Sometimes fashion and grooming trends can have unintended consequences. Case in point, a new study from the Boston University School of Public Health found that wearing tight pants and removing pubic hair can increase the risk of vulvodynia — an unexplained, chronic, and debilitating vulvar pain. During the study, published in the Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease, researchers collected self-reported hygienic-behavioral histories from a total of 434 women, 213 of who had vulvodynia and 221 who had never experienced it. Genital hygiene practices studied included wearing tight-fitting clothing and pubic hair removal.
"Compared with women who reported never wearing tight-fitting jeans or pants, women wearing tight-fitting jeans or pants four or more times per week had twice the odds of vulvodynia," the study reported. What's more, women who removed pubic hair from the mons pubis — the fleshy mound above the genitals — were 74% more likely to have vulvodynia.
"With an increase in the prevalence of pubic hair removal directly from the vulvar region, particularly in adolescent girls, the microabrasions to this sensitive area may predispose young women to immune-inflammatory complications," senior study author Dr. Bernard Harlow, professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, said in a press release. "Likewise, tight-fitting jeans or pants can create an environment that fosters genital tract infections, which have been shown to be associated with vulvar pain onset."
If you're not familiar with vulvodynia, this chronic vulvar pain can vary in location and severity from person to person. The most common symptom is a burning sensation. "Women’s descriptions of the pain vary. One woman reported her pain felt like 'acid being poured on my skin,' while another described it as 'constant knife-like pain,'" the National Vulvodynia Foundation noted on its website. If someone already has vulvodynia, it makes sense that tight-fitting pants pressing on the genitals, and removing hair that protects the skin, could exacerbate it.
Though this particular study only focused on a small sample size of self-reported answers, it builds on previous research about what can increase the risk of vulvodynia. Wearing pants that are too tight on the regular can negatively affect your genitals in other ways too. A study published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology found that wearing tight pants just once a week can increase the risk of developing bacterial vaginosis.
What's more, while pubic hair removal is a personal choice, a study published in the journal Women's Health found that excessive pubic hair removal can not only increase the risk of vulvodynia, it can also make you more vulnerable to other viruses and bacteria. "Severe consequences may include vulvovaginal irritation and infection and spread of sexually transmitted infections," the study reported.
"In a recent study of pubic hair removal practices, over half of women reported removing all pubic hair and the majority experienced one or more complications due to removal. Pubic hair serves as a physical barrier for the vulvovaginal area and complete removal could lead to increased susceptibility to infections, although more data are needed to establish this link."
Obviously, many people wear tight pants and remove their pubic hair without experiencing any issues. However, if you do favor tight jeans, you like to keep your genitals hair-free, and you find that you're experiencing unexplained vulvar pain, more UTIs, yeast infections, or other problems down there, see your doctor ASAP. You can also try an experiment where you adjust your tight pants and grooming routine for 30 days to see if it makes a difference. Seriously, no one needs to experience pain for fashion and grooming trends. Your health is too important.