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How “should” a woman groom her pubic hair? A GYNO explains

american-apparel-mannequin-pubic-hair-m

American Apparel mannequin

A new study published in JAMA Dermatology regarding women’s pubic hair grooming practices has people abuzz. This cosmetic act needs a formal medical name because clamscaping just doesn’t work on grant applications, although why the authors couldn’t go with hair removal I don’t know, after all the study wasn’t about styling it was about removal. The study even made it into the New York Times, and yes, my first ever quotes in the Gray Lady were about pubic hair.

The study’s findings are no surprise to me. That the majority of women have done some kind of pubic hair removal and that pubic hair removal is more common among younger, white women with some college education or a bachelors degree, although I have heard some women say they remove their pubic hair because it’s gray and they are dating and don’t want to appear older. It also doesn’t surprise me that 40% of women felt they needed to groom before going to the gynecologist and that 59% of women thought it was more hygienic or cleaner.

We don’t know much about the physical ramifications of pubic hair removal.

Pubic hair is like eyebrow hair, we have it for a reason. Pubic hair is a physical barrier formiley-cyrus-terry-richardson the genital skin and traps dirt and debris, just as eyebrow hair protects the eyes from sweat. We are a fine tuned product of evolution and almost everything we have serves a biologic purpose.

We do know that women can get ingrown hairs, abscesses, and injuries from pubic hair removal. However, if women remove all of their pubic hair chronically or permanently are they more prone to develop irritation of the vulva? I believe that I see more issues with chronic vulvar irritation (lichen simplex chronicus) among women who remove all their pubic hair regularly, but I admit that’s an observation that needs validating or refuting. Anecdotally I also see a lot of women with chronic genital irritation starting after laser hair removal.

Hair also has mechanoreceptors (touch receptors) around the follicle, so stroking parts of the body with hair feels different compared with stroking hairless areas. Does removing pubic hair physically change the way touch is perceived on the genitals for better or worse?

Could removing pubic hair affect bacterial and yeast colonization on the skin?

We also don’t know if removing pubic hair is driving the increased trend in labial reductions. Without pubic hair the labia minora often appear more prominent.

As far as the health ramifications of pubic hair removal is concerned we don’t know what we don’t know, so my advice is whatever you do be cautious about doing something permanent.

You should think about your pubic hair like you think about your eyebrows

No physician would ever say removing eyebrows or waxing or tweezing them is beneficial medically. When I get my eyebrows waxed I do it because I like a nice arch and if I didn’t groom my brows it would look like I had a feral mouse laying atop each eye. I choose waxing because if I tweeze I do too much. I don’t thread because there are reports of wart virus (human papilloma virus) transmission from esthetician to customer. I choose a salon that does not double dip with the wax.

This time I had a different esthetician and my eyelid was burned in two spots (the picture below is 3 days after the injury). I put on my big girl panties and accepted that I made a choice and I have a consequence and I am ok with that. Next time I will not book last minute so I can get an appointment with the person I prefer.

eyebrow

Waxing injuries. Ouch. Very tender skin.

I would never wax my eyebrows (or anywhere else) because of some guy (or girl), but that’s me and it took a while to learn that lesson. I wax for me. I have done many cosmetic things in the past for men and I have come to regret every single one. In my opinion if your partner has ideas about how you could “look better” then they aren’t invested in you they are invested in themselves or it’s about control. Or both. I wear make-up for me, I dress up for me, and I wax my eyebrows for me. I’ve been divorced twice so I’m not exactly a relationship guru, but your partner should value what makes you happy and comfortable. Women receive so many negative messages about looks and the person who claims to love you shouldn’t be adding to that shit show.

Pubic hair removal is personal and cosmetic, not medical

If a woman likes how she looks with no pubic hair, great. If she prefers business on top and party down below (think a a reverse mullet), great. If she likes a modest bikini shape, great. If she likes au naturel, great. Whatever she likes and makes her feel best is great.

We don’t know if removing pubic hair is health neutral or if there are potential downsides, so that’s something to keep in mind. Sure, you might be less likely to get pubic lice, but we don’t suggest every kid age 12 and under have their head shaved regularly to prevent head lice.

