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How Tongue Splitting Works

        Culture | Body Art

Tongue Splitting, Practitioners, Controversies and the Law
A man performs a tongue-splitting procedure on a 25-year-old tattoo artist in New York in 2003 – before it became regulated in 2004.
A man performs a tongue-splitting procedure on a 25-year-old tattoo artist in New York in 2003 – before it became regulated in 2004.
© Reuters/Corbis

So if you do want to have your tongue split, who's going to do it? You? It's been done, but it's generally not recommended. A professional at a tattoo or body piercing shop? Yes, that could work (depending on where you live), but you'd do yourself a solid by making sure the professional is experienced, understands the procedure and works in a clean shop. A surgeon or other medical professional? It's probably your best bet -- both for legal and safety reasons.

The question of who is going to help you split your tongue is determined in part by where you live. It differs from U.S. state to state. For example, Michigan has tried banning the procedure but without success [sources: Medical Bag; Associated Press; Jurden]. Also, many branches of the U.S. military expressly forbid it and will make you get a reversal if you enlist with a forked tongue.

If you're under 18 in any U.S. state, you won't be allowed to have your tongue split without parental consent -- and even then things get kinda murky. Although tongue splitting falls under the broader category of body modification, because of its nature, it's generally considered a medical procedure. And because of this, there's some debate as to whether laws governing tattoos and piercings correctly apply, which is why states like Oregon only allow the procedure to be performed by a licensed medical practitioner [sources: LeTrent; Medical Bag; Siegel].

This gray area appears to be the international norm, and as a result laws governing the practice can be hard to find. Tongue splitting is accepted enough in England for professionals to advertise the procedure, and the Australian state of Victoria has banned the practice among minors [sources: Holier; Macreadie]. But here's the bottom line: If you're not sure of the legality of tongue splitting wherever you live, find out. Your best resources are likely your local medical practitioners or body modification specialists. If no one nearby is willing to offer the service, they're probably being mindful of either prohibitive or extra murky laws and don't feel that it's a legal risk worth taking.

So, with the legal question come social and ethical ones as well. Opponents of tongue splitting consider it self-mutilation; therefore, medical practitioners should not be allowed to perform the procedure. However, others stress that body modification is not in itself a sign of mental illness or a desire to self-harm. They argue that the real ethical question isn't whether people should be allowed to alter their bodies (after all, this is the age of implants, liposuction and Botox), but whether they have a safe, sterile environment in which they can do so. To the joy of tongue splitting advocates, this "who are we to judge?" there are enough practitioners across the county who are more than willing to make your dreams come true for a nominal (yikes!) fee in the range of $1,000–$2,500 [sources: Vaughn; Loftus].

Aside from legal and ethical questions, there are personal considerations as well -- which we're only so happy to cover in the next section.


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