Pubic Shaving: Which Women? And Why?
What, if anything, does pubic shaving say about women and sex?
Posted September 15, 2015 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
- Research suggests pubic hair removal is age-related: The younger the woman, the more likely she is to tinker with her presentation.
- Relationship status and sexual orientation makes little difference in pubic hair presentation.
- Women report that their partner feelings have nothing to do with their pubic appearance.
For thousands of years, women (and some men) have altered what nature has provided between their legs. Pubic modifications have largely escaped research scrutiny, but now one study shows which women are most likely to wield razors, and another explores the links between pubic presentation and women’s sexual attitudes and activities.
Hairy History—and Mystery
In ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Indian art, some female nudes sport trimmed or shaved pubic hair. In Renaissance Italian art, female nudes were often depicted bald between the legs, but the art of the same era in Northern Europe typically shows full bushes. We don’t know whether the Italian artists reproduced what they saw or indulged in artistic license.
Nor do we know if other factors influenced pubic presentation. It’s possible that women (and men) shaved to treat and prevent lice, an epidemic for centuries. It’s also possible that social position played a role, with courtesans being more likely than other women to be nude models and resort to manicuring.
Early photography, the 1840s, shows most but not all models with full hair. The same goes for early motion-picture pornography in the 1890s.
A 1968 survey of Australian nudists found that 40 percent of women did nothing to their pubic hair while half trimmed it somewhat, and 10 percent removed it.
Major men’s magazines in the U.S. (Playboy, Penthouse) did not show centerfolds below the hips until the 1970s. For the next 30 years, most had full hair or modest trims. But after 2000, the majority showed little or no pubic hair. But like 16th-century nudes, it’s unclear if these magazine models were typical of American women or reflected art directors’ aesthetics.
Brazilian waxing, the commercial removal of some or all pubic hair, was introduced by a New York spa in 1987. Since then, the term has become a part of the lexicon, but it’s not clear how many women have had “Brazilians,” let alone how many have them regularly.
Meanwhile, my own informal survey of Internet chatter finds comments all over the map. Some say pubic appearance is a matter of personal preference while others call bald “the new normal,” dismissing natural presentation as “retro-bush.” Some say the presence or absence of pubic hair has no impact on women’s sexuality, while others contend that shaved women are either more adventurous or the victims of overbearing men who insist that they shave.
Study #1: Which Women Remove It?
In an internet-based survey, Indiana University researchers asked 2,451 women aged 18 to 68 how they present their pubic hair. The results:
Full (nothing removed)
18–24: 12 percent
25–29: 16 percent
30–39: 19 percent
40–49: 28 percent
50+: 52 percent
Trimmed with scissors
18–24: 29 percent
25–29: 39 percent
30–39: 50 percent
40–49: 50 percent
50+: 37 percent
Some removal (shaving, waxing, electrolysis)
18–24: 38 percent
25–29: 32 percent
30–39: 23 percent
40–49: 16 percent
50+: 9 percent
Bald (no hair at all)
18–24: 21 percent
25–29: 12 percent
30–39: 9 percent
40–49: 7 percent
50+: 2 percent
Pubic hair removal is clearly age-related. The younger the woman, the more likely she is to tinker with her presentation. Among those 18 to 24, only 12 percent remove nothing, while 21 percent remove everything. But among women over 50, more than half have full hair and only 2 percent go bald.
Relationship status and sexual orientation made little difference.
Razor shaving was by far the most popular removal method, with fewer than 5 percent of women engaging in waxing, electrolysis, or laser. Among those who shaved, most did so two to five times a month.
So, contrary to a great deal of Internet chatter, pubic hairlessness is not the new normal. American women present themselves in many different ways. The only clear trend is that the younger the woman, the more likely she is to trim, partly shave, or totally remove her hair.
Study #2: Does It Have Anything to Do With Sex?
In a follow-up study, the same researchers used the same data set to explore the links, if any, between pubic presentation and women’s sexuality.
They found that the former had little to do with the latter.
Compared with women who retained full hair, those who reported any hair removal were somewhat more interested in sex, and somewhat more likely to play in ways other than penis-vagina intercourse, i.e., vaginal fingering, cunnilingus, vaginal toy insertion, and vibrator use. But the differences were small.
There was no connection between pubic presentation and education, race-ethnicity, condom use, lubricant use, or anal play.
Finally, contrary to the assertions of some feminists that men pressure women to shave their pubic hair to make them look like porn stars, in this study, partner feelings had nothing to do with women’s pubic appearance. The women said they’d made their own decision, and that their choice expressed their own personal preferences.
Armstrong, N.R. and J.D. Wilson. “Did the ‘Brazilian’ Kill the Pubic Louse?” Sexually Transmitted Infections (2006) 82:265.
Herbenick, D. et al. “Pubic Hair Removal and Sexual Behavior: Finding from a Prospective Daily Diary Study of Sexually Active Women in the United States,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2012) 10:678.
Herbenick, D et al. “Pubic Hair Removal Among Women in the United States: Prevalence, Methods, and Characteristics,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2010) 7:3322.
Schick, V. “Evulvalution: The Portrayal of Women’s External Genetalia and Physique Across Time and the Current Barbie Doll Ideal,” Journal of Sex Research (2010) 47:1.
Tiggerman, m. and S. Hodgson. “The Hairlessness Norm Extended: Reasons for and Predictors of Women’s Body Hair Removal at Different Body Sites,” Sex Roles (2008) 59: 889.