The war on pubic hair must end

I must have missed the declaration of war on pubic hair.

It must have happened sometime in the last decade because the amount of time, energy, money and emotion both genders spend on abolishing every hair from their genitals is astronomical.  The genital hair removal industry, including medical professionals who advertise their specialty services to those seeking the “clean and bare” look, is exponentially growing.

But why pick on the lowly pubic hair?  A few sociological theories suggest it has to do with cultural trends spawned by bikinis and thongs, certain hairless actors and actresses, a desire to return to childhood,  a misguided attempt at hygiene or being more attractive to a partner.  Surely human beings are not so naïve as to be susceptible to fashion trends and biases.

It is a sadly misconceived war.  Long ago surgeons figured out that shaving a body part prior to surgery actually increased rather than decreased surgical site infections.  No matter what expensive and complex weapons are used—razor blades, electric shavers, tweezers, waxing, depilatories,  electrolysis—hair, like crab grass,  always grows back and eventually wins.   In the mean time, the skin suffers the effects of the scorched battlefield.

Pubic hair removal naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles left behind, leaving microscopic open wounds.  Rather than suffering a comparison to a bristle brush, frequent hair removal is necessary to stay smooth, causing regular irritation of the shaved or waxed area.  When that irritation is combined with the warm moist environment of the genitals, it becomes a happy culture media for some of the nastiest of bacterial pathogens, namely group A streptococcus, staphylococcus aureus and its recently mutated cousin methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA).   There is an increase in staph boils and abscesses, necessitating incisions to drain the infection, resulting in scarring that can be significant.   It is not at all unusual to find pustules and other hair follicle inflammation papules on shaved genitals.

Additionally, I’ve seen cellulitis (soft tissue bacterial infection without abscess) of the scrotum, labia and penis from spread of bacteria from shaving or from sexual contact with strep or staph bacteria from a partner’s skin.

Some clinicians are finding that freshly shaved pubic areas and genitals are also more vulnerable to herpes infections due to the microscopic wounds being exposed to virus carried by mouth or genitals.   It follows that there may be vulnerability to spread of other STIs as well.

Pubic hair does have a purpose,  providing cushion against friction that can cause skin abrasion and injury,  protection from bacteria and other unwanted pathogens, and is the visible result of long awaited adolescent hormones, certainly nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.

It is time to declare a truce in the war on pubic hair, and allow it to stay right where it belongs.  We owe it to our patients to encourage them to let it be.

Emily Gibson is a family physician who blogs at Barnstorming.

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  • Toledo McPherson

    Yes! Thank you for this piece! Pubic hair is natural and beautiful, and should be celebrated as such.

  • Celeste

    It’s probably just an offshoot of porn becoming more mainstream. Both sexes undergo deforestation for these productions and it begins to seem normal after a while. I think it sends a terrible message to kids, though. There was a report of some salon years ago where mothers would take their prepubescent daughters for Brazilian waxes before they had any hair–”just to get them used to it”. I think that’s appalling.

  • http://www.dialdoctors.com Dial Doctors

    I know a million women who would paste this post on their forehead. This shows how certain alterations to the body can cause more harm than good particularly when it comes to beauty things. Great post!

  • Christie B

    Oh, good grief! Folks aren’t waxing for esoteric psychological problems or overexposure to porn; they do it to get more oral-genital contact. And to the extent that oral sex is supplanting more risky genital-genital contact, one could certainly argue that it decreases more serious infections. You can certainly make sure your patients know the benefits of not removing hair, but they are the ones who know the benefits of hair removal and will balance these themselves.

  • Samantha

    As “risky” as the hair removal process is, I’m a firm practitioner. As Christie mentioned, it can improve sensation and provide a more pleasant experience for both parties. I’ve grown up (since my teens) with it being the norm and the culture of sex is vastly different than that of Dr. Gibson’s generation. If decreasing the amount of pubic hair increases the enjoyment of two adults, then by all means do it. Should the risks of pubic hair removal be communicated? Sure, but first we might want to focus on sex education period. Even today we’re able to discuss the smaller details of bacterial and viral spread in the absence of pubic hair, but so many american teenagers have no idea how to use a condom.

  • roger a

    Isn’t it odd that until pornmeisters defined “bald” as sexy no one thought pubic hair was a deal-killer.

  • brian c

    Hair removal especially by laser or radioablation is big business in Los Angeles, especially for physicians. It’s not going to go away any time soon. Many people’s hair does not grow back after multiple treatments, especially since growth is inhibited in the multiple growth phases of the follicle. Are there any studies to suggest that these two modalities mentioned above are less prone to infection than the shaving, depillating agents, etc?

