If you ever find yourself sitting in a surgical chair, sweating a little bit because you're about to have a 10 gauge needle shoved through your penis, it might help to know that the piercer has a bottle of sugar tablets in his drawer just in case you get light-headed.
The difference between a professional studio and a corner shop crawling with hepatitis could correlate with the number of stars each establishment earns on Yelp, but another way to tell is by counting how many pairs of latex gloves a piercer snaps on in the course of the job. The good ones should be fanatic about health, have a charming bedside manner and won't shy away from turning you away if you fail to shower before your appointment.
When it comes to pulling off some of the most difficult procedures known to the body modification industry, it also helps if your piercer has a sense of humor and steady hands. Say you want 5K worth of gold rings in your labia. Better research who in Houston already has ample experience doing that before signing up with any punk in a concert parking lot.
Here's the real deal.
5. Electric Chair 8722 Richmond Ave.
Charlie Ramirez, longtime tattoo artist at Electric Chair, got into piercing frankly to make more money. But after seeing enough desperate clients come into his shop looking to fix botched piercings done by less qualified piercers, he developed a neurotic need to educate people on the basics of not contracting infections, not the least of which is actually using soap.
"There are so many people in Houston where they're looking for a price. They're not looking for a place that'll take care of you," Ramirez said. "That can be frustrating. I'm covered in tattoos and it's like, 'Look at me,' but really it's like being a gynecologist."
Ramirez buys quality jewelry and charges accordingly. His piercing room resembles a doctor's office and short of offering coffee and mints to keep clients comfortable, he does keep an emergency stash of sugar tablets in case they start stumbling on the way out after a piercing. Aftercare services include his personal cell phone number so clients can call him with any complications in the middle of the night.
Another point of irritation for Ramirez is consulting for young people who want the exact piercings they found on Pinterest or Tumblr when they aren't anatomically suited for the job. Sometimes they turn away for a second opinion and his biggest fear is that some less ethical piercer will go ahead and take the kid's money for a piercing that will never be comfortable.
4. 713 Tattoo Parlour 1533 Westheimer
Stix, nicknamed as such for readily apparent reasons, has been piercing since he was barely old enough to receive them. He started in a shady clothing store but eventually worked his way up to become a senior piercer at 713 Tattoo Parlour.
He credits his know-how to a lot of watching and practicing on friends as all piercers do, but he's also huge on social media and networking to learn new techniques. The body modification community as a whole tends to suffer when professionals view each other solely as competition and don't discuss craft, he said. The best in the business all know each other.
Stix does all types of subdermal anchors and genital piercings. He admits there's real risk of causing serious harm if those piercings aren't done correctly, but he's never made a mistake. Heartening testimony from a guy who also does suspension, a highly delicate performance art form based on lifting human bodies into the air via skin piercings. 3. The Black Pearl 17440 FM 529 Ste 102
J "Badass" is a veteran piercer who doesn't get fazed by much. The industry's constantly pushing the envelope on extreme piercings, and he's kept in step with all the trends. By now piercing is all science and muscle memory, but it wasn't so with his first genital job.
"It was trial by fire," Badass said of his inaugural Prince Albert piercing, years ago. "I hadn't done it and I wasn't shown prior, but I had done a lot of basic piercings and it was just a matter of knowing the body's anatomy and being confident in my abilities ... I just wanted to grab it and stab it."
Now he understands the tissues and the tendons, subtle anatomic differences from one person to the next, the difficulties that come with fitting jewelry in women and the arm strength necessary to puncture inches-deep holes through the pure muscle of male genitalia. His favorite type of piercings to date: subdermal anchors paired with tattoo pieces, such as planting a diamond sparkle in the googly eye of a rubber ducky.
These days Badass prefers tattooing over piercing because "you can only poke so many holes in people," but his appreciation for tattoos goes way back to his time in the Navy, when it was customary to get fresh ink at every port.
2. Texas Body Art 12537 Jones Road
Ben Reel of Texas Body Art has been piercing exclusively for 15 years ever since he "tripped and fell face first." His personal piercing style is generally consistent with that of mainstream professionals but for a few minor deviancies. For example, though subdermal anchors are still commonly performed with a biopsy punch, where the skin is literally hole-punched to hollow out space for a metal anchor, Reel will make a tiny incision in the skin instead just to spare the client.
With Reel, taking care of clients also means talking them out of spending too much money on him and getting too many piercings at once because then the body would struggle to heal properly. On the piercing table, his strategy is to talk constantly. He'll make one little joke, and then he'll tell the client to breathe in, breathe out. It's when they start breathing out that he sticks them.
One interesting take on traditional genital piercings he's performed is the chastity ring, which requires that a woman pierce her labia majora four to six times on both sides and wear the kind of jewelry that would allow her to close them together. But most genital piercings are meant to be sexually functional, Reel said, and that's why he has so many older clients who want them.
"Usually it's the people that you would walk past at the grocery store and not have a single thought at all about them," Reel said. "I'll get far more people who are 30 to 50. By that age, you've burnt out the majority of your sex life so you need to spice it up a little bit. You're trying to increase sensitivity for some reason."
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1. Sacred Heart Studio 327 Westheimer
Mickey Van Fossen, 27, splits penises through the urethra, embeds tiny magnets in fingertips and recently created an Elvis belt of subdermal anchors in a guy's abdomen. He's a classically trained nurse who has been professionally piercing for 8 years and focuses on that exclusively, which means no tattooing on the side. At Sacred Heart he monopolizes the piercing room and the bright pink sanitation station in the back. The Grey's Anatomy shelved underneath the satanic wall art isn't just for decoration.
"If anybody messes with my stuff I'll kill them," Van Fossen said jokingly (we hope) in regard to his organizational system. "Half my day goes to cleaning doorknobs. The whole time on the way up to the door, [clients] are fucking with their jewelry. They come in infected, and that's how I see everything. I must clean it all!"
He has also been known to help homeless guys remove fishing hooks buried in their hands, pro bono, as Montrose's emergency street surgeon.