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Heather Corinna replies:
To shave or not to shave? Rather a drama queen way to ask a question but there it is. My boyfriend wants to have oral sex with me, and I am fine with that, but he is asking if I can shave my hair down there. Now I thought that was a bad idea, because I remember hearing something about the hair being a ventilation system for you and helps prevent infection. However, I would like to do something but what? Trim? Or is shaving really not that bad? What is healthiest?
Let's get the health issues out of the way first, since there really aren't any big ones.
The only important or potentially big health risk shaving may pose is if you shave, then have genital sex of any kind with a partner very soon afterwards. That's because the small nicks, scrapes and minor abrasions that can happen with shaving can create additional possible sites for sexually transmitted infections to be transmitted or acquired. However, that's something easily taken care of for those who do shave by simply shaving the day or two before any kind of sex, not right before.
From everything I know, that's the only serious issue when it comes to your physical health that shaving presents. Having hair there can help keep things cooler, so (I know of no actual studies on this) you may be somewhat more inclined to infections without it. Pubic hair also may help keep some bacteria out of the vagina or urinary opening but at the same time, the outer and inner labia do that as well, so it's not like you're left with zero protection if you don't have any pubic hair, or trim it shorter.
Women tend to report different experiences of sex with or without pubic hair. Some women feel that their pubic hair provides a nice, comfy cushion for certain sexual activities, that it's part of their gender identity, and that feeling the movement of that hair adds some sensitivity. Other women report that taking that hair away increases their sensitivity, that not having hair is part of their gender identity, and feel less or no hair gives a partner more access to the whole of their vulvas. Historically and culturally, if you want a momentary geekout, there have been some superstitions around removing body hair because of the idea that our own pheremones and body scent are part of our sexual chemistry and appeal, and our body hair holds and transmits those things.
There's also the day-to-day practical stuff to deal with. Some women who feel like having the hair removed feels good still choose not to, or choose to only do so rarely because there's always the ingrown hairs and growback to deal with, which can feel mighty prickly, itchy and not-so-awesome, as well as the upkeep. Some women just have too much on their plate already to add one more grooming ritual to their daily routines, or feel like any benefits it might or can offer them aren't worth the time and money they have to invest to shave, wax or otherwise deal with something that's totally fine as-is. Of course, we don't all have the same amount of pubic hair, so for those with a thicker patch of pubic hair, a trim or removal is earnestly helpful when it comes to ease of access for partners during activities like oral sex. At the same time, since partners also don't often tend to have their hands tied behind their backs when providing oral sex, it's not like a partner can't use their fingers to move any hair out of the way if need be.
But this isn't just about your physical health, the physicality of sex or practical issues. It's also about your own identity, how you feel best when it comes to your own body, how you choose to present for yourself and others, as well as about the interpersonal dynamics of a given sexual relationship.
The big question is this: what do YOU want to do, for yourself? What would you want to do if a partner you were with had instead said -- as I feel is the more respectful thing to say when we're dealing with a body that isn't ours -- "Whatever you want to do with your body hair is your call. It's not my body to make choices about or demands of. I'm going to be excited about your body and the way you choose to present yourself no matter what, because it's you, it's how you express yourself, and I'm into you just as you are and as you choose to be based on your own preferences."
If your boyfriend was saying something like that, and giving you that kind of freedom of choice, what would you prefer to do for yourself? Whatever the answer is, in my book that's the right answer about what to do, just like it would be when it comes to how you style your hair (or if you style your hair), if you get tattooed, or whether or not you wear the purple shoes or the black ones on Friday.
I also like to posit to women in this situation -- because it almost always is women in this spot -- to give some thought to how your boyfriend might react if the shoe were on the other foot (or the razor on the other pubes, as it were).
