To Pube or Not to Pube: A Sex and Hygiene Question

A female student walked into my Human Sexuality class with the following pronouncement:  “I just saw some ‘70’s porn this weekend – OMG, the bushes on those women!”

The truth is, a love of bushes didn’t start in the ‘70’s.  Have you ever heard of a merkin?  I didn’t think so.  The only reason I’ve heard of it is that I spent too many hours reading English literature instead of cultivating my bush and auditioning for porn.

A merkin is a pubic wig.  More commonly, a pussy wig.  According to Wikipedia (quoting the Oxford Companion to the Body), it dates back to 1450’s England when it was used primarily for one of three reasons:

  • after having shaved to rid oneself of pubic lice/crabs (UGH!)
  • or to conceal the hair loss and unsightly sores caused by syphilis (AAACCK!!)
  • or if one were simply unlucky enough to have a case of pubic alopecia (…AWWW…)

None of those would have been a very appealing situation at the time, though I suppose a bald snatch was the lesser of three evils.  Apparently crabs and syphilis were rampant in the late Middle Ages.

But getting back to today.  What’s obvious in popular US culture is the very unpopularity of pubic hair.  And lest I somehow missed that, my students’ essays will not let me forget it:

  • “Pubic hair – blech! Dirty and disgusting!”
  • “I was going to go down on her until I saw – OMG!”
  • “I have to manscape or I don’t feel clean!”

Whereupon I feel a responsibility to remind them that few features of the way we have evolved as a species did so for no good reason.  Hair typically has a protective function.  For one thing, both men and women have a pubic bone just above the sex organs.  When people are grinding bone on bone, it can be quite uncomfortable.  But nature has tried to help us out a little.  Women have a soft cushion called the mons pubis (pubic mound) that makes for a gentler landing.  And both sexes grow pubic hair that is meant to serve as a soft little bed of hay.  Think of it as your own private Bethlehem.

Then, composed of mucous membranes as they are, genitalia are also especially vulnerable to disease, much more so than areas that are covered by healthy skin.  Once again, nature has provided:  Hair actually serves as a barrier that can help keep some diseases at bay.

Now what about those pubic lice, you ask?  When my students learn that the lice feast on bacteria in pubic hair and hence are usually found there, they say, “But I shave, so that means I won’t get them, right?”  And for a moment I just gaze fondly upon their innocent little faces.  Then I have to tell them the ugly truth:  “Yes, BUT…”

The “yes” is because it’s true that they have removed the primary food source for the lice, so the likelihood of getting those has gone down.  The “BUT” is more diabolical.  Because when they shave or wax, they create tiny little wounds at each of the hair follicles.  And what can get into those wounds?  Just about every other STD, most of them worse than a case of lice that can be eliminated with a special shampoo.

To understand this, here is just a brief lesson in epidemiology.  For a disease to transmit (e.g., to you), several phenomena must be present:

  1. You have to be exposed to the Reservoir (where the pathogen, meaning the disease-causing microorganism, lives). In the case of an STD, that means a member of the human population who carries it.
  2. There has to be a Mode of Transmission, meaning the way the pathogen gets passed to you. A cold virus can be inhaled, dysentery is passed through contaminated water, and STDs transmit via acts of sex.
  3. You must have a Portal of Entry, meaning an opening that the pathogen enters. Those include getting into the bloodstream (e.g., through a wound, or directly into a vein via sharing needles), from a pregnant woman to her child (i.e., sharing blood), and those vulnerable mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes, urethra, vagina, anus).
  4. Then, and only then, might you become a new Host.

OK, so imagine that you have sex with someone (mmm…) who has an STD that you, and maybe even they, don’t know about (errrr…)

Reservoir – √

Mode of Transmission – √

Even if you do use a condom (and I hope you do), if you have waxed or shaved, you still have hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny little WHAT?

Portals of Entry – √√√ !!!

That doesn’t mean you definitely will become a Host.  But it certainly means you might.  And believe me, HPV that can cause cancer is a whole lot worse than a case of crabs.  So are chlamydia and gonorrhea that can make you sterile; herpes that you would have for the rest of your life; and syphilis and HIV that can literally take your life.

By the way, those of us who sported our naturals in the ‘70’s didn’t get everything right.  We were so thrilled with the pill that we kind of forgot about using condoms.  I’m embarrassed to say, our lapse has been a contributing factor in some of the STD epidemics of today.  And in fairness to the hair-phobic younger generation, oral sex has become much more popular than it was when we were letting our freak flags fly.

