The miscellaneous hazards of pubic hair

12/19/2008 at 10:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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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.”

Livejournal may not be the end-all, beat-all feminist location, but we can see some discussions of feminism & pubic hair here and here. I’m sure you’ve seen some elsewhere, as well.

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.

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8 Comments »

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  1. thanks so much for this article; I can relate to a ton of what you said and it is so hard I have been dealing with lots of clitoris pain lately and i have let my pubic hair grow out and i don’t know some days it’s just so bad. I got tested for a yeast infection and it was negative, but my dr. did say that I have contact dermatitis. i use a cream but it only helps so much. I feel like a freak because the pain and irritation of my clitoris is stopping me from feeling normal. Sometimes I just cry about it because I can’t take it anymore. I have tried washing with less soap and using my cream but one thing I know i’m doing wrong is wiping because i don’t know I think I mess myself up with that. I just always feel like my clitoris is out of place, and i used to rub and rub it to try to make it sit down more normally- but it never does. I don’t know what you had exactly but what is the surgery you had for it and would you recommend it?

  2. Hi allie,

    Well I had a vestibulectomy, which should not address clitoral pain. The surgeon leaves that part alone. This surgery only addresses vulvar vestibulitis. You can HAVE both clitoral pain & vestibular pain at the same time, but the surgery is only supposed to deal with one of those things.

    I never say whether to get a vestibulectomy or not. There are risks, and I took them. I responded well, but it *has* to be an individual decision.

    Now one of the women who writes about clitoral pain is getting a surgery for that in a few days. I believe the proper term for the surgery is ‘Lysis of labial adhesions.” It’s a real problem for her. This sounds more like what you’re looking for. Maybe you could ask her? She blogs over at Life with Vulvodynia.

  3. Hi K,

    Your experience with clitoral pain and pubic hair seems so similar to mine! I’ve been having that kind of sharp pains now and then during the past two years, which many times has caused my sexual life to become very difficult or sometimes impossible.

    For me all started one day that I had some urinary incontinence due to cystitis, I was on my way home pressing the pubis with my hand from inside the trouser’s pocket, then I felt that pain for the first time.

    Since that day I was thinking I had damaged a nerve, letting time for it to heal, worrying whenever it became worse, etc. Some days even changing leg’s position would make it hurt.

    Then I got help from a friend to look into my clitoral hood, and inside there were not one, but many pubic hairs trapped. My anatomy makes my hood a really great place to things getting inside and not coming out again.

    I got relief but continued having some problems, and second time I checked there was still a very little piece of hair inside. Removing it was so difficult I had to be helped and have my friend taking it with two pieces of tissue.

    But even now I’m getting some irritation or pain if I stimulate vigorously my clit (I used to be able to do this all my life without problems), that led me to think maybe I have still a very little hair trapped, or maybe my hair it’s still irritating me for some reason.

    I went to a gynecologist and I felt she didn’t really listen to my story, she didn’t seen anything in the exploration (but she didn’t explore in depth, I think) and later was needed to keep asking and asking to have her finally telling me that I had coco-bacillar flora and inflammatory cells on my uterus’ neck. She gave me a cream, was so rude about my questions, and just told me that if I have pain again, use the cream.

    The cream has helped a bit, but although I have far less pains, still I have sometimes depending on the stimulation intensity and this affects my sexual life with partners.

    What I’ve finding out, and your case tells me so, it’s maybe the problem it’s in my pubic hair growing. I have too misplaced hairs that come from inside my big lips and I’m suspecting that they’re growing in more quantity and depth since some years ago. They also curl at the border of lips in a way that maybe could irritate the end of clitoris and some parts of the hood, which are the symptoms I’ve been having. Also, the location of pain varies slightly and seems relieved when I cut short my hair.

    I’m afraid maybe I’ve caused a little of internal scratching with the hairs, and this will take some more time to be completely healed.

    Now I’m looking for a good gyne to repeat the exams and look more carefully into my hood, and then maybe I should think about getting the lip’s inner hair removed. When I cut it, it still gets uncomfortable, and I’m afraid of cutting my

    Do you know any good way to remove hair that is inside the vulva? Of course I don’t dare to do it myself in any way, electrolysis seems too painful to be done there… Maybe some kind of laser?

