It’s August, which means that it finally just might be bikini-bottom season here in the Gray Bay Area. And for the first time in a year, my inner thighs are seeing the light of day in a state that is distinctly fuzzier than the last time they made their grand, pale debut.
I stopped regularly shaving various parts of me about 10 months ago, when I realized that I was too lazy, that I didn’t value the way smooth and hairless body parts looked or felt, and no one around me really gave a shit either way. But for me, for some reason, there was a big difference between not shaving my legs and letting my bikini-thatch flourish, untamed and unfettered.
For one thing, I don’t actually mind getting bikini waxes. The whole pain-kink thing pretty much swallows most of the discomfort, and the whole process of getting pampered and eucalyptus oiled does the rest. I have actually fallen asleep while getting a bikini wax, which I can only ascribe to the fatigue I carried around with me like a backpack while I was in college.
Plus, there’s the whole courtesy-during-oral thing. Most of my dates don’t seem to mind getting chin deep in fluff now and again, but I don’t want to completely suffocate them.
However, lately, my skin has decided that it shares none of these compunctions. Every time I even think about taking a razor to my bikini line, my inner thighs erupt with ingrown hairs, convincing me on a near-fortnightly basis that I have Martian herpes.
After one particularly bad outbreak, which culminated in my problematically hot doctor having to dig a chickpea-sized mass of hardened pus out from under my skin with a needle, I decided enough was enough. I’ve still been trimming, because otherwise I feel like I’m trying to smuggle around a degu with a perm, but I’ve been letting the rest of my pubes grow wild and free.
At first, I definitely felt self-conscious about this. Even stumping around my apartment in my underwear, which I’d previously done with no hesitations, became awkward. I was incredibly aware of the inch-wide strip of sparse hair on either side of my underwear, which suddenly seemed to scream, “Naked! Naked! This person is totally naked under here!”
But you know what? According to science, not shaving is totally the #1 way to keep your crotch healthy and horror-free. In Britain, a family physician named Emily Gibson has embarked on a quest to reclaim pubic hair. On KevinMD.com, a well-known medical blog, Gibson wrote:
"Pubic hair removal naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles, leaving microscopic open wounds. Frequent hair removal is necessary to stay smooth, causing regular irritation of the shaved or waxed area. When that is combined with the warm, moist environment of the genitals, it becomes a happy culture media for some of the nastiest bacterial pathogens."
Remember the whole chickpea situation? It probably came from my labia-swamp. Weirdly, my instinct tells me that more hair means a grosser environment, but Dr. Gibson says it’s not the case. Shaving, she says, carries a greater risk for the contraction of herpes and other infectious diseases. You can also develop cellulitis, labia infections, abscesses or -- get ready for this one -- boils.
I know that one, too, because before Mount Chickpea, I had a tiny boil just below my underwear line. I felt sort of fond of it after a while, but still. Vagina boil.
Regardless of medical recommendations like these, the Guardian points out, the hair removal industry was worth $2.1 billion in the U.S. alone last year. And though Dr. Gibson is only one physician, I’d love to think that missives like these would signify a sea change in pubic hairstyle trends and doctors’ responses to them.
Unfortunately, I doubt that’s the case. Women have done a lot of questionably healthy things in the name of beauty -- if forced ketosis is still a thing, I’m pretty sure the occasional vagina boil won’t be enough to deter most women from waxing.
As Gibson says, “Pubic hair does have a purpose, providing a cushion against friction that can cause skin abrasion and injury, and protection from bacteria.” If she had been channeling Eve Ensler, she could have likened it to the petals on a flower, a la The Vagina Monologues.
Instead, she continued, “It is the visible result of adolescent hormones and certainly nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.”
Visible pubic hair, particularly on women, seems to automatically engender the immediacy of the nearby genitalia, no matter what well-meaning physicians maintain. And, as usual, female sexuality seems most palatable when it’s controllable. The hair removal industry capitalizes on that fear of the untamed: It equates pubic hair neatness with femininity and cleanliness, when it’s actually maybe a breeding ground for what appears to be the plague.
My little side-lawn circumvents that: It reinforces the fact that I’m a post-pubescent adult, and that I am totally capable of using the vagina-and-co. buried under there for my own pleasure. When you’re, say, at the neighbor’s pool with your mom, that can make things a little awkward. For me, though, the release from the threat of Martian herpes was worth it.
Kate is continuing to overshare on @katchatters.