Ever since the iconic Sex in the City episode in 2000 where Carrie Bradshaw gets a Brazilian wax, there appears to be a popular rise of pubic hair removal among young women in the United States.
Many women around the country hit up their local salon for everything from bikini lines to full landscape waxing. The influence of celebrities and fictionalized TV characters paved the way for the fad to integrate itself into everyday culture—and it stuck. When celebrities talk body hair, we listen. Just as the fashion gurus let us know when to rock the romper, Hollywood stars have also shifted the conversation when it comes to shaving our vaginas.
Some love their Brazilian wax (looking at you Kim Kardashian) while others still tout out “the bush is back” phrase, which points to the idea that hair was once “in”, but isn’t anymore. Our culture still stigmatizes untamed pubic hair for women. At some point, we looked around and realized that there were all of these expectations for how our vagina should look. Everyone has an opinion on why less is better and how to remove your pubic hair (razor, wax, trimming, laser). And everyone should have an opinion. It’s a choice that all women and men make to decide whether or not they want to keep, trim, or shave off their pubic hair.
The problem, though, is that dozens of articles on popular media outlets discuss, specifically, what men think about women’s pubic hair. Sure, there are a few that discuss women’s own perceptions of their pubic hair and the same for men. But encouraging men to have a loud opinion on women’s vaginal appearance perpetuates the idea that women should shave their vagina because of their sexual partner’s expectations. It changes the conversation, making women give into societal norms instead of giving the space for each individual to make that personal decision for herself.
Our culture hasn’t always been so pro-shave. For decades women let their hair flow freely, rarely trimming their bushes for anyone.
There’s an entire monologue from Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues describing one woman’s experience of shaving her vagina to please her sexual partner. The monologue begins: “You cannot love a vagina unless you love hair.” With a husband that hated hair, she shaves her vagina to please him and speaks of her discomfort with having no hair down there, how painful it was to shave and the red bumps that appeared.
Since the time Ensler’s play was published (1996), everyone talks about shaving pubic hair – men and women alike. It’s no longer considered a fetish to want to shaved pubic hair, but rather the norm. Why? Some women say they feel cleaner without it or more attractive to their sexual partners.
In 2013, researchers collected data from 1,677 women aged 16 to 40 years through a cross-sectional written survey. Pubic hair grooming was found extremely common among women of varying demographics. Across all racial groups, the primary reason women took to pubic hair grooming was for a neater, cleaner look and because they thought pubic hair was unattractive.
In November 2014, a study was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine where researchers conducted a study at two U.S. public universities. 1,100 college student participants responded to questions surrounding pubic hair – 671 self-reported women and 439 self-reported men.
The results? Most (95%) participants had removed their pubic hair on at least one occasion in the past 4 weeks. The most common hair removal technique? Shaving. Women were significantly more likely to report their hair status as hair-free. Men were more significantly more likely to prefer a hair-free sexual partner.
Women associate feelings of cleanliness, comfort, sexual appeal and social norms of their peer group to their pubic hair removal. A 2010 Internet-based study noted that it was more common for women to have at least some pubic hair on their genitals over none at all.
Outside of the social and cultural influences of why we do and don’t shave, let’s consider the health risks. The International Society for Sexual Medicine states that methods of pubic hair removal can lead to health problems including burns (razor burns from shaving or hot wax from waxing), allergies, cuts, and infections. That’s not to say it’s unhealthy or wrong to shave – but there’s a chance the act of removing the hair can be painful because it’s such a sensitive part of the body.
The benefits? None to officially document.
At the end of the day, pubic hair grooming is a personal choice. Women have their own preference to how they’d like their vagina to appear, and their sexual partners may likely hold their own opinions.
No matter how many articles or research one reads on the subject, the responses will vary of whether to shave or not to shave, and thus, we are all back to square one. Making the decision for oneself is most important, as it will bring you personal comfort and confidence over giving into what one perceives a sexual partner to prefer or how the rest of our culture decides what’s okay that particular week.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.