By Lauren Streicher, MD
Changing trends in hairstyles are not limited to the hair on your head. As a gynecologist, I get a firsthand view of what’s trendy when it comes to pubic hair. Today, less is more, and many women that I see alter their pubic hair in some way, whether it’s just a trim or complete removal. But sparse pubic hair wasn’t always the style.
During the 15th century, abundant pubic hair was a sign of not only sexuality, but also good health. If someone had a Brazilian in 1450, it wasn’t an indication that they had just been to the beach, but that they had a sexually transmitted disease. Syphilis was the STD du jour, and the only treatment was mercury injections, which had the nasty side effect of making your hair fall out. All of it. If you were lucky enough to escape syphilis, you probably contracted pubic lice. And without the option of stocking up on anti-lice shampoo from the corner drugstore, you would simply shave everything off. Enter the merkin: pubic hair wigs that men and women pasted on to hide their vaginal baldness due to syphilis or lice. Today, some women remove hair for religious reasons, and many say that baldness increases sensation during sex. But most simply prefer the way it looks.
But, I’m a gynecologist, not a stylist, so I’m going to focus on the medical aspects. First, what’s the function of pubic hair? Before central heating, pubic hair kept the genitals warm. The obvious advantage of warm genitals is that people would be more likely to take their clothes off, and men would be more likely to maintain an erection. Evolutionarily, the other function of hair was to draw attention to the genitals. (Evidently, it is not just modern men who seem to need a map to ensure they are heading in the right direction.) Pubic hair also decreases friction during intercourse, and I’ve seen some pretty nasty “rug burn” from rubbing while bare.
But if you do choose to lose the pubes, there’s a multi-million dollar industry that has evolved surrounding pubic fashion, and there is no shortage of options. Waxing, shaving, electrolysis, clipping, chemical depilatories and laser removal are all at your disposal, but is there a best way? Keep in mind that, with the exception of clipping, some red bumps commonly result no matter what method is used, particularly in African American women. Professional waxing and electrolysis result in the least amount of irritation, allergies or complications, but can be expensive … not to mention painful. Many women use a topical anesthetic (Emla cream, available by prescription) to reduce the agony.
But before choosing a permanent method of hair removal, such as electrolysis, keep in mind that next year, the bush may be in style again, and you may be forced to invest in a modern-day merkin.