For the first time in American history, tattoos are trending toward mainstream status among younger generations: Nearly half of millennials (47 percent) and over a third of Gen-Xers (36 percent) claim to have at least one tattoo. What’s more, few Americans stop at one: Among those with tattoos, 69 percent have at least two.
But more invasive methods of body modification — implanting (inserting artificial devices under the skin), scarification (applying scars in a controlled manner) and branding (burning the skin to create scars) — continue to hide deep within the shadows outside mainstream society. Perhaps the least talked-about of all these is surgical nipple removal — something that’s primarily performed on men, since nipple modifications on women can sometimes cause blocked milk ducts and mastitis, a painful infection of the breast tissue.
Got questions? We figured.
But… why would someone have their nipples removed?
“Most men who have their nipples removed don’t like their nipples being pinched or bitten, and they find removal easier than reminding their partners. They don’t want to be in the middle of sex and suddenly scream out in pain,” says Steve Haworth, a body modification artist who performs the procedure, and who’s credited with inventing and popularizing subdermal implants (those implanted fully under the skin for the purpose of affecting a sculptural change of the surface) and transdermal implants (jewelry that appears to screw directly into the skin). “Others simply want that area completely smooth — they want to be able to run their hands over it without feeling a nipple. I also plan to have my nipples removed at some point — my motivation is the nipple sensitivity issue.”
I realize I may not want to know this, but how is it actually carried out?
Generally, nipple removal is performed using a clamp-and-cut technique: A clamp is attached to the nipple, then the incision is made and sutured. Other methods aren’t uncommon, though: Some ditch the clamp altogether, while others simply cauterize the nipple.
“The type of scar the individual wants and the natural tension of their skin determines the method used,” Haworth explains. “Some people desire X-shaped scars: The X is a four-pointed star incision that is then pulled together. Others prefer a basic football-shaped cut, which is drawn together and heals in a straight line.”
I’m going to guess this stings a little bit?
“Nipple removal definitely rates up there as one of the higher levels of pain involved in body modification,” confirms Haworth. “They take an average of about three weeks to heal, and about six months for the redness in the lines to disappear. It’s best to not have them played with or messed with during the healing process.”
So what does it feel like when it’s healed?
“The scar typically doesn’t retain sensation, but the skin on the chest usually does,” says Haworth. “Obviously, the person will no longer have sensation in the nipples, since they’re gone. But this is a desirable result for them.”
Is this as extreme as body modification gets?
Not quite. Haworth also refers to an extreme body modification subculture called smoothies — or nullos, which is short for genital nullification. This group is made up mostly of men who have their genitals (and sometimes also their nipples) surgically removed. A passage from the Encyclopedia of Body Adornment attempts to explain the complexity of this community:
A nullo, for instance, is a man who has all of his genitalia removed for sexual and/or aesthetic reasons. While male to female transsexuals have their genitals removed as part of their transition, a nullo’s desires are more complicated and people with this desire make up a very small percentage of the extreme body modification community, and even within that community, many people find them difficult to comprehend.
Japanese performance artist Mao Sugiyama (who’s widely considered to be one of the most influential nullos) famously had their genitals and nipples surgically removed in 2012 to promote asexuality and gender equality. Sugiyama originally intended to consume the genitals, but instead hosted a public banquet during which they were cooked and served with button mushrooms and Italian parsley. There were dozens in attendance, but only five actually consumed the genitalia (the others dined on crocodile and beef).
…I have no more questions.
Again, we figured.