Pubic Peer Pressure

As the popularity of Brazilian waxing and related grooming increases among women, doctors have become concerned.


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Young women, 18 to 24 years old, are considerably more likely to groom than older women.

Photo by rrraum

The young man from Berkeley liked her clean—waxed or shaved in a full-on Brazilian, void of pubic hair. She didn’t mind going along at first, but as their relationship matured, she stopped being as vigilant with the razor or waxing salons, tired of the itchy stubble, the relentless maintenance. Not to mention the pain and cost.

“How about a little more au naturel,” she asked her man.

To him, this just seemed unclean. Unsexy. She was on the fence.

This East Bay couple isn’t alone. According to recent research by UC San Francisco obstetrician and gynecologist Tami Rowen and team, more women are ridding themselves of pubic hair, especially younger women.

The trend is worrisome to medical professionals like Rowen, because pubic grooming, as it’s often called, is associated with risks such as cuts and abrasions, folliculitis or infected hair follicles, and skin burns.

What’s more, it’s not linked to any medical benefits, they say, contrary to popular chatter. In fact, many doctors believe pubic hair helps prevent the spread of bacteria. It’s also a natural cushion against abrasion.

Courtesy of UCSF

Dr. Tami Rowen.

“There are medical concerns,” Rowen said. “What was so surprising about our study is that the majority of women think it’s hygienic. They feel they’re taking better care of themselves. I think there’s also a lot of peer pressure and a lot of partner pressure.”

The study, published in the June 29 issue of JAMA Dermatology, is believed to be the first of its kind to take a detailed look at female pubic grooming with a cross-sectional sample representing U.S. demographics.

A survey asked women detailed questions about their pubic hair preferences and practices, from how often they groom to when and how. Results were analyzed from 3,316 respondents, ages 18 to 65. The survey was conducted in January 2013.

Nearly 84 percent of respondents reported grooming. Of these, 62 percent said they’d gone Brazilian at least once, ridding themselves of all hair.

Young, white and educated best describes those doing the most grooming, the study found. Women 18 to 24 years old were considerably more likely to groom than older gals, with the practice dropping notably after age 55. Women with a bachelor’s degree or some college education reported more grooming than those without campus credits. White women were far more likely to groom than any other race; Latina women came in second. Income, marital status, and place of residence didn’t make much of a difference.

As for when? Women were most likely to pull out the razor or head for the waxing salon before vacations or sex, not surprising. But they also groom before a trip to the doctor. In fact, Rowen was motivated to do the analysis in part because of the increasing number of her patients who seemed self-conscious or apologetic about their genitals during office visits, she said. “Women were apologizing so much I was shocked.”

Iram Quidwai, a urogynecologist at Kaiser San Ramon, said her daily practice mirrors the study results. And she shares the concerns.

“There is definitely an increase in pubic hair removal amongst women,” Quidwai said. “Pubic hair removal has become so commonplace that it is almost a ‘norm.’ It has side effects like ingrown hairs, abscesses, wax burns, irritations, even cuts or lacerations. I’ve seen all of these things. And there is no proven medical benefit.”

Media images, advertising, and pornographic trends—where sleek, smooth, hairless vaginal skin prevails—all play a role in the popularity, Rowen suspects.

“The movement in the ’70s was women throwing down their razors. We’ve kind of moved in the way opposite direction,” Rowen said.

Over at LunchBOX, a waxing salon in Alameda, Tashawna Benford, a “waxologist,” said she has seen a huge jump in pubic grooming in the last couple of years. “It has just taken off,” she said. Bikini line and Brazilians are the most popular requests, she said, and while it’s mostly younger women turning to waxing, she has seen an uptick in older clients, even a few seniors.

LunchBOX takes health seriously, she said. Clients fill out a health form before treatment with questions on skin, medications, and more. They’re also given detailed aftercare instructions, starting with what to do right after leaving the salon: “No sexual activity, no hot tubs, no tanning. Wear lose clothing . . .  Bacteria can get in the pores,” she said.

Neither Rowen nor Quidwai are out to tell women never to groom, but they want them to understand the risks and to dispel myths.

 “If women want to groom their hair because it makes them feel more attractive or sexier, then fine,” Quidwai said. “But hair removal is not medically needed, and I’m afraid it might reinforce some societal thoughts about women not being clean. It treads a dangerous line in my opinion.”

“The vagina is not dirty,” she said.

“For those women who don’t have complications and who don’t mind the money or time or pain, it’s really their choice,” Rowen said.

 

Pubic Grooming Study Highlights

The abstract, Pubic Hair Grooming Prevalence and Motivation Among Women in the United States, also revealed:

• Nonelectric razors were the choice for 61 percent of groomers, while scissors were used by 17.5 percent, electric razors by 12 percent, and wax by 4.6 percent.  Just 0.7 percent of groomers used laser hair methods; 0.1 percent used electrolysis, and 1.2 percent used depilatory cream.

• Women reported that grooming made them feel “hygienic or cleaner” (59 percent); was part of their routine (45.5 percent); made their “vagina look nicer” (31.5 percent); or made oral sex easier (19.6 percent).

• And 21 percent said partner preference motivates them to groom.

 

Published online on Oct. 27, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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