Genital Grooming: What to Know Before Going Bare Down There

**By Una Lee, MD**

razor (002)Pubic hair is a fact of life. The pattern of hair that grows on our genitals is a natural part of our body, and it serves a purpose. Pubic hair helps protect our genital organs and provide a layer of defense, first as a physical barrier, but also by promoting a microflora of normal skin and genital bacteria. As a uniquely human sign of sexual maturity, pubic hair effectively traps pheromones, scents the body produces that can be sexually stimulating to others.

So why do some people want to get rid of it? In modern life, genital grooming by some men and women has morphed into a form of self-expression. While some may leave their pubic hair “au natural,” others may trim or shave their pubic hair closely or into a desired shape, like a strip or inverted triangle. Being “bikini ready” is why some women shave or wax, including the well-known Brazilian wax in which all hair is removed.

Other reasons women state for their grooming habits down under came to light in a recent University of California San Francisco (UCSF) study, surveying more than 3,000 women across the U.S. Nearly 84 percent of the women in the study groomed to some degree, with young, educated Caucasian women more likely to groom than other groups. The reported reasons for the less-hairy choice ranged from achieving a desired look, to feeling “cleaner,” to accommodating sexual preferences.

But the pressure to maintain a certain look or feel may come at a cost. Another 2016 UCSF study looked at the link between genital grooming and increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Conditions that impact the skin, such as HPV, herpes and syphilis, were most strongly correlated with aggressive grooming. The study found that “extreme groomers,” or those who regularly remove all pubic hair, were more than four times as likely to have had an STD. People who had groomed at least once in their lifetime were nearly twice as likely to report they’d had an STD.

While only a correlation between genital grooming and STDs was confirmed by the study – not that grooming caused the diseases – 60 percent of groomers experienced complications, including skin cuts, ingrown hairs and bruising. And the possibility of incurring very small cuts from shaving and waxing, called “microtears,” is thought to make the skin more vulnerable to infectious microorganisms. Avoiding aggressive pubic hair removal right before sex may help reduce this risk.

Regardless of what motivates people to “manscape” or tend to one’s “lady garden,” the practice has been around since ancient times and will continue to be a grooming routine for many. Knowing the potential ways it can impact your health will help ensure this private issue doesn’t get too prickly.


Lee_UnaUna Lee, MD is a urologist/urogynecologist at Virginia Mason Hospital & Seattle Medical Center who is passionate about women’s health and all the things nobody talks about, but should. 

Comments

  1. M Zwiebel says:

    Very interesting article. I always thought there must be a health reason our bodies are as they are. Thx

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