Once every three months, I make a point to get tested to ensure my STD status is negative and to maintain my sexual health. Besides showing up to fulfill my civic duty in upholding societal health as a sexually active adult, I also use these visits as a way to gather information for my own education. Just a few days ago, I paid a visit to a local clinic in San Diego County. And while going through my intake assessment, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Terry Brazell, a passionate woman whose background is in dermatology but began work in HIV/STD prevention after losing her husband to AIDS in the early 1990s.
While performing my pelvic exam, she made an interesting comment that I’ve never heard from any doctor during an examination: “I’m surprised yet happy to see that you still have some hair left,” she stated.
In the past, I was quite ashamed of my pubic hair, stripping it off any chance I saw the slightest stubble. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to embrace my natural state, understanding that the hair is there for a purpose. A slight trim is all I need to maintain my standard of decency. Dr. Brazell went on to explain her sense of shock about my intact pubs. “We get so many people in here without hair that it has become a rarity to see individuals who still have hair around their genitals.”
I wasn’t surprised. California is home to many adult stars and sex workers who prefer the look of being bare for the camera and for fantasy fulfillment. But what did surprise me was her well-versed conversation about what I call the “great shave debate.” Whenever personal grooming comes up in conversation, the crowd is usually split between those who see the value in maintaining a natural state and those who believe pubic hair aids in creating unpleasant sexual experiences.
Collection of odor is often a common reason for why the average person chooses to go bare, and it’s a valid reasoning. But Dr. Brazell had a list of reasons why keeping hair intact is better than stripping down to bare skins.
1. Remove the hair, remove a helpful barrier
While pubic hair may not be pleasing to the eye for some, in the grand scheme of function this furry patch adds a much-needed layer of protection for the genitals, especially for women. Pubic hair lines the labia majora that prevent bacteria from traveling into the vagina easily. Beyond protecting the vagina, pubic hair also prevents bacteria from entering into the urethra. Women have short urethra that makes access to the bladder easy for invaders causing infection. For both sexes, leaving pubic hair intact creates a barrier that protects against the contraction of HPV and herpes, two STDs whose transference is through skin-to-skin contact.
4. Open pores create open ports
Shaving and waxing create open pores that become gateways into the bloodstream. “Within five to six hours after shaving, a person becomes more susceptible to contracting STIs if he or she has sex within the time frame,” Dr. Brazell explains. Aftershave or products used to close pores after hair removal aren’t typically used after grooming below the belt, and this is yet another reason why shaving can pose as a hazard to one’s sexual health.
3. Stubble increases chances of condom breakage
Hair grows back in short stubble that is rough to the touch. These short fibers can cause friction against condoms that can cause breakage during performance, especially when condoms are placed on incorrectly or are used in the wrong size.
4. Hazards of “beard burn”
Beard burn occurs when stubble from regrowth brushes against the skin, causing abrasion that can rip or tear the skin. For women who remove hair from around the opening of the vagina, the stubble not only creates an uncomfortable rubbing against the penis during penetration, but can also cause condom breakage, especially with certain sex positions.
It’s safe to say that keeping pubic hair intact is recommended to maintain sexual health. But while there are more benefits to keeping pubic hair intact, Dr. Brazell isn’t against shaving altogether.
“If one does decide to shave, they should try to get as close of a shave as possible,” she states. “Also, using mutual shaving within committed relationships where risks are known is actually a great way for couples to build intimacy.”
For African-Americans, ingrown hairs are an issue that can become problematic if hair isn’t removed properly. Using clippers instead of razors to shave is recommended. Beyond the physical health benefits, Dr. Brazell also suggests that adults become comfortable with images of adult bodies.
“Stripping the genitals of hair brings one back to a prepubescent state, and as adults we must embrace adult bodies during sexual activity,” she explains. Conversations like these don’t occur often in situations where sexual health and STD prevention are the focus, but they need to be had more often. It may be a fad within popular culture for both men and women to strip down to barely there or nothing at all. But in the great debate of “to shave or not to shave,” it appears that keeping it natural has more benefits than a little bit.
Glamazon Tyomi is a freelance writer, model and sex educator with a deeply rooted passion for spreading the message of sex positivity and encouraging the masses to embrace their sexuality. Her website, www.glamerotica101.com, reaches internationally as a source for advice and information for the sexually active/curious. Follow her on Twitter at @glamazontyomi.