Removing Your Pubic Hair Is Linked To A Heightened Risk Of STIs
But researchers aren’t quite sure why
The Question: Does waxing, plucking or shaving your pubic hair come with added risk for sexually transmitted infections?
Yes, according to new research that links the frequency of pubic grooming with the added risk of certain sexually transmitted infections.
The new study, which surveyed 7,580 nationally representative adults across the U.S., finds that people who practice “extreme grooming” ― removing all of their pubic hair more than 11 times per year ― or “high frequency” grooming ― trimming pubic hair daily or weekly ― have a 3.5- to four-fold heightened risk for contracting herpes, HPV and syphilis compared to those who had never groomed their pubes.
But if you tend to grow out your pubic hair a few months out of the year, that doesn’t mean you’re at a lower risk for STIs. The research also found that people who practiced “non-extreme” or “low-frequency” grooming — basically, any level of grooming between zero and 11 ― had double the risk of lice infestation compared to those who never groomed.
After controlling for age and number of sexual partners, the researchers determined those who groomed at any frequency had an 80 percent higher risk of having an STI than those who had never groomed at all.
So what gives?
Scientists aren’t sure what exactly is causing the higher risk of STIs in people who groom their pubic hair. They also can’t say whether it was the STIs or the grooming habits that came first, and the survey didn’t ask about safe sex practices.
But because pubic groomers were also younger, more sexually active, and have more lifetime sexual partners than non-groomers, it could simply be that they’re having more sex with more people than those who see no need to trim their pubes. This heightened sexual activity — not the grooming in and of itself — could be increasing their risk of an infection.
Conversely, the diagnosis of an STI may be prompting people to groom their pubic hair more thoroughly.
A more causal explanation could be that tiny nicks in the skin caused by the hair removal process could be making people more vulnerable to invading pathogens, but that would have to be explored in future research.
Lead researcher Dr. Benjamin Breyer of the University of California, San Francisco’s department urology notes in his study that because pubic grooming appears to be some kind of proxy for sexual activity in general, doctors who see that their patients groom should ask their patients about their safe sex practices during a check-up. And if future research shows a causal relationship between tiny tears in skin caused by grooming and the diagnosis of STIs, new guidelines could be created that advise people who shave and wax to take a few days off from sex after hair removal to let their skin recover.
In addition to identifying a heightened risk of STIs, Breyer’s survey confirmed what past research has already shown: pubic grooming is incredibly common. Seventy-four percent of respondents reported doing the deed at least once in their lifetime, and both men and women do it (66 percent and 84 percent, respectively). We also groom in many different ways: 17 percent were “extreme” groomers, 22 percent were “high frequency” groomers, and one in ten extreme groomers also fit into the “high frequency” club.
Men were more likely to use an electric razor compared to women (42 percent vs 12 percent), while women were more likely to use non-electric razors (61 percent vs. 34 percent). Scissor use was pretty equal across both genders (19 percent of men and 18 percent of women), while women were more likely to wax their pubes (five percent vs. zero percent).
No matter how you choose to groom, there are a few things to remember about safe pubic trimming. If you’re shaving, shave in the direction of hair growth to prevent nicks and ingrown hairs. Treat irritated or red skin with gentle antibacterial cleansers. Finally, if you think pubic hair is going to be a permanent part of your adult life, consider saving up for permanent hair removal methods like laser treatments and electrolysis. Interestingly, these permanent methods were extremely rare among the respondents in Breyer’s survey.
Breyer’s past research found that visits to the emergency room for genital injuries linked to pubic hair grooming increased fivefold from 2002 to 2010, and that, in total, they made up three percent of all genital injuries seen in the ER.
Horror stories about hair removal gone wrong are still rare, however, considering how common the practice is. But if you find yourself in the “extreme” or “high frequency” groomer categories, pause for a moment and take stock of your sexual health habits. At the very least, Breyer’s survey shows that lots of shaving and waxing down there is a pretty good sign you’re having lots of sex ― so make sure it’s safe sex.
The survey’s results were published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.
“Ask Healthy Living” is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical advice.
Why are so many men shaving their private parts?
By Lee Kynaston
As Telegraph Men’s resident grooming correspondent, I regularly put myself in harm’s way in order to bring you the low-down on the latest face creams, aftershaves and grooming gadgets.
OK, so it’s not as dangerous as being a fireman or a bouncer in Leeds – but make no mistake about it, road-testing products like Remington’s Delicates & Body Hair Trimmer (essentially a brand new ball shaver) requires putting more than just my reputation on the line.
Given the gravity of the situation, before giving it a go I do something no self-respecting man ever does: I actually read the instructions first. Which is good because these instructions are, by turns, charming and hilarious, borrowing language from the worlds of soap powder advertising (a man’s bits become his “delicates”) and innuendo (“use slow and even strokes for the best results”).
“For hair in around your delicates,” they state, “lift your delicate parts to get a clear view of the area you are trimming”, whilst advising that you need to pull the skin taught to ensure the hairs are well trimmed.
After road-testing the shaver, my own personal tip is to use it in the shower (the gadget is waterproof) and splash yourself liberally with plenty of cold water to, er, tighten things up a little. It makes a big difference, trust me.
Plenty of patience and nerves of steel help too as, I suspect, would a supply of beta blockers to steady the hand.
The device itself comes with removable safety guards which allow you to merely trim your pubic hair or go in much closer by dispensing with them and using one of the two cutting edges, though I’d stick to using what’s described as the ‘detail blade’ rather than the main blade if you’re planning on having children.
The results aren’t as close as you get with a razor (yes, I’ve done this before) so think kiwi fruit rather than billiard ball. Still, it’s probably a better option for those afraid of an open blade.
If you’re reading this thinking, ”Please! What man in his right mind would ever do this?!” I should point out that the removal of body hair – including hair of the pubic variety – is both big business and bang on trend. Indeed, the Remington trimmer is not the first product on the market to help men rid themselves of their fur – Philips, Braun, Gillette and Wahl all have their own versions.
What sets the Remington trimmer apart, however, is how it’s blatantly aimed at men interested in downstairs hair management, even if Remington can’t quite bring themselves to use the word balls.
Where did this desire for a smooth set come from? Well, the trend for male hair removal has been gathering pace for a nearly decade now, ever since Philips kicked things off with the launch of their – at the time – revolutionary Bodygroom trimmer back in 2006. The trend pretty much ran parallel to the one for the body beautiful (if you’ve worked hard in the gym for a fine set of abs and pecs you‘re not going to want to hide them under a carpet of fur now are you?) and has been popularised by a raft of celebrities including the likes of Louis Smith (no fan of stomach hair), TOWIE’s Dan Osborne and, most recently, Aiden Turner of Poldark fame, who defied historical accuracy by appearing in the period drama with neatly clippered chest hair.
So men have been shaving more than just their chins for a while now – but it is only in recent years that the trend has headed south, with a recent Gillette survey revealing that 20pc of men like to be closely trimmed down below too.
As with many trends, what was first popular in the gay community is now being adopted by straight men. When I recently asked a good friend whether he was a fan of manscaping he replied: “Oh, yes. I take it all off – there’s nothing there. Nada. My girlfriend loves it.” Surprisingly, it turned out that the girlfriend in question actually had more hair than he did. “She has a landing strip,” he said proudly, having clearly won the battle of the bush.