(V Is For Vagina)

Is Pubic Hair The Latest Form Of Self-Expression? Experts Say Yes

Let it grow.

By Morgan Mandriota

Similar to the clothes you wear and the haircut and color you rock, how a person styles their pubic hair has the power to influence their perception of self. Whereas one woman might feel her sexiest with untrimmed pubes, another feels her best with a fresh bikini wax or sugaring treatment. But how does the media, the patriarchy, partner preferences, sexual shame, and all other mixed messages surrounding the appearance of vaginas impact pubic hair grooming trends? And what do our personal choices ultimately mean for our confidence?

First off, it’s important to note that pubic hair trends have changed over the years (read: decades). According to Gillette Venus’ senior product research scientist Elizabeth Compo, internal studies indicate that 80% of 18 to 34-year-old adults and 64% of 35 to 49-year-old adults remove pubic hair in the United States. The most interesting stat of all? Fifty percent of U.S. females who groom their pubic area remove most or all their hair. ICYMI: Half of all women in the United States remove most of their pubes!

This hasn’t always been the case, though. “Pubic hair removal and styles come and go with the times, much like eyebrow shapes,” says board-certified dermatologist Joyce Park, MD, on behalf of Schick Hydro Silk. Yes, full bushes were popular in the ‘70s, followed by the rise of the Brazilian in the ‘80s. A person’s reasons for shaving, waxing, trimming, or growing range in nature, depending on the season, comfort preferences, and/or partner’s turn ons, too. “Oftentimes, for summer, people choose to trim or remove pubic hair so it is not visible outside of the bikini area. Others may want to remove it due to personal cosmetic preference in and out of the bedroom,” she adds.

Now, pubic hair management is becoming a consistent habit for folks with social distancing guidelines easing up and increased opportunities to fulfill their pandemic-induced hunger for human connection. Dr. Park has noticed that after emerging from a year of quarantine, many of her patients are interested in pubic hair removal as their social (and sexual) calendars rev up again. Co-owner of Serenity Women's Health & MedSpa Tamika K. Cross, MD, FACOG tells TZR that she’s experienced a boost in business as well. “People are getting back into their routines, getting ready for this summer, and preparing to travel more, [so] I’m definitely seeing women come in after a long time to get these services.”

But not *everyone* is running out the door to go get waxed. More folks are leaning into natural hair growth and embracing their pubic hair more than ever. The reasons are unique to each person, but many give thanks to the body positivity movement as well as identity and style changes from pandemic-induced quarantine and social isolation. The result is a renewed feeling of comfort in one’s own skin, with less irritation, stubble, and razor burn, enjoying trims instead of full removal, not wanting to spend time and money on frequent services, etc. The list of “whys” behind women opting to grow rather than remove is endless but primarily lies in personal preference and empowerment.

In short (or long), pubes come in all different colors, lengths, and styles. So, how does a person’s style impact their confidence? TZR spoke with female-identifying and non-binary individuals about their pubic hair preferences and what their down-there hair style of choice over the years means for their identity and self-esteem. Below, we share their experiences that run the gamut from enjoying putting up a middle finger to the patriarchy to thriving in owning their gender and sexuality.

Breaking Free From Societal Pressure

Female bodies have been controlled, manipulated, and over-sexualized for, well, basically ever. “Shave your entire body so there’s no hair on your arms, armpits, legs, or pubic area.” “Have at least a little bit of hair down there so I know I’m banging an adult.” Another example: Pubic hair in porn. Most pubic areas and vaginas are typically shown completely hairless, with pubic hair serving as more of a fetish than a sense of empowerment or personal preference.

What’s a female to do in a world of conflicting standards and mixed messages? Answer: Whatever they want. In a society where people with vaginas are shamed for their sexuality, growing pubic hair can serve as an act of defiance. “When I was younger, I felt obligated to shave because the patriarchy was like ‘be a naked grown baby but also be sexy.’ Now I do whatever the f*ck I want, and it’s liberating,” says Layla, 25, from New York.

