Have you ever stopped, looked down, and asked yourself, “Why do we have pubic hair?” Wondering if there’s some grand purpose of pubic hair makes sense because, when you think about it, pubic hair is one of those things that unites most of humanity. No matter who someone is or where they come from, chances are they have pubic hair after they reach a certain age (unless they’ve jumped on the hair-removal bandwagon or don’t grow pubic hair due to a health condition like alopecia). So, seriously, why do we have pubic hair in the first place? What is the purpose of pubic hair? Are there any medical reasons to groom it? Below, the results of another vagina-focused investigation.
Just to be super clear: What is pubic hair?
This might seem obvious, but pubic hair is, well, hair that grows around your genitals. Growing pubic hair is a hallmark sign of puberty for most people, though the amount of it varies from person to person. During puberty, your body is becoming sexually mature, and hormone fluctuations result in physical changes like more body hair (armpit hair, facial hair, and pubic hair), as well as other changes like breast development, getting a period, larger testicles, muscle growth, deepening voice, and acne, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains.
Okay, but what is the purpose of pubic hair?
Like most hair on your body, pubic hair is thought to have some protective benefits. “It [may act] as [a] gatekeeper for preventing dirt from entering the vagina,” Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. She adds that it might also serve as a cushion of sorts to protect against friction from sex or other forms of exercise, or even a covering to keep those parts warm (like much of the rest of our body hair). None of this means that there is necessarily anything wrong with choosing to trim or remove your pubic hair, however. It’s simply an indication that there isn’t a strong medical argument for removing it.
Another theory around the purpose of pubic hair has to do with pheromones, or chemicals your body produces that send subconscious messages to other human animals, including potential mates. “One theory is that you produce pheromones, which your pubic hair then traps. It does make sense that the smell from pubic hair can sexually entice your partner,” says Dr. Ross.
Additionally, many scientists think apocrine sweat glands, which are plentiful in areas that have lots of hair follicles—such as the pubic region—could create pheromones, and, interestingly, that these glands don’t really start working until puberty, according to a January 2012 article in Journal of Advanced Research. That dovetails nicely with another theory about pubic hair purpose: that it signals to possible mates that you’ve gone through puberty and may be able to produce offspring. “For primitive purposes, perhaps pubic hair was a gender-specific way to identify women [of reproductive age],” says Dr. Ross.
With that said, science is divided when it comes to pheromones. There’s debate over what they really are or do, and there’s also no conclusive evidence that they even exist in humans.
Why do some people choose to remove their pubic hair?
There are various reasons why people might decide to remove their pubic hair, but a lot of them are rooted in sexual health myths.
“For many [of my patients], having less pubic hair signifies a tidy, cleaner [vulva],” says Dr. Ross. Indeed, a 2015 study published in The Journal of Sex Medicine surveyed 1,110 people and found that “women are likely to report stronger associations with feelings of cleanliness, comfort, sex appeal, social norms of their peer group, and affordability as reasons for their chosen pubic hairstyle.”
Listen, I’m not about to tell you what to do with your body—if removing your magic carpet makes you feel better, go for it. But know that having pubic hair doesn’t automatically equal a “dirty” vulva! “Since there’s more hair, the pubic area could generate more heat, but if you wash with soap and water, there shouldn’t be any difference,” says Dr. Ross. (Just remember not to put any of that soap inside your actual vagina, because that could quite easily irritate its delicate tissue.) It’s fine if you personally feel more sanitary when you remove your pubic hair, but don’t start feeling like you’re dirty just because you skip a wax.
Now, about the “sex appeal” and “social norms of the peer group” reasons. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sex Medicine, 60% of the 439 men surveyed said they were more into “hair-free” sexual partners.
Everyone has their preferences, but trying to change someone else should never come into it. Unfortunately, it does.
“Sometimes there’s pressure from partners [for women] to have their pubic hair either trimmed or removed completely,” says Dr. Ross. No one should pressure anyone else into doing things with their pubic hair just because they like it more. “Would you mind trimming a little so I can have more access to your clitoris and try to make you orgasm multiple times?” is way different from “Ew, you have hair down there, gross.”
There’s really only one good reason for removing your pubic hair
That only good reason to remove your hair down there is if you want to do it for yourself for whatever reason. If you’re into removing your pubic hair because it makes you feel great, go for it. “A lot of women just like how it feels and find something aesthetically pleasing about it,” says Dr. Ross. Whatever makes you feel good is awesome, as long as it’s something you actually want to do.
Removing pubic hair does come with some risks
While it’s a common practice to remove pubic hair, it’s important to acknowledge that it can go awry sometimes. A December 2012 article in Urology estimates that from 2002 to 2010, there were around 11,700 incidents of “grooming-related injuries” in the genital region, with a confirmed 335 people actually visiting the emergency room. Razors were involved in 83% of those injuries! And a 2017 survey of 5,674 adults published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology found that 25.6% of the respondents had experienced a grooming-related injury.
Still, there are a lot of people taking the risk. A full 95% of the 1,110 people surveyed in the 2015 Journal of Sex Medicine study had removed their pubic hair at least once in the previous four weeks.
Even without razor-related injuries, grooming your pubic hair comes with the possibility of ingrown hairs. Under most circumstances, hair grows from the follicle straight out into the world, but when you remove hair—especially by shaving and tweezing—sharp stubble can grow back into the skin rather than out of it, the Mayo Clinic says. Additionally, ingrown hairs can lead to bumps, inflammation, scarring, and infection (which is why you should resist the urge to pull them out yourself). Since shaving and tweezing are more likely to result in those sharp hairs that grow back into the skin, waxing might be a better option. Still, ingrown hairs are always a possibility with any kind of hair removal, so this isn’t a fool-proof solution.
Ultimately, it’s still fine to go ahead and book that wax, reach for the razor, or trim your pubic hair however you see fit. But to avoid unnecessary pain or ingrown hairs, consider things like using shaving cream to soften the hair before you shave, always grabbing a clean razor, and making sure you’re not pulling the skin too tightly while you remove the hair. You might also opt for a hair-removal cream, though some of these can cause irritation, or laser hair removal. If you still find that you’re experiencing a lot of bumps, pain, or other irritation, consider chatting with a dermatologist for some extra guidance—or trying to accept your pubic hair as it is, if that’s an option, too.