  • BladeDoc

    I’ve been meaning to write a paper on this phenonmenom. I call it “chronological pudendal alopecia of adolescence”. And family docs trying to convince teenagers not to do it will work just as well as abstinence education. “Just say grow!”

    • http://www.practitionersolutions.com Niamh van Meines

      Very funny! I like it….looking forward to seeing the surgeon general / public announcements.

  • http://Www.twitter.com/alicearobertson Alice

    It is big business to sell jewels to decorate the newly bare area to. Kits online, videos with body parts that talk, or teach you ways to trim and design the garden. The maintenance of such a lofty project must be tiresome and expensive (I.e.vajazzle spa decorating). Alec Baldwin had a funny line in a movie last year when he hooks up with ex wife played by Meryl Strep….tells her his gratitude that she has gone back to being native:). Just some things you can’t improve on…sigh…:)

    • http://www.erikahammerschmidt.com Erika

      Metyl Strep? I choose to interpret that as a pun on “streptococcus,” instead of a typo, because it’s funnier that way.

  • paul

    i’ve seen fournier’s as a result of “deforestation.”

    not a condition you would want to be afflicted with. look it up.

  • http://www.erstories.net ERP

    I vote for “manscaping” since out of control bushes are just not that attractive to most people. Especially when the hair is longer than the obect of interest within it!
    For woman, I vote for the landing strip or at least keeping it under control.
    But yeah, close shaving can cause abscesses. Ouch.

  • T

    Ohhhhh gross, I looked up fournier’s and barf! That is so nasty! Okay, so I tend to agree with ERP above. How little is too little? I admit I went through the bald faze in my late teens, but realized I wasn’t even doing it for me. And, I agree… it’s for kids, not grown women! So is it okay to be groomed to a wide landing strip?

    • Vox Rusticus

      Check with the tower first.

      • http://Www.twitter.com/alicearobertson Alice

        LOL Yeah…and hope the controller is not sleeping!

  • http://paynehertz.blogspot.com Payne Hertz

    I wish there was as much concern for the war on the male foreskin. I had a urologist at the VA tell me that a lot of guys come in their asking for circumcisions because the women in their lives are pressuring them into doing it, and I got the impression it was an elective surgery there.

    Can we stop viewing humans in their natural state as abnormal freaks?

    • http://Www.twitter.com/alicearobertson Alice

      It may become a banned archaic practice.  My friend says there is a website with pics of botched circumcisions.  I haven’t peeked at it…but this story came out yesterday (I can only imagine what the comments will be):

      Men on making the cut
      As a San Francisco activist pushes for a circumcision ban, we ask guys how they feel about their parents’ decision

      http://www.salon.com/life/children/index.html?story=/mwt/feature/2011/04/30/circumcision&source=newsletter&utm_source=contactology&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Salon_Daily%2520Newsletter%2520%2528Not%2520Premium%2529_7_30_110

      • http://paynehertz.blogspot.com Payne Hertz

        Thanks, Alice. Interesting article and comments there. I think we are a long, long way from a ban, though. Finland and Sweden are considering legislation to ban the practice of infant circumcision. One can only hope.

        • http://Www.twitter.com/alicearobertson Alice

          Today an article was published about San Francisco’s possible ban on circumcision. This law professor’s take on the Constitutionality of the religious right of parents is quite interesting. I tend to agree with him…but wonder about the irreversibility of the decision. I tend to like persuasion over regulation….but, as always, ideas have consequences.

          http://www.opposingviews.com/i/is-proposed-san-francisco-circumcision-ban-constitutional

    • aly

      ..as contradictory this might sound, I’m all for hair removal, but anyone with half a brain will tell you that there is a good reason why males were born with every inch of their anatomy. Funny that most males for circumcision are the ones already circumcised. From a female point of view: live it alone, there is a world of difference, so just keep it natural (trim it but thats about it). Btw I cannot believe circumcision to infants is legal in U.S.

      The day i have my own family I’m 100% sure I will not allow my kids to be mutilated in any shape or form, and I will allow them to decide for themselves what they want to do with their own bodies once they grow up and they understand the concept of body modification and its consequences.
      Allowing individuals to be mutilated and permanently modified from such a young age its so barbaric it makes me feel we’re in a third world country, where freedom and the rights of individuals are not a priority.

  • http://zdoggmd.com ZDoggMD

    I was outraged after reading this article. If people stop removing pubic hair willy nilly, where will I get the raw graft material for my legendary ZDoggMD “PubePay” hair transplant procedure?

