Tattoos, Piercings, and Sexual Activity

By Gueguen, Nicolas | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Tattoos, Piercings, and Sexual Activity


Gueguen, Nicolas, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Tattoos and body piercings have become increasingly popular in Western societies. There are multiple motivations for getting tattoos and piercings, which include the desire for beauty, for distinction from others, for maintenance of one's self-identity, for the need to test one's threshold for pain and endurance, for group affiliation and endurance, and as a form of protest against parents and society (see Wohlrab, Stahl, & Kappeler, 2007).

A host of previous researchers have shown that college students with body piercings or tattoos were more likely to engage in risky behavior than were nonpierced or nontattooed students. Armstrong, Roberts, Owen, and Koch (2004) reported that survey respondents with piercings were more likely to report binge drinking in the previous month more often than were respondents without piercings. Those with piercings also reported using illegal drugs more often than did respondents without piercings. Koch, Roberts, Armstrong, and Owen (2007) found that 83% of women with piercings had premarital sexual intercourse as compared to 63% of women without piercings. However, no difference between men with or without piercings was found regarding sexual behavior.

Several researchers have found the same patterns of results when examining tattoos. Roberts and Ryan (2002) reported that adolescents with tattoos were more likely to report higher levels of substance use, violent behavior, sexual intercourse, and school problems than were adolescents without tattoos. These differences were found with both male and female respondents. Koch, Roberts, Armstrong, and Owen (2005) reported that tattooed men became sexually active at a significantly earlier age than did nontattooed men, whereas no statistical difference was found between tattooed and nontattooed women.

The first objective in this study was to evaluate the relationship between tattoos and/or piercings and sexual activity, in a different country from those where the topic has already been researched. In a Swiss survey conducted among 18-year-old males and females, Suris, Jeannin, Chossis, and Michaud (2007) reported that pierced individuals of both genders were more likely to report smoking more and using more illegal drugs than did nonpierced individuals. Indeed, having a tattoo and/or a piercing is a new behavior in France, which has increased considerably during the last decade (Mermet, 2010). The second objective was to test the combined effect of tattoos and piercings, as most researchers have studied either tattooing or piercing in isolation. Therefore I hypothesized that respondents with tattoos and/or piercings would be more likely to report early sexual activity than would respondents without piercings or tattoos.

Method

Participants

The participants were 2,080 students (1,160 females and 920 males) enrolled in four public universities in the west of France (Brittany). All were French and Caucasian and their mean age was 20.84 years (SD = 1.35).

Procedure

A total of 104 (46 male and 58 female) research assistants helped with this study. All the research assistants were undergraduate students studying business management. The study was presented to them as a field exercise in sales. They were neatly dressed in a traditional manner for young people of their age (jeans/ sneakers/t-shirt). The study took place at various campus locations on particularly sunny spring days. Each research assistant was instructed to question 20 student passersby of the same gender as himself/herself.

The interviewer approached a student walking alone and said with a smile: "Hello, I'm conducting a short survey on students' romantic behaviors. Would you agree to answer three questions on this topic?" If the participant agreed, the interviewer began the survey.

The term romantic behavior, rather than sexual behavior, was used to introduce the survey because results of a pretest showed that asking someone to respond to a survey on their romantic behavior was more likely to elicit consent than was asking someone to respond to a survey on their sexual behavior. …

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