I was dismayed to learn that a new study published by JAMA Dermatology, a respected scholarly publication, finds that 62% of a representative sampling of 3,316 American women said they completely remove their pubic hair. I was also shocked, as in my decades as a heterosexual adult male, I never encountered a shaved vagina. (I won’t answer the begged question except to say “enough.”) My unfamiliarity with the phenomenon of the bare pudenda may be generational: I’m a baby boomer and the women most inclined to groom their genitals are between 18 and 34 years of age.
I have always considered shaving the vagina to be completely weird and a sign of some disturbance, either in the individual or in a society that favors pubic hairlessness. My dislike of genital shaving goes back to the time of my first sexual awakenings, when, after seeing a woman in the flesh for the first time, I suddenly became disappointed and angry at the artificiality of the many Old Master nudes which revealed hairless pudenda. I wondered whether it was the painters or the society that so denigrated women that they wished to submit them to a mild form of mutilation.
My argument in favor of pubic hair begins by asking readers to consider the difference between the vagina of a woman and a pre-pubescent girl. If we shear the woman of her pubic hair, her close-up will resemble that of the girl’s. My belief is that at the heart of all shaving of female pubic hair is the desire to keep the woman a girl and all that means—callow, servile, possessing fewer rights, dependent upon the mature and experienced adult. The shaving of female pubic hair (male, too) is almost a perversity. Because it makes the woman resemble a little girl, it suggests the playing out of a pedophilic fantasy.
Thus, the men who want their women to shave their vaginas want to “puerilize” or “infantilize” them—turn them into immature girls, as opposed to enjoying their company and sexuality as adult women. Most of the women who want to remove their pubic hair, however, probably don’t have an unconscious desire to be little girls, but rather are followers of fashion or subservient to their significant other. The cultural authority of reality television, fashion/celebrity media and pornography (much of which involves pubic-ly-shaved women) is particularly pernicious, because it influences women to do something that isn’t healthy for them. Like tattoos, shaving pubic hair makes a woman a slave—either to society or to her significant other.
The really strange thing is that once again, Americans do something directly against their best interests. The overwhelming majority of women who shave say they do so for hygiene. They think they would be healthier without the hair. Wrong. The study points out that pubic hair traps bacteria, preventing it from entering the vaginal opening. It can also provide a cushion for what is particularly sensitive skin. In other words, like the small business owners and blue collar white worker who votes Republican, most women who go hairless down there are hurting themselves by doing something they mistakenly think will help.
So far, I have discussed three reasons for what is either a sudden fad or a cultural turn similar to rock-and-roll and smartphones: 1) The desire of certain men to transform women to girls for erotic fulfillment; 2) Extensive coverage of the trend in certain mass media, i.e., pornography, reality television and fashion/celebrity news; 3) The “new wife’s tale” that shaving is hygienic, when in fact it is not.
But I also connect the current prevalence of pudenda shaving as another manifestation of the infantilization of American society, which I have discussed many times, most recently on October 28, 2014, May 10, 2014 and December 7, 2013.
Infantilization occurs when adults focus on childhood entertainments and predilections. Their symbolic or cultural lives imitate the activities of children or extend children’s activities into adulthood. The growing number of adults who collect “My Little Pony” toys, play with Legos, vacation at amusement parks, attend adult sleepover functions at museums, spend hours playing video games, eat Gummi-bear vitamins, read juvenile fiction such as the Harry Potter books and watch superhero movies have all been infantilized in one way or another.
Consumer culture encourages adults to keep behaving like children. Museums offer adult sleepovers. Both General Mills and Kellogg’s sell dry cereals to adults by showing them playing at a children’s activities. Glorification of men and women who refuse to grow up and instead act like teenagers or preteens is one of the two or three most significant trends in movies over the past 10 or so years. Think of the “Harold & Kumar” movies, “Old School,” “Big,” “Grandma’s Boy,” the two “Ted” flicks, “The Wedding Crashers,” “Billy Madison,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “Dodgeball,” “Step Brothers,” “The 40-year-old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” all three “Hangovers,” the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,” “Hall Pass” and “Identity Thief,” just to name a few.
Consumer capitalism thrives when adults behave like children. Children find it harder to delay gratification. Children act on impulse more often than adults. Children are more prone to be taken in by magical and illogical thinking. Children more readily accept the word of authorities. Children are easily influenced by their peers, social custom and advertising. In every way, children make for better consumers than adults. It’s no wonder then that our mass media and mass culture do so much to encourage adults to remain as children in their entertainments and their thought processes.
The sick twist to pudenda shaving is that be it reading Harry Potter or collecting My Little Ponies, infantilized adults are doing something that children do. Shaving the vagina represents not a participation in childish activities, but a sexualizing imitation of the physical state of childhood. I write “sexualizing,” because there is nothing sexy about a child’s vagina. That simple fact combined with the knowledge that shaving is not healthy should convince American women to stop applying razors to their vaginas and run—don’t walk—from any man who wants them to shave down there.