Tags: body image, Feminism, feminism friday, FSD, health, pornography, pubic hair, Sexuality, shaving, vulvas, vulvodynia
Pubic hair periodically comes up within feminist circles. Discussions about it fall in & out of favor.
Well, recently, a Salon.com article titled “Is Bush Back?” made some waves. Once again discussions about pubic hair & feminism are contemporary.
A brief summary of the article is, the author was told about “Shave the Date,” a tongue-in-cheek personal celebration for now-President Bush’s departure from Washington. The author points out that this isn’t as Hip & Cool as it may first sound – pubic hair is making a comeback. Barenaked vulvas were popular in pornography & in society in the last two decades.
(I know I could walk into any of several local salons and get a bikini or a brazillian wax right now if I wanted to – although if I felt so inclined, I’d probably be choosy about which one to patronize! But it’s right up there, on the menu.)
But lately more hair is sneaking in. It’s more socially acceptable to have a bit of a hairy bush.
I found it rather interesting that the author pointed out a connection between economics & shaving patterns. She suggests that women groom more during boom economic times and less during recessions, such as the one the globe is feeling right now. Intuitively, it makes sense. When the economy is booming, people have more cash to spend on luxury goods & services, including beauty treatments. During downtimes, those luxury treatments are the first to go. On television and in comic strips, I’ve heard jokes about families resorting to cutting their own hair. On the sitcoms, this can end in hilarious disaster.
Perhaps some of this regrowth is in direct response to feminist analysis of pubic hair.
I don’t know if most feminists feel this way or if it’s just a vocal minority, but the loudest voices that ring most clearly in my ears are the ones that say “Never shave, trim, or shape your pubic hair, because doing so is a symptom of the patriarchy. You’re only doing it because the patriarchy tells you to. You only want to look that way because porn stars do it. You want to look that way because men like childish, immature looking women. Real women wear pubic hair.”
Unfortunately, once again I find myself feeling alienated by these most vocal feminists. I never really like feeling like my choice is never my own, even when I am fully aware of the repercussions of whatever choice it is I am making. That’s how I feel when it comes to feminism & pubic hair though – we must constantly question our choices. We can never be certain that we fully know ourselves, because of our socialization & gender roles.
It’s a real bummer if you ask me. If I don’t shave my pubes, then on the one hand I may have to defend this choice against macho men who have been socialized & conditioned to believe that a shaven vulva is inherently better than an unshaven one. (In practice, my own boyfriend does not seem to hold this belief – or if he does, he’s smart enough to keep it to himself!) But on the other hand, if I do shave, then I have to defend this decision against vocal feminists who tell me I am feeding the patriarchy by bowing to the peer pressure.
However, I also once again find myself in a unique position to point out a few shortcomings of arguements about pubic hair.
My answers are probably unusual. The most common responses re: shaving probably do fit the bill nicely for most people. Other feminists have done a good job of addressing the most common concerns re: to shave or not to shave, for example we have one vocal radical’s points and another newbie-friendly blog presents a couple of different points of view on the matter.
But I am constantly reminded…
I am not most people.
I’m actually one of the lucky ones. Most of you readers are probably lucky ones, too, and don’t even realize it. I actually have the option to manage my pubic hair.
On one of the support groups I’m a member of, some women have written that their pubic hair, in and of itself, causes a lot of grief & there isn’t much to be done about it. Some women with vulvodynia have vulvar pain so bad that they describe not being able to allow anything to touch thier pubic hair. Even warm water in the shower can’t fall directly onto the mons. Swimming is out of the question, due to the chemicals in a pool. Not that swimming in the ocean would be much better. Some women can’t tolerate the force of water pushing the hairs around.
It really does happen.
My heart goes out to these women. Shaving, waxing, trimming, and sometimes even wearing pants, isn’t even an option for them. I can’t take the vulvar health I do have for granted.
Yet, for others, managing pubic hair can actually be a way to manage vulvar discomfort. Everyone is different – it’s possible to have vulvodynia & feel a little better, either physically or emotionally or both, with minimal pubic hair.
I can go either way. I can leave it in place or I can manage it. In practice, I do go both ways.
I am so grateful to be able to go either way.
