Family, Self

Are Women With Tattoos Sexier?

woman with tattoo on her arm

I loved him, so I got a tattoo.

It didn't happen the way it sounds. I didn't get some tribute like his name in Medieval Cloister font or "Us Forever" in Japanese characters. He wasn't even at the studio to witness the act. In his place my classmates revolved faithfully in and out of the neon parlor doors to coo at the masterpiece in progress. My friend Jessica held my hand as I winced in pain bracing the area around my appendix like a woman suffering labor. She looked over the artist's shoulder at the fleshy front of my right hip and assured me, "When it's all over and you see how gorgeous it is, you'll totally forget the pain." Like a new mom with a deadbeat partner, I'd be the single bearer of my own joyous creation, an innocent lovechild that I'd keep and be proud of forever, born of a half-decade tumultuous affair. 

He told me that if I went through with it, he'd be gone. 

I decided to find out. I meant it as a poke, to push him to me or away. After I had my sexy markings he'd either stay with me once and for all or jump fully into his affair. It was my eighteenth birthday, and my ink would be my way of saying, I can make permanent decisions about my life without you. It's your last chance to choose between her and me. 

I called him. "I did it. You want me to come over so you can see?"

He told me yeah, sure, he didn't have to be at work for another hour. I showed up in sweats with black lace underneath. He peeled my clothes off of me and the Neosporin-coated Saran Wrap from the wound. "A blue butterfly?" he smirked.

I raised my chin at him in coquettish defiance. "And two roses."

"I warned you not to do it."

I shrugged. "So I did it anyway."

I thought maybe he'd smack me, but instead a cunning smile spread across his face. He shoved me onto his bed and didn't bother undressing me any further. As he worked his lips down my neck and his tongue down the front of my stomach, I knew I had won the combat of the tat.

He left to go back to school two weeks later, but showed up the following weekend and called me. "You should come out here," he said. "I want to see that tattoo again."

We were barely re-dressed when he pulled a pile of pictures out of his top drawer. "I've been meaning to tell you about this," he said, tossing the stack next to me on the bed. As I flipped through, I saw a picture of her—an unattractive young woman sporting a bad perm and a skirt longer than in Amish country. "I've realized that I love her," he said. 

Thinking about that now, in light of the recent news, I had to laugh. My ex was the opposite of Jesse James, who cheated on wife Sandra Bullock with tattoo model Michelle "Bombshell" McGee. Maybe if Sandra had gotten my tat, Jesse would have stayed with her. Maybe had I not gotten mine, we'd still be together.

As it turned out, I wore my scarlet letter alone. When I went to orientation at the college the ex didn't want me to attend, I committed to forming a new romantic identity. I never wanted to be controlled again. I showed up to parties in low-slung jeans, prompting guys to comment first that whoa I had a tattoo, then second, to ask what it was. At that point I usually unbuttoned my jeans, folded down the right zipper, and revealed my blue butterfly. "A free spirit," I'd explain, my own version of Bombshell McGee.

But of course the slutterfly isn't for everybody. According to a recent study, 17 percent of people who have tattoos are sorry they got them. Of that 17 percent, 16 percent regret it "because of the person's name in the tattoo." Thank God I didn't do that.

As you can probably guess, getting your loved one written on your body is rarely a good idea. Dave C. Wallin, a world-renowned tattoo artist based in Brooklyn, New York, says he always tries to dissuade a love-inker from doing the deed. "I advise against getting tattoos of any name or portrait unless it's a family member, pet, or deceased loved one," Wallin says. He mentions a popular superstition that getting a tattoo of a partner's name is considered the "kiss of death" for a relationship.

It depends on whom you're really getting the tattoo for, says Lawrence Rubin, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor (who happens to have tattoos and has researched the psychology of the tattoo extensively) at St. Thomas University in Miami. Rubin says that for women, tattoos—no matter what their form—may be a symbol of liberation or even cultural rebellion to tell the world that they don't care what other people think, especially when we consider that tattoos were first employed on men in tribes and the military. (Rumor has it that Sandra Bullock got inked on her breast as a tribute to her mom—but apparently that still wasn't enough for Jesse.)

Rubin says that many of the celebrities we see with tattoos simply want to "play to the cameras": "There's a broad range of people who get tattoos, and out at some end of that continuum there's probably an amount of pathology that's going on, or maybe a strong need for narcissistic display."

One thing I can say, though, is that the guys who liked my tat really liked it. Many are downright captivated, and it helped me to feel as sexually self-assured as a walking issue of Cosmo. Almost every man I have ever been naked with or worn a bikini around has commented on it. I'm not alone in that—one statistic states that 42 percent of tattooed women feel sexier because of it.

Twelve years after my tattoo's conception, I'm still content with its message. I'm no longer a teenager in a desperate relationship, and a lot of other things about my body and spirit have changed, but underneath it all, the artful, liberated beautiful creature never changes.

I hope Sandra Bullock loves herself that way, too—with or without a tattoo.