Male Piercings – History and Contemporary Trends

Male Piercings – History and Contemporary Trends

The majority of piercings being performed today are undoubtedly on people who identify as female. However, more and more men from all over the world are looking to piercing as a means of stylistic self-expression. 

guy with piercings in tattoo shop

This is nothing, new. In fact, male piercing dates back as far as the female variety, and the older mummified remains from 5,000 years ago, Ötzi the Iceman, had an ear piercing 7–11 mm wide. 

Earrings are also mentioned in Exodus in the Old Testament of the Bible, in distinct relation to male heirs (it reads “Aaron said to them, ‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me’,” just in case you were curious). 

Strength, status and virility

In ancient Egypt, both lip and ear piercings were common among men, including pharaohs and other high-ranking individuals, often symbolising status and wealth. Later, in ancient Greece and Rome, both men and women wore piercings for various purposes. These ranged from aesthetics to displays of social status, wealth, and even military achievements.

Roman centurions were among the first ever to get their nipples pierced, signifying strength and virility. Reportedly, the man himself, Julius Ceasar, had both his done. Genital piercings were also a thing, controlling sexuality and supposedly keeping young men’s voices from breaking early in puberty. 

The nobility of the Mayan, Aztec and Olmec populations in Central America practised tongue piercing, as did Fakirs and Sufis in the Middle East. Of course, all over the world, indigenous populations have been practising male piercing in many different forms — lips, ears, polished animal bones through the septum, you name it. 

Man with nipples pierced
Photo: Daniel Lobo via Wikimedia

Closer to modern times, when looking closer at the iconic portrait of Britain’s own William Shakespeare, the earring that adorns one of the playwright’s lobes is easily distinguishable. Since the days of the Elizabethan era, male piercing has fallen in and out of fashion in the West, to rise in popularity with the punk subculture in the 1970s. 

Male piercings go mainstream

Today, it is safe to say it has hit the mainstream, with men’s magazines such as GQ publishing the “Ultimate Guide to Piercing Your Ears,” and jewellery websites announcing “Painless Piercings for Men in 2023.” The influence of visible piercings on celebrities, actors, musicians and athletes (ASAP Rocky, Lewis Hamilton, Harry Styles, to name a few) has undoubtedly contributed to the rise in the popularity of piercings for men over the past few years. 

Men are also becoming increasingly discerning about the exact location and style of their ear piercing, opting for what has come to be known as a “curated ear”, often with differing styles right and left. And jewellery designers have also caught on. In other words, there is no better time than now for guys who want to add some dynamic and meaningful self-expression to their style. 


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