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Contemporary sexuality and the Brazilian wax

Why are so many young women now going hairless?

Does she . . . or doesn't she?

Photo credit: Pedrosimoes7

"When I was teaching the class of fifteen-year-olds and it was time for the girls to ask their questions of boys, they wanted to know this: ‘Do you prefer girls who have a little hair or a lot of hair?' I thought they meant hairstyles, as in long hair versus a shorter cut. But I quickly realized that they were referring to the boys' preference for a lot or a little pubic hair. The boys resoundingly responded, "No hair at all!" - Louann Brizendine, MD. The Female Brain. New York: Broadway Books, 2006, p. 39.

In the future, when the sexual history of our times is written, it might be concluded that one of the more interesting events of the early Twenty First Century was the disappearance of young women's pubic hair.

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Whether by shaving or by waxing, it's clear that many if not most young women are choosing to go hairless, at least some of the time.

What's this all about? And is it good for sex?

One giant leap

How different things were, just a few decades ago. Back then, most men spent their teen and young adult years trying to see as much female pubic hair as possible. As one 50-something colleague put it, "When Playboy began showing pubic hair in the 1970's, it was as exciting as Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. This younger generation . . . shaving - I just don't understand it."

Maybe we're not supposed to understand it. Our kids prefer hip-hop, no matter how much Rolling Stones we make them listen to. Maybe we just have to accept that like every new generation in history, they're attracted to things their parents can't stand.

But still I wonder whether this new trend is a good thing.

I worry that it now seems mandatory for young women to do it. Among many young men that I see in treatment, the sight of a woman's pubic hair produces the same revulsion that in my day might have greeted the sight of her armpit hair. Vulvar hair is regarded as unsightly - or even disgusting.

That can't be good. Have all our field's efforts to encourage young women to celebrate their bodies come to this - to their having to alter them so their partners won't be disgusted? This can't be progress.

It's not cheap, either. Young men in my practice tell me that what they like most is a woman who's been freshly waxed. That costs about $100 a pop, here in Manhattan. Not to mention the pain involved.

Just add it to the list of burdens that women are expected to shoulder, in order to please their partners - and to compete with each other. Come on, people. Isn't that list long enough already?

No, no, no

"You're missing the point," say the waxing enthusiasts. "We do it because the result is worth it. Better sensation. Better sex."

Current sex research has come to a similar conclusion. A recent report by Dr Debra Herbenick in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women in their sample who went hairless reported better genital self-image overall, and more sexual satisfaction.

I recently shared with Dr Herbenick my worry about there being a new aesthetic standard. She replied that among the college women she encounters, there is considerable diversity in hair removal. In her research sample of American women 18-24 years old, 20.6% were "typically hairless," 38.0% sometimes so, and the rest never completely hairless. In her study, shaving was far more common than waxing.

I agree that the data showed diversity. But those who'd gone hairless at least some of the time were the majority - a total of 58.6%. That's a serious number.

And how about the recent surge in vulvoplastic surgery - women going under the knife to have their inner labia trimmed. Am I the only one who suspects this has been prompted by shaving or waxing? After all, back in the moonwalk era, whoever noticed labial protuberance or asymmetry?

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.

Erotic sensibilities change with the times. In Alex Comfort's 1972 The Joy of Sex, the woman of the couple was shown with unshaved armpits. Back then, we rebelled against our straight-laced parents by celebrating our right to be shaggy mammals.

That kind of shagginess is long gone now. The new look is hyper-urban - futuristic. Now there are vodka ads featuring female robots who lack even scalp hair. (What's the deal with those ads, anyway?)

At the crossroads of sexuality and fashion, the hairless vulva is now everywhere. One thing's for sure: Complaining about it won't do any good. We'll just have to wait for the thing to pass.

But who knows what's coming next? And whether it will be good for sexuality, or not?

Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD 2010
www.sexualityresource.com New York City

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Stephen Snyder, M.D., is a sex and couples therapist, psychiatrist, and writer in New York City. He is currently Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. more...

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