So just two last points:

  1. The good news is, you can still trim. “Manscape” or “vagscape” come from “landscape,” not “moonscape.” We like a little neat foliage decorating our yards, right?
  1. For oral sex, there is also this phenomenon called bathing. It has a lot more to do with cleanliness than a little bit of hair does.

Next up:  Are you bathing your sexy parts the way your mother taught you?  Or the proper way?

70's bush

 “Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair,

Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there (hair) shoulder length or longer…”

156 thoughts on “To Pube or Not to Pube: A Sex and Hygiene Question

  1. To pube,or not to pube. What an interesting concept we don’t think about
    very often. Personally I feel more comfortable with a little less hair. But
    it feels awkward being bald. Like a penguin. I guess there’s a happy
    medium. I’m guilty of going by today’s societal norms. Time to break down
    the wall.


  2. I loved this article! The title of it is what got me interested, because it is a question that ponders alot of people. Pubes should not be frown upon, and constant shaving or waxing must not be good for you. This stigma that women should be bare where we are almost barbie look is insane! Especially for my generation, it is considered gross or unhygienic to have hair anywhere on the body unfavorable to men.


  3. Wow this article really caught my attention and was very interesting!! I’m glad you wrote a blog on this, so now I’m not as shy or I don’t feel less confident about my pubes. In todays society its all about the porn we see today ands it a huge misconception on how the girls and guys in these ports are portrayed. Thanks once again for this blog!


    • And guess what! Apparently pubic hair is making somewhat of a comeback! A friend of mine who is a sex therapist and has a young adult daughter told me, and it so happened we were at a spa – and there it was right next to us as we were talking about it, a young woman with a full bush, just like the 70’s! I guess it’s really true that everything comes back around. 😉


  4. I wonder if the businesses of those brazilian waxing spots would decrease if more people knew about the benefits of having pubic hair.


  5. I had no idea that we evolved pubic hair to make sex more comfortable because it cushions the bone to bone friction. Also it’s crazy to see the progress that’s been made and how different we feel about public hair today versus in the 1450’s.


  6. I never knew what purpose pubic hair served! I knew there was a reason but I only heard of attracting a mate and possibly keeping the genitals warm.
    Glad to know they’re more helpful than they seem!


  7. Hair is looked at as being disgusting and girls are taught from a young age that we have to shave because then we are just like the boys. It is very natural and I think it all comes down to preference. Women should choose to do whatever is most comfortable for them.


  8. Once a month I have dinner with all of my nieces (ages 18-25) and we talk about everything and anything. There is nothing we do not talk about. This was a huge discussion and lots of laughter about 3 months ago. Between the 7 of us, the breakdown was 3 natural with bikini line cleaned up, 2 with very trimmed and shaved bikini line (but there is pubic hair present), and 2 that are completely bald (Brazilian waxed religiously). When the question of why the choice, the answer was basically the same. “It’s what I like or want or prefer.”


  9. This was a great blog entry, at least in my opinion. I loved reading how there was lice and syphilis roaming through the Middle Ages, I was so mind blown. I never anticipated STD’s being evident around those times. I chuckled at the pubic wigs because I had no idea that those even existed! Now I know that pubic hair does indeed serve a person, and a quite significant one might I add. Truly interesting topic!


  10. This was such a fun and interesting article to read, I had never previously thought about how important pubes can be to our health. They really do serve a purpose and more people should embrace it, it’s only natural.


  11. This was such a fun and interesting article, I very much enjoyed learning about the merkin. I didn’t even know STIs went as far back as the Middle Ages. I do believe that people should start embracing and accepting pubic hair to be normal and perfectly fine.


  12. It’s interesting to know that pubic hair is more than just hair that grows in that area and has functions that help protect our area. Most of us are influenced by society to view our pubic hair as something undesirable and we tend to get rid of it because it’s seem as the “norm” but we should be able to choose what grooming preference we like.


  13. I never knew pubic hair had some part in cushioning our parts during sex. It was interesting learning how these ideas on pubic hair can affect our sexual health. I always thought that without hair you couldn’t get things like crabs but turns out it can be just as bad. You can do what you want with your pubic area hair but a little hair never hurt nobody.


  14. To be honest, a little hair ain’t ever hurt nobody. The health benefits to having pubic hair wins by a landslide, I ditch the uncomfortable shaving positions, crouching and razor bumps. Just trim the bush and you’ll be fine.