    People have flocked to our facility to obtain the curly, lush hair replacement our approach offers (despite the potentially horrific graft-versus-host syndrome…there’s nothing worse than when pubes attack). As an important and welcome side effect of the procedure, the donor’s “down there” region is left permanently hairless…depriving economic competitor Brazil of yet another exported waxing opportunity. We’re keeping jobs in the USA, people!

    So friends, don’t be afraid of pubic nudity. Heck, I’m not just the president of PubePay Industries…I’m a client! Now if only I could figure out a way to fix these split ends. Conditioner?

  • Dr Chris

    I’m so glad someone wrote about this. I’m an East Coast transplant to the LA area, and could not believe what I was seeing, so to speak.
    The nail salons do this,walk in laser salons do this, derm offices do this….
    It smacks of kiddie porn.
    And for the commenter above-the Woodstock generation is not aware of their sexuality????? Oh, puleeeease.
    What I am seeing is young women, and as they are 14 or so, really girls, wanting to be technical virgins having oral sex, anal sex, anything but vaginal sex.My sense is that there are not having a great time-their boyfriend is. That is not the equality that women’s lib was all about.This is objectification.
    Everyone seems to be wearing things, so this is perhaps why. (Whether one should wear something that most people well, hang over ,is another question altogether.)

  • Izem

    Can we apply the same logic to facial hair? Mircroscopic injuries, staph, strep, pustules.. etc. Shoul we stop shaving our faces too? How about the axillae?

  • roger a

    Note to Izem: some men who are particularly susceptible to in-grown hairs (African-Americans, for example) don’t shave their faces for the reasons you mention. I am also not aware of any men who get their beards ripped out with hot wax.

  • susan

    Women having the hair in their genital region ripped out is, in my opinion, about on par with women choosing to wear five- or six-inch high heels. These women have judged that the pain, expense, and inconvenience of these actions is worth being perceived as sexier by a certain group of men who value such. Every culture has its own strange and ever-changing set of practices for making the body more sexually alluring. But you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the price. Don’t kid yourself that it’s all about pleasure—it is a very painful procedure!

    As for mothers who take their prepubescent daughters to salons for genital waxing just to accustom them to the ritual, this reminds me of upperclass mothers in ancient China who willingly participated in the footbinding of their daughters in an attempt to make them more desirable as potential marriage partners. Are mothers today so worried about their daughters’ future popularity with men that they would subject them to painful procedures in their childhood? Apparently so.

    • http://paynehertz.blogspot.com Payne Hertz

      Right on. I have no problems with adults doing whatever with their bodies. They should be informed of the risks, discouraged from engaging in self-defeating behaviors, then left free to do what they will. But subjecting kids to this sort of thing is just wierd, if not de facto child abuse.

  • Rob

    Just do a little trimming instead of using more drastic measures.

  • http://Jennifer@janipurr.com Janipurr

    I’m going to bookmark this page for all the times I come across an article that discusses why either sex does “the Brazilian”, and have to read the comments about how hair down there is “gross” and “not hygienic” and how sex “feels so much better”. The possibility of sex maybe feeling better is not worth the risk of STDs and Fourniers, IMO.

    I also think it is due to the rise of the porn industry, and I think being attracted to completely naked genitalia is creepy. Can anybody say “pedophile”?

    • Loretta

      I have always thought the bald look harkened back to children. And yeah, it makes me think about pedophilia, although I guess it’s too harsh to paint all who like the naked look as pedophiles.

  • Loretta

    THANK YOU for this article! I was beginning to feel like I was some sort of freak. Mention pubic hair and I usually get an “ew” response. When did this happen? And wearing jeans even when pubic hair is just closely trimmed is darned uncomfortable. Yuck. Love me, love my pubes. And now I have a medical reason to avoid baldness. :)

  • aly

    To all of the ppl who don’t understand why people (males and females) do this: Many of us understand that back in the day in the 70s and 80s body hair (arms, underams, pubic hair, facial hair, legs hair etc etc) was normal but its hasn’t been that way for decades, I’m used to wax/shave everyday, it bothers me not to shave as much as having a big meal and feeling completely full and uncomfortable- I have to do something to fix it- i work out regurlarly to maintain my ideal body weight and feel good, and i shave everyday to feel more comfortable. It’s been that way for me and my friends since we were 14 ( still the same more than 15 years later), it is too ingrained in my brain to change it , even though i know hair removal puts me in danger to contract a bacterial disease, or skin infection i can’t do anything about it. My only rule is to do it all at home so i reduce chances to get an infection from waxing places, and spas. It bothers me not to shave. Even if that doesn’t make sense.

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