The first of this month marked National Hair Day, which got me thinking about an amazing piece of evolutionary biology that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves: pubic hair! Our “hair down there” is often the subject of questions, comparisons, and for some, even shame. Should I “mow the lawn” before having sex? Will my partner expect me to be bare “down there”? Will I be dirty and smelly if I don’t “clean the carpet”? What are the best products to use on my “bush”? Our conversations about pubic hair are frequently veiled with euphemisms and an implicit agreement that being hairy is shameful. For people with vaginas, pubic hair gets roped into a narrative that our genitals need to be groomed and maintained in order to be considered clean and desirable. I am here to tell you that this is unequivocally false. Growing your pubes doesn’t make you dirty and grooming your pubes doesn’t make you clean. Although pubic hair removal has been the target of intense marketing schemes, with creams, razors, tweezers, scissors, and waxing pads that promise silky smooth skin without pain or bumps, there is no reason why you should feel pressure to remove pubic hair. Whether you choose to wax, trim, tweeze, shave, or go au natural, it is a personal choice that should be left entirely up to you.
Pubic Hair Serves a Purpose
Before you can decide how or if you want to groom your pubic hair, it is important to recognize what purpose it serves. Just like your eyelashes and eyebrows, pubic hair acts as a barrier to trap bacteria and debris. The hair is there to physically protect your vagina from yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and sexually transmitted infections. A recent study from the University of California, San Francisco found that “extreme groomers”– participants who removed all their pubic hair at least 11 times per year – were more than four times as likely to have acquired a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Syphilis and HPV, which both affect the skin, were most highly associated with aggressive grooming practices. This data is only correlational and cannot definitively say that pubic grooming caused STI development, however, it does fit with what we know about shaving pubic hair. Shaving creates tiny cuts and microtears on our skin, which makes it more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Shaving, particularly before sex, may increase the ease at which infections can enter your skin.
Pubes Through the Ages
Proof of pubic hair removal dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt, where we can see evidence of copper razors and flintstones as tools for grooming genital hair. With that being said, there are also hieroglyphics that show women with dark triangles of hair covering their genitals. In Ancient Greece, tweezers and pumice stones were used in service of pubic grooming. Now, we have more advanced technology to remove our pubic hair, creating a profitable business for hair removal companies. The global hair removal products market is expected to reach $1.3 billion by 2026. This industry began to take off when the female razor was first introduced in 1915 by Gillette Safety Razor Company. In an advertisement at the time, female body hair was described as an “embarrassing personal problem.” Nair, a hair removal cream, was introduced in the 1940s and promised consumers an opportunity to take on “completely new glamour and allure.” Since the beginning of modern advertising practices, companies capitalized on the insecurities of women and profited by stoking fear of being undesirable. While there is evidence of pubic hair removal for thousands of years, more recent capitalistic business endeavors have encouraged women to groom their pubic hair through shaming and fearmongering.
Your Attitude Toward Your Pubic Hair Impacts Your Sexual Health
A 2017 study looked at women’s perceptions of their genitals and found that women most commonly were concerned about genital odor, amount and texture of pubic hair, and fears about reactions by others. Several women in the study made derogatory comments about their bodies, such as saying that their genitals are “weird,” “foreign,” or “creepy-looking.” One participant discussed her genitals by saying, “they kind of gross me out… it just makes me feel really uncomfortable… I pretend it is not there.” The study found that negative self-image and detachment from our own genitals were associated with less motivation to avoid risky sexual behavior and underuse of gynecological exams.
Find What Sparks Joy...Down There.
If this sounds like your experience, I want you to know that you are not alone. From the time we are born, the patriarchy conditions women to feel shame and embarrassment about how their bodies look and what their bodies do. Rather than focusing so much on making our vulvas desirable for others, I would encourage each of you to cultivate a relationship with your pubic hair. Regardless of how you choose to groom them, thank your pubes for the protection they give you, and love them as a natural part of your body! From there, think about what feels best for you and go for it! Maybe it’s a bush, maybe it’s a landing strip, or maybe it is a full Brazilian wax. Whatever you choose, know that this is a personal decision left entirely up to you.
Fudge, M. C. & Byers, E. S. (2017). An exploration of the prevalence of global, categorical, and specific female genital dissatisfaction. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 26, 2: 112-121.
Osterberg, E.C., Gaither, T. W., Awad, M. A., et al. (2017). Correlation between pubic hair grooming and STIs: Results from a nationally representative probability sample. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 93: 162-166.
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