It can be challenging for girls and women to learn how to relate to their bodies because there are so few resources available to adequately guide us.
Before we get any further, I want to clarify that pubic hair grows on and around your vulva, not the vagina. The vagina is internal.
While I can’t tell you what you should do with your pubic hair (in fact, no one should tell you what to do with your body), I can give you some information to help you make an informed decision. So, to shave or not to shave? Here are five things to consider.
1. More than half of young women remove their pubic hair
One study of young Australian women found 60% of them removed some of their pubic hair, compared with 96% who regularly removed their leg and underarm hair. While removing pubic hair is becoming more common, it is still not as typical as removing leg and underarm hair.
This might tell us something about the social pressures we face when it comes to our body hair: the more visible the hair, the more likely we are to remove it. Social norms about body hair can sometimes make choice feel impossible.
But there is also a growing wave of young women taking to social media to talk back to these pressures. They celebrate our natural diversity and difference, and embrace their relationships with body hair.
2. It’s fashion
Just as the hair on our head is subject to changing fashions and trends, so too is pubic hair. Over the past few decades, women’s pubic hair has undergone dramatic refashioning.
Fashions range from the full bush in the 1970s to the “Brazilian” in the 1990s, to a more recent move towards complete hairlessness, aided by new technologies such as laser hair removal. Remember, behind our beauty work sits an entire industry that profits from our insecurities.
3. Pubes and porn
Popular culture is influential in how we think about the female body. With the growing availability of pornography, young people increasingly see it as a “normal” representation of how people have sex. Perhaps you’ve looked at porn before and thought, wow, is that what I should do and what I should look like while doing it?
Remember, porn is a performance and is highly stylised. It does not reflect our “real”, non-Photoshop world. For example, one of the many reasons that porn tends to show women without pubic hair is that it allows the camera to capture graphic shots.
4. Sex, STIs and shaving
Some studies suggest shaving pubic hair may increase the risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection. One reason is that shaving can cause micro-tears in the top layer of the skin, which can lead to bacterial buildup and transmission. More research is needed to substantiate these claims.
If you do shave, use a mirror so you can see what you’re doing, and take extra care around the outer lips of your vulva where cuts are more common. Make sure your razor is clean and use warm water. Alternatively, you can trim the hair, or wax (while this prolongs hair regrowth it may present other health risks such as infection).
5. Demanding bodily autonomy
We are raised to think of our vulvas as our “private parts”, belonging purely to ourselves. The world around us comes to influence what we do and feel about our bodies. What we do with our hair is no different.
Hair has always been a site for political intervention: whether it’s the military exercising discipline by shaving men’s hair, or the “body police” mandating that body hair is less acceptable on women than it is on men. To dictate what someone does with their hair is to take away their bodily autonomy.
One of the ways to assert control over our own bodies is to recognise that the ideas and practices available to us as girls and women are often so habitual that they’re rarely questioned. Considering how some young women are renegotiating femininity might be a good start. From there, you can negotiate which practices best suit your values and beliefs, which may change over time.