Shaving or trimming pubic hair is now common among both sexes, with a recent survey finding that 84% of women had done it. But is there any health benefit? Or could it actually be harmful? Since when did pubic hair become so yucky? Sure, it’s wiry, but it is a secondary sex characteristic, for crying out loud. And one that is increasingly being shaved, waxed or lasered from the lives of young adult women.
The fashionable pubis is now smooth and shiny, like Barbie’s bits. Or, more uncomfortably, because let’s say it how it is, like prepubescent genitalia. Why do so many women leave the mons pubis looking like a sore plucked chicken? In a survey of 3,316 women in the US, published this week in JAMA Dermatology, 59% said they did it for “hygiene reasons”. Overall, 84% said they had done some grooming and 62% said they had removed all their pubic hair at least once. Obliteration of hair was most common between the ages of 18 to 24.
More than 20% said they did it for their partners. Feeling sexier was also a reason. The lead author of the paper, Dr Tami S Rowen, said: “Many women think they are dirty and unclean if they haven’t groomed.” She and her co-authors point to a link between grooming and the rise in cosmetic surgery. Previous surveys show similar results for grooming with men also shaving their pubic hair, but at less than half the rate that women do.
If hair is that unclean, why don’t we shave (sorry, groom) it off our heads? Is it really cleaner, sexier, empowering and all the other things the survey respondents believe it to be?
In fairness there have always been grooming fashions, with ancient Greek urns depicting hairless women: in ancient times, women allegedly plucked their pubic hair or used lamps to burn it off. Ouch. The modern trend for hairlessness is partly blamed on Playboy, which a study from George Washington University showed moved from pubic hair being visible on most of its models up until the 1980s, to vanishing almost entirely (on less than 10% of models) this century.
Your pubis is your own business. But pubic hair was put there to protect your genitalia from friction and infection. It is more hygienic not to shave it (although depilation does make pubic lice homeless). In removing their pubic hair, most women will get cuts or ingrown hairs, and some will develop inflammation of the hair follicles or hyperpigmentation. If they are really unlucky – or are rubbish with a razor – there is a possibility of skin infections and perhaps an increased risk of catching herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases.
This is because the delicate pubis is left with tiny cuts through which bacteria and viruses can penetrate. Removing all the hair leaves your pubis wounded and defenceless. Another US study found that the number of emergency department visits for grooming increased fivefold between 2002 and 2010.