January 16, 2012

What’s “Normal” When It Comes To Pubic Hair?

Guest blogger Aliza Saraco-Polner lays out the low down on pubic hair preferences.

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Has the shift from having a bush to being bald become a norm in American culture? For many young girls, the question of whether to remove body hair is an important aspect of growing up. In my experience, the talk about body hair removal started in early middle school. Especially during the warmer months, it seemed like most girls would compare themselves to see who had tweezed their eyebrows and shaved their armpits, legs, and even arms. Then, slowly the topic would turn to who was shaving other things… more private things: their pubic hair. Pubic hair removal is a more recent phenomenon that has publicly emerged in American culture due to media hype and accessibility, including waxing, shaving, and laser hair removal. Although getting rid of one’s pubes dates back to many ancient cultures, where women often removed their hair for hygienic reasons, in the past few decades it has become an act that is widely talked about, accepted, and often expected. We hear about it in movies, television shows, and even celebrity interviews; we see it in pornography, in both films and images; we read about it in health and advice columns and books. It’s true—recently, everyone around us seems to be advocating for bald over bush. But who is really promoting this change? Is it the media’s ideologies that being attractive includes being hairless; are we motivated by our obsession with cleanliness; prompted by our partner’s preferences; or, is it simply a personal decision that helps to boost one’s self confidence?

Define “normal”

Pornography and other media outlets tend to cloud our perceptions of what is considered normal when it comes to pubic hair. It’s obvious that especially in recent pornography, most women sport the bald eagle look. Though part of this is to explicitly expose genitalia, lack of pubic hair emphasizes and fetishizes the push for the ideal woman’s vulva to have a youthful and almost pre-pubescent look, regardless of her actual age. Yet, many men that I have spoken with actually refute this belief; they prefer their partner to have some hair down there (so it doesn’t feel like they are sleeping with a twelve year-old). This poses a contradiction; even though many women remove their pubic hair as a personal preference, are we still motivated by our idea that “everyone else is doing it?”

Why is “everyone doing it?”

Indiana University researchers Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick found that  almost 60 percent of women who answered an internet survey between the ages of 18 and 24 and nearly 50 percent between 25 and 29 reported being sometimes or always hairless. Perhaps the push to remove pubic hair is primarily based on the fact that we have begun to consider hairless genitalia as the norm, ever since the media exposed and exploited this trend. In addition, there are numerous salons throughout the country that offer a Brazilian wax as part of their services. This proves that pubic hair removal has not only become more of a commonality but also a hot commodity.

Obviously we have to take into account the many pros of being nearly or totally bald down there. One main reason could be feeling both physically and mentally comfortable. Though there is a lot of upkeep, no pubic hair can mean less itching and feeling cleaner. It can also boost one’s body confidence to make someone feel sexier. In addition, lacking pubic hair can even initiate men to perform oral sex on women more frequently. On the other hand, some research has implied that having or removing pubic hair is not as important of an issue for people in committed and monogamous relationships.

Man vs. Pube

In our society, men’s body hair seems to be based more on personal preference. While some people like the scruff, others prefer to be completely clean-shaven. Though many men in pornography also lack pubic hair, possibly for similar reasons to women (like exposing their genitalia), is there a double standard for removing pubic hair? Often, the media portrays the more masculine-looking man having body hair (perhaps to show off his rugged side). Yet, at the same time, many male models and celebrities sport the oiled, bare chest look, which can be equally as “manly.” Thus, there seems to be a lot of confusion on what is considered normal for men and body hair. Indeed, trimming and removing pubic hair is not uncommon among men, however since it is not as publicly discussed it appears to be more taboo of a topic. It could end up depending on what boosts the man’s confidence the most as well as his partner’s preference.

Yet, regardless of one’s reason for shaving, waxing, lasering off or keeping their pubes, it is clear that recent hair removal trends (especially for women) have influenced our culture’s expectations on what is considered “normal.”

Aliza Saraco-Polner is a senior at Indiana University with a major in Mathematics and minors in Gender Studies and Studio Art.  She is also the undergraduate liaison for The Kinsey Institute and a volunteer at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.

Fetters, Ashley. “The New Full-Frontal: Has Pubic Hair in America Gone Extinct?” http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/the-new-full-frontal-has-pubic-hair-in-america-gone-extinct/249798/?single_page=true