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Published Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The TSA and Your Private Parts

I’d like to talk about travel for a bit, since I love to travel. Is there anything better for the soul than travel? Getting to go to other countries, experience unique climates, cultures, sites and flavors? I think not. The only speedbump in our journey of worldwide enlightenment comes in the form of those helpful and friendly folks who run our secure screening areas. First fact: You’re not as naked under those backscatter scanners as you thought you were. At least, not anymore. In an unrelated note you should totally stock up on organic jewelry and non-metallic stuff.

Not that your metal jewelry will cause any problems. Seriously, it probably won’t, I just needed a placeholder for this cavity search infographic.

Now, I’m not going to talk about 9/11, giving up freedoms for security, or as some people say, “The illusion of security, man.” Nor am I here to discuss the biases of TSA policy, the possibility that it is a government conspiracy to force us to wear “acceptable” clothing and jewelry (“I can wear my watch and my eyeglasses through the checkpoint, but my nipple rings have to come out? They’re fascist lizard people man, controlling our minds.”)

If you can’t tell, I’ve been reading the comment sections on the TSA blogs.

Oh, yeah. The TSA totally has a blog.

Frequent commentator here at the blog, Elayne Angel, said, in her book The Piercing Bible, that she has not had issues with the TSA even though she is wearing a lot of body jewelry. She travels all over the world, so she has had a lot of chances to trigger an incident if anyone was going to.

The reality seems to be that most piercings are too insubstantial to set anything off.

One source (Here) at the TSA said that if you set off the alarm, you might have to have a ‘pat down’ or remove the jewelry in private:

"Certain metal body piercings may cause the machines to alarm and a pat-down may be required. If additional screening is required, you may be asked to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to the pat-down."


As I said, instances of the pat downs actually occurring seem very rare. Elayne said, “To date I have not had any issues with TSA, nor have I had any reported from the many clients I’ve pierced throughout my career.” She also said that she, personally, opts for the pat downs because of the unknown effects of the radiation that the scanners use. That journal article in the link makes it sound as safe as your breakfast cereal, but they are still firing radiation at you, so you never know.

Another frequent contributor, piercer and instructor, Rick Frueh, had this to add, “So, two weeks after nine eleven. I was flying out of Newark, NJ. At the time I was a smoker. I finished a smoke and was heading through security to my gate. I had 1" spikes in my forehead. They pulled me aside to check if I was allowed to have them, while in the next lane crocheting needless went by no problem. After about ten minutes they determined that there wasn't an issue and let me pass.”

But did he set off the metal detectors?

He would bet with TSA agents on whether he would set off the detectors (In addition to the horns and multiple piercings, Rick had steel subdermals). How did that turn out?

“Never did. Never lost.”

It should be noted that if you crochet, you can still bring your knitting needles on the plane. Along with your sweet, sweet jewelry.

In short, you probably won’t get radiation poisoning from the scanners (but no promises), they can’t see you as naked as you think they can (but again, no promises), you probably won’t set off the metal detectors (you know the drill), and feel free to crochet on the plane because somehow your twelve inch needles aren’t dangerous.

Try not to give the TSA too much trouble, and happy flying everybody!