The Prickly History of Pubes in Porn

Although recent debates about the disturbing lack of pubic hair in pornography have centered around contemporary feminism, women have been trimming their hedges for centuries.

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Nov 17 2015, 9:35pm

Photo by Marcel via Stocksy

Although pubic hair has become more of a political statement than who you're voting for in the 2016 election, to bush or not to bush has been on our minds for centuries. What used to symbolize a girl's introduction to womanhood, or the time where she would be able to bear children, has become a polarized topic. Some women insist on keeping theirs, arguing that it allows them to stay in touch with their womanhood, reject the porn-warped male gaze, and generally not have to worry about maintenance. For others, getting a monthly wax has become nearly as common as brushing your teeth in the morning. The history of the bush is a lurid one, spanning centuries before the adult entertainment industry began demonstrating—and some would say dictating—what is and is not OK.

From Egyptians to Darwin

While a full bush may be natural, men and women have been shaving their pubes as far back as ancient Greece and Egypt. Hieroglyphics found in temples depict women with small triangles of pubic hair, and the metal razors they used to trim it. For them, the practice was more functional than ornate: the less hair on their bodies meant the less chance of catching lice, or falling victim to heat stroke in the intense African sun. According to Victoria Sherrow's book Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, ancient Greek women also removed their hair because they believed a bush looked "uncivilized," and ancient Greek sculptors almost universally depicted their goddess–woman subjects as hairless.

By the 1500s, European women were getting in on the action; some even donned merkins, which are very funny false hairpieces designed for the pubic area, often made of goat hair. After observing the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, Darwin noted that pubic hair was uncommon in many cultures, citing that many people found the presence of hair "unclean" for both religious and hygienic reasons. In the characteristic science-deadpan that would label him offensive in future centuries, he argued that "loss of body hair" was a direct result of evolution: Women grew their head hair long and shaved the rest off in order to appeal to men, the "sexual selectors." In his work, he went on to note a link between overly hairy women and what society viewed as "idiots"; too much body hair was not only "ludicrously hideous," but it also denoted "degeneration."

Greek statue of Aphrodite, ca. second century BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Pube-Holder

A scan of Western art history shows a shocking lack of bush anywhere to be found when it comes to female nudes (Courbet's The Origin of the World notwithstanding). "Bosch, Titian and Michelangelo each painted hairless vaginas," writes Roger Friedland, a professor of the sociology of religion, in his essay "Looking Through the Bushes: The Disappearance of Pubic Hair." "Even Manet, when he painted the famous prostitute, Olympia, in 1863, couldn't bring himself to show it."

For these artists, Friedland writes, pubic hair was a sign of a woman's desire and any acknowledgment of it would mean recognizing these women's "immodesty." Indeed, following the invention of the first modern safety razor from Gillette in July 1901 came slogans claiming that body hair was "unsightly" and "objectionable." From there we can source the craze we're still entangled in today: to bush or not to bush.

Bikinis and Barely Legal

A popular legend states that Marilyn Monroe's maid once walked in on the Hollywood starlet with her legs spread wide, bleaching the hair on her vagina to match her platinum blonde locks. As a sex symbol and film icon, Monroe was a pioneer in keeping her lady parts natural (except in color). However, when she posed for the iconic photos that showed her skirt blown up by a New York City grate, she wore two pairs of underwear to make sure onlookers couldn't catch a glimpse of her her pubic hair. For decades, this set the tone: Pubes were to be admired in private, but the idea of openly showing your female maturity was looked down upon.

The invention of the bikini in 1946 saw a marked shift over how women treated their correspondingly new body part: their bikini lines. By the time reached America in the 60s, women were offered product after procedure—depilatories, electrolysis, etc.—to deal with their unprecedentedly hairy problem.

Those who were hairiest were considered the most radical—and therefore erratic, angry, and counterculture.

The first appearance of pubic hair in the media happened as part of the Hugh Hefner–named "Pubic Wars," which centered around the rivalry between the all-American Playboy (est. 1953) and the more European—and, thus, risque—Penthouse (est. 1965). After the latter debuted in the US, already showing pubic hair, the former had to follow suit, with the sexual liberation of the 60s and 70s serving as encouragement.

