Almost two years ago I wrote about My Love Affair with Pubic Hair. And, amazingly, it’s the top post by which people stumble across this blog from Google. Aside from the catchy title and everyone being intrinsically nosy, why else would it be so popular? Is its because pubes are such a divisive issue or because there are double standards for genders? Or is it because porn shows millions of waxed vulvas as the norm for what women’s vulvas ‘should’ look like and what men ‘prefer’?
When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was deeply concerned about men’s opinions of how I chose to keep my pubic hair. I remember asking boyfriends if they liked it when I removed all my pubic hair or preferred a ‘landing strip’ (not once did I think that they’d like a ‘full bush’; this wasn’t shown on mainstream porn, so why would my boyfriends desire it?). What I have since realised is that it was completely my choice about what was going on in my knickers and if any man had an issue with what I did (or didn’t do) with my pubic hair, I should have told him to piss off. But this never crossed my mind. Perhaps I was worried about rejection or what he might tell his friends.
As I hurtle towards my thirties, I’ve garnered new confidence in taking ownership of my body. I honestly feel that anyone lucky enough to make it into my bedroom should keep unwanted comments about my body to themselves. My love affair with my pubic hair has gone from strength to strength; I do what I want with it when I want and I have the unashamed confidence that the person I’m sleeping with can only accept (or reject) me but they cannot dictate how I look.
But I didn’t have this confidence in my early twenties, and it seems that many other individuals around the world worry about the maintenance of their pubes, too.
Type in ‘should I shave’ into Google and the top suggestion is ‘should I shave my pubic hair’. Pick that suggestion and (at the time of writing) over 3.5 million results pop up. Nine web pages appear on the first page; the first link provides ‘top tips’ for women, so does Seventeen, the Guardian connects porn trends to pubic hair, Cosmo tells me a worrying ‘40% of men have told their partners to change their public hair’ whilst Glamour informs me of the new trend of pubic-hair transplants. Healthline gives me 20 facts about shaving our pubes and a couple of pages answer the question ‘do I need to shave before having sex?’ Incidentally, both pages link to the same website for teenage girls (but, reassuringly, advise against shaving just before sex and highlight that pubic hair styling is down to personal choice).
I wonder if the reason for over 3.5 million hits is because there’s very little education around agency over how we look after our bodies. Since the summer, I’ve begun writing for O.school, an incredible online sex-ed resource for people of all ages, genders and sexualities. Coupled with the fact that the British sex ed. curriculum is having its first revamp in over 18 years this year, discovering O.school has shown me that poor sex ed. really is global.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I only wish I had this confidence about my pubic hair when I was in my early twenties. Maybe this confidence only comes with age? My own confidence has been bolstered by my newfound career in sex writing and being more adept at choosing who I date and shag. Maybe it’s a factor of why I’ve spent 2020 shifting away from people’s preconceived ideas about who I am. No longer fitting into the neat box of ‘teacher’ has resulted in cracks in some friendships and writing about sex unashamedly has caused these cracks to become crevasses. Whilst my new career path has meant I’ve lost some friends, I’m becoming the person I’m meant to be and feel confident in the work I’m now doing. Maybe this confidence is a product of my age and young people are predetermined to go through an awkward stage; learning about their bodies and feeling pressure from peers, but perhaps we can limit the destruction poor body confidence imposes.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if women in their twenties didn’t feel such societal pressure? Recently, adverts have begun to show shaving products actually removing hair as opposed to shaving over already perfectly-smooth skin, which I feel is a step in the right direction. Porn isn’t going to magically disappear – and why should it? Porn was never designed as a sex-ed resource; it’s always been adult entertainment but a problem has emerged that it is being used in the place of poor sex education. Far from removing access to porn (particularly as teenagers are adept at finding god-knows-what on the internet), we need a balanced approach whereby sex education addresses issues young people find themselves concerned over as a result of porn.
I’m not suggesting secondary teachers teach about pubic hair preferences directly, but there needs to be a wider conversation amongst educators instilling confidence in young people to dictate how they keep their bodies. Ultimately, we need a global approach to teaching young people that their pubic hair choices are their own. One teacher said this once is not enough. Teenagers are awkward things and it takes a lot of bolstering to help them feel empowered in their own bodies. They will always feel the pressure from one another so they should be hearing positive, affirming messages from those of us who are older and wiser.
Who knows whether a full bush will come back in fashion over the next decade or if Brazilians and Hollywoods will be replaced by other location-based styles. What’s important is that young people receive the message that their pubic hair is their own. This needs to be a part of a bigger discussion around beauty standards and advertising ideals as well as a counter-balance to the images they will see in porn.