Razor wars, or why everyone you know is shaving their pubic hair

From being healthy to being hip, the evolution of public hair maintenance 

VANCOUVER (CUP) — It was death by Brazilian. After exerting its dominance over human genitalia for millennia, pubic lice wasn’t killed by insecticides or chemical balms — it was killed by our own vanity.

(Courtesy of Kim Pringle / The Ubyssey)

(Courtesy of Kim Pringle / The Ubyssey)

Bloomberg announced earlier this month that in reaching for the wax en masse, we had effectively eliminated the bloodsuckers’ natural habitat. With nowhere to live, they rarely show their microscopic faces in health clinics these days, doctors say.

It’s not the first time genital grooming has worked to fend off pubic lice. In the Middle Ages, affluent men and women depilated their sexy parts to do just that. The only difference is, this time, we did it by accident.

Today, the approximately 80 per cent of college students who remove some or all of their pubic hair rarely do so for hygienic reasons. The number one reason women trim, wax or shave is because they want to look good in a bathing suit, reports a 2010 study conducted by UBC researchers Lenore Riddell, et. al.

According to the Bloomberg report, “ever-shrinking bikinis” are indeed to blame for the Brazilian, the wax treatment that removes all but a thin strip of pubic hair. As legend has it, a beauty salon run by seven Brazilian sisters was the first to turn New Yorkers on to the hot wax technique. The “Brazilian” later gained international attention after it was referenced in an episode of Sex and the City.

[pullquote]”Pubic lice wasn’t killed by insecticides or chemical balms — it was killed by our own vanity.”[/pullquote]

Although they may like to view themselves as trendsetters, all those Brazilian- loving New Yorkers were preceded by their neighbours to the west: Los Angeles porn stars. A full bush was common in 1980s Playboy, and erotic dancers reportedly performed wearing pubic wigs called merkins to comply with laws banning full nudity. But it is rare to find even so much as the Brazilian’s signature “landing strip” in today’s Internet porn.

It’s a phenomenon that has led some researchers to theorize that women who remove their pubic hair are striving for a “porn aesthetic.” In her 2009 article “Pubic Hair and Sexuality: A Review,” Scottish researcher Sara Ramsay suggests that the link between complete pubic hair removal and pornography “has led to a perception that bare genitals are more erotic.”

Becki Ross, UBC sociology professor, said the popularization of pubic hair maintenance can be compared to genital piercing, labiaplasty (surgically altering the vaginal lips) and vajazzling (bejeweling the vulva or pubic area).

“Behind it is this ideology of self-improvement,” Ross said.

Although such body modification treatments have often been criticized as promoting objectification and misogyny, Ross suggests pubic hair removal can be sexually liberating for many women.

Today’s bare vulvas represent a “symbolic shift” in how society perceives this body part, she said. Whereas it was once seen as a source of a fishy smell best douched with Lysol (true story), it is today seen as a site of beauty and honour.

“If somebody can work their vagina to make it appear beautiful to them and they feel beautiful about it, aren’t beautiful things then going to accrue?” she said.

Moreover, many women say a hairless vulva is a recipe for more and/or better orgasms, particularly during oral sex and heavy petting.

“This is about trying to get in touch with one’s own sexual possibilities,” said Ross. “Why whack through the bush, if you will, if you can get there on a slightly smoother path?”

Although much of literature and discussion around pubic hair removal is female-focused, men do partake in genital grooming. A 2008 study by Australian researcher Yolanda Martins et. al. found that more than 82 per cent of homosexual men and 66 per cent of heterosexual men remove their pubic hair at least once in their lives.

Ross said men are likely removing their pubic hair for the same reasons as women: to feel sexually empowered or more attractive, or simply to have better sex.

But certainly not to remove pubic lice.

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