When did tattoo’s get so damn hot? A quick scan around your local cafe lets you know that any taboos that were once held have been completely abandoned. These indelible tribal marks – these status markers – now simply beautify our bodies. It isn’t exactly surprising that this shift occurred in the West – a place where individuality is everything.
Way back in the mid-20th Century, the art was only connected with rowdy sailors or prison tats – the domain of people living on the fringes of mainstream society – sailors and circus folks. The mother of all marks – the heart – was created by the grandfather of all ink masters – Sailor Jerry. Norman Collins, who had learned from the Japanese masters in Honolulu, worked on Naval servicemen who didn’t know whether they ever come back from the war. His bombastic style invented a new artform.
After the war, upgrades in tattooing machines meant more detail and accuracy in the designs. And this meant that another outlaw group, bikers, started to adopt the idea. This was an easy way to mark yourself as unfit to climb the social ladder. By the late 70’s and early 80’s, getting tattooed and pierced became a mark of punk culture’s disdain social mobility. IN the 90’s, ink went mainstream and the ‘tramp stamp’ became a thing, followed by tribal tattoos on men and shoulder roses and butterflies on women. These gender divisions would also blend and new themes like Hindu markings began to crop up. The trend in the 21st century sees younger and younger mainstream teens getting tattoos. Tattoos are now the popular marks of celebrities, star athletes, and rock stars and this has clearly driven the media’s titillation for tats.
It is undoubtedly connected to sex. In a 2012 study in the The Journal of Sexual Medicine called Tattoos, Piercings, and Sexual Behaviors in Young Adults, researchers focused on 120 healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 35. Participants with tattoos had the most sex partners. Here are some more of the findings:
- People with tattoos are more sexually active than those without.
- People with piercings were more likely to have a regular partner than those with tattoos
- People with piercings have sex more often than those without
- People with body modifications are more likely to have sex in places other than a bedroom.
Echoing our current understanding of sexuality, there is a lot of support for body art these days, even among those who aren’t into it themselves. As the artform chips away at mainstream views of what is sexy, we are reminded about the origins of the word itself. The word evolved from the traditional way of applying ink to the body and describes the sound the needle makes as it repeatedly breaks through the skin: the tapping noise was heard as ‘tatu’. The mainstream acceptance of the tattoo itself as a symbol of sex in modern culture didn’t break through all at once but rather slowly, over time, it worked its way onto the skin of culture little by little: Tatu…tatu…tatu…tatu…tatu…
If you’d like to investigate more about the subversive history of this art form, check out this wonderful article and slide show about the role of women in the history of tattoos.