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What to tell a partner who wants you to remove your pubic hair

A divorced friend of mine who recently started dating was shocked to find that the complete absence of female pubic hair seemed to be an expectation among her potential partners. I’m not surprised, when I was in the dating pool a couple of years back there were men who actually listed full clamscaping required among the personal attributes they were seeking in a girlfriend (and here I was looking for heady conversation and heated debates!).

Wanting more information on the subject she, of course, turned to her gynecologist friend who specializes in vulvovaginal disorders. This is what I told her. 

Pubic hair is normal and, like every other body part/appendage/function, serves a biological purpose.  For example, when sweat evaporates it cools our body, eyebrows keep sweat out of our eyes, and orgasms make us want to have more sex so we perpetuate the species. We are a grand work of evolution and genetic code that doesn’t contribute to survival of the species gets dropped along the way. Pubic hair has stood the test of time.

What pubic hair does is protect the delicate skin of the vulva and the vestibule (the opening of the vagina, just outside of the hymen). Pubic hair is a mechanical barrier to the irritants and friction in everyday life. It is the first line of physical defense, the labia being the second (I’ll save labial reduction for another post).

There does seem to be a trend towards removing all pubic hair. Approximately 10% of women report being typically pubic hair-free and another 26% report removing all of their pubic hair some of the time.

Removing pubic hair is purely a cosmetic act and, like all cosmetic procedure, carries both short and long-term risks. Lichen simplex chronicus, an eczema-like condition that can affect the vulva, is more common when women remove pubic hair. Irritation from products or razors also plays a role, but without hair the delicate vulvar skin is intimately exposed to a multitude of irritants (FYI, the symptoms of lichen simplex chronicus, chronic itching and irritation, are frequently misdiagnosed as chronic yeast infections). Other health consequences of shaving pubic hair include molluscum contagiosum, a common virus that may be spread by using a razor and infections from the trauma of shaving and waxing. I also see my fair share of inflamed and infected hair follicles as well as more serious infections.

And finally there are potential cosmetic consequences. When the pubic hair is removed long-term (either laser hair removal or simply chronic waxing or shaving) the labia can thicken over time and take on a leathery appearance. This is called lichenification and is simply a normal response to chronic exposure to daily irritation. Keep in mind that many of the things we do for cosmetics have consequences. Over plucked eyebrows don’t always grow back and breast implants can scar and often need to be replaced. Hey, coloring your hair has risks. I color my hair (shocker, I know) and I understand there is a risk of scalp irritation and even allergy. For me, the benefit of not having grey hair outweighs those risks. Everyone views risks and benefits differently.

In addition to risks I think it is important to really understand why you want to do something cosmetic. I pluck my eyebrows because I prefer a nice arch. I color my hair because I don’t want grey hair. However, I once chemically straightened my hair because my ex kept dropping hints I’d look better that way. Sigh. Straight hair was his beauty ideal. Of course, once done there were other faults. Hey, it was a great lesson that cosmetic enhancements should never be about someone else.

My friend, the one who’s dating, went back to her her prospective partner about the risks and was still met with a skeptical look. “He was unconvinced. He seems really great, but I don’t think I’m into getting a Brazilian. What should I say?” she asked.

My answer, which was probably more relationship advice than medical advice:

“If the concept that you could be at higher risk for chronic skin irritation and other issues doesn’t sway him (because he should really care about your genital health, especially if you’re going to sleep with him), tell him that he should be so lucky to pick one of your pubic hairs out of his teeth and move on to someone who is more invested in you.”

