Myths About the Tramp Stamp

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Most of us know that a tramp stamp is a tattoo on a woman’s lower back.  But how did it become such a derogatory term (its reference to a promiscuous woman)?

One theory is that early Indian tribes would put his brand or ‘tattoo’ on his partner’s back to signify that she is not sexually available. The position of the tattoo is to discourage other males who would see the tattoo during sex. Another possible origin is that the tattoo comes from tribal and Celtic designs.

The tramp stamp tattoo is "popular among women born in the late 70s, 80s and even early 90s." According to, "studies done by the American Psychological Association, Federal Bureau of Prisons . . . [show] a strong correlative evidence associating tattoos with high risk behavior, illegal substance abuse and sexual promiscuity." An interesting joke is that "by 2050, the 'tramp stamp' will be renamed the 'gramp stamp.'"

Margot Mifflin’s book Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo refers to the tramp stamp as a 'chick spot.' British use the word 'slag tags,' and Germans use the word 'arschgeweih' which translates to 'ass antlers.'  The St. Petersburg Times of Tampa Bay, Florida first used the words in 1992 as an idiom for food stamps.

Considering that the tramp stamp has heightened popularity in the 1990s, says Dr. Therisa Green, author of The Tattoo Encyclopedia: A Guide to Choosing Your Tattoo and Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo and also in 2004 with Lindsay Lohan’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, indicates that a tramp stamp is just a tattoo but still an archaic idea of promiscuity.

In 2005, the movie Wedding Crashers "brought international consciousness to the tramp stamp’s modern meaning." Madonna "re-erogenised the female body [by] redefine[ing] the female body as empowering rather than exploitative."

When Jennifer Lopez went to the Grammys in 2000, she wore a "tissue-thin green Versace dress that established her as a media fixation." This started a fixation on women’s butts.  The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery said buttock augmentation and lift surgeries improved considerably. So it seems logical that to accent the butt, a tramp stamp was added.

Jane Hollister, a New York University graduate and editor at the Penguin Group says that women ought to embrace the tramp stamp label.  Jane has a tattoo where her spinal cord begins and says that her tattoos represent "renewal, rebirth and regeneration.

Tattoos on the lower back can be very erotic and beautiful. If this same tattoo is placed on the upper back or arm, the tramp stamp label would not be relevant.

One problem with lower back tattoos does comes to mind; they can stop a doctor from giving a woman an epidural. The concern is that the epidural can pierce a tattoo spreading the tattoo pigment to enter 'interspinous ligaments,' potentially leading to health problems. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Journal, an 'epidural catheter placement through lumbar tattoos is a practitioner’s decision based on clinical judgment.'

A study by Swami and Furnham (2007) showed that "tattooed women were rated as less physically attractive but more sexually promiscuous." If this is based on any placement of a tattoo on one’s body then what does that suggest for a tattoo that is historically a sexual 'come-on' tell us? The same study, Effects of a Tattoo on Men's Behavior and Attitudes Towards Women: An Experimental Field Study, suggests that a tramp stamp is just that – an advertisement that a woman is sexually available. Only time will fade this view of the derogatory term - the 'tramp stamp.'

A tramp stamp has no more relevance to being promiscuous, than it is for a pirate to wear an earring to 'prevent seasickness,' or for a child to be born out of wedlock and considered a shunned 'bastard.'

Women have come a long way, but have a long way to go, from covering almost every inch of skin to being proud of who we are and our sexuality.

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