Let me make something clear right now:
Yes, it hurts! You’re getting a needle shoved through your flesh, what do you think?
Everyone asks this question (often to the annoyance of modified people). I understand your anxiety, really I do, but we have a saying, “Pain is part of the point.” Contrary to popular opinion, we’re not all masochists who enjoy pain for its own sake. Body piercing can be a rite of passage, a badge of courage, a transition, and a profound experience; it’s a little sacrifice–without a little pain it would be far less meaningful. So I say, if you’re so all-fired scared of a little needle stick, maybe piercing isn’t for you.
Now that’s out of the way, let me talk a bit about specifics.
How much does it hurt? The answer is . . . it depends. Depends on the body part, depends on the person. Some piercings have a reputation for hurting more, for example, nipples, or a triangle. And yet not everyone has the same experience of pain, so one person’s most painful piercing will be another’s walk in the park. The sensations can range from excruciating to just a little pinch. It hurts, but it’s quick, compared to, say, the pain of a tattoo, which is constant. Everyone can withstand a few seconds of pain and discomfort.
Pain relievers. In the US, piercers are not allowed to use anesthetics (unless they are also medical doctors), but in Europe and other parts of the world, I think it’s common to use a topical application like Emla creme. Most piercers feel topical anesthetics are not a good idea, because they “freeze” or distort the tissue, which could cause a crooked piercing. And, sorry, don’t take ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin before getting pierced, as they may cause you to bleed more. (Taking ibuprofen afterward can help ease pain and swelling, though).
What to do: First, try not to dwell on the upcoming pain. The anticipation of a piercing is often the worst part. Try not to tense up; you can use breathing, distraction, or other relaxation techniques at the time of the piercing to lessen your discomfort. Also, make sure you are in good general health, are rested, and have eaten lightly an hour or so before getting pierced. Establish a good rapport with your piercer and get all your concerns and questions addressed prior to your piercing to reduce your level of anxiety (as much as that’s possible!)
My biggest tip for reducing the pain is: Find the best, most experienced piercer you can. A skilled, experienced, professional piercer will put you at ease and make you comfortable, can make the piercing go so quick you won’t have time to experience pain, and will be deft and won’t fumble around getting the jewelry in. That part can be very uncomfortable!
Finding a great piercer is, as in so many things related to piercing, the key to a great (and [relatively] painless) experience! But even if it hurts like a mof, remember: we all gotta suffer for beauty!