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Discussion

36 thoughts on “What to tell a partner who wants you to remove your pubic hair

  1. I completely agree. Despite hearing all of my life that I need 10,000 beauty products to be acceptable, every day, I shower, look in the mirror, think, “I’ll look fine” and go on with life. When I ended up dating again unexpectedly at age 36, when my husband passed away, I figured anyone who was looking for a match to a photo-shopped Glamour cover model was no match for me. Interestingly, there was no shortage of men who wanted to date me, and I’ve been married to one of them for 16 years. In other words, there are 3 billion men on this planet, find one that likes you, not you-if-only-you-changed

    Posted by drannmaria | March 28, 2013, 2:23 pm
  2. I completely agree. Despite hearing all of my life that I need 10,000 beauty products to be acceptable, every day, I shower, look in the mirror, think, “I’ll look fine” and go on with life. When I ended up dating again unexpectedly at age 36, when my husband passed away, I figured anyone who was looking for a match to a photo-shopped Glamour cover model was no match for me. Interestingly, there was no shortage of men who wanted to date me, and I’ve been married to one of them for 16 years. In other words, there are 3 billion men on this planet, find one that likes you, not you-if-only-you-changed

    Posted by drannmaria | March 28, 2013, 2:24 pm
  3. Thank you. Thank you for writing this. I have had massive skin issue with my vulva, and took over ten different docs (three gynos) to come to a solution. Waging war with my pubic hair were certainly a part of that.

    Can you do article on lubricants. That wild unregulated world of lubes is the second pile of products that really gave me a run for my money.

    Posted by Ethical Cannibal (@ethicalcannibal) | March 28, 2013, 2:29 pm
  4. Humans engage in all kinds of unhygienic sexual practices, and I suppose that’s all very well and good. If both people are happy with them, who am I to judge? But a person who makes cosmetic demands of their partner in contradiction to that person’s desires for themselves is a douchebag.

    Posted by dr24hours | March 28, 2013, 2:43 pm
  5. I have just one comment that I don’t think is addressed. There is more to this than the cosmetic or sexual appeal. There is also a comfort level. Hair is itchy for some, having hair there can be itchy, removing it is not always for sexual or cosmetic ideals but for one of comfort. Men will request hair growth too, they don’t know what they want any more than we do most of the time. Cheers.

    Posted by JustJanuarysJargon | March 28, 2013, 2:50 pm
    • Most women who report irritation from pubic hair are really in a lichen simplex chronicus/atopic/local irritation response cycle. Also, when hair has been removed for a length of time it can take a while to accommodate to a return of hair, just like it is strange to have short hair on your head after long hair has been the norm for a long time.

      Do some people “feel better” without hair? Undoubtedly, but it is hard to separate the body image from the equation.

      I see a multitude of complications from complete hair removal, doesn’t happen to everyone obviously. People just have to decide their individual risk benefit ratio.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | March 28, 2013, 5:50 pm
  6. Is it just me, or do other people wonder whether there’s a paedophile element to a request for a woman to remove all public hair? What do you think, Dr Gunter?

    Posted by jackiecameronwriter | March 28, 2013, 2:56 pm
    • A (pubic) hairless stripper (because that’s the standard/expectation in my job) here. I can tell you that, in my experience, mostly, no. Men that ask for or are interested in hairless pussy are often asking for what they see in porn, or what they think they want from hearing buddies talk like buddies do. Second, visually, bush can kind of obscure details that, well, they might be interested in seeing. Or, they might just be curious. Or may have been in a previous relationship with a woman who preferred to be bare and enjoyed it.

      Occasionally, yes. There’s pedophilia. (I’d argue it exists in the general population much more than statistics tell us!) But it’s not a sole reason for asking if a woman might mind shaving/trimming/landscaping. For most who are not inclined to pedophilia in the first place, I think they’d be sickened to think of bare pussy this way.

      Posted by The Stiletto-Shod One | March 29, 2013, 11:51 pm
    • No, it’s not just you. I’ve often wondered about that. Also, I’ve never understood the bare thing. I don’t care for the look and it looks really silly on guys. A hairy body with a bald patch around the genitals?

      Posted by Who Knows? | March 30, 2013, 11:45 am
    • When a man does oral sex on a female-having hair means that there will be a change to get her pussy hair in the mouth.

      Posted by Native baller | August 2, 2013, 4:14 pm
      • So? Pubes aren’t deathly poisonous. Spit out the hair and move on. It hasn’t killed me yet, despite all the cunnilingus I’ve performed.