At this point, I can’t remember the motivations I had when I first started shaving my beaver, about age 15. I believe it was something along the lines of “Let’s try something new & see if I like it.” I found that I actually did like the rewards, so I maintained for awhile. It wasn’t really comfortable or pleasant. I have a lot of pubic hair so it took a long time. Looking back, perhaps the uncomfortable burning sensation I experienced when some of the supposedly bikini-safe shaving gel dribbled into my vestibule, should have been taken as a big fat warning sign of times to come. I wonder if it’s like that for everyone. How would I know?
I only had crappy disposable razors for a long time. Then I became aware of better, more long-lasting, more comfortable razors that felt less scrapey on the skin. Now you can get razors marketed for women that have 4 & 5 blades at once. I wonder if some of the push towards barenaked vulvas in porn & photography came from having better tools become available, which required less swipes of the razor. One swipe did the work of two or more.
Unfortunately over time, the discomfort I had with shaving gels increased. It might’ve been the vestibulitis acting up, or it might’ve been simple annoyance. There’s no use denying that managing pubic hair requires time & care.
Last year, I picked out a nice electric razor. I can’t shave with a regular razor & foamy gels anymore. I don’t want to risk getting the irritating shaving gels in my vagina. That means by extension, hair dissolvers like Nair are out of the question, too.
But with this new electric razor, I can shave my mons if I want to – among other things. I really enjoy working with it. I can use it outside of the shower, which means I don’t have to rely on gels to act as a buffer. It does not seem to cause me any pain in & of itself.
Electric razors can be a bit of a trick to find. They aren’t marketed towards women so much as men, and when I was shopping around for the perfect razor, most of the advice I heard was you get what you pay for.
Often, when I don’t feel like shaving, I still prefer to trim my pubic hair with a pair of safety scissors.
I’ve seen the question raised, “Why would you want to take sharp objects to your vulva just to get rid of a few hairs?”
A good question, indeed…Except that, I had vulvar surgery. The doctor already took a scalpel to my vulva.
It doesn’t really get much sharper then that.
An electric razor or a small pair of safety scissors by my own hand, is pretty unintimidating after that.
Been there, done that. Wrote the blog.
It may be worth noting here, that when I had my surgery, after I was put under but before things got started, I had to be shaved. I was instructed to not shave for a few weeks prior to surgery, in order to let the hair grow and also make sure there were no ingrown hairs that could become infected.
Not all of my pubic hair was removed, just the ones that were in the way of my vestibule. I am not sure if hygiene had anything to do with the surgeon’s decision to shave me, but I’m sure it made things easier to see.
I am certainly not afraid to look at my vulva. This surgery I had wasn’t cosmetic in nature. My vulva wasn’t ugly before and it’s not ugly now – although I do like the way this one looks better, because of what it means to me. It does look different – now when I look at my vestibule, I do not see so much redness & sorrow.
I like to check on my vulva at least 2x a day, mostly out of habit. I like to check in on it to make sure everything is within the range of normal. Discharge, odor, color, amount of smegma buildup, level of irritation – all must be within an acceptable range for me. If something falls out of range, I worry. Is it a warning sign of pending infection?
I do not know what will happen if I develop a vaginal infection from now on. I fear I may relapse or have a flare-up. I don’t know if my checking habit will be able to prevent infection from happening, or if it will let me get early treatment. But I take comfort knowing that I am trying to baby it & keep it happy. I’m trying.
I have enough pubic hair so that it does get in my way when I need to check my vulva. So having minimal pubic hair makes things easier to see. More light gets through to my vestibule, I have less hair to push & pull out of the way. It is less obscured.
I’ve had some issues with my pubic hairs in an of themselves causing me some discomfort.
Once in high school, I had an awful, painful experience with clitoral pain. It came on suddenly & I had to run funny for the cramped ladies room stall.
I was practically in tears in discomfort, hunched over the toilet and digging around my vulva trying to figure out what was wrong. It took me several minutes to find & remedy the problem.
It was a pubic hair.
It had gotten stuck under my clitoral hood.
I wasn’t shaving at that time. Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t – in this particular instance, I was letting it grow out for awhile longer. I had a whole bush going.
And a hair still got stuck in my clitoral hood.
And it was poking me and scraping me.
It was a trick to pull it out. Who designed these ladies room stalls? I had a hand mirror that I used, but there wasn’t much light to see what I was doing.
I felt immediately better after I got it loose, but I was somewhat irritated for the rest of the day.
This has happened a couple of times, whether I’ve shaved or not. I have a few hairs in an unfortunate position. They like curling up in such a manner that they pokes my clitoral hood if I let them grow long enough. When I do shave or trim I must be careful to rinse off well.
