Is Hair Down There Going, Going, Gone?

An increasing majority of Americans now trim, shape, or remove their pubic hair.

Posted May 31, 2017

Until the 1990s, the vast majority of American women retained most or all of their pubic hair—a “full bush.” But today, increasingly, a large majority of women now “groom” their pubic hair. Some trim it. Others trim and shave the perimeter. And some shave it all off, a “Barbie doll.” This shift has been surprisingly rapid, and doctors and the public are debating what, if anything, it means.

84 Percent of Women and 51 Percent of Men

Recently (2016), researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center (UCSF) asked a representative sample of 3,316 women, age 18 and older, about their pubic presentations:

Full bush: 16 percent

Grooming (trimming, some removal, and hairless): 84 percent

These findings differ noticeably from those of a similar 2010 study of 2,451 women, age 18 to 68:

Full bush: 25 percent

Grooming: 75 percent

So grooming has increased 9 percent in six years.

Grooming has nothing to do with income or marital status. But as education increases, so does the likelihood of playing with pubic presentation. Race also makes a difference. Compared with white women, African-Americans are considerably less likely to groom. And as age increases, likelihood of grooming decreases.

Most women regularly shave their legs and underarms and tweeze their eyebrows. Some view public grooming as little more than an extension of that. But many men, few of whom shave other body parts, have jumped on the public grooming bandwagon.

Another survey by UCSF researchers of 4,198 men, age 18 to 65, showed that 51 percent now groom. Like women’s public grooming, the practice decreases markedly with age.

Credit Barbie (and Ken)?

For centuries, European and Asian artists depicted female nudes both with and without pubic hair. Art historians continue to debate why. Some say pubic shaving was widespread to control rampant pubic lice. Others insist that medieval women retained their hair, and that painters indulged in artistic license and painted it out.

Early photography (1840s) shows the vast majority—but not all—of nude models with full bushes. The same goes for early motion-picture pornography (1890s).

America’s major men’s magazines (Playboy, Penthouse) did not show centerfolds below the hips until 1970. From then until 2000, most had full bushes or modest trims. But in the current century, most show little or no pubic hair.

Brazilian waxing, 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.

And then there’s Barbie. The Barbie doll was introduced in 1959 and has been a must-have toy for generations of girls. But Barbie has always been controversial because of her almost impossible body, the equivalent of a 5-foot nine-inch woman with a 36-inch chest, 18-inch waist, and 33-inch hips. Barbie is also completely hair-free everywhere, and may have had something to do with the trend toward grooming.

Reasons for Grooming

The late 20th century’s grooming pioneers were porn actresses and centerfold models, which gave the practice an aura of sexiness. Some feminists charged that porn-influenced men were insisting that their lovers shave to look sexier. But from a survey of 2,453 women, age 18 to 68, researchers at Indiana University concluded that partner feelings had little to do with women’s pubic-presentation decisions. The women said they’d made their own decisions, and that their presentation expressed their own personal preferences.

And what are those preferences? The top reasons are comfort and hygiene. Women now believe that grooming feels better and is cleaner, safer, and healthier. That’s pretty much what can be gleaned from the Internet posts on this subject—trying grooming as an experiment and then continuing to do so for comfort and hygiene. Men who groom also believe that that it’s healthier and more comfortable.

Secondarily, groomers believe that trimming or shaving increases their likelihood of receiving oral sex.

But is grooming healthier? The main medical benefit is reduced risk of public lice. But downsides include the possibility of cuts, folliculitis, and an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Clearly, pubic shaving may cause cuts that may become infected. And repeat shaving may irritate the hair follicles, causing folliculitis. But why would grooming be associated with STIs? Probably not because grooming contributes directly to STIs. More likely, both STIs and grooming cluster in younger populations, so it’s an association without any cause-effect relationship—but the jury is still out.

Safe Grooming Tips

• Before grooming, wash the area with soap and water to remove bacteria that may enter any nicks or cuts.

• Also wash your hands with soap and water. Bacteria on the fingers may enter nicks and cuts.

• Washing the area also softens pubic hair, making it easier to trim or shave.

• Cover the area with soap or shaving cream to lubricate the razor and reduces risk of nicks and cuts.

• Use razors with at least two blades. They shave closer than single blades.

• Use razors only a few times. Blades may dull quickly.

• For hard-to-see areas, use a hand-held mirror.

Do you groom? If so, how long have you been doing it? Does your partner? How much? And why?

References:

Butler, S.M. et al. “Pubic Hair Preferences, Reasons for Removal, and Associated Genital Symptoms: Comparisons Between Men and Women,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2015) 12:48.

Gaither, T.W. et al. “Prevalence and Motivation: Pubic Hair Grooming Among Men in the United States,” American Journal of Men’s Health (2016) epub ahead of print.

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.

Osterberg, E.C. et al. “Correlation Between Pubic Hari Grooming and STIjs: Results from a Nationally Representative Probability Sample,” Sexually Transmitted Infections (2016) epub ahead of print.

Ramsey, S. et al. “Pubic Hair and Sexuality: A Review,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2009) 6:2102.

Rowen, T.S. et al. “Pubic Hair Grooming Prevalence and Motivation Among Women in the United States,” JAMA Dermatology (2016) 152:1106