        Women perform oral on men without demanding that men, as a class, maintain shiny hair-free genitalia from puberty to menopause, even though it’s a less risky proposition for men than for women. Why the double standard?

        Plus – why should women put time/money/effort into depilation, and deal with the side-effects thereof, in anticipation of one possible sex act??

        Guess what? Women aren’t just ambulatory vaginas that exist purely to get men off. Why should they act as though male sex-drives are their primary concern in life?

        I hope that by the time you’re old enough for a sexual relationship you grow past the “Eww cooties!” mentality.

        Posted by neverdefiled | August 3, 2013, 12:29 am
  7. or she could say “you first!!’ i bet that would make it stop….

    Posted by Sgaile-beairt | March 28, 2013, 3:28 pm
  8. As we both know, “there’s a lid for every pot”. I see many happy and sexual couples every day in my practice and they are not beauty ideals. If he’s asking because he thinks it’s sexy and fun, that’s one thing. But if he just wants her to meet an expectation, he will never be satisfied. Better to find the lid that fits.

    Posted by womanmdsguide | March 28, 2013, 4:00 pm
  9. Many men shave also, so probably not. lol.

    Posted by JustJanuarysJargon | March 28, 2013, 4:19 pm
  10. Thank you for writing this. I gave up on all pubic hair removal years ago exactly because every method out there is quite painful on my super-sensitive skin. A new bedpartner is an unfortunate occasion for some wholly unneccesary extra anxiety due to all the social pressure.

    Posted by Ellen | March 28, 2013, 4:39 pm
  11. To each their own, but I’m a woman and I’m not much into dating women who don’t shave or wax either. It’s simple courtesy. I don’t like to floss when I eat, so to speak, and I don’t expect others to. Also, pubic hair tends to trap odor and unpleasant taste and too many women don’t bathe sufficiently before sex to make going down on them in any way sexy. It’s a bit different with men. You don’t get a mouthful of fur when you go down on a guy, but I prefer it when men groom too, and I find most younger guys these days do. For me personally, if a woman refuses to shave, it’s not an automatic deal-breaker, especially if she has a skin condition or something that prevents it, but if she just started citing fears about some minor obscure skin irritation that she’d never actually experienced, I’d probably think she was kind of a basket case and move on, honestly. Shaving or waxing pubic hair is just not a big deal.

    Posted by QueerGirl | March 28, 2013, 8:09 pm
    • Isn’t there a middle way, though? What if a partner just keep their pubic hair short by trimming it and not removing it completely?

      Posted by Linda | March 29, 2013, 10:27 am
    • Well I’m a gay woman who thinks it’s not only disrespectful, but has shades of bowing to a trend created to cater to the male gaze, to insist on hairless genitals as a “courtesy”.

      If you’re getting a mouthful of pubes when you’re going down on a woman then maybe you should refine your techniques.

      It’s not like mucous membranes grow hair. If you have fingers, use them to spread her outer labia so that the hair is out of the picture. Easy.

      Give me natural genitals any day over guilting women into conforming to a patriarchal fashion diktat that has the potential to cause long term damage.

      Dr Jen – I wish I could meet you and shake your hand because the world (especially the US) desperately needs truthful docs like you who focus on the rituals that women are pressured into to look “desirable’ (shaving, waxing, douching etc), and exposing them as the unnecessary and harmful frauds that they are.

      For defenders of depilation, consider this:

      Little girls are growing up in a world without body hair, being mortified and disgusted (instead of excited) when puberty starts.

      Salons offer “Baby Brazilians” and leg waxes to girls as young as six to “prepare them for womanhood”. Think about that. Hairless and incredibly sensitive skin, being WAXED.

      I used to be a caregiver for at-risk teens. I’ve talked to young women who were suicidal over having pubic hair, angry that parents wouldn’t pay for waxing, ripping it out at the roots because “it’s gross and unnatural”.