According to Friedland, it was then that two events led to the bush's disappearance. First, in 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment began requiring that men and women be treated equally by law. Then, in 1974, Larry Flynt began publishing Barely Legal, a magazine that focused on full-frontal nudes of 18-year-old girls. These two events created a prickly dichotomy. Hair became a strong sign of feminism; those who were hairiest were considered the most radical—and therefore erratic, angry, and counterculture—feminists. The idea of the young, hairless girl swooped in to assume the sexualized status feminists rejected in favor of equal rights. In order to distance themselves from what they deemed radicals—and, as always, to appeal to men's tastes—many women began to shave.

Photo by HOWL via Stocksy

A Landing Strip in Brazil

In the early 80s, the music was loud, the fashion was louder, the hair was teased, and adult film stars were regular Joe's and Joanne's. People weren't afraid to fuck on camera with a little flab and a whole lot of hair.

The decade saw the rise of the BDSM movement, and the VHS market made it easy for people to watch porn—from the comfort of their own homes, and as a result the business of BDSM porn became influential, causing a huge rift among feminists in particular. Some argue that, because the women in BDSM porn were often depicted as "weak" and "vulnerable"—and because pubic hair had become a symbol of female empowerment—these women were waxed and baring it all. Others say that hairlessness is simply better, for clamps and wax play as well as for the smooth sensation.

In the 90s, the porn industry started booming, thanks to the rise of the internet in popular culture, and as a result, finding two people fucking became easy. Young men and women no longer had to look through their parents stuff to find old copies of Playboy lying around. Sex became extremely accessible, and as a result pubic hair trends depicted in porn began having an influence on mainstream society. Women began to mirror what they saw in porn, and men began to encourage their girlfriends to follow suit: and thus the bush began to slowly but surely fade away. Trimming turned to landing strips which turned to women deciding to go fully bald down there.

Porn Today

There is a theory among sex experts that the disappearance of pubes in porn marks an interest in heightened sexuality. When we log on to get our rocks off, we want to see as much interaction between genitals as possible. When we see hair knocking into each other rather than dicks entering vaginas, we're taken out of the moment.

Porn star, sex educator, and creator of "jessica drake's Guide to Wicked Sex," jessica drake got her start performing in adult films in late 1999, appearing for the first time in a film called Modern Love. As an avid porn watcher prior to getting into the business, Drake recalls the landing strip as being the most iconic pubic hair trend during the 90s. "I've really seen a lot," drake says. "I think that when I first got in, I wanted to do what everyone else was doing as a new performer. I thought I needed to emulate what other girls were doing. I remember the first few go-sees I went on, I was apologizing for my lack of hair. I had always shaved as my own personal preference, but at the time people were beginning to be a need for variety. A few times I was even asked to grow a bush for a film."

Finally there is no generalization of what women should or shouldn't do with their pubic hair.

The variety drake mentions spawned from the internet's ability to deliver thousands of smut scenes directly into the homes of consumers. Even taking a quick glance at PornHub's public statistics lets you know that there is a market for essentially any type of porn out there (though teens still end up at the top of the most searched film category lists). drake echoes a sentiment that is widely accepted by those not immersed in the porn community. "I thought, at the time, the less hair down there the better, because you want to be able to see what is going on."

The longer she was in the industry, however, that trend began to change. The landing strip died out and led to a period where women were completely shaven. During this time, drake recalls that the only women who were growing full-bushes were for fetish films. In the early 2000s, bush was considered a fetish category, for a niche market of men who were comfortable with seeing "mature" women on camera. There was also, of course, the media frenzy over the popularity of Brazilians, and what that meant for women.

Looking to the future, drake mentions that the public perception of porn is finally catching up to what is happening in human sexuality; in other words, the rise of diverse kinds of mainstream porn—and of feminist porn, in particular—has freed women from bush trends, at least somewhat. "Women are finally able to emulate what they see, but the thing is there is so much out there that they are able to emulate whatever they want," she says. "Finally there is no generalization of what women should or shouldn't do with their pubic hair. It's sort of an anything-goes market now."