, non-medical removal of the clitoris is performed during female genital mutilation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Female genital mutilation</span> Ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the vulva

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the vulva. The practice is found in some countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and within their respective diasporas. As of 2023, UNICEF estimates that "at least 200 million girls... in 31 countries"—including Indonesia, Iraq, Yemen, and 27 African countries including Egypt—had been subjected to one or more types of female genital mutilation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Genital modification and mutilation</span> Permanent or temporary changes to human sex organs

Genital modifications are forms of body modifications applied to the human sexual organs, such as piercings, circumcision, or labiaplasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clitoral hood</span> Part of the vulva that covers and protects the glans of the clitoris

In female humans and primates in general, the clitoral hood is a fold of skin that surrounds and protects the glans of the clitoris; it also covers the external clitoral shaft, develops as part of the labia minora and is homologous with the foreskin in the male reproductive system. The clitoral hood is composed of mucocutaneous tissues; these tissues are between the mucous membrane and the skin, and they may have immunological importance because they may be a point of entry of mucosal vaccines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Penile subincision</span> Body modification involving the slitting open of the underside of the penis

Penile subincision is a form of genital modification or mutilation consisting of a urethrotomy, in which the underside of the penis is incised and the urethra slit open lengthwise, from the urethral opening (meatus) toward the base. The slit can be of varying lengths.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Genital piercing</span> Form of body piercing on a part of the genitalia

Genital piercing is a form of body piercing that involves piercing a part of the genitalia, thus creating a suitable place for wearing different types of jewellery. Nevertheless, the term may also be used pars pro toto to indicate all body piercings in the area of the anus, perineum, penis, scrotum, vulva, and mons pubis, including piercings such as anal, guiche, and pubic that do not involve perforation of genitalia. Genital piercings can be done regardless of sex, with various forms of piercings available. The main motive is beautification and individualization; in addition, some piercings enhance sexual pleasure by increasing stimulation. Pre-modern genital piercings is most culturally widespread in Southeast Asia, where it has been part of traditional practice since ancient times. Records of genital piercing are found in the Kama Sutra.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modern primitive</span> Cultural movement

Modern primitives or urban primitives are people in developed, or modern nations who engage in body modification rituals and practices inspired by the ceremonies, rites of passage, or bodily ornamentation in what they consider traditional cultures. These practices may include body piercing, tattooing, play piercing, flesh hook suspension, corset training, scarification, branding, and cutting. The stated motivation for engaging in these varied practices may be personal growth, personal rites of passage, rejection of society, as a way to connect with antiquity, or spiritual and sexual curiosity.

Genital reconstructive surgery may refer to:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emasculation</span> Removal of male sex organs

Emasculation is the removal of both the penis and the scrotum, the external male sex organs. It differs from castration, which is the removal of the testicles only, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The potential medical consequences of emasculation are more extensive than those associated with castration, as the removal of the penis gives rise to a unique series of complications. There are a range of religious, cultural, punitive, and personal reasons why someone may choose to emasculate themselves or another person. Consensual emasculation may be seen as a form of body modification that enhances a recipient's identification with their community or sense of self. By comparison, non-consensual emasculations, such as those performed punitively or accidentally, may constitute genital mutilation. The medical treatment for an emasculated person differs depending on whether the procedure was consensual.

Male circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin (prepuce) from the human penis.

Genital cutting refers to genital modification and mutilation of the human genitals using a cutting instrument. This terminology is often used in some literature specifically to avoid using the terms 'mutilation' or 'circumcision'. These practices can include:

Labia stretching, also referred to as labia elongation or labia pulling, is the act of lengthening the labia minora through manual manipulation (pulling) or physical equipment. It is a familial cultural practice in parts of Eastern and Southern Africa, and a body modification practice elsewhere. It is performed for sexual enhancement for the benefit of both partners, aesthetics, symmetry and gratification.

Female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone is the common practice of removing all or part of the female's genitalia for cultural and religious initiation purposes, or as a custom to prepare them for marriage. Sierra Leone is one of 28 countries in Africa where female genital mutilation (FGM) is known to be practiced and one of few that has not banned it. It is widespread in part due to it being an initiation rite into the "Bondo," though initiation rite-related FGM was criminalised in 2019. The type most commonly practised in Sierra Leone is Type IIb, removal of part or all of the clitoris and the labia minora. As of 2013, it had a prevalence of 89.6%.

Genital nullification is a procedure practiced in a body modification subculture made up mostly of men who have had their genitals surgically removed. Those undergoing the procedure often go by the name of nullos, and are not necessarily transgender; most identify as eunuchs. The term nullo is short for genital nullification. Though the procedure is mostly sought by men, there are women who also voluntarily have their vagina stitched closed and clitoris, nipples and breasts removed.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as Female circumcision or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in Nigeria accounts for the most female genital cutting/mutilation (FGM/C) cases worldwide. The practice is customarily a family tradition that the young female of the age 0-15 would experience. It is a procedure that involves partial or completely removing the vulva or other injury to the female genital organs whenever for non-medical reasons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Intersex rights in Colombia</span>

In 1999, the Constitutional Court of Colombia became the first court to consider the human rights implications of medical interventions to alter the sex characteristics of intersex children. The Court restricted the age at which intersex children could be the subjects of surgical interventions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Intersex human rights reports</span>

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics, such as chromosomes, gonads, hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies". Such variations may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice that occurs in several cultures and is practised in India by some Islamic groups. The Dawoodi Bohra is one sect of Islam in India known for their practice of FGM, with other Bohra sects reported as partaking in practices of FGM as well. The procedure frequently occurs at the age of seven and involves "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs.". The process is typically performed by a traditional practitioner using a knife or a blade and can range from Type I to Type IV. The consequences of FGM take on a wide range and can span from discomfort to sepsis and have also been correlated with psychological consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Intersex rights in Canada</span> Rights of intersex individuals in Canada

Intersex people in Canada have no recognition of their rights to physical integrity and bodily autonomy, and no specific protections from discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics. Academic advocates including Janik Bastien-Charlebois and Morgan Holmes, and organizations including Egale Canada and the Canadian Bar Association have called for reform.


  1. 1 2 Thompson, Tim; Black, Sue (2010). Forensic Human Identification: An Introduction. CRC Press. pp. 379–398. ISBN   978-1420005714 . Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  2. "What Is Body Modification?". Essortment. 16 May 1986. Archived from the original on 28 January 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  3. DeMello, Margo (2007). Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. United States of America: Greenwood Press. ISBN   978-0313336959.
  4. John R. Holman-Keith A. Stuessi (15 March 1999). "Adult Circumcision". American Family Physician. 59 (6): 1514–1518. PMID   10193593.
  5. Manual for Male Circumcision under Local Anaesthesia (PDF) (3.1 ed.). World Health Organization. 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-11-25.
  6. Hellsten, SK (June 2004). "Rationalising circumcision: from tradition to fashion, from public health to individual freedom—critical notes on cultural persistence of the practice of genital mutilation". J Med Ethics. 30 (3): 248–53. doi:10.1136/jme.2004.008888. PMC   1733870 . PMID   15173357.
  7. Wilchins, Riki. "A Girl's Right to Choose: Intersex Children and Parents Challenge Narrow Standards of Gender". NOW Times. National Organization for Women. Retrieved 12 September 2012.