None of this information means don’t remove your pubic hair, it simply means don’t do it for your gynecologist or because you think it is healthier. If you choose to remove your pubic hair do it because it pleases you cosmetically or sexually and you accept that there is a small potential for injury and some possible unknown consequences of chronic, long-term removal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion

23 thoughts on “How “should” a woman groom her pubic hair? A GYNO explains

  1. Did you know laser does not work on red hair? Waxing is only option. Wax stays clean because dipping device usually a tongue depressor is never re-used.

    Posted by Judith Vance | June 30, 2016, 8:28 pm
  2. The sales pitch from other people for removing all of it can be …enlightening. Years ago my partner talked me into shaving ONCE. By the next day it was prickly, sweat sticky and heading toward jock rash. It did NOT feel wonderful during sex as promised. There are regular attempts at getitng me to do it again – when asked, he says it’s for ME because it feels so smooth ( not to me) and is more sensitive ( so is sunburn) and erotic ( exact opposite for ME). There seems to be no way of clarifying this for him. Howevr, we may be making progress. I asked him if I could im his very long pubic hair because it gets wrapped around and up inside the completely wrong things, and “Ack, spt spt gah HAIR ack” is a mood killer. He was OK with pruning it all back to about 2″ long … until …it felt different – not enough padding – prickly – allowed him to feel that his briefs were there &s/o. All of which wore off in about 3 days, instead of a month for shaved pubes to stop being itchy. There has to be a simpler way to communicate ‘doesn’t feel good, don’t want to’.

    Posted by ashspring | July 1, 2016, 3:06 am
    • Oh dear! Well, at least he gave it a go, too!😉

      Posted by muffincatblog | July 3, 2016, 1:45 am
    • I am a man, just want to say that first, but honestly: ‘We are really bad at taking messages we don’t want to hear.’ My advice to female friends in regards to their frustration in communicating with their male partners is: ‘Be explicit, spell it out, be assertive.’ It’s not necessarily because the man is trying to be selfish or controlling or whatever, it’s just that we switch off to more subtle signals.
      EG: A friend who was worried that her boyfriend had a gambling problem and had ‘talked to him about it many times’ was on the verge of leaving him. I asked her, ‘have you used the words, ‘this is a problem, we have no money left and if it keeps going I’ll leave you’, because if not, he probably didn’t get the message.’
      Sure enough, she tried a more direct approach and they had their first real conversation about the problem.
      Sorry, I don’t want to be presumptuous as I don’t know your full situation, and that is an extreme example, but there’s an outlook from another perspective anyway.

      Posted by twnorrich | July 8, 2016, 9:55 pm
  3. Reblogged this on things I've read or intend to.

    Posted by donesoverydone | July 1, 2016, 8:43 am
  4. Do we really have eyebrows to stop the sweat getting in our eyes? Or is this a construct, along the line of, ‘we have eyebrows, they must be there for something’? We have a coccyx, but it doesn’t do much. So, eyebrows for a purpose or just an atavism? And how do you know?

    Posted by korhomme | July 1, 2016, 9:29 am
  5. Well said!
    A useful addition would be advice to women coming to abdominal surgery and Cesarean:
    Please, PLEASE don’t shave near the surgical site for at least 48 hours before surgery. Shaving increases wound infections! I don’t think many women are aware of the risk.

    Posted by Maxine L | July 1, 2016, 12:28 pm
  6. Both men and women should regularly remove their armpit and pubic hair for hygiene reasons. Removing the hair reduces odor. I’ve noticed a huge difference.

    You can easily get these benefits shaving every couple of weeks. When I shave every couple weeks skin irritation isn’t a big deal. Though the first couple times you shave it will probably be uncomfortable, but after that your skin gets used to it.

    Posted by dkljfldkjfdklfjd | July 1, 2016, 1:17 pm
    • No it not more hygienic. Did you read the post? It may actually paradoxically increase odor because of irritation.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | July 1, 2016, 1:29 pm
      • I had a full pubic bush for about a decade. I started shaving my crotch off and on only about 3 years ago. There is substantially less odor when I’m shaved bare or have only a week or two of hair growth. I’ve heard numerous other people say the same thing. I don’t know what stench inducing irritation you’re talking about, but that hasn’t been a problem for me. Same thing goes with the pits. When I’ve gone full pit bush I stink more than when I’m shaved bare or when there’s only a little hair.

        Furthermore, why do you criticize crotch shaving but not pit, leg, or face shaving? What’s the difference? I suspect you just don’t like new shaving demands being placed on people, particularly women. I agree that the shaving double standard is wrong, but I think everyone should shave the pits and pubes as opposed to no one.

