To Shave Or Not to Shave?
A few days ago, I posted on Wesleying that I was accepting questions for my last column of the year. My favorite question was the one that got me thinking about, of all things, pubic hair. My anonymous friend sent me this email:
“When and how do you think it got popular for women to shave their pubic hair? Society portrays women in every movie, TV show, pornography etc., with a shaved vagina. Now, as a heterosexual male, I am only attracted to vaginas that are in fact shaved. I feel like the media pushed the belief on me. I wanted to hear some of your opinions.”
First, one clarification. A vagina is only the “inside part,” or the pathway to the cervix and uterus. Razors should never go anywhere on (or really, in) the vagina—I mean, ouch. When someone shaves their pubic hair, they shave their vulva, which is the word for the entire area. But our culture too often misnames it, so I understand the confusion.
Anyway, here’s the thing: When I started researching I didn’t have any opinions on shaving pubic hair (other than that I like my Schick Quattro razor very much, thank you.) But I was fascinated by the question. I mean, I’d heard of merkins (pubic hair wigs that prostitutes used around the 18th century to cover up pubic lice… ew) and I’d talked to my friends about their habits and preferences (almost all of them shave everything). But I’d never given much serious thought to the matter.
It turns out that the removal of pubic hair in one form or another, and especially the portrayal of its absence, is not a new thing at all. Ancient India’s Kama Sutra suggests that lovers shave each other as foreplay, while for women in Turkey, Iran, Italy, and parts of Africa, hair removal has been de rigueur for centuries. Take any class on ancient Greece and you’ll note that, though some of the male figures are portrayed with little curls of down-there-hair, the female figures are not (many, indeed, have a completely undefined mons pubis—the part with most of the hair—that includes no cleft nor any other detail). Throughout the centuries, fine art has gone in and out of favoring portrayal of the feminine bush. In the sixties and seventies, hair removal of all kinds went out with the bras – even Playboy models were photographed in all their natural glory.
But things started to change after that, and I’d attribute this to two factors. First, swimsuit bikini lines inched further away from the demure one-pieces of yesteryear and finally transformed into the teeny string bikinis now ubiquitous on beaches and at pools. Nancy Etcoff notes in her book, “Survival of the Prettiest,” that every time a new female body part is unveiled, hair is shed along with the cloth. If I’m going to be candid here, I’ll admit that the first time I thought to shave my bikini line was when I noticed, laying on a towel one day at the community pool, that my bikini bottom just would not cover the outer edges of my hair. At that same time, I had a friend tell me that she wore boy shorts at the pool for just that reason. At fourteen years old, it was time to shave or shield.
The other catalyst was, of course, porn. Jennifer Aniston’s latest hairdo may guide your stylist’s hand, but Jenna Jameson’s is more likely to guide your bikini waxer’s. The majority of pornography today features women with either completely bare or very trimmed vulvas. This might not be a big deal were it not for the Internet. Porn no longer stays tucked between the pages of Playboys and stuffed underneath your older brother’s bed. It’s a click away, whatever your orientation. And as my anonymous friend so aptly noticed, all of these virtual va-jay-jays are taking effect.
A recent study by researchers at Indiana University found that, though there is generally no preferred style among American women, younger women, especially those who have partners but are not married to them, are much more likely to go bare than older, single, or married women. Bisexuals, women who have recently received cunnilingus, and women who are more comfortable with the appearance of their vulva are also more likely to go bare.
What does this say about pubic hair removal? Frankly, I have no idea. You could argue that it’s an insecure young woman’s attempt to satisfy an uncommitted male lovers’ desire for the porn star experience. But you could also say that it’s a young woman’s way of being sexually liberated and confident in bed—especially if it goes hand-in-hand with being open about sexuality and happy with her genitals. If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s probably some combination of the two.
As for my new opinion on going bare? For one thing, I do think that the media encourages bare pudendums. But the media also encourages a lot of other stuff, both good and bad. What we must remember is that what the media encourages is what’s in fashion—in the fifties, curves were in—now, Kate Moss’s lack of body mass is. In the sixties, hair was in—now, shaving it all is. I’d like to think that curves will have a resurgence and that we’ll covet the carpet once more—but who’s to say?
What I can tell you is that you’re allowed to like whatever you want to like—just don’t let it prevent you from having new experiences. And, most importantly, don’t tell a girl what to do with her crotch. You may find that, in real life, you really don’t mind a little extra hair, After all, it’s there to hold in pheromones that are supposed to encourage those sexy feelings.
Francis is a member of the class of 2014.