Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Study: Shaving pubic hair carries health risks

Most men and women who groom their pubic hair say they do it for health reasons, but there is no actual data to back up that claim. Now new research suggests that shaving down there might nearly double the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection.


Benjamin Breyer, a urologist at UCSF, conducted a survey in 2013 among a representative cross section of Americans. He used the Knowledge Networks (now GfK), a company that pays people about a dollar to take such surveys.

In all, 7,470 persons (56 percent men, 44 percent women) who completed the survey had at least one lifetime sexual partner; 66 percent of the men and 84 percent of the women reported ever having groomed their public hair using a razor, clippers, waxing, etc.

Groomers of both sexes were younger than non-groomers (43 versus 50 years); were more likely to report at least weekly sexual activity (53 percent versus 43 percent); and have more lifetime sexual partners (16.5 percent versus 13.8 percent), when corrected for age.

Increased frequency of grooming correlated with increased sexual activity and a greater number of partners, as well as a higher lifetime rate of self-reported sexually transmitted infections (14 percent vs. 8 percent). The paper was published December 5 in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Earlier papers drawn from the same survey found that male groomers had significantly more sexual partners than nongroomers (24.4 versus 18.2), numbers that are significantly higher than the six to seven lifetime sexual partners that other studies have found.

Gay/bi men were more likely than straights to groom more than five times a year (42.5 percent vs. 29 percent), while bottoms were more likely to have groomed at the time of acquiring a STI (42.2 percent versus 14.3 percent).

Man is one of the few mammals not covered in fur. Many evolutionary biologists believe pubic hair has persisted because it confers advantages such as reducing chaffing, and retaining heat and sexual pheromones.

The skin is an important barrier that blocks germs from entering our bodies. Shaving, waxing, even clipping can physically damage this barrier and open a window for microbes to get in. That’s why an aftershave lotion stings when applied to newly shaved skin, but not so much later in the day. Breyer attributes much of the popularity of grooming to generational differences and the influence of porn.

He readily acknowledges that this type of study demonstrates association between grooming and increased risk for STIs, it does not prove causation. “It may be related to the mechanism of grooming, or it may be a marker for sexual activity,” he said. The survey did not ask about safer sex practices, which “is a very important piece of the puzzle,” he added.

Breyer suggests that physicians use pubic hair grooming as a marker for heightened sexual activity and a reminder to discuss safer sex with their patients.

He urges patients who choose to groom their pubic hair to do so the day before, or at least a few hours before having sex. That gives the skin time to repair the microscopic wounds that can occur during the procedure. It can help reduce the risk of acquiring a STI.

– reported by Bob Roehr

— Cynthia Laird, December 9, 2016 @ 2:58 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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