How I use my body piercings as a litmus test for finding the right partner


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Photo: Getty Images/ Tony C French

Everyone has dating wants and dating won’ts. (For instance, I want a kind, wellness-minded person who won’t make fun of my status as a cat person—but I won’t go for a Gemini, anyone with a pet snake or iguana, or a CrossFit hater.) But when I got my nipple pierced four years ago, it didn’t occur to me that a bit of boob-bling could land me on someone’s “won’t” list. One evening when my top came off during some heavy petting though, that reality became glaringly clear.

I came to learn that the way my intimate partner felt about below-the-neck piercings mirrors how I feel about unsolicited dick pics. What followed was a look of sheer horror. And not the variety that comes as an involuntary reaction to your boo farting (and it being really smelly)—no, think more like Scream or The ExorcistSo, on went my shirt, and out the front door went my ex.

While in the moment it didn’t even occur to me to remove the metal rod from the piercing, upon further thought, I actually didn’t even want to take it out, willy-nilly, for someone who, bafflingly, found it to be a deal-breaker (as opposed to a general preference). I like my nipple piercing; it’s an empowering form of self-expression that makes me feel great, literally and otherwise. So then and there, I resolved to never waste more time with folks who like me…but only until my shirt comes off. Enter the advent my relationship-potential litmus test: the nipple-piercing disclosure.

I want a partner who gasses me up, not one who side-eyes my nipple.

Since that unfortunate tryst-that-never-was, I now let it be known that I have a pierced nipple before things get serious and/or sexual with a person. That way, if it’s a red flag for them (which is a red flag for me), I’ve raised it early on, when ending things is decidedly less disappointing. My go-to lines are super straightforward: “Just so you know, I have one of my nipples pierced.” Or, “Do you have any piercings or hidden tattoos, BTW? I don’t have any tattoos, but my nipple is pierced.”

Marla Renee Stewart, sexologist with Velvet Lips Sex Down South, agrees there is value in a heads (chest?) up. “People are into what they’re into. If they are turned off, it is what it is. You don’t then have to waste time with them.” Buh-bye.

Personal preferences aside, there are a few other reasons you might to alert a potential partner of the piercing before the clothes come off, says Jess Melendez, a sex educator for sex-positive educational platform O.school. For instance, if the piercing is still fresh or healing, for instance, the nipple may sensitive to the touch, swollen, or even bleeding and therefore more likely to be exposed to bacteria. “If the nipple piercing is newer, you may want to refrain from getting any body fluids (that aren’t yours), lube, etc. on the nipples,” she says.

But, if piercing is old news and is fully healed, Melendez says there’s no risk for infection, but it’s still a good practice to share. “If clothes are coming off, it may be worth mentioning from a safety perspective so that they don’t snag the piercing.” 

And if leaving things as a surprise is your prerogative, that’s okay too. “As long as you’ve communicated the piercing’s healing status if it’s not healed, and any boundaries you have about how that piercing is played with or touched, all is good,” says Melendez.

But personal experience has taught me that putting the piercing on my someone’s radar before our actions head physically south keeps me from getting into an emotionally south-heading situation. So I’m going to stick to my nipple-piercing litmus test, thank you very much.

You don’t have to have a nipple ring to find the dating world hard to manage. Here’s how to deal with confronting your ghosters. And how to get out of a bad date using humor and charm.  

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