Cameron Diaz waxes lyrical about pubic hair in “The Body Book.” Dedicating 367 words to the topic, she writes, “The idea that vaginas are preferable in a hairless state is a pretty recent phenomenon, and all fads change.” It appears that last prediction had some effect; commentators promptly heralded “the year of the bush” and clothing stores added merkins to their mannequins. The New York Times profiled the demise of the Brazilian bikini wax.
But what does the data say is happening in female pubic hair preferences?
Last year, two doctors at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas published research based on the survey responses of 1,677 women 16 to 40 years old. They found that just 8.6 percent of women had never groomed their pubic hair, and that “women tended to continue grooming once starting the behavior.” Only 20 percent of women said they had groomed in the past but did not currently do so. So, as of 2011 (the year the data was collected), there wasn’t a trend toward the natural look.
The majority of women who had ever groomed their pubic hair said they used a razor and shaving cream (77 percent). That was followed by trimming with scissors (23 percent) and hair-removal cream (19 percent). (The figures add up to more than 100 percent because there is overlap.)
Waxing was relatively rare; only 16 percent of women said they used this technique. And given that most methods are relatively inexpensive, it’s not surprising that just 28 of the 1,677 women said they went to a salon for grooming. About 95 percent of women said they took care of their pubic hair themselves.
A couple of niche habits also emerge from the data. A little more than 2 percent of women listed “pubic hair dye” as their method of grooming; 1.4 percent have friends take care of their pubic hair; and 1.5 percent of women have their boyfriend or husband groom it for them. We couldn’t find any other categories, so it seems that the question wording assumes that all women in the survey were heterosexual.
But we do have more data. A paper published in 2010, based on a survey of 2,451 women, has a more detailed breakdown; it suggests that choices differ slightly according to sexual orientation. Lesbians were more likely than heterosexual women to have not removed any pubic hair in the past month — 26 percent compared to 20 percent. And 14 percent of bisexual woman had not removed any. The results were almost identical between single women and married women.
The doctors reached a slightly different conclusion about American female pubic hair:
Although women’s total pubic hair removal has been described as a “new norm,” ﬁndings from this study suggest that pubic hair styles are diverse and that it is more common than not for women to have at least some pubic hair on their genitals. In addition, it was found that total pubic hair removal was associated with younger age, being partnered (rather than single or married), having looked closely at one’s own genitals in the previous month, cunnilingus in the past month, more positive sexual functioning scores, and a more positive genital self-image.
Finally, whether or not Diaz is right that total hair removal is a “pretty recent phenomenon” depends on how you define “recent.” In 2008, a paper in the Journal of Communication Inquiry argued that “concern with excessive hair increased tremendously between 1915 and 1945, when magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and McCall’s extensively disseminated the ideal of hairless white feminine beauty.”
Here’s one last study that may be of interest. In 2012, doctors from the Department of Urology at the University of California, San Francisco, looked at admissions to U.S. emergency departments. The data, collected from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, showed 11,704 pubic hair grooming injuries between 2002 and 2010. Of those, 56.7 percent were women, the mean age was 30.8 years and shaving razors were implicated in 83 percent of the injuries.