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Pubic hair grooming: Less means more

DII small banner By Warren R. Heymann, MD
Oct. 14, 2016

It is essential for dermatologists to comprehend current mores that affect our patients’ health. Understanding the trend toward increased genital hair grooming in men and women can help us instruct patients on how to avoid injuries related to hair removal. Indeed, 19- to 34-year-olds had an increased overall incidence of pubic and trunk hair removal-associated injuries — this group in particular should be cautious when undergoing depilatory practices (1).

What is the motivation behind this trend?

Rowen et al surveyed 3316 women. Of these women, 2778 (83.8%) reported pubic hair grooming and 538 (16.2%) reported never grooming. On multivariate regression, several factors associated with grooming were found. When compared with younger women (aged 18-24 years), women aged 45 through 55 years (odds ratio [OR], 0.05; 95% CI, 0.01-0.49; P = .01) and those older than 55 years (OR, 0.04; 95% CI, 0.00-0.34; P = .003) were significantly less likely to groom. Women with some college (OR, 3.36; 95% CI, 1.65-6.84; P = .001) or a bachelor’s degree (OR, 2.39; 95% CI, 1.17-4.88; P = .02) were more likely to have groomed. Race was also significantly associated with grooming, with all groups reporting less grooming when compared with white women. No association was found between grooming and income, relationship status, or geographic location. In this very detailed survey, two key questions were asked: Why do you groom? What do you groom for? The number one reason (59%) for why grooming is performed was hygiene. As for the second question, sex was what the process was for in the majority of women (55.6%) (2).

What about men? The following is the abstract from Gaither et al (3):
Pubic hair grooming is a growing phenomenon and is associated with body image and sexual activity. A nationally representative survey of noninstitutionalized adults aged 18 to 65 years residing in the United States was conducted. Differences in demographic and sexual characteristics between groomers and nongroomers were explored. Four thousand one hundred and ninety-eight men completed the survey. Of these men, 2,120 (50.5%) reported regular pubic hair grooming. The prevalence of grooming decreases with age, odds ratio = 0.95 (95% confidence interval [0.94, 0.96]), p < .001. Adjusting for sexual frequency and sexual orientation, grooming is associated with performing and receiving oral sex. The majority of men report grooming in preparation for sexual activity with a peak prevalence of 73% among men aged 25 to 34 years, followed by hygiene (61%) and routine care (44%). The majority of men who remove their pubic hair groom the hair above the penis (87%), followed by the scrotum (66%) and the penile shaft (57%). Overall, pubic hair grooming is common among men aged 18 to 65 years in the United States. Younger ages are associated with greater rates of pubic hair grooming. Many men groom for sex, in particular oral sex, as well as for routine care and hygiene.
So why did I use the phrase “less means more” in the title? For several reasons: 1) Less age is associated with more genital grooming; 2) Grooming to achieve less hair is associated with more injury to the pubic region, especially lacerations from shaving; 3) In men, less hair may be associated with more sexual activity, notably oral sex; 4) In women, pubic grooming may be less associated with specific sexual activity and more with educational level; and most importantly, 5) I thought of several titles for this discussion (and had a grand time doing so), but I thought that less would be more, especially with all the genital references in the current presidential election. Discretion really is the better part of valor.

1. Swain TA, et al. Hair removal-related injuries in the United States, 1991-2014. J Cosmet Dermatol 2016; September 5 [Epub ahead of print].
2. Rowen TS, et al. Pubic hair grooming prevalence and motivation among women in the United States. JAMA Dermatol 2016; 152: 1106-1113.
3. Gaither TW, et al. Prevalence and motivation: Pubic hair grooming among men in the United States. Am J Mens Health 2016; August 1 [Epub ahead of print].

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