The perforation of the nipple to apply jewelry has been practiced by various people throughout history. Male nipple piercing was reported to be done by the Karankawa Native Americans, female nipple piercing is practiced by the Kabyle people in Algeria.
Nipple-piercing was a fashion statement dating back to the 14th century and having a short-lived revival among society women during the Victorian period around 1890. However, the historian Lesley Hall has commented that these claims might be traced back to a few letters published in the magazine Society during 1899, which can be judged as erotic fantasies rather than descriptions of actual activity.
In the late 1970s, the practice was revived again by Jim Ward and gained foothold in gay BDSM and leather subcultures. The mainstream popularity of the practice is partly due to celebrities who publicly displayed their piercings or confessed to have one in the 1990s, such as Tommy Lee, Corey Taylor and Lenny Kravitz. Nipple piercing has gained much popularity in recent years with many celebrities and fashion models having this type of piercing.
Nipple piercing and breastfeeding
A common question among women who consider nipple piercings is how it may affect breastfeeding. There is no evidence to suggest that proper nipple piercings can cause any complications with lactation. A letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests improperly pierced nipples and scarring may result in blocked ducts.
It is recommended that good care is taken to prevent infection by using a piercing professional and good body piercing aftercare. Frequent re-piercings can also damage the nipple and cause complications. It is also recommended that the piercing be healed before breastfeeding. Most body piercing professionals will refuse to pierce a pregnant woman for this reason and because piercing causes stress on the body that could potentially complicate a pregnancy.
Several complications have been noted involving breastfeeding with a piercing present, so it is recommended to remove nipple jewelry before nursing. Several complications resulting from nursing with nipple jewelry inserted can include poor latch, slurping, gagging, and milk leaking from the baby's mouth.
It can also be a potential choking hazard for the baby. As the baby sucks, the ends on a barbell (if worn) may come loose and could possibly lodge in the baby's throat (a captive bead ring, properly inserted, would lessen the risk of anything becoming loose, falling out, and lodging in the throat). The baby's gums and tongue as well as the soft and hard palate could be injured by the jewelry.
Nipple piercing and sexuality
Sexual arousal created by nipple and areola stimulation is reported to be enhanced by piercing of the nipple. Most women claim an increase in sensitivity and arousal after having their nipples pierced. As a result of a surge of information exposing the sexual enhancement aspect of a pierced nipple, there has been a reported increase of men and women requesting this procedure.
"For a long time I could not understand why I should consent to such a painful operation without sufficient reason. I soon, however came to the conclusion that many ladies are ready to bear the passing pain for the sake of love. I found that the breasts of those who wore rings were incomparably rounder and fuller developed than those who did not. My doubts were now at an end...so I had my nipples pierced, and when the wounds were healed, I had rings inserted...with regard to the experience of wearing these rings, I can only say that they are not in the least uncomfortable or painful. On the contrary, the slight rubbing and slipping of the rings causes in me an extremely titillating feeling, and all my colleagues I have spoken to on this subject have confirmed my opinion." (London socialite writing in Vogue 1890)