Andrew Siegel MD 4/5/15
(Thank you, Pixabay for the above image)
If you don’t know what a merkin and an escutcheon are, read on!
For many of us, it is important that we look and feel attractive and appealing. We dress in a certain way with this in mind. Underneath our clothes, our skin is sometimes used as a canvas for tattoo artwork, nails are painted, makeup is applied, hair is straightened, curled, colored, styled, etc., and we are further accessorized with jewelry. Our genitals are no exception, as tattoos, piercings, and hair have become fashion adornments. Interestingly, for much of the female population, not a hair on the body is left in its wild and natural state—styled hair on the head, plucked and threaded eyebrows, curled eyelashes and removal of leg, underarm and often pubic hair. Hair has spawned a mega-zillion dollar industry in terms of salons, grooming products, coloring, waxing, and plastic surgical and dermatological procedures including hair transplants, laser procedures, etc.
The topic of hair in general and pubic hair in particular is not particularly important in the grand scheme of health and wellness. However, hair is a curious, strange, and peculiar accessory and we are so in the thick of it that we rarely give it a second thought, but when we do so, it begs many questions.
Why does hair grow only at certain body locations, but not at others? What makes hair at a particular area of our body grow or fall out at a specific time in life? Why will certain hairs grow to indefinite lengths—like the hair on our head—as opposed to hairs that grow to a fixed length, like eyelashes or hair on the arms or legs? Why do some people have straight hair and others have curly locks and ringlets? Why do aging men often lose hair where they want it and grow it where they don’t—out of their nostrils and ears with exaggerated eyebrow growth? Why does hair turn gray? What is the purpose of hair, anyway? Is body hair a vestige from our evolution from furry primates whose hair perhaps served as an insulating coat? Why are some of us as wooly as apes, some of us as bare as babies, and most of us somewhere in between?
Clearly, genetics plays a key role. Our inherited blueprint programs skin cells to grow hair in terms of what (color and quality or hair), when (to start and stop growing), where, and how much. This blueprint is modified by external and internal factors including our nutritional and hormonal status.
What’s the deal with pubic hair? It—like the tropical rain forests and polar ice caps—has gone missing…at least for many people. What happened to the days of the “bush,” when the pubic area had a “pelt” growing on it, perhaps giving rise to the slang term “beaver”? Nowadays, some prefer waxing in Brazilian fashion, others shave, some trim, still others prefer a landing strip or other clever design shape, and yet others prefer au natural.
Clearly, genital grooming reflects fads, fashion trends and popular culture. What and who sets these standards? Is it that human beings are a civilized lot and body hair represents the uncivilized, feral animal beast? Or is it the porn industry where most stars have pubic fleeces that are shorn, if not waxed, to better showcase in hi-def every nook and cranny of their exposed genitals? Alternatively, is it that hair is thought of as a masculine accessory and being hairless is a means of maintaining femininity? However, “man-grooming” and “man-scaping” have also become mainstream, not only with respect to the pubic region, but also with regards to chest and back hair. Many men direct as much attention towards body hair grooming as is applied to the coif on their heads.
Factoid: During the Middle Ages, women often shaved their pubic hair because of the prevalence of lice and for reasons of personal hygiene, thereby creating demand for a pubic hair wig called a merkin. Similarly, prostitutes would often wear such a wig to hide the signs of STIs, particularly syphilis.
Factoid: Escutcheon is defined as a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms, but in days of old, was used by physicians to describe the pattern of distribution of pubic hair—generally triangular in the female and rhomboid in the male. The trending pubic hairstyle of less is more has rendered this term and component of the physical exam obsolete.
Dr. Scott Butler and team authored an article on pubic hair preferences that was published in the January 2015 Journal of Sexual Medicine. Their study involved 1100 college students and concluded that genital grooming and pubic hair removal are common practices. Women were motivated to remove pubic hair for the following reasons: sexual attractiveness; cleanliness; comfort; social norms of their peer group; sexual enhancement; and increased feeling of femininity. Men were motivated for: cleanliness; sex appeal; and body definition/muscularity.
Although more than half of college age men preferred female partners to be hairless, most women preferred their partners to be trimmed, but not hairless. 96% of women and 87% of men reported engaging in some to total pubic hair removal in the prior 4 weeks. College students perceive grooming and removal as normative for their peer group. Total hair removal is correlated with younger age, heterosexual orientation, white race, and being in a relationship.
Bottom Line: Hair is a curious and mysterious ornament. Trends in hairstyles are by no means limited to the head, as pubic hair has become a site of individual self-expression and fashion. The cultural, social and anthropological underpinnings that are the basis for grooming preferences are fascinating.
I’m generally a prose kind of guy, but occasionally a brief rhyme strikes my fancy:
Some prefer it bare,
Others like it spare,
Still others, all there.
Wishing you the best of health,
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Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health: available in e-book (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo) and paperback: http://www.MalePelvicFitness.com
Co-creator of Private Gym pelvic floor muscle training program for men: www.PrivateGym.com Gym—also available on Amazon
The Private Gym is a comprehensive, interactive, follow-along exercise program that provides the resources to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that are vital to sexual and urinary health. The program builds upon the foundational work of Dr. Arnold Kegel, who popularized exercises for women to increase pelvic muscle strength and tone. This FDA registered program is effective, safe and easy-to-use. The “Basic Training” program strengthens the pelvic floor muscles with a series of progressive “Kegel” exercises and the “Complete Program” provides maximal opportunity for gains through its patented resistance equipment.