Editors’s note: A few weeks ago we ran an article on “manscaping”, and one of our fans on Facebook asked if we’d could do a similar article on female body hair removal. You asked, and Dr. Justin Lehmiller answers!
Female pubic hair removal is not a new invention. In fact, we have reason to believe that this practice originated with the ancient Egyptians and Greeks!1 However, the degree to which women have shaped their pubic hair has ebbed and flowed considerably across time and culture, and works of art and historical artifacts display variations in attitudes toward it. Today, female pubic hair removal is common, but not all women do it and there is considerable variation in the amount of hair removed, the methods used to get rid of it, and the reasons behind it.
A recent online survey of 2,451 women revealed that pubic hair removal practices are heavily dependent upon age.2 Specifically, whereas the majority of women under age 50 appear to be in the habit of removing at least some pubic hair, most women over age 50 choose to go au naturel. The most common hair removal method for women of all ages is shaving, with far fewer (i.e., less than 10%) opting for wax, electrolysis, and laser treatments. Although television shows and movies make it sound as though almost all women are getting the full Brazilian or “Hollywood wax” these days, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Such treatments are expensive, painful, and require being comfortable with a stranger putting hot wax on or pointing a laser at one’s genitals—not everyone’s cup of (scalding hot) tea. As a result, the trusty old razor remains the hair removal method of choice. Also, of those women who engage in pubic hair removal, only a small minority remains hair-free at all times. Instead, most women only perform total removal on an occasional basis or they attempt partial removal instead.
Why do so many women remove their pubic hair? Research suggests that one contributing factor is conformity to social norms.3 In Western cultures, hairiness is generally viewed as undesirable for the female genitals and body. As evidence of this, one need not look further than Playboy magazine and other forms of pornography, where typically the only hair remaining on the female body is on top of their heads.4 Many people see the removal of pubic hair as a way to “improve” the female body, which means that women who do not conform to this norm may be subject to social costs.
Of course, women may choose to bare it for other, more personal reasons. For instance, some women do it because it makes them feel more feminine and attractive, or because it brings them more sexual pleasure.5 In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising that women who choose to be hairless have the most sex.2 However, we don’t know whether women who shave are more sexually active to begin with or if shaving helps a woman to obtain more partners.
How do men feel about women having hair-free genitals? It’s difficult to find research on this topic, but if you look at online forums and message boards asking men for their opinions, you will see a lot of variability. Some men prefer no hair anywhere, others prefer a well-manicured bush or maybe even a “landing strip,” while some prefer a partner who keeps things completely natural. That said, it does seem to be the case that most of these men express a preference for women who at least do some trimming, and part of the reason for this is likely because the number of people having oral sex continues to increase. Some men and women find pubic hair to be an obstacle to performing any type of oral sex. There are also a number of people who see pubic hair and the scents that it traps as being “dirty” and, consequently, prefer smooth skin and the scent of artificial soaps or lotions.
As you can see, female pubic hair removal is indeed common, but it is an incredibly diverse practice. Women who go bare “down there” do so for a variety of reasons, apply different methods, and do it to varying degrees.
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1Kilmer, M. (1982). Genital phobia and depilation. Journal of Hellenic Studies, 102, 104–112.
2Herbenick, D., Schick, V., Reece, M., Sanders, S., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Pubic hair removal among women in the United States: Prevalence, methods, and characteristics. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 3322-3330.
3Toerin, M., & Wilkinson, S. (2004). Exploring the depilation norm: A qualitative questionnaire study of women’s body hair removal. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 1, 69–92.
4Schick, V. (2010). Evulvalution: The portrayal of women’s external genitalia and physique across time and the current Barbie doll ideals. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 1–9.
5Tiggemann, M., & Hodgson, S. (2008). The hairlessness norm extended: Reasons for and predictors of women’s body hair removal at different body sites. Sex Roles, 59, 889–897.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller’s research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.