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Bare Down There? New Study Suggests You’re More Susceptible to STIs

Your pubic preferences could be linked to your sexual health

Hair removal is personal—but it may be time to bring science to the party. (Dano - Flickr/Creative Commons)
smithsonian.com

Whether it's a smooth plane or an untouched forest, most American women and men have at least considered grooming their pubic hair at some point. But the decision is a personal one, and for many people, science couldn’t have less to do with it. Yet a new study could make you reconsider how and even if you groom, Agata Blaszczak-Boxe reports for LiveScience.

Researchers surveyed 7,580 people, asking about their grooming habits and sexual and health histories. The results of the study, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, suggest a correlation between pubic grooming and sexually transmitted infections in both men and women. 

It turns out that most of the respondents groomed their pubic hair: 84 percent of women and 66 percent of men. And the difference between groomers and non-groomers was significant. After adjusting for age and sexual history, the researchers found that those who reported grooming in any way were 80 percent more likely to report an STI than those who did not.

How much they groomed mattered, too. Seventeen percent of respondents were “extreme groomers” (people who removed all pubic hair more than 11 times per year) and 22 percent were “high-frequency groomers” (people who trimmed their pubic hair daily or weekly). Though high- and low-frequency groomers didn’t have a large gap in STI reporting, those classified as “extreme” did—with 18 percent reporting a lifetime history of STIs, compared with 14 percent of overall groomers.

The types of STIs reported also varied with specific pubic hair habits. For STIs transmitted by skin-on-skin contact, herpes was the most common. But for fluid-transmitted infections, chlamydia was “significantly more likely” in extreme groomers.

Two sexually transmitted infections, however, confounded the numbers: molluscum and pubic lice, more commonly known as crabs. Groomers reported pubic lice more often, but most of the reports came from people whose grooming habits were less frequent or extreme.

The study relied on a survey that was used earlier this year, which The Cut’s Susan Rinkunas notes may have been the first of its kind to document how women groom their pubic hair. That initial survey revealed that female pubic groomers tend to be young, white and drawn to the practice because of “hygiene” and their partners’ preferences. But it didn’t look at possible correlations between grooming habits and health.

The current study reveals that frequent pubic hair groomers do something else more frequently, too: have sex. Not only did groomers report more sex partners than those who went au naturel, but groomers also had sex more frequently.

The reasons behind this link, however, remain unclear. The researchers note that the correlation could be explained by a range of factors, including shared grooming tools, an increase in microtears that make the skin susceptible to STIs and riskier sexual behaviors. The study also relied on participants to accurately report their sexual habits and infection history. Given that the survey didn’t ask about how respondents have sex—whether they use condoms or whom they sleep with—it’s not clear if increased STI incidence is because of pubic hair grooming, lack of protection or some other factor.

It may seem frivolous to spend your time studying how people maintain their most private hair. But the study suggests that pubic hair could play a role in human health. Previous studies have suggested that health complications beyond STIs—issues like epidermal abrasions and ingrown hairs—are experienced by a majority of women who groom their pubes. But whether the study makes you throw out your razor or make an appointment for a wax, it will likely change the way you view the hair down there.

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