Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Debby Herbenick Ph.D., M.P.H.

The Pleasures of Sex

Sex

What Pubic Hair (And Its Removal) Has to Do With Better Sex

One man's quest to improve sex by asking his girlfriend to shave.

Posted Mar 10, 2012

The other day, I received this email: 

I found your (and your colleagues') article "Pubic Hair Removal Among Women in the United States: Prevalence, Methods, and Characteristics" after some noisy debate with my beloved on pubic hairstyle. I wanted to find some reliable data to back up my opinion that a trimmed and partially shaven vulva does not make her a (pardon my french, actually a quote from her) slut, but an enlightened, mainstream young woman. (I sent her the link immediately.)

Note: my search also conducted me to the site containing your photo. God, Doctor, do you look hot! You definitely seem to be a trustworthy source when it comes to sexuality.

Anyway, if you have any idea about how to convince my darling (a Ph.D. herself in another field) that the 19th century is over, much has changed since Dostoevsky and Austen; and Kegel exercises, a good shave and an improvement in her FGSIS can significantly improve her sexual function, I would be very willing to consider those ideas. I just don't know why she is so stubborn, rigid and dismissive about many creative ideas, placing her excitement index well above the 55+ age category.

Thank you for your time and attention, keep up the good work, remain active and beautiful for the world's enrichment,

Best Regards,

[name withheld]

***

This is a good example of the complexities of science. In the above-mentioned study about pubic hair, we found—in a study of 2,453 adult women in the U.S.—that pubic hair removal was associated with more positive scores on the Female Genital Self-Image Scale (FGSIS) and also more positive female sexual function as measured by the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI). In particular, women who sometimes removed all of their hair (going bare) tended to have higher scores even after controlling for things like younger age that are known to be linked to positive sexual function.

However, this was a cross-sectional study, meaning that data were collected at one time point. We cannot know what causes what. There could be a number of reasons why pubic hair removal, FGSIS and FSFI were linked. It may be, for example, that removing one's pubic hair does indeed help a woman learn to like her genitals more. Maybe we have such societal shame and disgust around women's body hair (underarm and leg hair included) that when we remove it, we like the parts better. And maybe in so doing, we end up being more open to sex; for example, more receptive to enjoying or receiving oral sex.

But it's also possible that other things are at play. It may be that women who start out feeling more positively about their genitals (who score higher on the FGSIS) are more likely to take chances with their pubic hair. Maybe they figure that whatever they do to their pubic hair—keep it, remove it, shave it into a pattern—their genitals will still look good. Or maybe they like their genitals so much that they want to show them off by removing more hair. And maybe women who score higher on the FSFI (the sexual function measure) are more open to suggestions from their partner or simply try more things with their body. Or maybe they are more into prepping their bodies for sex in any number of ways, such as showering before sex or dimming the lights. 

Because we don't know what causes what, I am not willing to tell anyone to keep or remove or pattern their pubic hair for better genital self-image or better sex. In fact, there are many other ways for women to learn to love their bodies than by shaving their pubic hair (I've written about several of these in: Read My Lips, A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva). 

For this man, in particular, I would absolutely agree that there is nothing about pubic hair removal or trimming/grooming that makes a woman "a slut" (in her words). But the bigger question he might raise to her is why she thinks trimming her hair would make her a slut, and perhaps whether someone in her past has made her feel "like a slut" or otherwise negatively about her sexuality.

By asking why she feels this way, they may have a conversation that helps them to learn new things about each other, about each other's sexual pasts, experiences and attitudes, and anything that may be keeping them from connecting for pleasurable sex in the here and now. He might also ask himself how such an issue, what this woman would do with her own body, would ever escalate into "noisy debate." Does he feel like his girlfriend should adjust her genitals for his sake? How come?

I would also encourage this man to ask himself why he wants her to shave her pubic hair so badly. Might he learn to love her vulva in whatever state she has it in? Or, if he loves her vulva as-is but would find it easier to perform oral sex on her if she trimmed her hairs, he might find a gentle way to say that; to frame the idea around easier, pleasurable sex rather than anything negative about her body. 

The couple might also want to talk about their sex lives more generally. A little pubic hair trimming is unlikely to radically shift their sexual lives. Connecting and feeling intimate, learning about each other's bodies, likes/dislikes, and preferences, and practicing technique (which can be fun) are more likely routes to more pleasurable sex. More on a general better-sex/better-intimacy approach can be found in my book, Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered for Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex.