I just came upon a really well-written and interesting post written by a young woman who has wrestled with the question of how and why to love her own pubic hair. Interestingly, she doesn’t love it, but she doesn’t love that she doesn’t… her writing on the issue is really great — raw and real. These are the confessions and the conversations that make the internet so amazing.
A second, similar entry on the Feminist Dating website — called “A Bushy Dilemma” — is also worth a read. Both articles raise all kinds of issues around socialization and body-hatred (an important issue that never seems to go away, no matter how we wrestle with it).
The site itself doesn’t seem to be particularly active, which is a shame, ’cause it’s got some good stuff on it.
The well written article is about the new hairlessness among young men. The author talks about the notion of a “sanitized ideal” for men that seems to be taking the mainstream by storm. As she writes:
We’re talking hair-free, sweat-free, odor-free; in other words, the same unrealistic standards peddled to women for so long, à la leg and underarm shaving. And like the hairless female ideal, it isn’t just the most visible fur that men are tending to these days; statistically, men groom their pubic hair more than any other type of body hair (sans beards).
Though I haven’t formally embraced looking at male body hair practices (I’d love to though… just give me time). The article does point out (and rightly so) that while the increased pressure for me to depilate is sort of disturbing (in the sense that any widely normalized, readily embraced mechanism of body control is), men don’t face nearly the same levels of stigma that women do should they decide NOT to embrace the practice.
And again, the article asks some of the same questions I have around women’s pubic hair grooming habits: will the trend persevere as men age and settle down, or like with women, is the trend very much a short lived practice tied in with youthful, commitment-free sexuality.
I remember one of the young women I interviewed telling me about one of her regular ‘hook up’ partners, and the fact that being hairless was, in a sense, part of the ritual:
“It’s definitely more appealing,” she told me. “There was this one guy.. we were hook up buddies, I guess. I invited him over, and he was like ‘oh, I just shaved for you,’ and I was like ‘oh, cool…oh, I just waxed too.’ It was like, I did this thing for you. It was a positive thing…you know what I mean?”
There must be something in the casualness of the hook-up that is balanced by the ritualized grooming practice: it seems to acknowledge that ‘I know that we have this meaningless, strings-free intimate relationship, but I still did my part before showing up’.
One of the arguments I hear a lot in support of pubic hair removal is this: oral sex. There’s a message out there (one that I worry a lot of young women are internalizing) that seems to suggest that guys will (often begrudgingly) perform oral sex, but only if women keep themselves meticulously groomed (ie. hairless) so that things are neat and tidy and easy to find.
That’s certainly the message that this guy is promoting:
This guy is particularly obnoxious, because he first makes a big deal about how much he likes performing cunnilingus, but then makes it clear that unless the target area is well kept, it’s not going to get any attention. People: if you keep your pubic hair tidy and clean, it really shouldn’t interfere with oral sex. Here’s a radical idea: don’t get rid of it, just MOVE IT OUT OF THE WAY.
People have been giving and receiving oral sex since long before intimate waxing was de rigeur and everyone seemed to do just fine.
What I worry about most is the fact that a lot of young women today say they won’t let a guy near their nether regions unless everything is in tip top shape, while they are expected to give out blow-jobs like they’re shaking hands. It’s a mindset I feel like we’ve got to try and change.
If this guy really is a masterful as he seems to imply he is when it comes to oral sex, he should be embracing it whenever he can get it — not only when the conditions are ‘right’.
And unless he’s keeping his business impeccably waxed, he’s got no right to suggest that his sexual partners do the same. Addressing “women” over YouTube about what they should be doing with their pubic hair is just straight up obnoxious.
Hair removal should not be a pre-requisite for anyone’s pleasure.
I’ve been working with a book called ‘The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair’ as part of my research these days. Edited by Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, the book brings together a collection of fascinating articles around women and body hair and general socio-cultural views towards both.
But when I saw the headline ‘The Last Remaining Sexual Taboo’ in Friday’s Globe and Mail, I had to take a look (I mean c’mon, who doesn’t like a good sexual taboo, right?). The article explores female masturbation — specifically the fact that women, especially young ones, just aren’t keeping up as compared with men. The article states a bunch of obvious facts: male anatomy is more… uh…readily accessed and more publicly discussed than the female equivalent. Female masturbation is so often tied to performativity — ie. it’s often done as a turn-on for a partner, but isn’t necessarily embraced as a solo activity.
There are, of course, lots of reasons women should be embracing their own pleasure and their own bodies, most notably because it’s a way of really getting to know your own body and what makes it tick, rather than relying on a partner to figure it out for you.
As one expert is quoted as saying in the article, “young women are not encouraged to take ownership of their bodies or of sexual pleasure.”
And yet, they are expected to keep themselves impeccably groomed, presumably for “themselves”, right?
