It’s Groom or Doom
How my pubic hair started as a source of shame and became a power muff
This weekend, I visited the local library with my kids. We sat down in the children’s section and I started skimming the titles on the shelf. I stumbled onto the “Bodies” section – where talks of circulatory functions and skeletal structures where wedged between intro to puberty books.
I ran my fingers over titles that I immediately rolled my eyes at – “Who Has What? All about Girls’ and Boy’s Bodies” would surely be full of gendered information that erased trans and intersex identities. Ding Ding Ding – I was unfortunately right!
But then I stopped at book that I remembered from my preteen bookshelf – “Is This Normal?” by American Girl, the all-American magazine for the preteen lover of American Girl dolls. I carefully opened the pages of drawings of cartoon tweens asking advice column questions posed to the all-knowing adults. Themes of adolescence popped up on every page.
What do I do about a boy I like? When am I supposed to get my period? How do I shop for a bra?
All these were questions that I ran to the pages of Seventeen, CosmoGirl, and American Girl for answers to. My house wasn’t one where puberty questions could be asked without an immense amount of shame and guilt being piled on me. The suspicion that information only lead to exploration was the unspoken code of the adults I knew – so I learned to seek out my answers in the pages of books and magazines marketed to tween girls.
I continued to flip through the pages and landed on the section about pubic hair. My stomach dropped.
“Dear American Girl,
I have pubic hair and I love to swim. How can I wear a swimsuit without hair sticking out?”
Poor sweet baby angel,
Your hair is not shameful. Your hair is human. You were not born to be dolphin smooth. Abandon the notion that hairless is the ideal.
But this is not the message girls and women are sold. This is not what I was told.
I’m a woman of Italian-Ukrainian-German descent. I have ample hair to spare “down there”, and I was shamed by peers and family members about that hair being visible.
I started removing my public hair when I was 13. I started with using Nair – the depilatory hair cream that smelled like Satan’s anus and burned if you left it on too long. I would only remove the bikini area hair and trim the rest with scissors.
That all changed when I wanted guys to start to seeing and touching my vuvla.
I began shaving all of my pubic hair when I was 14. I cut my labia with a razor countless times. When I was 16, I got an ingrown hair that turned into a cyst that had to be drained in the ER. Two female nurses and a male doctor were face deep in my vag, telling me to stop shaving for the health of my skin.
I went full-on power muff after that. I stayed unshaven throughout most of college – except for my bikini line, of couse. That shame was far too deep-seated for me to unearth – even at the advice of medical professionals. In 2008, I was diagnosed with HPV. I learned that shaving would spread the virus so I stopped shaving everything – including my bikini area - during an outbreak in the middle of summer. My friends said they referred to me as their European exchange student friend to help them cope with the sight of my pubic hair.
More shame, more trauma, more years of shaving and ingrown hairs followed.
Even when I was 40 weeks pregnant and giving birth to my first child in 2010, the nurses in the delivery room shaved down my pubic hair. I was already traumatized enough learning that I needed to have an emergency C-section, but the added insult of knowing that my pubic hair was seen as a nuisance to the doctors who were about to slice me open was the cherry on top of a sundae of body shame fuckery.
I kept my hair shaved and short with razors and electric clippers until 2016 when I decided to level up and start getting Brazilian waxed. For a masochist like me, the pain was an added pleasure to the idea of being completely smooth. This smoothness made me more sexually desirable. I wouldn’t have to apologize to sexual partners about my hair stubble. This also led to more severe skin reactions – ingrown hairs, dryness and skin cracking.
I finally gave up all pubic hair removal in March 2017, three months after I read an article linking pubic hair removal to a greater likelihood of contracting STIs. The science behind this data found that people who remove some or all of their pubic hair also engage in more sex, and the microtears in their skin from shaving make more opportunities for bacteria and viruses to be transmitted.
I can cosign to the idea that being hairless — for both woman and men — has become what makes them more sexually desirable – specifically in heterosexual couplings. My experience has also shown me that queers are hairier and more body hair positive, and they approach sex with those who choose to keep their hair from a far less shameful place.
My pubic hair now grows outside of my bikini and my armpit hair flows freely. I still get the twinges of shame when I see other folks look at my bikini line and raise an eyebrow – but my body is happier when it’s hairier.
I just wish that someone would have told me sooner that my body and my grooming practices are 100% my own choice.
Kenna is a sex educator & pleasure professional committed to helping folx unlearn shame. Reach out for her hairy wisdom on Twitter.