      Ditto for girls without perfect hemispherical breasts (ie all of them), hairless bodies and faces, visible ribs,”neat” vulvas (no inner labia, or ones that were entirely concealed, and the most horrifying thing of all – girls wearing tampons EVERY SINGLE DAY because they had normal and necessary vaginal secretions, and had an odor other than water or fresh flowers.

      So think about it. this is the toll that these societal trends are having on tomorrow’s women because today’s women are perpetuating the trends.

      Depression, self-loathing and suicidality because airbrushed celebs are all they see. stolen peeks at porn show only tanned hairless. bodies with surgically fashioned breasts and vulvas, bleached anuses and so on. real life people around them are emulating those looks too at great personal and emotional cost, so 2013’s average 10 year old sees only artifice, and is horrified when her body doesn’t live up.

      I’ve spoken with girls who thought only they had darker labia, uneven breasts, or hairy arms. Is that a world we want? I don’t. I’m 42 and body confidence and self-esteem are relatively new to me. I don’t want that lifetime of self loathing and self punishment through eating disorders and self injury for anyone else.

      Posted by neverdefiled | March 31, 2013, 5:53 am
      • Well if you want to insist that the desires of other women constitute “bowing to the male gaze,” be my guest, but there is nothing more sexist than denying a woman agency over her choices and desires. Once upon a time, a lot of lesbians didn’t shave their legs or armpits either because they were rebelling against that “patriarchal fashion” too. Thankfully, most women are no longer so knee-jerk as to believe that doing what men do is automatically better and that that, through some twisted logic, constitutes resisting patriarchy. I find body hair gross on all sexes. Always have. The less the better everyone. We’re in a phase now where I’d say most young men are manscaping too. We’re bringing the men over to our side on this one. It’s a natural progression, I believe, from the fact that oral sex has become a routine part of the North American sexual diet. If you like body hair, great. I don’t. That doesn’t mean that I’ve been brainwashed and turned into a puppet by the evil patriarchy. And I’m sorry, but comparing shaving body hair — something women have been doing for generations, and which is temporary and harmless — with boob jobs and bleached anuses is just not credible. Even Dr. Jen is grasping at straws trying to name a risk associated with shaving.

        Posted by Queergirl | April 3, 2013, 3:36 pm
      • Not grasping at straws. I see a complication related to complete pubic hair removal almost daily.

        Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | April 5, 2013, 6:21 am
      • Preach, sista! I wish there was more material aimed at educating young women to offset the constant barrage of information that comes from the media. Access to images of ‘real’ women and what they look like.

        For years, I thought I must be some kind of sasquatch…until a friend showed me some 70s magazines with REAL bush. Ditto for the large breasts I felt should be concealed always due to their freakish sagging. When I saw busty 50s nude pinups, I almost cried. Women looked like me! I looked like them! It changed everything for me.

        Posted by poethelena | July 2, 2013, 12:39 pm
  12. After reading this, I decided that I have become old fashioned. I prefer my women “the way they are” with minimal changes. OK, a trim to outline the shape or reduce the density if she prefers that, sure. But as a man, and from my experience only, I’ve found that women who alter their bodies through additions, reductions, or elimination either have problems accepting their bodies as they are, or, feel they need to change them to become more attractive to others. Of course there are the medical exceptions, but those are different.

    It reminds me of women who don’t think they look good because they just got up, or, are wearing they’re sweats and a tee shirt around the house. Often times that’s what men find most attractive (if for no other reason that it’s easier to get into)! Some won’t admit it, but unless they’re going out to a function that requires her to dress up, many men would prefer her to be comfortable in her chillin clothes. She’s more likely to be herself, and if she’s relaxed, she’s more likely to want to enjoy a heady conversation or whatever comes after :)

    Just one mans view. First rule of thumb – stop thinking about what others want, or like, and be yourselves. If shaving is your thing, no need to flaunt it like a bow on a prize. You never know….he may prefer the opposite like me.