  15. I always learn new things from your article professor! I have never known that shaving public hair increase risk of STDs. As a Chinese female, we don’t mind public hair. In our culture, some Chinese don’t shave the private parts of their body, and some Chinese men don’t like women to shave their public hair. However, I came to US when I was 15 years old. I was influenced by some American cultural, so I have tried to shave them before, but I found it very uncomfortable. It is interesting to me how public hair is viewed in two different cultures.


  16. I find it so interesting to see how the opinion of public hair has changed throughout history. It switched from being appealing, to unappealing now. And I don’t see that opinion changing any time soon. I know plenty of women my age who prefer to shave before sex. “Less is more.” I guess I have to send them this article then!


  17. I think it’s really interesting that so many people nowadays are grossed out by pubic hair. I think it’s natural, but sometimes I do feel more comfortable manscaping. However, I don’t think it’s necessary all the time to do so. This post is so informative about how to protect yourself from STD’s just by letting pubic hair do its job.


  18. This article is phenomenal! In this erain America most women and some men do not like hair in our private parts. I personally do not keep hair just because I do not like to be itchy. Hair is beautiful and yes it serves a purpose for it to even grow there. Some men rather a women with a bush or a landing trail. I say shave if you feel like it. I enjoy your articles.


  19. I find it interesting the way that society’s thoughts on pubic hair has changed over time. I never knew what merkins were until reading this article, which brought to my attention that a possible reason as to why I have never heard of it is due to the fact that in today’s norms, being shaved is what “everyone is doing”. After reading through this article and learning about the purposes of pubic hairs, I think that it is important for both men and women to know the risks that can come along with being hair-free, but also important to know that it comes down to personal preference and putting safety first along with that. I enjoyed reading this article and learning things that I did not know before.


  20. The biggest question I had before I ever had sexual intercourse, was exactly this. Do I shave off my cube hairs or not, is it going to bother my partner? But I followed the norms of society as a way to play it save and I shaved. It becomes a big headache to shave almost every other day, causing bumps and small cuts that now if I don’t shave before having sex I am fine with it and my partner is too. I really think more people should read this post or have a better understanding of pubic hair because it really is a natural thing that comes with its good and its bad as well as completely shaving or waxing.


  21. Your writing is simply amazing! Its fun yet very informative! It defenitly keeps me coming back! merkin…. lol! can’t wait to read the rest of your articles. =0 Glad Ms Naluce introduced me to your site!


  22. As a woman I know that to many of us, pubic hair has become almost unfathomable and we try to avoid it as much as possible. It has become a norm within our generation to have a clean vag. Why? Because we are told (through social norms) that a clean vag = a pretty vag. We are made to think that our partner will only feel sexually attracted to us if we are “well groomed”. Thanks for the insightful article!


  23. so great you’re breaking down some stigmas about pubic hair!! shaving IS NOT a necessity and you certainly don’t need to shave to have a good time having sex. Everyone has preferences but that shouldn’t mean you dont have options


  24. Very informative and interesting! I had no idea that pubic hair was actually beneficial for some stds because they help with the bacteria. I also had no idea that back in the 1450s in England that there were pussy wigs! Crazy to see the through process and what is popular in different eras.


  25. I found this topic to be extremely interesting, especially as a female. I read an article not too long ago that correlates with this idea. This article stated that instagram removed a picture of two women that had pubic hair coming out from the sides of their bathing suits. Many people were apparently very disturbed with the picture. Our society has completely changed when it comes to how woman should have their pubic hairs or lack there of. The picture did not violate any of instagrams terms, it did not have any nudity or pornography. It was more of an image that did not meet society’s standards of what femininity is.


  26. I have never heard of a Merkin before! That’s so crazy how time has changed and now people want a clean-cut partner than a “bush.” I think i’ll stick with nowadays norms than the 1450’s era, I can’t imagine wearing a wig down there!!!


  27. The fact that you referred to pubic hair as a tiny bed of hay and a “private Bethlehem” was amazing, I loved everything about this. And I didn’t know that we can get STD’s through the hair follicle wounds!


  28. “Tiny bed of hay”
    “Freak flags fly”

    Reading this made me chuckle. I love the lingo. As for the content, I must admit I didn’t realize how much protection pubic hair provided. Personally, I am pretty self-conscious about mine. Not so much the intimate areas, but my inner thighs. I’m a pretty dark-haired gal and possibly more hairy than most. I’ve always told my mom I have more hair on one armpit than she has on her whole body. I might just consider having a pubic catharsis every now and then to soak up the benefits.


  29. I still find it interesting that certain parts of our body are found disgusting or even unnecessary to have by people but like you said; it’s necessary for us to stay healthy (for example: Our pubic hair).


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