• Mon, Aug 6 2012

Doctor Says War on Pubic Hair Must End; I Say To Each Their Own

Dr. Emily Gibson, the medical director of the health center at Western Washington University, is calling for an end to the war on pubic hair. That means no more brazilian waxes, no more vajazzling, no more depilatories or electrolysis. While I understand her concerns about the widespread cultural trend of hairless genitalia, I think the doctor might be magnifying the issue. After all, your vagina is your vagina.

Dr. Gibson explains that microscopic cuts in the skin left by waxing or shaving might leave you more vulnerable to STDs and other infections, including abscesses, boils and cellulitis (Ew). She says:

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

Do you feel embarrassed about your pubic hair? I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed, exactly, but I do prefer having less pubic hair. I’ve gotten quite a few Brazilian waxes in my time and I stopped not for health concerns, but because they’re so damn expensive. But I think of lot of women my age feel the same way about their hair down there: we’ve grown up in a culture that idealizes smooth, hairless, waxed women (thanks to the rise of the porn industry and debateably, the influences of Carrie Bradshaw, Barbie, and Hugh Hefner).  It’s what we’re used to and what we feel comfortable with (some of us, at least).

The thing is, this isn’t necessarily news. I got my first Brazilian wax in 2003, the summer after I graduated from high school: a full nine years ago. This is a cultural trend that’s been going on for ages, so I’m not sure why Dr. Gibson (who, as the head of a university health center, should be pretty on top of what the young’uns are doing) is speaking out about this now.

Granted, the health concerns she brings up are perennial, although apparently the risk of infection after waxing or shaving is minimal. She also points out the large amount of money people spend on pubic grooming, a number that reportedly reached $2.1 billion in the United States last year:

“The amount of time, energy, money and emotion both genders spend on abolishing hair from their genitals is astronomical.”

I’m sure that if you wanted to, you could spend the money you spend on waxing on something else. But I think that what Dr. Gibson is missing here is that this isn’t only a simple trend, a way to get consumers to spend money, or a way to please sexual partners: women are doing this because it makes them feel better about themselves and their bodies. Is it weird that some women feel better about themselves when they have hairless vaginas? Sure, I guess so. Is some of that a result of cultural pressure? Undoubtedly. Are women smart enough to make their own decisions about whether to have a “full bush” or a “full Brazilian?” Yep.

The elimination (or lessening, as it may be) of pubic hair is a beauty standard of our time, just as powdered wigs were a beauty standard during colonial times, or beards and facial hair were de rigeur for men during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Maybe all of our waxed nether regions will strike future generations as strange and barbaric, but they might be equally as taken aback by Lady Gaga’s cloven hoof shoes and all of our crazy nail art, as well. I just don’t see waxing or shaving pubic hair as some kind of dire cultural situation that women need to be saved from.

Dr, Gibson thinks that it’s “time to declare a truce in the war on pubic hair and allow it to stay right where it belongs.” I think you should do whatever you want: wax it, shave it, trim it, let it grow wild (although, if you do remove the hair in some way, just make sure you’re using clean, disinfected tools in that sensitive area).  It’s your body and you should be comfortable with it. Because honestly, what you do with your hair down there is only your business—no one else’s.

Photo: Shutterstock

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  • Erynn

    I appreciate her sentiment. I admit I’ve felt shame about pubic hair before (while simultaneously knowing how absurd that is, even) and I wish I felt totally comfortable with my hair au naturale… but it just feels weird to have a lot of it, and it makes bikini season awkward, and I just can’t get out of that mindset.

    As sort of a side note, this makes me wonder exactly how many people actually get “vejazzled”. My suspicion is that it’s more that the concept was so silly it got popular without THAT many people actually doing it. But you wouldn’t necessarily know, would you? ;P

  • L

    and next we should end the war on leg hair? what a freaking quack.

    if i had the money i would get electrolysis not only on my vag, but my arms, legs, chin (this has been a new and delightful development since i’ve gotten older), pits, upper lip. etc. it has nothing to do with being ashamed of your bodily hair. For me it’s about physical comfort and aesthetics.

    • rebelipar

      Of course it’s about aesthetics. I think that went without saying.

