There's a hole in Dad's argument

A Family Affair- This Week: A Father And Son Talk About Their Revulsion And Enthusiasm For Body-Piercing
PHILLIP HODSON, 52, is a psychotherapist and broadcaster who lives in north London. He is a member of the British Association for Counselling, writes a problem page for `Woman's Journal' and is author of the `Cosmopolitan Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships'. Adept at helping other people with their problems, he is maybe not so good when it comes to his own.

Intellectually, I understand the need to do body-piercing, but emotionally and aesthetically I find it very hard to accept what my son is doing. He has got 12 piercings, he informs me. This is the little boy I saw born: I feel that the body that I helped create has been invaded and in some ways mutilated. Now I know the distinction between psychological self- harming and what he does, but it gives me the same feeling, so I start to worry. He assures me that it's all reversible and he hasn't, interestingly enough, tatooed himself, which is a fact that I cling to.

"In one sense, I understand that he wants to overcome my influence, to defeat my values, to become himself. But part of me says: `This is narcissistic nonsense.' Then I look at it and think to myself: `You stupid old fogey. Why do you fall for it?'

"It began with Alex saying `I want an ear-ring' and us saying `You're not having one. We're not paying for that'. Then he said `I can pay for it myself', and what he's subtly done is add ear-rings and ear-rings and ear-rings. He tells me that one of the motivations, besides the fact that it represents his particular subculture, is that girls find it attractive.

"The things that really affected me were the nipples and the eyebrow. The eyebrow gives me what my father would have called the willies. I object to the tongue because I'm very keen on people talking clearly and accurately and the tongue-piercing obscures the sound of the vowels. I think he's stopped now. Below the belt, the Albert as it is called, is one activity that I think even he isn't going to do.

"He's got a broad rebellious streak and it doesn't take a genius to understand that he's picked up some of this from the family. I didn't wear a tie at school. But not wearing a tie is one thing. Sticking a needle through your flesh is another.

"Having said all that, it doesn't change the relationship between us. ... I know enough to understand that you don't make your children and you don't control them. There's nothing I can do, when he's 19, to run his life. I'm not responsible for his body, his mind or his behaviour. He must take responsibility for that."

ALEXANDER HOOPER-HODSON, 19, lives with his parents. He is on his gap year, having gained three A grades at A-level in art, English and politics. In September he starts a foundation course at Chelsea College of Art, in London, after which he hopes to study graphic design.

I got my first ear-ring done when I was about 14 and I really liked the way it looked. Over the last five years I have built up from small ear-rings to body-piercings, I don't really see a dividing line between the two.

"It's something which on many different levels I like. On the aesthetic level, they look nice But it's also to do with what they feel like. Certain piercings, such as the tongue barbell, you can feel all the time.

You can move it around inside your mouth as if it were part of the body, although there aren't any practical applications - apart from kissing and oral sex, I suppose.

"Some rings increase the sensitivity of certain areas. For instance, if you're a man, your nipples aren't very sensitive, but once you have them pierced they become three times more sensitive. So you're almost creating new erogenous zones. Some people get their genitals done, but I haven't. My girlfriend's got her clitoris pierced and she says it heightens the sensitivity threefold. We've both got 12 piercings - it's quite coincidental.

"Certain other piercings draw attention to parts of your body you feel are attractive. I like my eyebrows, so having a barbell through one draws attention to it. But I don't like my nose, so I won't have it pierced.

"When I got my tongue pierced, my dad said `Don't you think you're just reducing yourself to the level of primal savagery?' to which I said `I don't really see what's wrong with primal savagery'. It's not primitive in the sense of backwards.

"I went to a job interview with the BBC on Monday and the first thing the guy commented on was the fact that I had my tongue and eyebrow pierced.

I don't know whether that bodes well for my job prospects! But unless my face is important or I'm in the public eye, I don't see that it's anyone's business. It's only small-mindedness on the part of the employer. Piercings are not like clothes, they're much more a part of you. It's almost like a customisation of your own body.

"My original ear-rings were to do with feeling that I wanted to be rebellious, but, for a long time, I haven't been having piercings for that reason. The more my parents accept it, the better. If it upsets them, that's their problem. This is how I am and they either accept it or deal with it in their own way."