Anyone else see a problem with this?
Wouldn’t you think that living in an era when women are increasingly keeping their nether regions hairless would mean a lot more self-exploration? I mean really – if you’re going to spend all that time and money keeping everything bare and accessible, shouldn’t you be taking advantage? Otherwise, aren’t you always doing it for someone else?
Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that (impending faculty strike aside) the end of my Master’s degree is in sight. I’ve been writing this blog as part of my research project, along with a weightier paper that is sort of bogging me down these days.
As passionate as I feel about the issues I feel lurk around the edges of discussions about body hair (issues of gender performance, self-esteem, sexuality, societal expectations on young women, etc etc etc), there are days when I just can’t find the will to get focused. “PUBIC HAIR!” I sometimes think to myself, “AHRG!”.
But then I get emails like this. And it all feels like it’s been (and continues to be) time well-spent:
I just wanted to write you a quick email to thank you for writing your blog. I am a young woman going into my third year of university (also at Queen’s!) and pubic hair maintenance/removal is not something I’ve ever really seen or heard discussed before. I’m very glad I found the discussion on your blog. I know I’ve internalised a lot of messages from magazines, movies and books about female pubic hair as unattractive and gross, and these messages made me very confused and insecure because I started to wonder what everyone else was doing ‘down there’, and about what I should be doing as well (and also, what guys expected). Your blog helped me to realize, though, that I’m not the only one feeling that stress/pressure, and also that the pressure to wax it all off is perverse, and unnatural, and very problematic. Thank you for that! Also, your blog helped me to bring up the topic of Brazilian waxes when my Mom and sister and I were on a road trip earlier in the summer! It was the first time I’ve ever discussed pubic hair with anyone, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to bring it up if I hadn’t had your blog to reference. So thanks for that too! (PS, my mom was completely shocked about the popularity of Brazilian waxes and also that some guys refuse to have sex with women who have pubic hair).
Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing and for reminding me that it’s worth the effort. This is why we need to keep talking, writing, sharing. There’s still lots of work to be done!
So I’ve been thinking about porn again… and yeah, not in that way. I’ve been thinking again about the influence that porn is having on our sexuality in a post-internet (PI?) age. I’m not the first person who has suggested that there’s a close connection between normalized pubic hair removal among young women (and, increasingly, young men) and the fact that the the generation of people coming of age now are doing so with easy access to online pornography (where the bodies on display are, generally, sans-hair).
The stuff I’m hearing anecdotally seems to back up connection between pubic hair removal and the social glorification of the porn star. I recently spoke with a beautiful young 19-year old who talked at-length about her own grooming practices which she seemed to perform against a backdrop of profound body-hatred. Sexually active, she made unabashed comments about the fact that keeping her nether regions waxed made her feel “like a porn star.”
She later told me that her first boyfriend (and sexual partner) watched a lot of porn. “He just said he likes it better with no hair,” she said about his own expectations for her body, never conclusively drawing a connection between his love of on-line porn and what he expected his own sexual partners to look like. Though he never explicitly told the girl she had to be hairless, she understood what was expected of her.
“And then whenever I didn’t (wax), I thought… or I would feel like… oh, so he doesn’t like me, you know what I mean?” she told me, frankly. “And that was the first (sexual experience). So that’s maybe why I like it (now).”
Though she’d never been asked to think about her own body practices critically, she then made the wise observation that perhaps she’d internalized his expectations for her body and now believed she preferred her own body when completely hairless. She couldn’t otherwise explain it.
Porn is powerful – and pervasive. And it’s affecting us all more than we probably notice. So it’s worth talking/thinking about, I think.
Naomi Wolf recently published an article on the Aljazerra website called “Is Pornography Driving Men Crazy?”, where she muses about whether the widespread ability and consumption of porn in recent might actually be rewiring the male brain when it comes to sex.
(Interestingly, many of the young women I’ve spoken with don’t like pornography — or at least the mainstream stuff — but are afraid to acknowledge it for fear they might be seen as prudish or uptight. Liking porn, it seems, is cool, even when many young women say it makes them feel uncomfortable, insecure and alinenated).
And if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend watching this brief video of a talk by advertising consultant Cindy Gallop. Fearlessly frank (and, it’s important to note, pro-porn), Gallop talks engagingly about the “creeping ubiquity of hardcore pornography” into pop culture and how it’s impacting our sexuality (especially young people):
In a bid to counter some of the pervasive porn-ideas that are impacting human sexuality today, Gallop has started a website she calls Make Love Not Porn. Here’s an example from it:
This page (in case you can’t read it) says:
“Porn World: Women Have No Hair Down There/ Real World: Some women shave, some women don’t. Some men actively prefer women to keep their hair. If you do shave, it requires constant maintenance, which can be a pain in the…Entirely up to personal choice.”