A recent study on feminine “grooming” of the genital area startled many not only because it suggested the practice was more widespread than previously believed but also because a majority of respondents reported they did so for “hygienic reasons.”
In the nationally representative sample of American women age 18-65, 62 percent reported having removed all of their pubic hair at least once, with smaller percentages reporting they had done so on more than one occasion, according to the study published June 29 in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
Younger women (aged 18-24) were far more likely to report grooming than women 45 or older. Groomers were also more likely to be white, with at least some college education. No links were found correlating to income, relationship status or geographic location.
“The new JAMA study confirms how widespread the practice of ‘grooming’ the female pubic area is,” said Dr. Cheryl B. Iglesia, professor of obstetrics-gynecology and urology at Georgetown University School of Medicine. “It is such a common practice that many people think it is normal to be hairless.”
Younger people appear to be driving this trend, with a smaller study of both male and female college students published last year in The Journal of Sexual Medicinefinding that 95 percent “had removed their pubic hair at least once in the past four weeks.” In that study, women were more much likely to report their typical status as hair-free (50 percent versus 19 percent). Though sexual activity appeared to play a role, with 60 percent of male respondents saying they prefer a hair-free sexual partner (as opposed to 24 percent of women), female respondents were more likely to associate grooming with “feelings of cleanliness, comfort, sex appeal and social norms of their peer group.”
In the JAMA study, 59 percent of respondents cited “health and hygiene” as their motivation for hair removal. But Iglesia said it is important to note that “there is nothing more hygienic about groomed pubic hair. In fact, as an obstetrician-gynecologist I have seen grooming-related cases of folliculitis and staph infections.”
Indeed, more than half of all female groomers have experienced “at least one health complication because of the removal,” according to a 2014 study in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Epidermal abrasion and ingrown hairs were cited as the most common complaint in that study of 333 women age 16-40 who received care at two publicly funded clinics. The JAMA study reported abscesses, lacerations, allergic reactions to waxing and and vulvar and vaginal infections as other possible complications.