    • One of the other vulvar pain bloggers, Quinn, she had a procedure done on her clitoral hood – I think it was… “Lysis of labial adhesions.” I think what happened is a doctor had to perform a minor type of surgery on the clitoral hood to release some gunk that had been building up.
      This blogger also gets regular wax jobs, actually, & they’re uncomfortable but to her they are worth it.

      Then there’s also a diagram on this page which is useful generally: Adhesions – there’s a little picture of one way doctors can remove them; not sure if that’s still up to date or not.

      And I’ve talked to other women who said you can remove the little stray hairs & smegma buildups by yourself – I’ve done it myself – but one cautionary tale warned that one woman, she tried it and may have been to vigorous, & her clit hasn’t been the same since. So now if I know I have something up there it might take me days to gradually work it out after showering.

      Usually for my own self management, I trim with a small pair of safety scissors. The thing is if you do that, you gota jump into the shower *immediately* afterwards to rinse all the hair off – or else some of it can still sneak up under the hood. I’ve tried covering my clitoral hood while trimming but I can’t get any material to stay in place long enough to form a good barrier.

  4. Wow! I have the same problem you had… For five months I’ve suffered from extreme pain in my clitoris…everyone told me a hair can’t cause that much pain but now I see it can… Will it eventually come out? I can’t bear to pluck it….the pain is unbearable at times…what can I do?

  5. Hi K,

    I think I should just preface all of my comments by saying how amazing you are. Seriously, I have been combing the internet for days, looking for some feminist resources to help me cope with my vestibulitis. You’re the first one I’ve found, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for creating this blog.

    On to the topic of this post!

    I honestly can’t think of a time when I’ve heard a feminist say “don’t shave ever ever ever!” Maybe this is something that has changed, even in the past few years, or maybe we’re just hanging out in different feminist spaces. In either case, I’m sorry you had to deal with that noise.

    For me, shaving just isn’t an option; it makes me less comfortable in pretty much every way. On the other hand, going totally natural doesn’t work. If I don’t restrain them somehow, my hairs can become trapped against my tender skin during *fun activities*, and a lot of chafing and sadness results.

    My solution is to gently trim the hair til it’s *just* short enough not to get in the way, but no so short that I risk nicked or irritated skin. It’s quite the ballancing act!

    Sorry to write you a novel. I am just completely ecstatic about finding your blog, and having somewhere to discuss the whole mess.

    All the best,
    SL

    • It’s really more of a how awesome “You all” are now – it’s not just me writing anymore. I still do most of the posts, but there’s been great guest contributors & help from people I’ve e-mailed with.

      Stick around for a little while, you might find something you like. There’s a lot to talk about & there’s so much left to do.

  6. Hi K,
    I can’t help feeling like you are justifying your choice to ‘tidy up’ your pubic hair to your readers. (Maybe this was your intention and I look stupid for pointing it out?)
    I somehow stumbled onto this post while looking into laser hair removal. I have never considered myself a feminist (or anti-feminist) and I didn’t realise that some women who align themselves with feminist ideals would be so conflicted about what is the ‘right’ choice when it comes to pubic hair.
    I understand the theory behind not removing hair so as not to let men’s ideas of beauty be more important than our own. But I feel quite sad after reading some parts of your blog.
    I guess I always pictured feminists as being this strong group of women who supported each other and believed their rights and opinions are just as valuable as men’s (and in some cases, more valuable.) To read that there are feminists telling you NOT to remove pubic hair because “You’re only doing it because the patriarchy tells you to” seems ridiculous. Those women are certainly no better than the men, as they seem to think they can tell you what to do with your own body too!

    I get brazilians sometimes, and the only thing that stops me getting them more regularly is the pain. Whatever my reasons are, I don’t think any man OR woman should have a right to tell me what to do with my own appearance.
    Ladies – whatever your choice, as long as it is the right one for you personally, I say go for it!!

    (Sorry for making this so long, and also I realise that you have a specific medical condition which influence your choices. I just hate to think that women are being told how they need to look – especially by other women!)


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