But since it happens whether or not I’ve managed my bush, pubic hair under hood seems to be a case of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
A counter argument that sometimes comes up, in favor of managing pubic hair, is that it makes having your period more comfortable, thanks to less mess.
When I’m menstruating, I still can’t use a tampon, so I can’t just plug it up & go about my merry way, mess-free. I freak out when I try to insert a tampon (even though I can use dilators fairly comfortably,) so it’s not really practical to tell me to use a diva cup or sea sponge.
So, I still use pads. I’m actually in the minority at this point – most women use tampons.
Tampons and pubic hair get pretty messy on the peak flow days.
One vocal feminist answer to pubic hair getting tangled by blood is, “WIPE. Deal with it!”
Which most of the time, probably for most women, is perfectly fine & effective.
However, in my experience, wiping does not get all that blood off. There’s still a residue of brown crust to deal with later. The menstrual blood itself is somewhat irritating to my vulva, as is this residue. It’s not terrible but it’s enough to notice.
And if you are so sensitive to touch that even soft toilet papers feel like sandpaper on your vulva, “Just wipe it” isn’t very good advice.
I don’t feel comfortable using disposable moist towelettes or baby wipes on my vulva either, because I don’t want the ingredients (usually including some combination of alcohol and/or fragrance,) going near it.
Personally, I prefer to, minimize the hair that gets tangled in the first place, by trimming… and then address the rest by Rinsing.
I live in the US, so bidets are a rarity. I have never in my life encountered one.
So in order to rinse the blood off, I have to use a few cups of warm water, or have a nice sitz bath, or take a shower.
Cups are in short supply in all the pubic bathrooms I’ve ever used.
I’d be embarrassed to lug my big ol’ sitz bath basin around in public (although I DID do it once – related to the surgery, again.)
And I can shower once a day or thereabouts, but doing more then that takes extra time & isn’t practical.
So even my favored approach to removing menstrual blood, the rinse, isn’t perfect. 8+ hours a day while I’m at work, rinsing is a bit of a trick. Theoretically it’s still possible.
I’ve heard tales of women sneaking mini squirt bottles into the rest rooms with them, if thier purses are big enough or if their pain is bad enough. When I hear these tales though, it’s probably not just the blood that’s irritating, but also the urine itself…
When you have to take a squirt bottle into the restroom with you, it’s usually because you don’t want to have to take a squirt bottle into the restroom with you. Sometimes I take a water bottle around town with me so I can drink when I’m thirsty. I’m reluctant to use the same water bottle to rinse off my vulva. I’m a little squicked out by the fact taht the bottle has my mouth germs on it. And once I run out of water, if I need to refill it in public, I’d have to leave the stall I’m in, fill up at the sink, and then go back into the bathroom.
So with regards to the clots of menstrual blood getting tangled in my pubic hair… for me it makes more sense to me to just, not let that happen in the first place. Or to minimize it as much as possible.
There is one other, somewhat more unusual but completely practical application of managing pubic hair.
And that is…
…Having a lot of pubic hair makes getting accurate readings on biofeedback machines a little harder.
…Biofeedback, in case you didn’t know, is another perfectly legitimate treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction, including but not limited to vaginismus, and sometimes for vulvodynia, bladder control, etc.
When you have a lot of pubic hair the machines will still give a decent reading. They still work. However, according to my physical therapist, having a lot of pubic hair where the electrodes need to go, might influence the readings. It makes sense – are the sticky electrodes attached to your vulvar & anal skin, or to your vulvar & anal hair? If it’s the hair, they might wiggle around with your every movement.
Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who has enough pubic hair so that it influences the biofeedback machine. Not enough to make biofeedback worthless, but it’s causing some interference.
For example, this was the case at my most recent biofeedback session. I let my pubic hair grow out somewhat, thinking I could still get away with it. But during therapy, my readings were getting screwed up. There is no way my tensile strength is THAT high for THAT short a length of time (a fraction of a second) and there is no way my relax state is that uneven. My readings, when the electrodes are properly applied, are usually much more stable then that! I’d been keeping up my exercises at home, so I can’t say I slacked off & got weak. It’s not supposed to look that jagged!
I reached down & felt the electrodes. They were partly stuck to me and partly stuck to my pubic hair. Which is a real bummer because the therapist tried very hard to get the electordes to stick properly. It just kind of worked out that way this time.
