Illustration by Aparna Sarkar

Women Explain How They Groom Their Pubes

While women often discuss whether they trim, shave, or go full bush before sex, another area causes pube-related anxiety: the doctor's office. We asked women about how they dealt with their pubic hair before an abortion, labor, and checkups.

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May 19 2016, 5:15pm

Illustration by Aparna Sarkar

It's unfortunately old news by now that women, trans, and non-binary people are subject to unattainable beauty standards and societally imposed expectations, from our clothing to our pubic hair. For the latter, we are inundated with pornographic images of bare and waxed vulvas, which in turn affect the way we feel about our own grooming preferences. In fact, research shows that only about 8 percent of women have never removed any of their pubic hair.

And while it makes sense that women may stress about their pubic hair before getting it on with a partner, another area where pressures and expectations follow them is one that's less often discussed—the doctor's office. For Naseem, a 24-year-old non-binary person, her gender-identity and PCOS diagnosis both play into her decision to groom prior to seeing her gynecologist. "It is about me and my weird relationship with my body, as though grooming gives me the choice to say, 'I reject pubic hair gender norms,' even though I'm playing into them [by trimming down my hair]."

The genesis for this piece came from witnessing several conversations in which people discussed their anxieties around whether they should groom their pubic hair before seeing a gynecologist. While everyone came down on different sides of the coin—from "who cares!?" to "it's considerate to trim it up"—the fact was that almost everyone had put thought into the issue. Even when there were more pressing medical issues at hand—like having an abortion or delivering a baby—people were pausing to consider what they should do about their pubes.

"I don't have any expectations [about my patients' pubic hair]. I see the whole gamut," says Dr. Sheila Chhutani, an OB/GYN based in Dallas. "I see people who have had Brazilian [waxes] and people who look like there's never been a pair of scissors anywhere close to their pubic hair."

Read More: Why Teenage Girls Hate Their Vaginas So Much

Chhutani's position is probably what most doctors would say. But for many people, what their doctor sees is something they put a lot of thought into. "I'm not entirely sure why I feel the need to be impeccably groomed, because my gynecologist is amazing and very non-judgmental," says Ana, 25. "Despite her demeanor, I think I'm still a little afraid of being judged if it's not neat and orderly."

Ana is not the only person who finds that societal pressures about body hair follow her into the exam room, though some women's anxieties shift in the other direction: They're embarrassed by feeling like they cave to those pressures and don't want their doctor to know. Emily, 23, says she usually trims or shaves once a week but plans ahead for her gynecologist appointments. "I've always kept in mind, I don't want them to think I'm one of those girls who shaves for a man, so I'll leave a little extra patch, which is an absurd thought," she says.

Holly, 29, agrees. "I usually keep my pubic hair shaven completely, as a purely personal preference. However, whenever I have a gyno appointment, I let my pubic hair grow out more," she explains. "I think it's because I want so desperately to be seen as 'normal' regarding my body, and especially regarding my vulva."

For other women, considering changing their bodies before a doctor's appointment seems silly. "As far as I'm concerned, a gynecologist is a medical professional, and my body hair has no bearing on their ability to do their job," says Genevieve, 35. "I don't get a pedicure to see my podiatrist, so I don't see the connection here."

I wanted my pubic hair to say, 'Thank you for spending your [time] saving my life. Here is your neatly prepared workspace.'

Dr. Leah Torres, an OB/GYN based in Utah, says that she notices that the majority of her patients do some kind of grooming, whether they trim or wax. But she also notes that "there's a geographical and cultural influence to it." Mechi, 27, is a Dominican woman who has lived in both the US and the Dominican Republic. "Culturally, it always mattered to my mother what the 'neighbors would think,'" she says. "As I got older and started making my own appointments, the idea of letting my OB/GYN see me ungroomed made me feel awkward." But she says that her grooming habits change depending on where she lives. "If I'm going to a Dominican gynecologist, I let some of the hair grow back." Mechi's experience jibes with research, which found that Hispanic women who were more acculturated or born in the US were significantly more likely to groom their pubic hair than those who were less acculturated or not born in the US.

It may be understandable to put thought into grooming when someone is going in for a routine gynecologist's visit, but what about when you're going through something a little more invasive? Before having a medical abortion, Alyssa, 29, found herself having to make a decision about what to do about her pubic hair. In the end, she says, she chose to groom her pubes. "I wanted my pubic hair to say, 'Thank you for spending your [time] saving my life. Here is your neatly prepared workspace,'" she explains. "I also knew I would be healing afterward and wanted my body to feel unencumbered."

There are times, says Chhutani, that medical professionals will have to do some grooming before or during a medical procedure. For example, if someone is having a C-section, nurses may have to shave pubic hair where the incision will be. If someone knows ahead of time they will be having a C-section, "they may choose to groom themselves as opposed to having it done in the operating room," she says. For Jessica, 35, however, knowing that care providers could do it themselves if they needed to was enough for her. "My belly was so large I couldn't see anything, and I see no reason to wield a razor blindly near my genitals," she says. "If [the doctors] needed to do something, they're professionals and my insurance can pay for any medically needed grooming."

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Other women say grooming before labor gave them some semblance of control over a situation where they typically felt like they didn't have any. This can be especially important to someone who has experienced sexual trauma. For Kate*, she chose to shave before labor because she has genital herpes, and she felt like removing the hair would give doctors a clearer view of whether or not she had any active herpes symptoms, since herpes can be transmitted to the baby if there is an active outbreak during labor.

Ultimately, Torres assures people that there are no health risks to removing pubic hair, so she encourages patients to do what is most comfortable for them. "Whatever grooming preference someone has, they should ensure that those preferences are driven by themselves," she explains. "If they shave or wax, it should be because they want to and not because someone else says it's prettier.

"I really wish people wouldn't have anxiety," she adds. "Everyone's vulva is different, like fingerprints."

*Name has been changed.