If you’re getting a new piercing or looking to purchase new body jewelry for an older (healed) piercing, you may see that some types of jewelry come with either internal or external threads. Knowing the difference between the two is important so that you know you’re getting the right type of body jewelry for your piercing.
What are Threads?
First, you need to understand what threads are. When referring to types of body jewelry – particular barbells of various shapes – threads are what hold two parts of the jewelry together. In hardware terms, it works like a nut that screws onto a bolt. Because it’s so visually similar to a penis fitting into a vagina, threads have long been referred to as “male” and “female.” The threads are the grooves on the outside of the “male” counterpart (the bolt) and the inside of the “female” counterpart (nut).
Internal vs. External
When it comes to threaded jewelry, at least one end (like the ball on the end of a barbell) has to be removable in order to be able to insert the jewelry into your piercing. Afterward, the end is screwed back into place. The difference between internal and external threading is determined by which piece of the barbell (the bar or the end) is the male counterpart, and which is the female.
Internal threads means that the barbell itself is the female counterpart – the threads reside on the inside of the end of the barbell, so the part that is fed through your piercing is smooth. The ball end is the male counterpart, so it has a short rod of threads attached to it that screws into the barbell.
External threads means that the barbell itself is the male counterpart, so at the end of the bar there is a short rod of threads that screws into the center of the ball.
Why the Differences Matter to You
The difference between internally and externally threaded body jewelry matters because it has everything to do with the level of quality of the jewelry and what’s best for your piercing.
Due to the fact that internally threaded jewelry is perfectly smooth with no rough threads on the part that is inserted through the piercing hole, it is ideal for new piercings. Exposed threads can irritate the raw flesh inside a new piercing, even if the jewelry is inserted very carefully. No professional piercer should use externally threaded jewelry on a new piercing–ever. But don’t assume they all use internally threaded jewelry just because they work in a shop; always ask first and know what you’re getting.
Since internally threaded jewelry is more complicated to manufacture, it’s also more expensive. So those with healed piercings – especially people who like to change their jewelry often and wear different styles – may prefer to buy the less expensive externally threaded jewelry. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as your piercing is completely healed, but many people rush into changing their jewelry before they really are fully healed. Depending on your piercing, some can take a full year to heal entirely; just because it feels okay or the skin looks healed on the outside doesn’t mean there isn’t still raw flesh on the inside. Piercings heal from the outside in.
A relatively new concept in jewelry production is a threadless end. The ball still has a protruding end that fits inside the bar, but it’s a pin that’s held inside the bar with pressure. This is also an acceptable form of jewelry for new piercings, as the part of the jewelry that’s inserted through the hole is smooth, just as it is with internally threaded jewelry.
About the Guru:
Karen L. Hudson has been writing for the body art community since 1999. She is the author of Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos--and the Women Who Wear Them and Living Canvas: Your Total Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification. After leaving her position as About.com's body art expert in 2011, she founded Tat2Guru to continue her efforts as a safety and acceptance advocate for the body art community. Read Her Full Bio