By Rima Ramoul
When she turned 17-years-old, Joey Park-Cunningham picked up a razor and started shaving her genital area.
At first the act was done more out of necessity since she was a competitive swimmer, but once she turned 19-years-old and became sexually active, she felt she needed to shave in order to be ‘clean’ and ‘tidy’.
“I have a boyfriend and he appreciates maintenance,” says Park-Cunningham. ”He doesn’t care that much if I don’t, but I know he prefers that I do.”
The 21-year-old university student isn’t the only one shaving her nether region.
Najib [name changed] recognizes that some women feel sexier and cleaner when they do shave or trim their pubic hair. He says one of his ex-girlfriends needed to shave in order to feel self-assured.
“She didn’t want to ‘get busy’ if she didn’t shave down there,” he says. “She felt more at ease, more confident when she did.”
The trend of women shaving or trimming their pubic hair seems to be growing, and many men are also jumping on the wagon.
“We have the hair that’s not seen, so for women we’re talking pubic hair -and I guess men can shave their pubic hair as well- and this is something that’s a phenomenon of modern pornography, and this is something that’s a phenomenon of modern society,” says University of Toronto psychology professor, Gerald Cupchik.
After engaging in similar discussions with women in their mid-twenties, Cupchik noticed that the notions of ‘cleanliness’ and ‘healthiness’ came up time and time again as primary reasons why the women shaved. It’s an interesting issue as the presence or absence of pubic hair is directly related to whether the genitals are exposed or concealed.
For women who come to associate the female genital area as being unsanitary and impure, letting their pubic hair grow might be interpreted as a method used with the purpose of hiding their genitals. If we take the theory one step further, one might construe it as a need to hide the genitalia as it might be viewed as shameful and embarrassing.
This brings to mind the archetypal story of Adam and Eve, who would each wear a fig leaf on their genitals. If one draws a parallel, the pubic hair might be seen a metaphor for the fig leaf: acting as a shield to cover the female version of the ‘family jewels’, which could be viewed as shameful.
Women who are raised in an environment where the female reproductive organs are perceived as unclean and foul-smelling could come to feel psychologically isolated.
“The women become alienated from themselves,” says Cupchik, “and one can think that this whole issue of shaving one’s own pubic hair is a rediscovery of self and a development of a relationship with one’s self.”
Before she was 22-years-old, Silwanna [name changed] had never shaved or trimmed her pubic hair. That changed when she started dating her boyfriend Brian who liked to shave her legs and trim her genital area.
After they parted, Silwanna continued trimming her pubic hair, keeping it ‘short and shapely’, until one day she wanted to know what it would feel like fully shaved off.
“I think I was just curious, maybe we saw some porn and I noticed he [her boyfriend] liked it and I wanted to see how I would look and feel like,” she says. “And I felt good, so soft. I didn’t feel more ‘womanly’ but definitely more sexy, a little exposed, and vulnerable.”
A bare genital area might be highly erotic to some and might make a woman feel excitingly exposed, but Cupchik thinks the shaving of one’s own pubic hair has more to do with how a woman feels about herself.
“You have either a curtain, or no curtain, it’s a veil or no veil. I’ll bet you in some context someone will argue that it’s more erotic because it’s veiled,” says Cupchik. “But I think in this era where women are more liberated and women are making more decisions about themselves and their bodies, that they would be prouder in the presentation of self.”
Silwanna is now accustomed to the feeling of her genital flesh being void of any hairs; so much so that she would not let a man touch her if she had not previously shaved.
“When I didn’t shave the way that I was satisfied, I would not let him touch me or go down on me because it didn’t make me feel good. […] I care because if I feel a little self-conscious then I’m not going to be able to enjoy it as much.”
Interestingly enough, by letting her pubic hair grow naturally, that consequently creates a barrier or a ‘blanket’ over her genital area. By not shaving, and thus deliberately depriving herself of the option of engaging in sexual contact, she feels she protects herself from doing something she might regret.
Consequently, short pubic hair is considered desirable, whereas the opposite is true of the hair on the head. The reason behind that assertion might be traced back to the experience of sensual contact.
“I’m just thinking as a man, if you’re running your hands through the hair, you’re feeling it, there’s a greater sensual engagement with the hair,” says Cupchik.
If the hair is shorter, the opportunity for that sort of tactile engagement is reduced, he says.
“I would say there’s a very, very different issue between women talking about treatment of the hair on their head and the hair on their genitals, and that the hair on their genitals has more to do with independence, and the hair on their head may have to do more with conformity,” says Cupchik.
By shaving the genital region, and thus getting rid of the hair that is ‘in the way’, a woman might feel that the area is more sensitive, and thus may experience heightened sensations through sexual stimulation.
Hair and sexuality becomes an even fascinating issue when age is a factor, says Cupchik.
“Among younger women all the flesh is tighter,” he says. “Among older women the flesh begins to hang so that older women might feel more distanced from their genitals then younger women,” he says.
Therefore, older women might be more inclined to keep their pubic hair in order to veil their genital area, whereas younger women might be more apt to shave it off, as they might not feel self-conscious about how their genital area looks.
For Silwanna, who is now a 31-year-old woman, she had once thought that shaving off all her pubic hair might be a tad peculiar, as it made her feel much, much younger.
“I think that would fall more into the perverted category because when you shave it all – I thought for some reason, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me – that it’s like nothing and it’s so soft, it’s almost like a child. So when he’s [her boyfriend] touching me, he would have some kind of fantasy like that,” she says.
Whether the initial idea of shaving one’s pubic hair came from the pornography industry or not, the hair on a woman’s head and the hair on her genital area are both closely related to her sexuality. Whatever a woman chooses to do with it represents the relationship she has with herself.
By breaking away from any negative views surrounding the female genitals, a woman can thrust aside any hang-ups she may have in order to fully enjoy any sensual or sexual experience.
“I think [shaving or trimming] represents someone who takes care of herself,” says Silwanna, “and that sex is not just an act but also a show, a tease, a more sensual thing.”