Does it Hurt? A semiserious guide to tattooing pain levels and what to expect, probably.

OK, first thing first things first. When a tattoo virgin asks “Does it hurt?” it’s sooooooooooooooooo tempting to stare back like you’re looking at a crazed iguana in a third-world zoo, or to snark back something along the lines of “Does the pope shit in the woods?” Initial gut-level responses aside, it’s really not that dumb of a question. Well, maybe it is, but it still deserves an answer beyond “if it didn’t everyone would have ‘em” or whatever.

Yes, Sherlock, tattoos hurt. How much, for how long and “like what?” fall somewhere on the spectrum from Annoying Inconvenience to OMFG You Are Killing Me. Lots of factors contribute to the level of pain you may experience while getting deftly executed skin art: your general health, your frame of mind at the time, the location of your tattoo, the size of your tattoo, the light or heavy touch of your artist, the length of your tattoo session all play a part.

You may have seen pain charts at the gym or the doctor’s office (or your date’s bedroom wall, no judgment), with numbered levels going from “minor” to “severe.” In the same vein, so to speak, you can find an unlimited number of graphic charts online rating tattoo pain as it relates to tattoo placement: most agree that armpits, ribs, nips & your junk rate high on the pain scale.

Elbows, ditches (inside your elbows), collarbones and joints like knuckles and knees are also generally no picnic. But face it, if you wanted a picnic you wouldn’t be in a tattoo shop.

The relationship of pain to the tattooing process is the subject of a lot of talk, and even study. For some, “pain therapy” is part of the reason for getting a tattoo, not just a side effect of the process. People getting memorial tattoos often take pride in the physical discomfort they endure while the commemorative design is worked on. Others say that the pain involved in tattooing is a welcome distraction from the daily blahs of life, helping them focus and “go to that place,” and is an integral – even looked-forward-to – part of the process.

Proper aftercare will lessen residual pain as tattoos heal, and being smart and prepared for your session will also influence how well you handle the traumatic/endorphin-inducing “pain” of your sitting for your ink. Prior to your session, eat well and be hydrated; get good rest; check with your doctor or healthcare pro about any allergies or immune systems questions.

Then sit down, strap in and shut up – it’s gonna be amazing!