It’s a very prickly topic…
For years, beauticians, friends and glossy magazines have schooled us in the maintenance and removal of pubic hair.
And whether you wax, pluck, shave, laser or even vajazzle, most of us are guilty of spending an inordinate amount of time and money grooming our downstairs area – and for what? The majority of the time we’re left with rashy, irritated skin rather than the smooth, hairless look we’re promised.
Although a whopping 87 per cent of women remove their pubic hair, it turns out getting rid of it is not as hygienic as we’ve been lead to believe. New research, combined with a wave of doctors who are pleading with women to end the war on public hair, are starting to unshackle the theory that ‘less is best’…
But isn’t pubic hair basically pointless?
Pubic hair is the darker, coarser hair that develops after the sex hormones in the body rise during puberty. But apart from indicating adolescent hormones are present, the unwanted curlies do serve a purpose. The added hair acts as a cushion against friction to help lower the chance of skin abrasion and injury, and, for women, pubic hair has the same protective function as cilia do for the nose and lashes do for our eyes: it reduces the amount of bacteria and dirt that enters the vagina.
Consultant gynaecologist Hugh Byrne further explains pubic hair was created to “absorb moisture and drain it away from the areas that aren’t exposed”, aka, keeping nasties away.
So why did we start removing it?
Surprisingly, the removal of pubic hair has been around for far longer than you’d think. According to The Oxford Companion To The Body, women began to wax their hair as early at the 1450s to combat pubic lice. In fact, in some Middle Eastern countries, the practise is considered proper hygiene and has been instructed for centuries.
However going hair free down below didn’t become a global trend until the porn industry took off in the 1990s, introducing us to fur free women as the new norm. Nowadays, the hair removal market is estimated to be worth more than $2.1 billion in the US alone.
But what damage can removing a few pubic hairs really do?
While removing a few hairs may seem harmless, research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology shows 60 per cent of women who are doing so tolerate at least one health complication because of it, most commonly epidermal abrasions (cuts to the skin) and ingrown hairs.
The report also stated the rate of waxing pubic regions among women has coincided with an increase in severe skin irritation, infection and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Pretty crazy to think a little grooming could do so much damage.
And that’s just the beginning…
Waxing and shaving our vah-jay-jays can leave the area with microscopic open wounds, which not only allow STIs and other bacteria to enter the body, but also cause a wide variety of uncomfortable complications, according to family physician, Dr Emily Gibson.
“Pubic hair removal naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles left behind. When that irritation is combined with the warm moist environment of the genitals, it becomes a happy culture medium for some of the nastiest of bacterial pathogens, namely group A streptococcus, staphylococcus aureus and its recently mutated cousin methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus,” explains Gibson.
“There is an increase in staph boils and abscesses, necessitating incisions to drain the infections, resulting in scarring that can be significant. It is not at all unusual to find pustules and other hair-follicle inflammation papules on [hair-free] genitals.”
While it’s easy to underestimate these boils and infections, their presence can have severe consequences. Back in 2007, an Australian woman nearly died from an infection she contracted from a Brazilian wax. In 2009, after two women spent time in hospital from infections they received from the same treatment, the state of New Jersey considered banning them altogether. Surgeons have also seen a staggering growth in surgical site infections when hair is removed before operating.
Adding insult to injury, surveys show we spend a whopping $23,000 and approximately two months of our lives getting rid of our bushes. Going au naturale is starting to sound awfully good.
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Comments: Will all this talk of STIs and pus-filled boils stop you from removing your pubic hair?