    Posted by Hudstir | March 29, 2013, 9:37 pm
  13. Reblogged this on Sbagliando s'impera and commented:
    A complemento del mio: Perché depilarsi il pube non è una buona idea (http://borislimpopo.com/2012/08/10/perch-depilarsi-il-pube-non-una-buona-idea-2/)

    Posted by borislimpopo | March 30, 2013, 10:06 pm
  14. haha i have had the same conversations while online dating. i tell people i’m willing to negotiate on exactly how much i shave or trim, but i don’t like the way it looks bare, and it’s uncomfortable for me, and if that’s a dealbreaker for them, they can go date someone else. there are many other ways i don’t act and look traditonally feminine, so with guys who appreciate that it’s not usually a big deal. some of my friends have been bare for decades, either shaving or laser treatments, and if they’re happy that way, i’m not going to tell them they shouldn’t, as long as it’s their own choice and not something they’re shamed into.

    Posted by reddressgnome | March 31, 2013, 9:03 am
  15. If one man’s opinion helps anything, I’d rather make love to a woman than an 8-year old with boobs.

    Posted by Ron | April 6, 2013, 6:28 am
  16. I know I’m late to the conversation as I am behind in my lurking. But just in case anyone still looks at this thread, I’ll chime in.

    I’m a man in the 50 – 60 age range married over 20 years to a woman of similar age. Shaving is one of the things I have done for my wife for most of those 20+ years. For the last 12 or so, this has included completely shaving her pubic hair, which she prefers, but is not something about which either of us feels strongly. The twist is that I use an electric shaver as the tool of choice thus eliminating the risks introduced by the use a sharpened blade dragged across the skin.

    Personally, I find the bald look very sexy. For practical purposes, I like the neat appearance and smooth feel as well, but more so the improved smell. I also don’t like dealing with the many stray hairs, which are unavoidable in any intimate encounter.

    For my part, I prefer myself so groomed as well, for the neater appearance and improved hygiene, but it takes a serious amount of work, and no small risk of injury, to maintain a clean-shaven state. So I settle for the lower maintenance grooming regimen of keeping the are trimmed short, but not bald.

    Posted by TGAP Dad | April 6, 2013, 8:41 pm
  17. Hi Jen, I linked to this post in my post about Vajazzling here. http://womanmdsguide.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=971&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2 Thanks for a great post on a topic that needs to be addressed. Kristen

    Posted by womanmdsguide | April 13, 2013, 10:19 am
  18. Years ago, when shaving began, I started reading about this issue. I was interested and wanted to try it. I just didn’t know how I was going to sell it to my wife. I knew it was impossible as she does not take change well. So…I just decided to try it and see what it was like. When I did I was happy with the feeling and the way it looked. It wasn’t just sex it was the way it left my body, cool in the hot state I live in. When my wife noticed she went crazy. She thought I was with another woman, etc. After realizing I wasn’t and our talk over why this took place she calmed down. Fast forward 10 years. I thought I would grow my pubic hair back. When she saw the hair starting to grow longer she asked what I was doing. I explained I was growing the pubes back. She told me not to as she liked it the way it was. She wanted me to keep the small amout in the middle and the rest shaved smooth. Go figure!

    Posted by jeff | September 14, 2013, 4:19 am
  19. I am happy to see an article highlighting the problems with pubic hair removal. I am a woman in my 40s. I have this to say about pubic hair removal: If I did it, my overriding concern would be being judged (by a sexual partner) as an unnatural neurotic who spends way too much time in the bathroom with a sharp object next to very sensitive skin. Anyone who spends a lot of time looking in the mirror in the bathroom, or looking at their pubic hair, and sitting there taking the time to shave it or wax it off has some kind of mental problem and way too much time on their hands. And any young man who expects his girlfriend to shave her pubic hair is probably just afraid of hair because he’s never seen it. And he’s never seen it because all these young women (followers; neurotics) shave their hair to please the men. I think the same way about any man who “man-scapes.” I think of him as some sort of unmanly neurotic with way too much worry about his appearance, and with way too much time on his hands.

    Posted by jj | November 7, 2013, 7:05 am

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