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Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012

In Defense of Pubic Hair

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If you know me personally, you are probably aware that I am a fan of the BBC show “Sherlock”. In fact, I'm a bit of a “Sherlock” geek, and if you stop by the Tool Shed on any given weekend, you are likely to find me wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with some obscure reference to the show (today's slogan: "consulting pirate." You'll get it when you watch Series 2, Episode 1). I absolutely love actress/writer Louise Brealey, who plays the hapless Molly on “Sherlock.” Anyone who describes herself as a feminist (no qualifiers) on her Twitter profile and follows that with the John Waters quote, “If you go home with somebody and they don't have books, don't fuck them,” has completely captured my heart.

Recently, Brealey was interviewed in the Observer. In this piece, she discusses acting, writing, her schooling, feminism and campanology, but the bit that seemed to garner the most reaction was this small sentence: “I don't wax my pubic hair off.” More than half of the comments following the article are about pubic hair. The day after the article was released, Brealey tweeted, “Happy to report that the Comments bit has now descended into a row about pubic hair,” and created the hashtag #lovemelovemymuff (which, alas, did not get too much play).

I have two reactions to this. The first was sadness that in a 968-word article about a woman's career and opinions, these six words are the ones that readers respond to. Apparently, the most interesting thing that intelligent, accomplished women have to offer are their genitals.

My second reaction was relief that I am not 20 years old right now. In the same way that I am incredibly glad that Facebook did not exist when I was bumbling through my awkward, emotionally vulnerable teens and early 20s, I am glad that I did not grow up with a porn-inspired beauty standard that necessitates constant, painful and expensive maintenance (Brazilian waxes in Milwaukee typically cost between $65-$75). Am I categorically opposed to totally bare female genitals? No—but I think it should be a choice, a conscious choice motivated by a woman's personal aesthetic preferences, as opposed to what she feels she “should” do to fit into a narrow definition of “sexually attractive woman.”

I worry that young people, lacking context, will see this not as a hairstyle trend that they can choose to follow or not (like, you know, feather extensions), but as a cultural mandate. I have worked in health clinics for the last 10 years, and in the mid-'00s, nurses used to stop me in the halls with worried expressions to ask me, “Why don't any of these young women have pubic hair anymore? What's going on?” On the other side of the stirrups, some of their patients probably thought, “Oh, I have a gyno appointment, and surely no one looking at my vag wants to see it surrounded with naturally occurring hair. Wax time!” Following the comments on her interview, Brealey tweeted, “My niece (17) says she's never had any pubic hair. She thinks it's dirty & says boys her age [would] mock her if she had any.” Is it too much to hope for that women feel proud of their bodies, not ashamed, and do not constantly worry what other people think?

Brealey's final tweet on this topic was a link to the following blog post, "disappearance"—interesting musings about the social significance of pubic hair's decline.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.


Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.
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