        Posted by dkljfldkjfdklfjd | July 1, 2016, 8:48 pm
      • I am a gynecologist so I speak about what I know.

        Nothing about the post is critical at all.

        As a GYN with > 25 yrs experience and an expert in vulvovaginal disorders, including odors, I can say that anecdotally I have never seen an association with genital odor and pubic hair.

        Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | July 1, 2016, 8:54 pm
      • Anecdotally and scientifically, I am finding a lot of information online suggesting that shaving pubic hair reduces odor (same goes for pit shaving). Furthermore, I don’t know what your knowledge of vulvovaginal disorders would have to do with the increase in odor caused by pubic hair. A normal increase in body odor due to the presence of hair is not a vulvovaginal disorder.

        Also, why aren’t you objecting to armpit, leg, and face shaving?

        Posted by dkljfldkjfdklfjd | July 2, 2016, 3:18 am
      • There is no science supporting hair removal to reduce body odor.

        A genital odor is a vulvovaginal complaint

        I’m a gynecologist, I don’t treat armpit, leg or face problems

        Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | July 2, 2016, 10:08 am
      • you just SAID it’s there to trap dirt and debris. that’s exactly what it does, and how it traps odor. this is not a disorder, it’s just what hair does? i mean, it’s ‘normal’ crotch odor, not some sort of infection or overgrowth, it just accumulates faster with hair to trap it. hell, my legs get more dead skin and dried sweat stuck to them in winter months when i don’t shave, too, they just don’t have much in the way of odor producers so idc.

        maybe it’s because your patients generally wash before visits, so you only smell infection/overgrowth odors, and not just regular odor?

        /clearcuts every shark week
        //every other week during summer

        Posted by Kerlyssa | July 4, 2016, 3:04 pm
  7. Well said do it for yourself for your own reasons. I however have found huge health benefits personally. 12+ years ago I had chronic jock itch like irritation and irritated and smelly armpits. Nothing OTC worked I could treat the itch with anti fungal but it would always return. My underarms from sensitive skin products, deodorant only or antiperspirant, to nothing and wash with a baby wipe mid day never worked. Never went to a doc during those 4+ years of experimenting, no insurance… As a desperate attempt I shaved both under arms and pubic hair completely off and within two weeks neither area were irritated. I went for about a year smooth in both areas and never had an issue. Thinking I was healed I let the hair return and after about 6 weeks of no shaving was back to irritation in both areas. So off with the hair again and helped up, and have not let the hair regrow for over 12 years. My underarms BO is almost nonexistent only wear deodorant from about May to September. Razor rash, bumps etc not an issue, keeping a regular almost daily part of my routine has conditioned my skin just like when I started shaving my face as a teenager. A sharp razor and a shave gel and no problem. Ever. Not sure if more hygienic or not but far less stink from the arms and more attention from the wife below the belt cause she now “loves the smell”. When before it was only within a few hours of a shower, now it may be over 24 hours.

    Wife has been bald in the genital area for almost 18 years and has never had an issue either, just uses a twin blade Gillette and shave gel too, almost daily.

    Posted by Jeff | July 1, 2016, 2:30 pm
  8. Men do lots of things to attract women, and women do lots of things to attract men, and if either group wishes to find partners, then they SHOULD do things that will improve their chances is attracting the opposite sex. I’d love to know what the author thinks of excessively hairy men (especially hairy backs), and whether or not she’d prefer her partner to do something to reduce it.

    Enough with the sexual politics, “If he thinks it makes me look prettier or finds it sexier, then he must be trying to control me!” throwback ’60s feminist claptrap nonsense. Men and women SHOULD do things that make them more appealing to their partner – it’s known as having a healthy, considerate sex life.

    Posted by Asuka | July 1, 2016, 9:34 pm
  9. Wow. This post turned into a can of hairy worms. I can’t tolerate the pit hair because I do believe it gives my sweat something to hang on to and then odor happens. As for the Netherlands, I totally agree. I don’t believe hair plays a role in stench.

    Posted by muffincatblog | July 3, 2016, 1:49 am
  10. Hello! This is a reporter from the Bay Area News Group, and I was going to do a story about this study. Would love to talk to you.

    Posted by Martha Ross | July 21, 2016, 4:25 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: “Grooming” | Transterrestrial Musings - July 1, 2016

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