What is the Church teaching regarding body piercing and tattoos?

The Church doesn’t have any strong feelings on body piercing or body art. While the Catechism emphasizes the respect for bodily integrity and warns against mutilations (e.g. cutting one’s arm or leg off) nothing else is found pertaining to piercing or tattoos that would allow the faithful to believe these actions immoral. The USCCB also recognizes the reason behind the desire for getting a tattoo or piercing, saying “These things give [Young Adults] a mark of identity. This is their way of expressing their desire to belong, because they want to belong.”

However, the Church would expect you to be respectful of your own body and not to do anything that would be viewed as unhealthy (e.g. using dirty needles for piercing and risking serious infections!) or dangerous. 

If you’re thinking about getting a piercing or tattoo, I’d invite you to give some thought to your intention and ask yourself, why are you thinking of getting a body piercing or tattoo? What does it mean to you? 

If you are in a relationship, you’ve probably already been warned of the perils of getting the name of a significant other permanently tattooed on your body. That’s just one example of why it’s prudent to think before you ink! More seriously, tattoos can be expensive, and if you start spending beyond your means to get more of them you might want to reevaluate your relationship both with tattoos and money. But if you were thinking of getting your nose pierced because you think it looks cool — I would say that there’s nothing wrong with that statement of personal style. I think the type of tattoo would come into play too. If you got a tattoo of Bugs Bunny on your ankle, I might question your personal taste, but I’d think it was simply a personal choice. If you got a Swastika tattooed on your forehead a la Charles Manson, I think many people (not just those in the Church) would have serious problems with that. What type of statement are you trying to make with this?

The question that remains is the “why?” If you think a tattoo will score you dates because it’ll make you look cool — I’d caution you to think about why you feel this need to “be cool.”

Tattoos and body piercings will not change who you are, just as putting a new shirt on won’t either. Looking at the underlying reasons for getting either is key. I think the only reason to get either would be simply because you like the way it looks and not because you think it will change your personality or other people’s views of you.

As Catholics, we believe in the importance of a well-formed conscience. In this case, understanding the “why” behind something like getting a tattoo or piercing can help us figure out if what we desire is in fact the best thing for us.