Having all that pubic hair makes removing the sticky electrodes a little uncomfortable too – tug, tug, pull, pull… Oops one pubic hair just broke off me now. So much for letting it grow out = no ingrown hairs…
Of course, someone confronted with this anecdote may, in a great huff, tell me,”Well then just shave off the hair that’s in the way & leave the rest alone!” Or perhaps, “Deal with the slightly inaccurate biofeedback readings!” Or, perhaps the worst thing you could possibly say to me would be “Oh but that’s so rare, it’s so weird, that doesn’t happen to anybody ever.”
Meh, I like the way this looks & feels better. I already started managing it in one area, may as well finish the rest of the job. That way I can see how the skin is holding up on my mons too. And yeah the biofeedback readings are still okay, but I’m so curious now to see if we can make them look more level without the hair in the way. And please don’t say that last thing to me. FSD is not as uncommon as you may like to think, and biofeedback can be a non-invasive treatment option for some forms of it, among other things. It makes me feel like I don’t matter when you say things like that.
I will never tell you whether to manage your pubic hair or not. I will never tell you what is the best choice for you, because only the individual can make that decision. I will never take that choice away from anyone, and I would very much appreciate it if no one took that choice away from me, either, in the name of the greater good.
After all – I’m know how lucky I am to have that choice.
Don’t forget about that.
Tags: female sexual dysfunction, Feminism, feminism friday, FSD, language, relationships, sex, Sexuality
It seems that the ability to have sexual intercourse, and to prefer it over all other types of sexual activity, and to perform at some quantifiable level, is the norm for adults… and I suppose that’s also viewed as normal for some of them-thar teenagers having sex. We see actors & actresses having this type of sex often enough on mainstream television and in movies. When hot naked sex scenes aren’t explicitly depicted, there is still plenty of innuendo to allow the reader to fill in the blanks. The camera pans over to a couple in bed with the sheets pulled up to their chests. Mom & Dad walk in on a young couple lying face-to-face naked in the boyfriend’s bed. A cop knocks on the window of a car with sweaty scantily clad people in it.
Now before you tune out about “Oh god another post about sex in the media and how it’s bad for the moral fiber of the country oh god I’ve already heard this one a million times,” let me assure you:
This is not about whether is “Too much sex” in the media, or among teenagers, or outside of wedlock.
This is not about whether or not “Too much sex” is inherently bad for the health & morality of whatever country you’re living in.
Indeed, it seems that what I’m saying between the lines is actually, “There is too little variety of sex in the media and in conversation.” Forget about the given quantity of sex we see – why do we see one type of sex so much to the exclusion of others?
This is about the quality of the sex surrounding us.
When movies want to deal with other kinds of sexual activity besides intercourse, the alternative activity needs to be named, because normal “Sex” means “Intercourse.” It does not mean, “Oral, anal, kinky, et al.” It means one man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina and thrusts for awhile until one or both orgasm. When referring to other kinds of sexual activity, the specific type in mind will need be called its proper name, or a slang term. Doing so requires more work on the part of the viewer and the speaker to point out that no, we are not dealing with intercourse. Depending on whether we’re dealing with a comedy or a drama, the sex scenes depicted – both intercourse and not – will be treated with varying degrees of dignity & respect.
It is worth noting an example here of the sexual double (or multi?) standard – The teen classic coming-of-age sex comedy, American Pie does treat sexual intercourse with much more respect than it does oral sex & masturbation. When the main male characters do eventually have intercourse their female partners, two of the scenes slow it down & aren’t very funny at all. Romantic music plays. In the rest of the movie, oral sex & masturbation were the laughingstock.
I wonder why that is (except not really.)
But sometimes sex doesn’t come so easily for some of us.
At least, not that kind of sex, the default meaning. Intercourse.
And it’s kind of a bummer to be constantly reminded of that.
It may not have been the smartest move on my part when I watched, Boogie Nights while experiencing peak vestibulitis.
When you have FSD, this standard definition of sex may be out of reach – at least, hopefully, temporarily. When we treat intercourse as the default, it creates anxiety & pressure to perform on a level that may be too far out of reach for some. We can do lots of other neat, interesting things – but we can’t do this one simple task that so many others can.
Sex therapists, (such as Klein & Robbins,) some doctors & some patients with sexual dysfunction will advise expanding the defnition of sex beyond the borders of penis-vagina man-woman intercourse. This is good advice – it’s much more useful than “Have a glass of wine and relax,” since, don’t you think we’ve tried that already? Such a view reduces pressure to perform & creates a more relaxed atmosphere with regards to other sexual activity.
