Women who engage in radical "landscaping" by removing all of their pubic hair are no more likely to contract sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) than those who go for the natural look, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE. In light of these findings, previous advice suggesting that keeping things minimal down below, particularly partaking in "extreme" grooming like Hollywood or Brazilian waxes, increases the risk of catching chlamydia and other STDs has been called into question.
Suggestions regarding the dangers of ditching the bush started to circulate in 2013, when data from a French STD clinic showed that 93 percent of patients with a sexually-transmitted molluscum contagiosum virus practiced some degree of pubic trimming. A few years later, the British Medical Journal published results of a global online survey that appeared to indicate a correlation between the level of pubic hair removal and the likelihood of catching an STD. It was widely reported on in the media though many failed to point out it showed correlation but not causation.
To investigate the robustness of these claims, researchers from Ohio State University asked 214 female college students about their pubic presentation preferences in order to see if they could find a link between “extreme grooming” and the likelihood of testing positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Extreme grooming is defined as the removal of all pubic hair at least once a week over the past year, or at least six times over the past month. Just over 98 percent of study participants reported some level of hair removal, with 53.6 percent being classified as extreme groomers over the past year and 18 percent engaging in extreme grooming in the past month.
Just under one in 10 tested positive for either chlamydia or gonorrhea, yet no link was found between extreme grooming and the prevalence of either of these infections.
Lead author Jamie Luster said was unsurprised by the results because there was no clear biological reason to believe waxing or shaving would lead to increased risk of STDs.
"Previous research asked participants if they'd ever had a sexually transmitted infection, but didn't measure whether they had one at the time of survey. That makes connecting any current grooming habits to STDs difficult," she said.
Limitations of the previous BMJ study also included not considering outside factors such as women removing pubic hair after being diagnosed with an STD, or taking into consideration the number of sexual partners as a marker for sexual behavior but failing to assess participants' safe sex practices. It did suggest that skin breakages caused by shaving and waxing could be partly responsible.
Both chlamydia and gonorrhea are bacterial infections that can infect the genitals, rectum, or throat, and can be contracted by having unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who carries the infection.
It goes without saying that the best way to protect yourself from these and other infections is to always use protection, or to stick to one sexual partner who has tested negative for all STDs.
However, nearly two-thirds of participants in this latest study reported having experienced some kind of grooming injury, with the average person having been wounded on five separate occasions during their lifetime. So, even if extreme grooming doesn’t lead to more sexual infections, it certainly isn’t without its hazards.