Until college, I didn’t give any thought to my pubic hair. It never bothered me, so I had no reason to mess with it. It didn't seem to bother my sexual partners either — and if it did, I would’ve found that odd, because they had pubic hair, too.
So, when a friend asked me how I styled mine, I was confused. Why would I style it at all? Wasn’t it fine as it was? Barely anyone would see it, and anyone who might would hopefully not judge it. But my friend said removing hers was liberating. After getting a Brazilian wax, she was finally comfortable naked. She suggested I do it as well for the sake of body confidence. Looking back, her reasons were problematic — she liked that she "looked taller and thinner" — but at the time, I was struggling with body image and thought this might help.
First, I used a razor, which left a bunch of painful, itchy bumps. It was uncomfortable just to walk. As my pubes grew back in, the tiny hairs scraped against my labia, causing more pain and itching. Then, I tried Nair, which was not much different. Instead of rising, my self-esteem plummeted. Now, on top of worrying about the appearance of my face, my hair, and everything else society teaches women to worry about, I was worrying about a body part literally nobody was seeing at the time.
I stopped messing with my pubic hair and tried to put these worries to rest, but my next partner reignited them. He initially told me he “loved to eat pussy” — but he had a change of heart when he realized I had pubic hair. “I’m just not used to it,” he said. He begged me to wax it, so I got a DIY waxing kit. I screamed as the first strip came off, leaving the skin red. There was no way I was going down that road again.
After a few more partners like him, I started to hold my breath each time a new one took my pants off, terrified they, too, would withdraw their desire once they saw what I looked like. Terrified they would be repulsed by my body.
I’m not the only woman with these concerns. "I was with my first serious boyfriend, and he said that he found pubic hair gross and that he wasn't comfortable interacting with me sexually while I had it, particularly in terms of oral," Hannah, 22, tells Bustle. "It didn't take long for me to be persuaded to get rid of it, because I was afraid he would split up with me if I had a feature that meant no sexual interaction."
"An ex of mine stated pubic hair was gross and equated it to being unhygienic and made me feel really guilty for having it because he made me feel unclean," echoes Emily, 22. "Another guy in the same age group saw it and said, 'Huh. I don’t normally like girls who are unshaven, but it’s like you're French or something.'"
"This misogynistic *ss that I was sleeping with told me that I was 'irresponsibly hairy' and 'your vagina makes me realize why they call it a beaver,'" Nikki, 38, shares.
Sometimes, it's other women who shame us. "During my senior year of high school, I was seeing somebody and he wanted to go down on me," Lilly, 27, tells Bustle. "I talked to my friends about it, and they told me that I should shave it all off. My friends really made it seem like I had to shave it or else he would think that I'm gross and not enjoy it."
We’re all entitled to our preferences, but these preferences come from somewhere. It just wouldn’t make sense if an aversion to female pubic hair were engrained in our DNA. We wouldn’t have reproduced enough to make it to this point!
The same goes for any kind of body hair. It’s not like we've always had razors. In fact, we didn’t commonly use them until recently. Women rarely shaved anything until razor companies began painting their body hair as something shameful last century. A 1917 Gillette ad for a women’s razor, for example, promises to solve “an embarrassing personal problem" — the problem being women's natural bodies.
Waxing rose to prominence after the year 2000, when Sex and the City showed Carrie getting a bikini wax. Sixteen years later, in 2016, a study in JAMA Dermatology found that 83.8 percent of American women removed their pubic hair, with 59 percent believing this made them cleaner.
While this is a valid decision, it’s often made on a faulty premise. Hairless vulvas are not cleaner, healthier, or more hygienic. It’s actually the opposite. A 2016 study in Sexually Transmitted Infections found that those who groomed their pubic hair were 3.5 to four times more likely to have had an STI like herpes, HPV, chlamydia, or HIV.
"Pubic hair does serve a very important purpose," OB/GYN Aimee Eyvazzadeh, MD tells Bustle. "Before you start waxing, remember, you may be doing more harm than good. There’s a reason why we have hair there. It may be a protective barrier to prevent issues with friction and infections."
When women are ashamed of a physical feature that is not only natural but also beneficial, we have a problem. People often brush this problem off by saying “it’s women’s choice” or “their partners like what they like.” But we have to look at what’s behind our choices and what’s behind what we like. Underlying our decisions and preferences are often misogyny and body negativity.
The truth is, this is not an individual problem. The problem is with razor companies that market themselves by teaching women they'll be unattractive and forever single if they have body hair. The problem is with porn and magazine spreads that almost never show pubic hair on women. The problem is not with our bodies.
Since it’s not an individual problem, individual solutions like telling people not to shave their pubic hair aren’t helpful. Plus, that would be patronizing. Women are capable of making intelligent decisions on this front, and it’s acceptable to do something because it boosts your confidence, even if that confidence is based on patriarchal beauty norms.
It would be helpful, however, to address the sources of women’s pubic hair shame. For one, we need porn that’s more diverse in many ways, pubic hair being one of them. It would also be nice for razor companies to stop shaming women — but since they make their money off women’s shame, they’re not going to do that.
So, we need more information to counter these messages. We need sex ed that teaches people about the normal and natural diversity of genitalia. We need parents to talk to their kids about these topics so they’re not getting their information from judgmental and misguided peers.
That way, if a young woman’s partner begs her to remove her pubic hair and her friend tells her it’ll make her look thinner, she’ll have the wherewithal to decide that she doesn’t need to look thinner and she doesn’t have to accommodate his wishes. If he acts disgusted, she'll know it's only because he's grown up amid the same body negativity and misogyny she has. And she'll know it's not because she was designed anything less than perfectly.