      The point is that aesthetic ideals can get in the way of health. Think about mastectomies: sometimes they are definitely the right choice, but women try to find other treatments because they don’t want to challenge the status quo of what is aesthetically appealing.

      Thing is, what is aesthetically appealing should not be at the top of the priorities list.

      And, yeah, if we’re extending this argument out to it’s logical ends, then maybe we should stop shaving our legs. I’d say that the same arguments apply, sans STDs, so yeah. It’s healthier to not shave your legs. Why would that make her a quack?

      It may have “nothing to do with being ashamed of your bodily hair,” but it does have to do with “trichonormativity, ” what amount of hair cultural/societal consensus says is appropriate or appealing or worthy of distaste. Living up to those norms doesn’t make you a bad person, but you can also work to change them.

  • Tina

    I guess everyone missed the point that it isn’t healthy to strip away all your pubic hair. The hair creates a barrier to disease and when you rip it out, the disease has a chance to get in to the tiny tears or cuts from shaving and waxing. I think its weird to want a totally smooth, prepubescent crotch. You can trim the hair down so you don’t have to worry about bikini season.

  • Ari

    I started shaving as a teen because I am a dancer (ballet/modern/jazz, not stripping), and frankly seeing someone’s pubic hair (because tights don’t cover everything) is just really distracting and seems more sexual than just shaving it. Now, I don’t shave. I will either trim or wax when I’m performing or going to the beach. And I prefer waxing because pubic hair can sometimes really bother my skin.

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  • Ann

    Aside from the fact that is not a totally healthy practice (wax places can be so gross), as a mother of two young daughters, I am opposed to the ideal of complete bareness in the pubic area because I think this is how a child looks.

    A woman has hair, even if just a so-called “landing strip” it really feels icky to me to see totally hairless adult vaginas because it is so prepubescent to be hairless there. I have spoken to other mothers of girls (including my dermatologist who removes hair with a laser for a living) and they agree that there should be some hair there because it likes being a little girl which is weird to them and their husbands/partners.

    I would like it if we could all just start thinking of it as feminine and womanly to have hair, rather than gross and embarrassing. Of course, I don’t want it hanging out of my bathing suit, but I do think there should be some.

    • KAJ

      I agree 100%. I find it disturbing.

    • meteor_echo

      I do understand your viewpoint. However, there are things you did not take into consideration:
      1) Not everyone shaves/waxes for their husbands or partners. Some people like to remove hair from their pubic area for themselves. I remove it because I don’t like the look/feeling of the hair, and because I feel uncomfortable having it.
      2) Not every woman wants to be feminine or womanly. Some of us do not like being considered feminine, some don’t like being curvy, or big-breasted, or being all the other things that are associated with being a girly-girl. Hair included, yes.
      3) Not all women grow hair on their pubic area after they hit puberty. So, defining “womanly” by saying, “An adult woman has hair on her vagina” sometimes just does not work.

      I’m for every person having as much or as little body hair as they’re comfortable with. That’s a better solution than telling people what they should do (like this doctor does).

  • Kathy B

    Oh for God sake, just trim the darned thing and move on. Noone wants a bush that would put a Gorilla to shame, but comeplete denuding seems a bit extreme. Hell, I get my eyebrows, lip and chin waxed regularly ( when you’re 55 the chin is an issue-you young gals will see that one day) and that hurts enough, I can’t imagine getting the hair “down there” ripped out. Jesus, how do you women take that pain? Frankly, unless you are on the beach and even then it seems like over kill, you don’t need to go to that extreme. For the record, my husband doesn’t want me looking like a 9 year old.

  • Asm

    The person who wrote this article and most of the comments completely missed the point the doctor was trying to make. This was about being ashamed of your body hair, it was about the possible health risk have shaving. Shaving in general can cause Folliculitis, hair follicles are damaged and then become infected with the bacterium Staphylococcus. The author of this article quotes Dr. Gibson mentioning about the possible health risk, but instead of writing the article about that she focused on the aesthetic part. This article should have mainly focused on the health risk and not the aesthetic reasons to shaving. People should be allowed and not shamed for shaving or not shaving, but if should know about any possible health risks.