By: Sexherald Staff
From ancient civilizations to modern-day college kids, tattoos have marked societies for thousands of years. Though the reasons for doing so have differed from time and place, sexuality seems to always find its place in the mix.
The Maori culture, most often referenced for its "tribal" style tattoos, used tattoos to symbolize the transition from childhood to adulthood and their readiness for taking on sexual partners. In the Phillipines, men wore tattoos for rank and women wore them for beauty. In ancient India and Egypt, Mendhi and Henna were use to decorate the bodies as an aesthetic gesture. And in Russia, pornographic tattoos became popular among prisoners, though sex and genitalia had been featured in many traditional tattoos for a long time before then (Baldaev, et al. Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volume III).
These regions, along with countless others, influenced American sailors who brought them back to the U.S. Since many earlier sailors were former criminals, and the practice of tattooing in places like China, Japan and Russia were associated with hooligans, the tattoos that came back to the states were also initially viewed in that light. Tattoos became to symbolize rebellion and were sought for those connotations. As American culture has grown more liberal, however, it's also expanded its social regard for tattoos.
In 2003, Harris Interactive polled Americans on their ownership and regard for tattoos. They found that 16 percent of American adults had at least one tattoo, with people ages 25-29 having the highest percentage (36 percent). Among those, 34 percent said that having a tattoo made them feel sexier, with women reporting this more often than men. Similarly, 26 percent reported that tattoos made them feel sexier. This may be attributed to the fact that 29 percent report feeling “more rebellious” with a tattoo, and that sex and rebellion often share a stage with one another in movies and popular culture. But what if there’s more to it than that?
There are few places online that combine sex and tattoos like SuicideGirls, a website devoted to alternative culture and sexuality. What began as a two-person operation in 2001 has since bloomed to a website with nearly 1,500 models and millions of visitors monthly. While these individuals might be cruising the site ‘for the articles,’ it’s more likely that they are taking in the naked pictures of tattooed and pierced men and women. Community members here can connect over their interests in art, society or their own body modifications, and many choose to share their own naked pictures for the thrill of it. This seems to suggest that tattoos and voyeurism go hand in hand. Part of the promise of getting tattooed in less-visible places is the thrill of getting to show it off to others.
This might be especially true for those who decide to tattoo sexual organs including penises, breasts and vaginal areas. Such tattoos are not always traditionally sexual—in fact, it’s hard to find pictures of genitalia that have been marked with images that are obviously related to sex. Instead, they tend to be more clever—even funny. When tattoos are obviously sexual, they are often placed on body parts that are typically unrelated to sex, like this belly-button tattoo and the one in this man’s armpit. Such tattoos could be used by one individual to help determine the compatibility of potential mates. If a person gets a tattoo because they think it’s humorous or witty, it could be a way to weed out partners who find it repulsive or tasteless. In fact, TattooedSingles.com, a dating site for people with tattoos, allows users to specify the types and numbers of tattoos that they are looking for in their search for love. Users can narrow down their selection by indicating a preference for one tattoo versus full coverage, black and white versus new school, etc.
It may not be a surprise, then, that some of those who get tattoos do so in order to increase their attractiveness to the opposite sex. In a 2008 poll conducted on SuicideGirls, 45 percent of individuals with tattoos said that sexual attractiveness played a part in their decision to get one, and 89 percent said that tattoos often or sometimes played a role in their attraction to another individual.
Of course, as with everything, there is a flip side to the novelty and sexuality of tattoos. In the Harris poll, significant percentages of non-tattooed individuals reported that tattoos made people seem less attractive (42 percent), less sexy (36 percent) and less intelligent (31 percent). The concept of the “tramp stamp,” or the lower back tattoo on women, has lead many to correlate tattoos with promiscuity. This year, Comedy.com printed an article this year that warned men against 15 tattoos that would keep them from “getting laid.” So while tattoos might be a foot in the door for some partners, they can be a deal breaker for others. For example, devout Christians site Leviticus 19:28 in their aversion for tattoos: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”
Even if tattoos themselves aren’t innately sexy, many find that the act of tattooing is. Typically, individuals who get tattoos are made to sit or lie very still while the tattoo artist presses against them with a vibrating needle and sometimes their hands or arms. There have been cases reported of people climaxing during the tattoo process, though they are few and far between. Less than 2 percent of the respondents in the SuicideGirls poll reported having this experience; however, 28 percent said they were at least somewhat sexually aroused during the process of getting a tattoo and 30 percent were at least somewhat more attracted to their tattoo artist after the fact.
Is the sexuality of tattooing one-sided, though? At times, probably not. In Body Modification E-zine (BME.com), a tattoo artist reflected on her first year as a tattoo artist, and the eroticism she felt with one client in particular. A rather stirring account, she begins: “Able to feel his breath upon my neck, with my hands gently washing his skin, I wondered (not for the first time) if i [sic] am the only person who feels the sexuality of tattooing.” The book Spiritual Tattoosays that time a tattoo artist spends applying a tattoo is often referred to as being “on” someone, a rather obvious sexual overtone, and it goes on to say of body modifications that, “…all cultures have used pain, sex and drugs…to visit the spiritual world.”
If nothing else, myMMOshop.com inextricably linked sex, tattoos and online gaming when it reportedly paid a porn star $500,000 to tattoo their company logo and website URL on her chest.
Tattoos have enjoyed a long, multicultural history seasoned with connotations ranging from thievery to art. In modern American society, tattoos are growing in popularity and, in turn, sexuality. Websites and communities are sprouting up around the notion that people with tattoos want to connect with each other on an intimate, skin-baring level. In many ways this seems to make sense, since tattoos reflect a person’s interests, personality and, oftentimes, their sense of humor. Even the process of getting tattoos can be an intimate experience for both the artist and the receiver. No matter what the appeal of tattoos brings, one should keep in mind that they are not universal crowd pleasers. Still, when the pleasure is there, it can be much more than just skin-deep.
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