Your body is a temple; decorate it! If you’ve got piercings, this saying probably resonates with you.

But body jewelry can be about a whole lot more than decoration. The art of piercing has been around for thousands of years and has been used to communicate age, marital status, sexuality, or social standing in a unique and interesting way. 

So, what does your body jewelry really symbolize? 

Find out as we dive into the history, cultural relevance, and lesser-known meanings behind piercings, and learn what makes them more than just skin-deep.

The History Of Body Jewelry: Coming-Of-Age, Spirituality, And Radical Self-Expression

Let’s start at the very beginning…

The first piercings date back to 25,000 years ago. Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian mummies and frozen icemen from the fourth millennium wearing body jewelry. 

Of course, the Egyptians were pioneers in everything from eyeliner to building big structures, so it’s not surprising they pioneered the trend. 

Ear piercing was super popular in ancient Egypt, with male and female royalty wearing lavish, dangly earrings to indicate their wealth and power. Additionally, many ancient Egyptians believed wearing silver earrings would ward off evil spirits, so they were worn as protection. 

African and Bornean tribes were renowned for their piercings too, both on the ear lobes and on other parts of the body, such as the lips, chins, and eyebrows. Instead of metal, they often used wood, clay, or bone to create jewelry that signified their social status. 

The Mayas, Aztecs, and tribes of New Guinea didn’t miss the trend either. They adorned their pierced noses with jewelry made from bones and feathers, and the natural jewelry they chose represented their wealth or, in men, their virility. 

In many cultures, earrings also represent maturity and transitioning into adulthood. In some African tribes, such as those found in Kenyan communities, children get ear piercings when they become teenagers and then again when reaching adulthood. 

And let’s not forget pirates. In the 18th and 19th centuries, pirates and other seafaring men wore gold earrings that would pay for their funeral if they washed ashore in a strange land. This is something Morgan Freeman does to this day!

When it comes to noses, witch doctors get septum piercings to indicate their connection to the spiritual realm, and Indian brides get nostril piercings when marrying. 

But the history of body jewelry extends far beyond ears, noses, and lips. From genital piercings to tongues and navels, body piercing has never been limited to a few cultures and creeds. It’s infiltrated everywhere, from the punk movement to Pride.

Why Is Body Jewelry So Hot Now?

In today’s world, wearing body jewelry in a specific spot doesn’t necessarily indicate any particular affiliation to a religion, culture, or marital status. Now, body jewelry is far more about self-expression. It can be symbolic of an identity, a life phase, a philosophy, or even sexuality. 

If you meet someone with a tongue piercing, it could be for a multitude of reasons—ranging from being a traditional South American shaman to someone who thinks tongue piercings are awesome (which they are!). 

Either way, these are the most popular reasons why people wear body jewelry in the 21st century. 


In the crowded world we live in, there’s a huge desire for self-expression and individuality. Body jewelry offers a creative way to establish a unique identity. 

No matter where you get a piercing, it can provide insight into what kind of style, fashion, subculture, or even political stance you might have. Like dyeing your hair different colors, body jewelry is a great non-permanent way to experiment with phases or aspects of your personality. 


Piercings and religion have always been closely intertwined. Religions, particularly of tribal and pagan origins, have often used body jewelry to represent spiritual devotion or connection. 

Some of the religions that have incorporated the adornment of piercings include Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism. Other piercings can be symbolic of a particular spiritual stance or identity, such as those of shamans, elders, witch doctors, or spiritual leaders. 

One religion that certainly embraces piercings is the Church of Body Modification. This recently developed church is a non-theistic religion in which members practice body modification to strengthen the mind-body connection.


Sometimes, the reason behind body jewelry is related to culture or upbringing. In places like India, South America, the Middle East, and throughout the African continent, cultural piercings indicate social status, marital status, age, or style. 

Piercings are also common among Māori and Aboriginal cultures. In fact, they’re popularized all over the world in many native communities, making them a staple aspect of global culture. 

Gender Identity and Sexuality

Historically and conceptually, some piercings have associations with gender identity and sexuality—we’ll talk about the gay ear just now. Culturally, some people also choose to express these aspects of themselves through piercings and jewelry. In this way, piercings can also convey sexuality. 

For instance, belly button piercings, nipple piercings, and genital piercings can indicate sexual liberation or sensuality. However, these days, there’s no exact piercing that automatically “means” someone is gay, straight, or anywhere in particular on the sexuality spectrum. 


Piercings—and the jewelry they use—are naturally tied into the fashion trends that come and go over time. 
Remember the bejeweled blinged-out belly button bars made popular by Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera? The black titanium bars and rings hipsters love? And the boho-style rings we’re seeing so much of now? These are all trends that don’t hold much symbolism other than being fashionable. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Tapping Into The Taboos Of Body Jewelry

Western society hasn’t always been as open to body jewelry as it is today. In fact, it’s only in the past few decades that it’s become accepted as part of contemporary popular culture. This is because of a long and complicated history involving religious conflicts, cultural clashes, and a misunderstanding about what wearing body jewelry represents. 

In some pockets of modern society, wearing body jewelry is a symbol of rebellion and anarchy. And, in some cultures, certain piercings represent dark forces, compelling people to avoid those who wear facial piercings. 

But we’ve come a long way, and fortunately, awareness around body jewelry and what it represents is becoming increasingly diverse. 

What Does My Body Jewelry Symbolize?

The position of a piercing and the symbolism of the body jewelry you choose can reveal surprising connections to history through its symbolism and cultural connotations. 

Take a look at the most common types of piercings and the hidden and not-so-hidden meanings behind them.

