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 in the category of “body modification” despite it being literally modifying one’s body, and "body modification" is used to describe only less socially acceptable body alterations.

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]


Non-consensual body modification

"Disfigurement" and "mutilation" (regardless of any appreciation this always applies objectively whenever a bodily function is gravely diminished or lost) are terms used by opponents of body modification to describe certain types of modifications, especially non-consensual ones. Those terms are used fairly uncontroversially to describe the victims of torture, who have endured damage to ears, eyes, feet, genitalia, hands, noses, teeth, and/or tongues, including amputation, burning, flagellation, piercing, skinning, and wheeling.[ citation needed ]

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]


In many ways self-mutilation is very different than body-modification. Body modification gives one the feeling of pride and excitement, giving one something to show off to others. [8] Alternately, those who self-mutilate typically are ashamed of what they've done and want to hide any evidence of harm. Body modification is explored for adornment, self-expression, and an array of many other positive reasons, while self-mutilation is inflicted because of mental or emotional stress and the inability to cope with psychological pain. Those who self-mutilate do so in order to punish themselves, express internal turmoil, and reduce severe anxiety. [9]

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 (FGM).

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

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and female circumcision, is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. The practice is found in some countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and within communities abroad from countries in which FGM is common. UNICEF estimated, in 2016, that 200 million women in 30 countries—Indonesia, Iraq, Yemen, and 27 African countries including Egypt—had been subjected to one or more types of FGM.

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

The terms genital modification and genital mutilation can refer to permanent or temporary changes to human sex organs. Some forms of genital alteration are performed on adults with their informed consent at their own behest, usually for aesthetic reasons or to enhance stimulation. However, other forms are performed on people who do not give informed consent, including infants or children. Any of these procedures may be considered modifications or mutilations in different cultural contexts and by different groups of people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clitoral hood</span> Part of the vulva

In the female human body, the clitoral hood is a fold of skin that surrounds and protects the glans of the clitoris; it also covers the external shaft of the clitoris, develops as part of the labia minora and is homologous with the foreskin in the male reproductive system. The clitoral hood is composed of muccocutaneous 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. The clitoral hood is also important not only in the protection of the clitoral glans, but also in pleasure, as its tissue forms part of the erogenous zones of the vulva.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mutilation</span> Act of physical injury that degrades the appearance or function of any living body

Mutilation or maiming is severe damage to the body that has a ruinous effect on an individual's quality of life. It can also refer to alterations that render something inferior, ugly, dysfunctional, or imperfect. In modern times, the term has an overwhelmingly negative connotation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Play piercing</span>

Play piercing, needle play, or recreational acupuncture is body piercing done for the purpose of enjoying the experience rather than producing a permanent body decoration. Needles, sharpened bones, or other tools used in play piercing are removed from the body when the episode is complete, allowing the wounds to heal. Those who engage in play piercing may do so for self-expression, imitating tribal rituals, spiritual self-discovery, sexual pleasure, or entertainment.

<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 anus, perineum, genitals 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">Genital tattooing</span> Tattooing of the genitals

Genital tattooing is the practice of placing permanent marks under the skin of the genitals in the form of tattoos.

<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.

Male circumcision has been a subject of controversy for a number of reasons including religious, ethical, sexual, and medical.

Skoptic syndrome is a preposed form of body dysmorphic disorder characterised by a desire to remove sex charastics. It often is associated with genital self-mutilation, such as castration, penectomy or clitoridectomy. It is not officially recognized in the DSM-5.

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 testicles, 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.

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Body piercing</span> Form of body modification

Body piercing, which is a form of body modification, is the practice of puncturing or cutting a part of the human body, creating an opening in which jewelry may be worn, or where an implant could be inserted. The word piercing can refer to the act or practice of body piercing, or to an opening in the body created by this act or practice. It can also, by metonymy, refer to the resulting decoration, or to the decorative jewelry used. Piercing implants alter body and/or skin profile and appearance. Although the history of body piercing is obscured by popular misinformation and by a lack of scholarly reference, ample evidence exists to document that it has been practiced in various forms by multiple sexes since ancient times throughout the world.Body piercing can be performed on people of all ages, although most minors are only permitted to have earlobe piercings.

<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 rights in Switzerland</span> Overview of intersex peoples rights in Switzerland

Intersex people in Switzerland have no recognition of rights to physical integrity and bodily autonomy, and no specific protections from discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics. In 2012, the Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics published a report on the medical management of differences of sex development or intersex variations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Intersex rights in Spain</span> Overview of intersex peoples rights in Spain

Citizens of Spain who are intersex face problems that the wider society does not encounter. Laws that provide protection against discrimination or genital mutilation for intersex people exist only in some autonomous communities rather than on a national level. The 3/2007 law is the current law in Spain which relates to legal gender change including the rights of intersex people, although a new law is about to be passed in the near future.


  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. [ bare URL PDF ]
  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.
  8. "Bradley University: Body Modification & Body Image". Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  9. "Self-injury/cutting Causes - Mayo Clinic". Retrieved 14 October 2015.