While I've never had a partner of any gender ask me to do anything specific for them with my pubic hair, if I had, I probably would have asked them "What if I asked the same of you?" Or maybe even said, "Okay, let's both do it then! Lather up!" Fairness matters to me, as does being in sexual relationships where nothing is expected of one partner that couldn't be expected of the other. I personally am just not down with double standards in my relationships and don't find them to be a recipe for the kinds of relationships I want to be having.
I think it can be good to talk in some depth with a partner who has put this kind of thing out there, no matter what you choose to do. The why of his request doesn't strike me as inconsequential, and the why of that request may give you more information about the whole of your relationship and inform your sexual choices overall. It seems to me what there are some good answers to the question as well as some that aren't so good, and a few that may make you prefer to show a partner to the door, rather than to your clitoris.
Someone saying, for example, that they would prefer that because they want to see as much of you as possible, and have their mouth on as much of you as possible for your enjoyment and theirs is a pretty righteous answer (doesn't mean you have to choose to do it, but it's a really good answer -- that said, guys reading, don't use this one if you don't mean it). A partner saying they're worried they won't be able to find your clitoris otherwise also is in the good-zone, even though you could probably remedy that confusion with or without pubic hair. Someone saying they think a vulva isn't clean that has pubic hair is expressing an ignorance that you can easily educate them out of.
But what about a partner who expresses they feel like the hair you BOTH have around your genitals is icky only when women have it? Or who says that they just don't LIKE pubic hair on women (which is kind of like saying you don't like noses, the peach fuzz we all have on our cheeks or that you don't like men having hair on their bottoms)? Or who seems to express that they think women owe something like that to men, or that it's what they see in porn, so it's what women should choose to do? Not such great answers, to say the least.
The point is that some motivations for wanting you to shave may be things you want to know even if you DO shave and want to for yourself, because they might influence your choice to be sexual with someone, or to be sexual with them just yet. A partner who is simply freaked out by women's adult bodies as they are probably is not someone with the maturity you really want and need in a sexual partner, and might not be someone who is going to help keep your overall body image positive. A partner who wants the sex they have to look or seem like what they see in pornography may not have realistic expectations for real-people sex which could impact your sex life with them in a bunch of ways you may not like or want. If you felt worried a partner wanted you to shave for some crappy reasons, discovering what they really wanted was to be able to get the best eyeful of you they could to be most likely to have things feel great for you is going to make you feel a whole lot better, no matter what you choose to do.
It should be said, while I personally don't think any of this should have much to do with what sexual partners think, that people have a wide array of personal preferences or what they like most if they're thinking about pubic hair in the abstract. Some love a lack of hair or less hair, while others think pubic hair is the stuff of fluffy awesome and would prefer it be there. But for most people who are partnered with people they love, really like, or are at least seriously into, what they usually prefer is just that that partner looks exactly the way they -- the partner, not them -- likes to.
While I know that's a lot to think about, and probably more to think about when it comes to your pubic hair than you anticipated, I also want to remind you that it is just hair and that hair grows back.
Just like the hair on our heads, if you want to try shaving it, it's not like you have to commit to doing that from here on out. You can always try it and see how and if it works for you, and how you feel about it. If you find you like it, then you can stick with it for as long as you like. If you find you don't, you can ditch messing with that hair entirely or try something else, like trimming or waxing. I'd just encourage you to make these choices, like any with your appearance, based on what you want and what feels like the most authentic expression of who you are, rather than what someone else wants you to look like or who someone else wants you to be.
One more reminder? If you two are newer partners who have not been through the suggested time and practices for safer sex -- that's six months of only being with each other sexually, six months of latex barriers for any oral, vaginal or anal sex, and at least one full round of STI testing for both of you at the end of that period with negative results -- the hair may be a moot point. If you and your boyfriend are trying to reduce your risks of sexually transmitted infections before the end of that six month period of those practices (or are not monogamous), and he's therefore using a latex barrier with you during oral sex, the hair is going to be a total nonissue, since the barrier is going to cover most of it.
Here are a few extra links for the road: