Removing Pubic Hair Doesn't Raise STI Risk, Study Finds
If you groom your pubic hair (more than 83% of women do, according to one study), here's some reassuring news: New research found no link between removing pubic hair and a higher risk of contracting chlamydia or gonorrhea.
This contradicts previous research from 2016, which found that removing pubic hair was a risk factor for STIs.
In the new study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from Ohio State University surveyed more than 200 female college students about their pubic hair grooming practices and sexual activity. The women also underwent on-campus STI testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, two of the most common bacterial STIs.
Nearly all study participants (98%) reported grooming their pubic hair at some point in their lives. Of those who reported ever grooming, about 54% said they removed all of their pubic hair at least weekly over the past year, and 18% reported doing so at least six times in the last month—meeting the researchers' definition of "extreme groomers."
About 10% of study participants ended up testing positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea. However, extreme groomers were no more likely to be diagnosed than those who didn't groom their pubes as often.
The new study appears to refute the results of a 2016 study from the University of California, San Francisco that linked pubic hair grooming to a higher risk of STIs. That study, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, looked at survey results from over 7,500 people. Those who removed their pubic hair were 80% more likely to report contracting an STI, compared to those who never groomed.
However, the 2016 study was based on self-reported STD diagnoses, rather than diagnoses that were confirmed with lab tests. It also didn't take sexual activity into account. "It may be that those with more frequent sexual encounters—who were thus at greater risk for STD exposure—were also more likely to practice extreme grooming," Maria Gallo, an author of the new study and associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State, stated in a press release.
When the study from the University of California was published, the researchers were open about the fact that their findings couldn't prove grooming was directly responsible for the increased risk of STIs.
The new study from Ohio State improves upon that research, as it's based on lab-confirmed diagnoses and takes sexual frequency into account. However, the new study still has limitations. All of the women came from a single university and most of them were white, meaning it's not clear if the results apply to men or other populations. Also, it only tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea rather than a wider range of STIs.
Still, the authors wrote that their findings do not support the need for public health or clinical interventions to address pubic hair grooming as a risk factor for STIs.
What are risk factors for STIs, though? Not using condoms, having multiple sex partners, or having a new partner whose status you don't know.