Throughout history, love and sexuality have always played an important role in female tattoo, far more so than in its male equivalent. In tribal societies, tattoo was invariably used to mark and “communicate” the passage of the various phases in a woman’s sexual development: puberty, matrimony, maternity, widowhood... and as a consequence was also considered a fascinating and erotic decoration
Love and sex are also the origins of much of contemporary female tattoo. According to Cesare Lombroso (a criminologist living in Turin between 1835 and 1909) “it is in the female sex that the prejudices, rites and ornaments of ancient times, long since abandoned by men, find refuge... and it is above all among the women of primitive populations that traditional tattooing practices have survived. This is not because of any innate barbarism, insensitivity or criminal inclination, but rather for reasons to do with vanity, whim, seduction or simply religious or tribal tradition...” The origins of the ancient and widespread practice of female tattoo, as well as its survival, are confirmed by the many examples still to be found in all the countries where it is known, in the indigenous populations of Oceania, America, Asia and including those of Mediterranean and African religion. Archaeologists working in the Greek islands have uncovered terracotta statuettes dating back to the time of Homer. “Almost all of them portray female bodies tattooed with geometrical designs, mostly on the belly and thighs”. One of the most frequently recurring symbols is the triangle, like “the sexual triangle of Iberian and Cypriot idols”, or closer to our own times, among Berber women the “triangle that holds the sacred palm is a symbol of divine fertility “. The triangle is also common to many tribes in which tattoo has kept its magical function (like the tattoo in the form of two interlocking Vs (the seal of Solomon) and still has this same precise meaning: “The Chaouia think, for example, that any woman who hasn’t got a tattoo on her left heel won’t have children”; whilst for the Zaian, it wasn’t important where they had a tattoo, but the needle that did it had to have been used to stitch the sheets of a virgin and the woman doing the tattoo had to have had a lot of children.
Cosmetic tattoos that adorned or distinguished women (like the vertical and oblique lines on the chin of married women), were pretty much universal in primitive cultures. Lombroso noted how in New Zealand “the designs of the tattoos vary like fashion in our culture... and the proof that they are considered decorative lies in the fact that girls tattoo their lips to disguise their red colour, which is considered a defect in their culture “. Tahitian women, and not only they, tattooed special lines or cuts to show whether they were virgin or nubile. In the Marquesas islands tattoo is sacramental as well as a decorative; there are different tattoos for nubile girls, free servants, slaves, married women and widows. Their ornamental tattoos are drawn with fine lines and form bracelets, shoulder pieces and similar decorations. They begin at 15 years old with a tattoo at waist height and develop over time. The tattoos are done in a secret ceremony that only women can take part in. Pregnant women are never tattooed, and only tattooed women can prepare popoi (a fermented flour) and do hopakaa, which involves rubbing coconut oil onto the bodies of the dead to mummify them. According to Lombroso, tattoo was “a mark of women’s social inferiority”. In Tahiti, tattoo among women is particularly widespread and elaborate: girls between age 8 and 14 tattoo their entire bodies, except for the face, and when they reach puberty, are adorned with bow-shaped markings on their buttocks. Only noble women are allowed to tattoo their lips. In Tahiti, tattoo is a decoration displayed with great pride. In Nouka Hiva, noble women can tattoo themselves far more than the common folk, and in Samoa, widows tattoo their tongues. In New Zealand, women have whimsical black designs on their buttocks, which they make a great show of displaying. According to Kocher, Arabian women have themselves tattooed to please their husbands and lovers, and that’s why tattoo is more widespread among women than among men. All Arabian prostitutes are tattooed with crosses and flowers on their cheeks or arms, others have them on their breasts, labia or eyelids; but these are ornamental, and never obscene symbols. In many regions of Ethiopia, the women have buatri ornamental tattoos, that form necklaces or bracelets, or religious tattoos on their foreheads like the symbol of the Christian cross.
This tradition still survives today. Lacassagne (French anthropologist - criminologist, 1843-1924) wrote: “Far more than among young men, for young women tattoo is a bad sign and clearly constitutes a precursor to prostitution”. In “De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris”, 1836, by Parent-Duchatelet, we can read that “... girls who frequent soldiers and sailors have the habit of tattooing figures or inscriptions on the skin. The most typical example is the one reported among prostitutes in Copenhagen in 1891. Among the clients of prostitutes there are a certain number of men who go looking for tattooed women, regardless of the erotic nature of the tattoos themselves”.

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