BY REBECCA RUIZ
JUL 02, 2016
We live in a brave new world, ladies.
A woman is on the brink of capturing a major party’s presidential nomination for the first time in history and the Supreme Court just definitively ruled to protect abortion rights.
Yet, if it seems that gender equality is within our collective grasp, consider the surprising results from a JAMA Dermatology study released Thursday.
A nationally representative survey of 3,316 women found that 84% of respondents groom their pubic hair. While that’s not a shocker, the survey discovered that half of women perform this ritual because they believe it makes their genitals look more attractive or because their partner prefers it.
Here’s another way to think about it: While women are becoming increasingly vocal in fighting the various stigmas attached to sexuality — rape, abortion, orientation and identity — they still endure quiet shame about their basic anatomy.
“I am concerned that women are pressured into body modification that carries risk, time and expense.”
That pressure can come from anywhere, including women who boast about their Brazilians and men who’ve grown up watching internet porn and swear they’ve never seen a woman’s body adorned with pubic hair.
Dr. Tami Rowen, an assistant professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and lead author of the study, told Mashable that she doesn’t judge women who trim, wax, shave and laser their pubic hair, but she believes the practice comes with literal and figurative costs.
“I am concerned that women are pressured into body modification that carries risk, time and expense,” she said in an email.
Rowen also worries that women think manicuring is important for hygiene, which isn’t true.
Though 59% of survey respondents cited hygiene as their primary motivation, pubic hair is actually believed to prevent infection by creating a protective barrier between bacteria and sensitive skin and genitals.
While some men certainly feel pressure to tame their pubic hair, a 2012 study published in Urology found that 57% of the patients who visit the emergency room grooming-related injuries are women. Moreover, those accidents happen primarily to teenagers and young women; one-half of patients were between 19 and 28 years old and more than a quarter were 18 and younger.
Rowen said shaving is the riskiest method, causing lacerations, abscesses and hair follicle inflammation. Waxing has similar risks, in addition to causing burns. Using a laser to remove hair can be safe, though may also result in burns.
If women want to style their pubic hair and avoid these risks, Rowen suggests using scissors to clip it without getting too close to the skin. That, however, might not be enough for those who prefer to go completely bald, or feel that look is their only choice.
In Rowen’s study, 20% of the respondents had removed all of their hair more than 11 times. For women worried they should give in and sport the so-called Barbie doll look, rest assured: you’re not alone in having at least a little pubic hair. More than half of all women in the study had never denuded their pubic area, or had only removed all of their hair less than five times.
The survey participants, who were more likely to groom if they were younger, white and more educated, also said they tended to their pubic hair for vacation, to make oral and anal sex easier, and even for healthcare appointments.
“This finding suggests that women are self-conscious about their appearance even in nonsocial settings,” Rowen and her co-authors wrote. “Thus, any exposure to her genital area may drive a woman to groom, even when the health care professional is an unbiased professional providing medical care.”
Rowen, an obstetrician and gynecologist, told Mashable that women shouldn’t feel it’s necessary to shape, strip or clip their pubic hair before seeing their doctor.
Ultimately, she said, women should feel free to continue grooming if it makes them happy and doesn’t result in injury.
“But I think if they have complications then they should consider how important this is to them, and think about their motivations, especially if it’s partner pressure,” she said. “I think we need to start talking about not just complications, but also the time, expense and pain that many of these practices result in.”