Ear piercings: Sexual persuasion and style

We talked about the symbolism of ear piercing in ancient tribes, but in the 1970s, ear piercing meant something different altogether. 

An ear piercing in the right ear supposedly indicated that a man was gay, and it became so common that the term “gay ear” was coined. But left ear piercings were just as prevalent, and some people flipped the script and said that having both ears pierced indicated being bi or even trans.

Today, the symbolism of wearing an earring in a left or right ear or both has lost most of its sexual connotation, and ear piercing is considered fashion rather than a secret sexuality code.

Lip piercings: Connection to the spiritual world 

In some belief systems, lip piercings represent a connection to the spiritual world. Some people say they help open up the channel of communication to beings from the spiritual realm, facilitating a more dual relationship with darkness and light. 

Due to its placement, the body jewelry used in these piercings tends to be plain, with the piercing itself making a statement.

Tongue piercings: Spiritual communication 

Similar to lip piercings, tongue piercings are all about spiritual connection, although this time with an emphasis on clear communication and spiritual dialogue. 

Ancient Peruvian shamans wore tongue piercings to symbolize their spiritual bravery and connection to other realms, which is an energy that anyone with this type of piercing may share. 

In the 1990s, tongue piercings went mainstream and were also touted as enhancing sexual pleasure, with many different styles of body jewelry with ribbed latex balls and other blow job “enhancers” flooding the market. They were also big on the rave scene, with neon balls mimicking ecstasy tablets or acid caps in the mouth.

Septum piercings: Warrior energy

What do African witch doctors, Bengali warriors, and indie film lovers have in common? You guessed it, septum piercings! These bold, striking piercings immediately grab your attention, which is something that worked to the advantage of fierce warriors and witch doctors in days of old. 

If you have a septum piercing, chances are you want to channel a powerful identity or energy that enables you to walk through life with a little more confidence. 

You also probably have either a very simple curved bar with a ball on each end or a very ornate ring that grabs attention. The symbolism of the jewelry you choose here is mainly about your personality and the attention you want to attract. 

Eyebrow piercings: Non-conformity 

While eyebrow piercings have made global appearances throughout history, they really rose to prominence in the West during the 1970s. They became a symbol of punk rock attitude, non-conformity, and a rebellious energy to kick back against the status quo.

Nipple piercings: Sensuality and sexuality

Nipple piercings are commonly analogous to virility, sexuality, and sensuality. Some people believe that a nipple piercing (or two) can open you up to your sexuality and enhance a healthy sense of libido. But it can also be a way to represent sexual or bodily autonomy,  and this is especially true of women. 

It’s also believed that nipple piercings represent strength in battle. This is because ancient Roman warriors often sported jeweled nipple piercings to indicate their power and prowess. 
The style of body jewelry you wear in your nipple also says a lot about your sexual side and your personality. As this is a piercing not everyone sees, the symbolism is more personal. You may prefer a discreet ring or a heavy bar or nipple shield with a bit of a BDSM feel.

Medusa piercings: Rebirth and renewal 

Placed on the cupid’s bow, a Medusa piercing connects the top half of your face to the bottom half, indicating renewals, rebirths, and fresh starts. This piercing is sometimes used to represent the evolution of a person’s life when they feel they are ready to move on to a new chapter. 

The piercing has more symbolism than the jewelry you choose, and most people opt for a silver, gold or small, jeweled stud.

Tragus piercings: The Cancer crab zodiac sign

The tragus piercing may be known for its delicate and unusual placement, but very few people know that it’s actually a symbol for the Cancer zodiac sign, also known as the crab. 

The Cancerian symbol represents intuition, comfort, and emotional sensitivity. Wearing a piercing on your tragus may enhance your intuition and make you a more empathic person. Some spiritual beliefs also associate it with death and the divine.

Naval piercings: Fertility and abundance 

Culturally and spiritually, naval piercings represent fertility, sensuality, and abundance. It also has a close affiliation with the solar plexus chakra, which symbolizes creativity, expression, and well-being. Supposedly, people with belly button rings can strengthen their solar plexus. 

In ancient Egypt, naval piercings were symbolic of our connection to the spiritual world. In this way, the piercing can represent your journey to spiritual enlightenment. 

Navel piercings are still very much in style, and the type of body jewelry you choose is likely to reflect your personality.

Genital piercings: Bold sexuality and pleasure

From Prince Alberts to frenum, clitoral hood, and labia piercings, there are many ways to wear body jewelry in your genitals. In fact, Elaine Davidson, who currently holds the world record for the most pierced woman, has 3,500 piercings just in her vagina!

These uniquely positioned piercings are said to do more than just add an interesting component to your sex life—some people say it enhances sexual pleasure, too. 
Like nipple piercings, these are not seen by everyone, so the symbolism behind the jewelry you choose is purely for your—and anyone who gets to enjoy you below the waist—pleasure.

Body Jewelry as a Physical Healer 

In addition to sometimes providing clues about a person’s religious beliefs or ethnic background, some body jewelry and piercings are used to improve certain aspects of health

The daith piercing, for example, is a strategic ear piercing that uses the principles of acupuncture and acupressure to relieve people from the pain of migraines and headaches. 

However, this piercing has become super trendy in the last few years, and many people opt for ornate body jewelry to draw attraction to its unusual placement. The fact that it may or may not have health benefits doesn’t always enter the equation.

An Age-Old Adornment

From Tutankhamun to Britney Spears, body jewelry has played a huge role in global culture for tens of thousands of years. 

Self-expression, religion, and coming-of-age rituals are just some of the reasons why we might wear body jewelry, and all of them are interesting and symbolic in their own ways.