To shave or not to shave
While searching for an original undergraduate research topic for one of my classes, I figured that female pubic hair shaving tendencies on college campuses would be too taboo of a subject for researchers to have touched upon. This made it seem like a golden opportunity; such an intimate subject dealt with on a regular basis, especially on college campuses as young women discover their sexual identities and as fully shaven seems to become the increasingly accepted norm.
Unfortunately, a quick Google search informed me that I was a few months too late. University of California, Santa Barbara undergraduate Jessica Moore just came out with her research project, “Talking about Pub(L)ic Hair: Pubic Hair Removal Practices of College Women,” earlier this year. Although I was a little upset that my idea had already been done, her research certainly makes for some worthwhile material to share.
In basic terms, the current perceived standard on college campuses is for females to be hairless. Pubic hair is now largely seen as repulsive and unhygienic, a dramatic shift from its earlier significance as a sign of maturity. Critics of this trend argue that a hairless vagina is a reflection of “porn culture” as the idealized naked woman is often portrayed as hairless at least in mainstream pornography. This is said to emphasize the eroticism of the area for male pleasure, somewhat objectifying women and eliminating the area’s notions of romance and sanctity. It is even argued that the male preference for the hairless look is somewhat of a reflection of a pre-teen fetish.
Although these criticisms of shaving practices are somewhat valid, Moore discovers that they may be too one-sided. Her main premise is that, “while the growth of pubic hair is a biological marker of maturity, its removal is a marker of social maturity.” Moore argues that hair removal is a form of purposeful body modification, and the reasons and significance behind it are much more complex than a simple submission to men’s desires. For example, many women remove their hair for the first time due to the norms set by friends and family, regardless of any consideration of potential sexual encounters. It has become somewhat of a rite of passage, a way for women to assert their femininity and make conscious decisions over the way in which they want their bodies to be regardless of who sees them.
In environments prone to sexual promiscuity, Moore finds that women have started using pubic hair as a sort of regulation practice, occasionally declining to shave as a means of avoiding unwanted hook-ups. Hair is especially important in this kind of casual hook-up scene, as the desirability involved is mainly based on appearances, and being unshaven poses a greater risk when the man has less overall factors to base his attraction to the woman on.
Through some of my own findings on campus, it appears that hair removal practices largely depend on whom the woman expects to be having sexual encounters with. For example, a girl who gravitates toward fraternity members might put extra emphasis on hair removal because she acknowledges that a sexual encounter is potential fodder for brotherly conversation. (She does not want her pubic hair to be something that characterizes this future evaluation.) A girl in a relationship, on the other hand, is more likely to do whatever she feels comfortable with or perhaps inquire as to what her significant other prefers and do that by choice to please him and make herself feel good about doing so.
Although hair-free is the perceived standard, we have to acknowledge that each relationship or sexual encounter between two people can have a standard of its own. There is no universal norm, and hair removal therefore cannot be seen as right or wrong. It is simply, as Moore emphasizes, another way of having control over an aspect of your body, and what you decide to do with that control is up to you. And for the men reading this article, try and respect the woman’s decisions. Our society’s cultural norms aren’t everything, and if you were Italian you probably wouldn’t mind finding hair down there at all.