Tawny, 35, in New York used to shave her pubic area completely bald for similar reasons. “I thought that's how it was supposed to look. Hollywood shows women as completely hairless as the only option and pubic hair as a punchline,” she says. “I dealt with razor burn, rashes, and ingrown hairs all for the male gaze.” Once she finally asked herself how she wanted her pubes to look, she realized that she didn’t care about its appearance (and has been sporting a full bush with zero apologies ever since). “Pubic hair, like the hair on our heads, should be about choice. We should wear it however we want without unwanted projections of how it ‘should' look.”

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Pleasing A Partner

According to a 2016 study published in JAMA Dermatology about women’s pubic hair preferences, they found that out of 3,372 women, 21.1% reported grooming their pubes to their partner’s liking. So, if their partner enjoys a fresh shave, they’re more likely to pursue hair removal, and vice versa. After all, who doesn’t feel good when pleasing their partner?

Gabby, 27, from Connecticut confirms that it turns her on to make style adjustments knowing it turns on her partner. “When I’m single, I usually sculpt the hair into a landing strip-esque design because it keeps me from getting uncomfortable ingrown [hairs] around my labia while also preventing any pubes from sneaking out of the shortie CrossFit shorts I wear while I exercise. But when I’m in a relationship (I’m monogamous!), I’m more than happy to alter my pubic hair based on their preference and what turns them on,” she adds.

But other times, pubic hair preference means nothing for a person’s confidence. For example, although Gabby enjoys pleasing her partner(s), she notes that she has absolutely no attachment to her pubic hair. “I’ve spent a long time thinking about whether or not internalized cis-het patriarchy and narrow ass beauty standards have contributed to my view points on pubic hair, but honestly, I don’t think they have. I genuinely don’t give a flying frick-frack what my pubes look like,” she says.

Embracing Your Sexuality

For some folks, certain pubic hair preferences inspire them to feel hotter and more confident than others. Kelly, 31, notes her sexual and self-confidence boosts when she’s hairless. “I just hate the feeling of stubble and I don't feel confident with a lot of hair down there. I feel much better and ready to have sex when I'm shaved."

On the other hand, Rebecca, 28, from New York says her trimmed landing strip makes her “feel like a sexy woman.” Layla adds that sometimes she intuitively removes her hair when she feels like being “naked and free” but she also loves letting it grow. “When I shave a landing strip, that makes me most confident. I’m like ‘Oh, hello, sexy!’”

Feeling Healthier

Some women choose to remove their hair due to vaginal health concerns. But this is a common misconception surrounding pubic hair. Pubic hair is more hygienic than you may think, as long as you prioritize your vaginal health and wash the area (vulva) frequently. (I mean, our bodies must grow it for a reason!) However, they do have a tendency to trap sweat and other bodily fluids, which *can* lead to stronger odors that have the potential to affect your confidence during sex.

Feeling (read: smelling) unhygienic was actually the reason Rebecca started to remove her pubic hair. “I used to not shave at all but then once I started menstruating, I noticed more of an odor during that time. Then I went totally bald for a long time. When I got into my late 20s, that’s when I started with a landing strip that I style by razor.” This style change has improved her self-confidence inside and out of the bedroom during all points in her menstrual cycle.

Playing With Your Gender Identity

Pubic hair can be used as a way to affirm your identity or achieve a sense of gender euphoria. "As a non-binary person, I find that growing out my pubic hair enables me to play with my gender and sensuality," says Jesse, 28, from Colorado. "Sometimes, having pubes makes me feel feminine, [then] I want to shave it all off and have a blank slate to recreate and grow however I want. The freedom of self-expression is really validating and fun."

Ultimately, the decision to remove your pubic hair or let it grow boils down to personal style, self-expression, and how the two make you feel inside and outside of the bedroom. Instead of a “right” or “wrong” answer here, consider disregarding all external messages of what you’re “supposed” to do and doing whatever makes you feel as confident and sexy as possible instead — whether that means rocking a bush, a landing strip, or no hair at all.