To Groom or Not to Groom?

A new study says trimming your pubic area can increase your risk of STIs.

Posted Dec 06, 2016

Jeremy Bishop for Stocksnap; used with permission.
Source: Jeremy Bishop for Stocksnap; used with permission.

Changing ideas about sexual attractiveness and hygiene in recent years have led many people—men and women alike—to trim or shave off some or all of their pubic hair. But the findings of a study published in the December 5, 2016 online issue of the professional journal Sexually Transmitted Infections may help reverse the trend.

The study surveyed 7,580 American men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 and found that 84% of women and 66% of men who responded had groomed their pubic area at least once. Of the 7,580 participants, 7470 reportedly had at least one sexual partner in their lifetime.

Based on their survey responses, the researchers were able to divide the participants into grooming categories: extreme, high-frequency, non-extreme, low-frequency, and non-groomers. Men were more likely to use electric razors and women were more likely to use non-electric razors, but both men and women reported using scissors for grooming. Only 5% of women and no men reported wax removal of pubic hair.

Overall, groomers were younger than non-groomers, and had more sexual partners in the previous year and over their lifetime.  Groomers also reported more sexual activity on a weekly and daily basis than non-groomers. Within the category of groomers, the extreme and high-frequency groups tended to be younger and female and reported more frequent sex than non-extreme and low-frequency groomers.

Thirteen percent, or 943 study participants reported a history of at least one sexually transmitted infection (STI). Significantly more groomers than non-groomers reported a lifetime history of STIs than non-groomers, and those who reported extreme grooming were more likely to report at least one STI in their lifetime than those who reported non-extreme grooming. There was no significant difference in lifetime occurrence of STIs between the high-frequency and low-frequency groups

Groomers were more likely to report a history of both cutaneous STIs (transmitted via skin contact) such as herpes, HPV, genital warts, and syphilis, and secretory STIs (transmitted via body fluids) such as chlamydia and HIV. Only non-extreme and low-frequency groomers reported more occurrences of public lice than non-groomers.

While the researchers don’t know exactly why groomers are more prone than non-groomers to develop sexually transmitted infections, they suggest it may be because hair trimming and removal causes micro-tears in the skin, which could increase the risk of viral STIs like herpes and genital warts. They also suggest that groomers may be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors that were not documented in this study. Since this was a self-reported study, there is always a chance of error in recall or reporting on the part of the participants.

This type of study is done to collect information for public health purposes, which includes disseminating educational materials and guiding health care workers who counsel patients on safe sex practices. While acknowledging that more studies need to be done to fine-tune their results, the researchers say that these findings may lead to new advice, such as delaying sexual activity for specific periods of time after grooming the pubic area to allow skin to adapt and other risk-relevant education for those who groom. 

References

Osterberg EC, Gaither TW, Awad MA, et al. Correlation between pubic hair grooming and STIs: results from a nationally representative probability sample. Sex Transm Infect. 2016 December 5. http://sti.bmj.com/content/early/2016/10/31/sextrans-2016-052687.full