We must expand the meaning of “Sex” beyond just “Intercourse.” That is the default meaning of sex when it is not otherwise elaborated upon. That is “Normal” sex. Other types of activity must be explicitly spelled out. The audience’s reactions to such alternatives may vary from disgust to amusement.
When you can’t have the default definition of sex, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of sexual avoidance. “If this activity can’t end in intercourse, then there is no reason to pursue it. I will only wind up disappointing my partner and myself. He (or she) really only wants this one thing which I cannot do… to do otherwise will be a letdown.” A few people may trudge onwards through distressing intercourse anyway, goaded on by a sense of duty – but this can worsen painful and/or distressing symptoms & lead to feelings of resentment for one or both parties involved.
Sometimes, when you have FSD, you gotta get real creative, real quick.
So I’ve expanded my definition of “Sex” to include sexual activity besides just intercourse. Intercourse isn’t working for me right now, but I can still do lots of other things. You don’t necessarily have to turn off your turn-ons. Just keep an open mind.
I suppose you could say to me, “That’s easy for you to say.” I’m one of the lucky ones – I’m sexually greedy enough so that I’m not willing to stop having other types of sexual activity with my partner.
But I am in a long-distance relationship too. That means my partner & I are used to going long periods of time without partnered sexual activity. And when we do get together, it always takes awhile to become re-acquainted with each other physically. That means that we have to slowly explore each other’s bodies & experiment each time we see each other.
Okay so I’ve expanded my definition of sex. I take satisfaction from the non-intercourse sexual activities. I still get to have fun & satisify my partner. Whatever I do doesn’t necessarily have to lead to intercourse or even orgasm.
The alternatives can be the obvious ones I’ve already mentioned – oral sex, anal sex, masturbation – as well as some more creative works.
Some alternatives suggested by Drs. Klein & Robbins include but are not limited to:
Integrating sex toys
Massage – regular or erotic
Mutual or solo masturbation
Sharing & executing fantasies
Dancing – for or with your partner
Showering/grooming with your partner
Making your own porn with the camcorder
Reading erotica or watching porn together with your mate
(All paraphrased from Let Me Count the Ways.)
Their big theme is emphasizing “Outercourse” rather than intercourse, which can be considered a state of mind (141).
Not listed here but coming to me just off the top of my head is cybersex.
Not that you have to do any of the things on this list, if you or your partner are uncomfortable doing so. When it comes to sex (the wide and narrow meaning,) consent and safety come first.
And not that this list is all-inclusive. You can probably think of a lot of fun, interesting things you’d like to do that I didn’t list here!
We can get into a tricky spot when we start thinking about some of the sexual alternatives – keeping an open mind like means we may have to confront our negative feelings about certain kinds of sex. If intercourse is “Normal,” then are the alts “Abnormal?” (And I’m thinking to myself here, “No, of course not.”) Sometimes we may even have to weigh the social consequences of engaging in such activity. Dealing with FSD might be as good a time as any to think about BSDM & kinky (yet still non-penetrative) activity. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss all pornography everywhere. Is a facial shot another expression of the patriarchy degrading women, or a safe, non-penetrative, pain-free alterantive to intercourse? Klein & Robbins warn the reader that we when we do explore alternative forms of sexual expression, we may have to deal with some ambiguity. I’m not sure that even I will be able to fully resolve my own mixed feelings regarding some sexual activities.
But maybe I can live with that.
After all, ultimately the choice of sex – under this expanded definition – must be that of the individual’s.
I have but one problem with expanding the definition of sex, and really it may not be a problem at all –
I still want to have that default definition of sex, too.
Despite all my setbacks and all my failed attempts – I still want to have intercourse with my partner.
I don’t want to remove “Intercourse” from the meaning of “Sex.” I still want to include it.
Luckily most of the people I’ve encountered in my life want me keep the option of intercourse on the table. My doctors, my boyfriend, my friends, and even my family, all want me to to have a healthy sex life & enjoy intercourse.
But perhaps we can de-emphasize intercourse and raise the alternatives higher up the list when we talk about sex. Perhaps for some of us, intercourse is something that will only be available on the menu on a rotating basis. A “Special,” if you will, or a desert rather than the main course. A lovely treat, but all the items on the menu are delicious as well.
You don’t necessarily have to give up on sex just because you aren’t having “Normal” sex.