Most women do not spend time thinking about their vaginas unless one of two things is happening: They’re crazy in love and thinking about sex all the time or there is something wrong down there. When women have itching, a bad odor, or pain it is hard to think about anything else other than ones vagina. The latter can come for plenty of legitimate reasons: yeast infections, a Herpes outbreak, or Bacterial Vaginosis and does warrant a trip to your GYN provider. However, what I encounter even more often than the Real McCoy of a problem are avoidable irritations created from washing one’s most delicate parts with Tide-strength perfumed body washes, wearing a bleached panty liner all the time, and the irritating side-effects of hair removal. These are sure-fire ways of creating uncomfortable and recurrent irritations that will cost you multiple co-payments and avoidable worries.
When I first started in practice – twenty years post-debut of Ms. Magazine - I didn’t see women for these hygiene-induced complaints. Now, I see them daily. Back then I think a kind-of Hippie mentality was more prevalent and women seemed to embrace their genitals with a more politically conscious, feminist appreciation. Today’s vulvas are not only subject to extraordinary cleaning and perfuming but their also rendered bald. For the past 15 years seeing a vulva with pubic hair has been a rarity. In the ‘90’s the only woman I knew who removed her pubic hair was a resident from Turkey who came to train with us. At the time, my partners and I found this an exotic practice from her middle-eastern home land. We weren’t seeing this replicated in any of our American patients, regardless of age. We all took it in stride and placed it under the general heading of cultural diversity. Nowadays, it’s usually only the over 50’s crowd that has any pubic hair whatsoever and when residents and students see this they almost always comment. Tables have turned and now the presence of pubic hair is the new exotica.
I asked an age-matched colleague of mine what he was told pubic hair was for when he was in medical school and his OB/GYN residency. He couldn’t recall if anyone had specifically mentioned its purpose but was able to tell me that the common understanding was that pubic hair was there to provide protection for the delicate vulvar and external genital tissues. Aha!! This is exactly my point! I voiced my conviction about this to my colleague who scoffed and told me it was ridiculous. He said the exemplary precedent we have for hair removal not damaging the skin is men’s daily facial shaving. But the skin on men’s faces is not the same as that of women’s vulvas. I couldn’t let this rest. So, I consulted with Dr. Google and don’t you know I was correct after all!
According to a number of articles the damage caused to hair follicles from waxing and other types of hair removal techniques is significant. Should a woman decide to resume a more au natural appearance, re-growth attempts may be unsuccessful and result in patchy, interspersed bald spots. So now, women are having pubic hair transplants – no kidding! This has become so prevalent that even Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cameron Diaz have come out with statements encouraging women to accept their naturally occurring pubic hair. Hair removal techniques are not only damaging to follicles but they make women look like pre-pubescent little girls. Other than our Turkish resident, the only women I knew of that shaved their pubic hair were porn stars in their efforts to make their genitals more visible. What is this saying about today’s American teens and women who want to be taken more seriously than ever before?
When it comes to best washing practices the only thing you really need is water. Separate the labial folds so you can rinse yourself off thoroughly. When I say this to patients, they think I am crazy. But, your genitals are not an EPA dump site. The only vaginas that are “dirty” are the ones that have an over-growth of bacteria, yeast, or a confirmed STI – it’s just that simple. As far as hair removal is concerned, I challenge every one of you who does this to ask yourself why. For the abundantly hairy person, clipping seems perfectly reasonable. But the bald vulva is not the normal vulva of an adult woman. There really is no reason to remove the pubic hair, unless you’re planning on selling it to women who have lost it from doing the same thing you’re doing and now want it back.
I never really gave Lady Gaga too much thought. Now, knowing she is encouraging women to leave their pubic hair as nature intended makes me want to buy every one of her recordings.
E. Resh, copyright 6/2017