Why Shaving Or Waxing Pubic Hair Might Be An STD Risk
As it's become more common to shave your pubic hair, a small but growing body of research has cropped up that suggests shaving or otherwise removing that hair may not be the best choice for your sexual health. Different methods of hair removal pose different risks. "Going bare" could also raise your risk of sexually transmitted infections.
The trend of extreme pubic hair removal grew from something porn stars did (to better show off the action and to make men look more well endowed) to commonplace. Fashions have ranged from the landing strip and Brazilian waxes to going fully bare "down there." It became so common that it made entertainment headlines a while back when some actresses "came out" as being in favor of a more natural look.
Shaving Pubic Hair
Shaving you pubic hair is easy and can be done at home, but is it safe? Maybe not, unless you're really careful. Shaving is associated with a number of possible negative outcomes, such as:
- Cuts, which may be uncomfortable, can become infected, and may leave you more susceptible to infection during sex.
- Ingrown hairs, which can also turn into an infection risk
- Cutting open existing sores and spreading STDs (see more below)
If you do want to shave it off at home, you should follow a few rules in order to protect yourself.
Rules for Safe Pubic Hair Shaving
Go slowly and be careful
Always use a new, clean razor
Don't use the same razor anywhere else, to avoid spreading infected secretions around your body
Waxing Pubic Hair
Waxing pubic hair can be done at home, but it is usually done in a salon. Waxing involves trapping hair in hot wax and then using a sheet of paper or cloth to rip out the hairs. It can be quite painful, but it does tend to last longer than shaving.
The skin can become inflamed after waxing. It's also possible for it to become infected. This may be particularly a risk with salons that do not regularly change out their wax or clean their equipment between clients. It is possible for a waxing salon to spread an infection from one client to the next over the course of a day, or even longer, depending on their practices.
Ingrown hairs and torn skin are also risks associated with waxing.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says waxing shouldn't be done in genital areas due to the risks of irritation and infection. It also cautions that some waxes shouldn't be used by people with diabetes or circulatory problems, so if you have any of those be sure to check the label of the product you or the salon is using.
If you choose to get your pubic area waxed, you should:
- Make certain your skin is healthy and not sunburned or torn
- Try and go with clean skin and hair
- Make certain that the salon changes out their wax between clients and uses clean/new equipment for application.
Using Hair Removal Creams
Depilatory creams and gels use chemicals to help melt hair away. These creams can cause irritation, burns, or discomfort in sensitive regions of the body. Because of this, they are not generally recommended for the genital area.
If you must use these creams, look for one that says it's safe to be used genitally. Then do a patch test on a less sensitive area of skin. It's not a guarantee that you won't have a problem using the cream in your genital area. However, it is at least a good first check to make certain your skin isn't hypersensitive to the ingredients.
You can use these creams reasonably safely on the bikini line, presuming you follow the instructions.
Laser Hair Removal
Laser hair removal is a form of permanent hair removal. It destroys the hair follicle by targeting the pigments (colors) inside of it. Because of this, it works best for people with light skin and dark hair.
Laser hair removal is generally not recommended for the pubic area for a number of reasons:
- It's permanent. People may not be certain they will never want hair again. In fact, some individuals undergo painful procedures to try to regrow hair.
- It can be quite painful.
- The skin color on the genitals can be darker, making it less safe. Darker skin increases the risk of burns.
Pubic Hair Grooming and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Research provides some evidence that pubic hair grooming may increase the risk of several sexually transmitted infections.
It's possible that research on this topic is confounded by overlapping behaviors. In other words, people who groom or remove their pubic hair may simply be more sexually active than people who don't. However, there are also several ways in which shaving or waxing pubic hair could directly increase infection risk:
- Hair removal, especially shaving, can lead to small cuts or openings on the genital skin. Waxing can also inflame hair follicles. This could increase susceptibility to certain infections.
- Disturbing bumps or sores caused by an STD could increase the spread of the infection on your own skin. It can also make it more likely to transmit to your partner. For example, it's well established that scratching a Molluscum contagiosum infection can spread it further around the body. Shaving is an even more efficient way of opening up the bumps and spreading the virus around.
- Hair removal removes the cushioning distance between two bodies provided by pubic hair. This means that there is both more friction and more skin-to-skin contact. This could increase the risk of infections that are transmitted in that manner.
- Unhygienic hair removal techniques could directly spread infection.
To date, the evidence that pubic hair removal might affect STD risk has come primarily from small observational studies. Such studies can not easily be used to prove that shaving or waxing pubic hair increases STD risk. They can only show that the two are associated.
However, in these studies, hair removal has been associated with the presence of viral STDs. Pubic hair removal has also been shown to increase the number of lesions and sores that are visible on the body. It is therefore entirely plausible that shaving or waxing could increase STD risk in all the ways mentioned above.
Reducing Your Risk
If pubic hair grooming is important to you or improves your self-image, don't stress. The evidence out there isn't strong enough to suggest you should stop.
If you want to try reducing any potential risks of hair removal, though, you can do several things that might make it safer:
- First, you can avoid shaving or waxing right before you have sex. That should give any damage you cause to your skin time to heal.
- Second, you can avoid shaving or waxing when you have any STD symptoms. This reduces the likelihood of self-inoculation.
- Third, you can make certain to always use a clean razor to shave or choose a waxing salon that is good about proper hygiene.
Another choice that might reduce the risk of hair removal is to trim your pubic hair instead of removing it. Carefully trimming with scissors, avoiding damaging or disturbing the skin, and leaving enough hair intact to reduce skin-to-skin contact with your partner may be a safer way to indulge in pubic hair grooming.
Research on post-surgical infections suggests that clipping is less likely than shaving to lead to skin infections. No good research has been done on relative risk related specifically to STDs, but it seems likely that the same would be true during home pubic-hair removal.
Removing or not removing pubic hair is a personal decision. The key is being aware of potential risks and taking steps to protect your health, no matter what you choose. If you have questions or concerns, bring them up with your doctor.