Friday, June 16, 2017

Pubic Grooming: Witnessing a Cultural Shift in Process

"What?" he asked, distracted by the flex of the muscles in her legs, the neatly trimmed curls disappearing behind cotton bikinis" (Anne Calhoun, Turn Me Loose)

And when you press your face there, you'll find I have no hair between my legs, either. I keep myself smooth as silk down there (Cara McKenna and Charlotte Stein, Way Down Deep)

First things first, Alex manscapes: there's no 70s style dick fro going on down there. He's not quite like my beaver—she sports only a short Mohawk—but he's neat and tightly trimmed. I know some guys do this to make it appear bigger. In this instance, I'm positive I'm not gawking at an optical illusion. It's huge. (Helena Hunting, Pucked)

When I first started this blog back in 2012, references to pubic hair in romance novels outside of sexual encounters were few and far between. So I was really struck when not just one, but three of the six romance novels I read this past week included some mention of grooming of a character's nether regions. From bikini waxes to Brazilians, from landing strips to Mohawks, even now crossing the gender line to "neat and tightly trimmed" manscaping, mentions of pubic grooming has become increasingly more common in romances published in the United States—at least in the romance worlds of white, college-educated protagonists.

Recent advertisement for Schick's new Hydrosilk Trim style razor: guess which woman used it?

Doctors and researchers have noticed this new trend in personal grooming, and have begun to study it. Since 2010, in journals such as The Journal of Sexual Medicine, the Journal of Pediatric Adolescent Gynecology, and JAMA Dermatology, such researchers have published their investigations into both the practices of pubic grooming (its prevalence, methods, characteristics) and its cultural components (why people do it, and what are their attitudes towards it).

I find the whole thing pretty strange, which is not surprising, given that I'm not among the demographic researchers have pointed to as being the most likely to groom down below. As the October 2016 JAMA Dermatology study reports, women who engage in pubic grooming are typically younger (18-24 rather than 40-55), white, and have attended some college when compared with woman who do not groom. They "also groom if their partner prefers them to do so," rather than because of the specific sexual practices in which they commonly engage.

What's a feminist to do? Simply chalk up the difference to generational preferences and move on? Or worry over the potential for injury that comes along with pubic shaving? Or about recent studies that have shown a correlation between frequent pubic grooming and STD's? Or about the implications of pubic grooming on body issues, not just for women, but also for men, if Helena Hunting's Pucked narrator is correct in suggesting that such grooming work is becoming de rigeur not only to maintain proper femininity, but also to be considered properly manly?

Are romance novels passively mirroring a larger culture trend? Or are they actively constructing a vision of acceptable (and unacceptable) pubic hair care? A vision that feminist-minded authors and readers should take steps to question?


  1. There are two cultural narratives ongoing about men.or perhaps young men. One is they will have sex with anything - a sheep, a greased hole in a barrel, a sex doll, a too-drunk-to-know woman. The other is that women have to look perfect to 'catch' one or gain his approval - weight, clothing, nails, hair, skin, make up and for this generation pubes. When pube scaping first came into fashion, it made me feel tired. One more thing to maintain carefully. Personally, I prefer to do a light version of it. But as a feminist issue -- I think there's something wrong with women worrying about looking perfect and perfectly controlled everywhere to please a man. Trendwise, it will be interesting to see where this goes now that liberal young women are into the next big thing -- not shaving their legs.

  2. I really don't want to see grooming in romance novels. To be really frank, romance novels often enforce beauty standards (for some reason), and I don't need to feel inferior when a romance hero or heroine talks about how sexy bare vulva are. I groom, but I don't want to feel pressured to, I don't want to feel like I'm a pariah if I'm not as hairless as a baby. Keep that out of my fantasy, thanks. The Anne Calhoun quote us easier to tolerate because at least he likes her natural and won't shun her otherwise.