We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. This week’s topic: how to landscape your pubic hair without upsetting your vagina.
Q: There has been so much talk about maintaining your vagina, and I wanted to know if it's necessary or makes a big difference if you shave or wax or leave yourself all natural? It's so time-consuming! I know for some people it's a personal preference whether they like hair or not. Can it mess with the bacteria in your vagina if you shave/wax? I find that sometimes mine gets really irritated if I do anything, and I don't want to mess with my balance! Any tips on how to landscape (so to speak) your lady bits in a healthy way?
A: To remove or not to remove ... that is the question. For some of us, anyway. Pubic hair styles have changed throughout the ages, based on varying trends and norms. Rejoice in your choice, whatever that is! But it's not like anyone ever teaches you how to shave your vagina or informs you of the risks of waxing, so before you make your choice, here are some important health concerns to keep on your radar.
Why We Have Pubic Hair In The First Place
First off, why do we even have pubic hair? Well I’ll tell you! Our vaginas are lined with mucous membrane, a very delicate type of skin. The hair covering your vaginal region is there to cushion these tender parts from the rough and tumble of the outside world. Think of it as a homegrown moat working to protect your special castle.
What’s to protect, you ask? Your cushion of nether-hair helps to make sure your vaginal folds don’t stick together, which can result in rash and infection, and also protects your vagina during sexual activity. The hair also works as a net, trapping bacteria that could otherwise cause infections like bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections. Well played, Mother Nature.
The Risks Of Different Pubic Hair Removal Techniques
If you decide you want to remove some (or all) of your pubic hair, there are of course more than few methods from which to choose. Each comes with its own potential health challenges you should know about.
So, how do you shave your vagina safely? Well, you'll need a razor, of course — but not just any old razor. The razor should be sharp, but that can also be dangerous if you happen to slip. Tiny nicks or cuts in your skin can hurt and become infected. Also, shaving can result in razor burn, which is when you twist or pull your hair follicles and they get irritated, resulting in those angry red bumps. You can also get ingrown hairs during the regrowth process, which can turn into painful pimples or even folliculitis, which is an infection of the follicle. Even if you don’t end up with an infection, regrowing your pubic hair can also be itchy and feel prickly.
Potential health challenges arise when you wax because when you rip out your hair, tiny tears are left behind in your hair follicles. The wax can also take off the top layer of your pussy skin. These tiny tears and bumps can result in infection, like cellulitis, staph infection, and folliculitis. You can get burned if the wax is too hot. Ingrown hairs can also occur when your hair starts growing back after a wax, which can also result in infection.
Another way of getting rid of your hair down there is with a depilatory or hair removal cream. This chemical cream actually breaks down the bonds that hold your hair together, in essence dissolving it so that you can just wipe it off your body. This may sound super easy and pain-free, and it can be, but there are also some things to worry about. Because you’re dealing your most delicate of parts, you can end up with a chemical burn. Some people are also allergic to the chemicals, so it’s important to test it out on a small patch of skin first to make sure you aren't one of them. An allergic reaction can make your skin super red and/or painful.
It’s also important to note that there isn’t any research explicitly assuring us that these creams are in fact safe for use on your genitals. So this option is probably best if you are getting rid of the hair along your bikini line, but not the whole shebang.
Pubic Hair Removal And Sexually Transmitted Diseases
I'm afraid I also have to inform you about the risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that come with hair removal. Specifically, the ones that are spread through skin-to-skin contact, which include genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), HIV (which isn’t transmitted skin-to-skin, but can be transmitted through microscopic skin tears), and Molluscum Contagiosum, a skin virus thought to be increasingly prevalent specifically because of the bikini waxing trend.
Damage to your skin can make these infections easier to transmit when you’re getting busy — and you don’t have to be able to see damage for it to exist. Such damage includes microscopic tears, like those that happen when you rip out your hair by its roots or get razor burn. In addition, you can spread more mundane infections to your sexual partners. These include cellulitis and staph infections. So if you have any of these conditions, make sure you speak to your doctor to get care. You won’t just be healing yourself; you’ll be protecting those you love (or at least, those you invite to be close to your genitals).
How To Minimize Your Risks
If you still want to remove your pubic hair, know there are some things you can do to prevent negative health outcomes.
Before you shave your vagina, it’s a good idea to trim the hair you want to remove so that you’re working with less. Take a warm shower or bath to soften your skin, and then use shaving cream or soap with aloe vera so that you start off soothed. Using a sharp (aka brand new) razor and shaving in the direction your hair grows will help make sure you don’t get ingrown hairs or razor burn.
If you’re getting waxed, make sure you do it at a clean facility that uses new wax for each customer and doesn’t double dip. The wax should also not be too hot — the general best practice is to use wax that moves with the consistency of honey and is a temperature that's not so hot that it burns when it touches your skin. Hard wax is gentler than speed wax, so ask for that.
If you’re going the depilatory cream route, make sure the brand you select says it’s safe for your pubic area. Follow all instructions, and definitely don’t leave the cream on for longer than the instructions say.
How To Deal With Side Effects
You may do everything right and still end up with negative consequences after removing your pubic hair. Here's how to deal with them.
If you notice an ingrown hair, no sweat — you can release it. You can do this yourself with tweezers, or get a doctor's help if it’s really lodged in there. If you end up with an infection, ask your doctor for some medicine to deal with the irritation.
Itching And Irritation
If you start feeling itchy down there, grab some hydrocortisone cream to put on your irritated areas. It’s also a good idea to lay off shaving or waxing for a couple of months until you feel totally better. Note that I’m talking about itching on your external parts — the ones that had hair on them before you removed it. If you’re itching on the inside, that’s likely to be a vaginal infection, and you should talk to your doctor about it.
Razor burn can be soothed with aloe vera, which you can buy at any drugstore.
Bumps And Rashes
You can usually get bumps to go away by soaking in a warm bath and then applying lotion to your dried skin. Just make sure your lotion doesn’t have perfume in it, because that can cause its own infection! If you’re dealing with pimples or blisters, don’t squeeze them. If your rash lasts for over a week, go see a doctor.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
If you think you might have an STI, the advice is always to go visit your doctor or local clinic to get tested. Depending on what you have, the treatments or cures are different.
The Bottom Line
Your body is yours, to do with what you will. So do what feels the sexiest and most awesome for you! There are no health benefits to taking off your pubic hair, but if you feel great with less down there, then go for it. Just remember that this is your decision. If a lover demands that you look a certain way in order to please them, you don’t have to listen to them.
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