The results of a large survey reveal how and why we're grooming our pubic hair.
Despite all the headlines proclaiming the return of the bush, if you prefer to go completely bare down there, you’re far from alone: A new study published today in JAMA Dermatology found that a majority of women remove all of their pubic hair.
After surveying 3,316 women between the ages of 18 and 65, researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) found that only 16% of us leave the thatch down there in its natural state, while 84% do some form of landscaping and 62% of women denude the area entirely.
To find out why—pubic hair has a purpose, after all (to help protect delicate tissue and keep potential irritants out)—the researchers also asked women what motivated them to trim, shave, and wax.
“People think that [grooming] is done in order to engage in specific sexual activity," says co-author Tami Rowen, MD, an ob-gyn at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. "But [our results] show that's not the case."
Nearly 60% of the study participants said they considered grooming hygienic; and 45.5% said it had simply become part of their routine. A little more than 30% of women believed pubic hair maintenance made their genitals more attractive. When they were asked about special occasions that would prompt them to groom, sex and vacation were commonly cited, of course—but so was an upcoming visit to the gynecologist.
That finding echoes Dr. Rowen's experience. "I have women apologizing to me on daily basis about what their genitals look like. They're very self-conscious and aware of genital appearance," she says.
"As a provider, I want to understand motivations [behind grooming] because it allows me to counsel [patients], especially if they're coming in with complications," she explains. "All gynecologists have seen injuries or complications related to grooming."
Indeed a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that 60% of 389 women surveyed had experienced a side effect from pubic hair removal, most commonly irritation and ingrown hairs. (And the pain and itchiness from an ingrown hair is no joke.) It makes sense that there are risks, explains co-author Andrea L. DeMaria, PhD, assistant professor of public health and the co-director of the Women’s Health Research Team at the College of Charleston. "Pubic hair is more coarse, and in a sensitive region."
DeMaria hopes that the new research out of UCSF will prompt clinicians to open a dialogue with their patients, to "remind them about the role of pubic hair and how to safely remove it."
So if your gyno brings up your lady lawn at your next appointment, don't be too surprised. Your doctor's office should be a safe space to discuss anything vagina-related, even your grooming habits, and particularly if they’re causing you problems.
In the meantime, follow DeMaria's simple tips for a safe shave: Always use a sharp razor, never share, and move in the direction of the hair follicle.