Losing My Labia: Body Mods for Pain and Pleasure

Shannon was fascinated by her own crotch.

A self-described sex addict, she found herself reaching for new extremes in order to satisfy herself, and her genitals were always the focus of her attention. She quickly became bored with traditional sex.

In her thirties, she began thinking of her body as a sculptable entity more than a tool for pleasure. She explored play piercing, gauging, and labia stretching, but in her forties, decided she wanted something really special.

After considerably inquiries, she found a paramedic in training who would perform the procedure—here’s your requisite “don’t try this at home” warning. This is better done with an experienced professional, and even then, it’s risky.

Body Modification in a BDSM Scene

 “Hey guys, can I borrow this for a night? It’s for…a joyride. Yeah.”

“Hey guys, can I borrow this for a night? It’s for…a joyride. Yeah.”

He had no access to anesthetic, but had a full complement of surgical tools. They further agreed that they would stage a scene that added to the sexual enjoyment. She was collared and led by a leash to the "operating table" (a coffee table covered in clean white sheets).

Shannon describes the stage as “ritual,” an altar where she would sacrifice her femininity for pleasure's sake.

The whole process took no more than 30 minutes, start to finish. When it was over, both of her labia had been cleanly removed. Shannon spent the next three days recovering in bed.

She was lucky to avoid complications, considering that her “surgeon” was neither a surgeon nor an experienced body modification expert, and had never performed the procedure before.

Her reasons for the procedure were multifaceted. The modification itself was enjoyable, it increased her sexual pleasure later in life, and it certainly set her apart from the crowd.

Some would argue that she mutilated herself, even though this was a modification she actively sought out, from which she gained considerable benefit.

Body Modification vs. Mutilation

 “STOP MUTILATING YOURSELF.” —Your mom, probably.

“STOP MUTILATING YOURSELF.” —Your mom, probably.

Is body modification mutilation?

I’ll keep this brief, since you can probably guess my stance on the issue (this, coming from the guy who takes bodily autonomy to extremes, and disagrees with the precedent set by the Armin Meiwes trial.)

To quote forensic researcher Dr. Mark Benecke, who says it more eloquently than I ever could:

“A body mutilation is something you will be either ashamed of afterwards, or you use it as a weapon against yourself or others, or you limit yourself through the modification instead of expanding your mind or body or both.”

Why Do We Modify Ourselves?

 Because we, as a species, love paying money to get stabbed?

Because we, as a species, love paying money to get stabbed?

There are plenty of reasons to get modded: to express individuality, to enhance beauty or sexual appeal, and even for the spiritual ecstasy of pain itself.

One sociologist discusses body modification in terms of Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory, which would view modifications as a sort of costume or prop used to affiliate one’s self with a particular group.

A perspective which I particularly appreciate is symbolic interactionism, which posits that no universal meaning can be assigned to any behavior.

We interact with things based on meanings ascribed to those things; the ascribed meaning of things comes from our interactions with others and society; the meanings of things are then interpreted by each individual on a case-by-case basis.

The downside of this view is that it can be limiting: if meaning is determined individually, how can we study behavior on a large scale?

Still, I find it applicable: ask a hundred different people why they got a tattoo or piercing, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

This is by no means a universally accepted theory. Body modification has been explored casually and academically from many different perspectives, but it isn’t often discussed in the context of BDSM, though the practice is extremely popular in the kink scene.

This is, in part, because it’s nearly impossible for academics to fund research into alternative sexual practices—if they aren’t disorders and can’t be treated, where does the money come from?

We’re instead limited to personal accounts. But if everyone does what they do for different reasons, case studies are perhaps the most valuable form of research.

 Go ahead and laugh me out of academia. It’s cool.

Go ahead and laugh me out of academia. It’s cool.

I’m sure nothing will shock you after Shannon’s account, so let’s turn now to a personal experience from a close friend who’d like to remain anonymous:

Long Distance Submission

“My personal life has been difficult to control lately for many reasons, so it “”seems counterintuitive that I would want to give up more control—but that's the whole point. Everything else is hectic. Submission, at least, is my choice.

He and I were sending racy messages to one another, and in one, he mentioned dying my hair to make me look more like his type—in our fantasy, that “type” is more of a victim profile.

 Everyone has a murder kink. Why the fuck not?

Everyone has a murder kink. Why the fuck not?

I had entertained the idea of getting a body mod at his request before, but I never brought it up, since that would defeat the point. He had to want to do it to me. Now I mentioned piercing. We discussed some logistics: nothing on the face, as one of my jobs forbid it. I had a regular shop, so I could get it done there.

He said to give him some time to think about it. A day or so later, he texted me at work:

“I want you to get an industrial piercing on your left ear. That's where mine is.”

I know a part of the reason he likes me goes back to a fascination with the destruction of self. We look similar. We think similarly. That's not the only thing, but at moments like this, it's a little more obvious.

I didn't stop and consider it. I said “yes sir,” and when I came back from my break I told my coworkers was getting a piercing tomorrow.

I was nervous on the way to the parlor, at the parlor, in the chair. The piercer took an eternity to swab my ear and draw the lines, to make sure she had it just right and even with the other. I trusted her eye for things more than mine, and I just wanted it to go ahead and happen.

When you hear about people in real life or erotic fiction doing things that hurt because they enjoy it, or enjoy being told to, some part of you just thinks it'll hurt a hell of a lot less.

But I have a low pain tolerance. I bleed very easily. It's a redhead thing, which the piercer mentioned as she wiped blood off my neck.

It's not like I didn’t know what to expect. I'd had the exact same piercing before. I spent months deciding to get it and convincing my parents to let me.

 “It’s not a big deal, guys.”

“It’s not a big deal, guys.”

It was my first mod outside of traditional earrings, and I loved it, but I decided I wouldn't want the same thing again. For one, I would like something a little less symmetrical, and that particular spot was hard to navigate. It was so much effort to keep clean.

Though I remembered that I didn't want a second industrial, I forgot all the little reasons for that decision the moment he told me to do it.

I remembered afterward. Fucking hell did it hurt. More than the first time I had it done—but maybe I wanted it to hurt a little. The first time, I didn't want it to hurt at all.

It’s not like erotic fiction. I wasn’t just in and over with. I have to clean it every morning and night, and I'll catch my hand on it putting on a shirt, my helmet, my headphones; it'll hurt like fuck and possibly bleed. It's a longer process than just sitting in a chair and having two large needles poked through me.

I had a bit of an emotional drop. When I agreed to this, I was only thinking about the experience of getting it. I didn't have in mind the months of care and carefulness that would follow.

 “Careful…careful…OW, FUCK.”

“Careful…careful…OW, FUCK.”

It was also the first major thing he’d physically done to me, and I'll say, the whole time it felt like that—like he was doing it to me, even though he wasn’t there. I know in theory I could have stopped it. But it was his decision. I didn't want to back out. I didn't see that as an option. I had him on my mind the whole time.

It’s emotionally intense to give that kind of power to someone else. There's a lot of vulnerability involved. I had a few moments of hurt and nervousness, but can't say there was a moment where I regretted it, as I saw it as so final. I had already done it. He had already done it to me.

I think the permanence of it is the strangest part. I don't keep people around long. Letting someone make a permanent physical impact on me is something new and raw.

I think it'll take some time to adjust, and I'm alright with that. It’s better to acknowledge the ups and downs than it is to push forward in some reckless attempt to prove a point—but I don't regret it. I would do it again.

I just need some time to heal, and until then, I can feel close to him despite the distance.”

These varying experiences show the diversity of this practice, even in the relatively tight-knit BDSM scene.

Everyone has their own reasons for modifying their bodies. Whether we’re interested in the thrill of the procedure, the aesthetic beauty of the results, the symbolism of altering our bodies at another’s request, or—god forbid—we just think it looks cool, we use body modification to create meaning and enrich our lives.


Ezra Blake’s debut novel, Claustrophilia, explores body mods and BDSM in a much darker context. Read chapter one here.