Why Shaving or Waxing Pubic Hair Might Be an STD Risk

A patient about to be waxed
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Extreme pubic hair removal has been a growing trend over the last decade. Fashions have ranged from the landing strip and Brazilian waxes to going fully bare "down there." In part, this is a trend driven by the porn industry. There, shaved pubic regions are the norm. This is because pubic hair removal both makes it easier to view the action and makes men look more well endowed. However, in recent years, there has been a small but growing body of research suggesting that shaving, or otherwise removing, pubic hair may not be the best choice for your sexual health. The safety of each of the methods of removing pubic hair is discussed below, as are the risks for your sexual health.

Shaving Pubic Hair

Shaving pubic hair is easy and can be done at home, but is it safe? If you do it carefully, and always use a new, clean razor, it can be done relatively safely. However, shaving pubic hair is associated with a number of possible negative outcomes. These include:

  • Cuts, which may be uncomfortable and can become infected. They may also leave you more susceptible to infection during sex.
  • Ingrown hairs, which can also turn into an infection risk
  • Cutting open sores and spreading STDs (see more below)

You should not use the same razor on your pubic hair and anywhere else. That way if you do get infected secretions on the razor, you will limit the amount of spread

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. If you choose to get your pubic area waxed, you should:

  • Make certain your skin is healthy and not burnt (sunburn) 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 for Pubic Hair

Laser hair removal is a form of permanent hair removal. It works by targeting the pigments (colors) in the hair follicle to destroy the hair follicle. 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. This increases the risk of burns.

Pubic Hair Grooming and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

There is 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, shaving, in particular, can lead to small cuts or openings on the genital skin. This could increase susceptibility to certain infections. Waxing can also inflame hair follicles. This could potentially have the same effect.
  • 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.

The Evidence

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. There isn't enough evidence out there to suggest you should stop. However, if you want to try to reduce any potential risks of hair removal, there are several things you can do that might 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, maybe 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. There is not yet any good research on relative risk related specifically to STDs. However, it seems likely that the same would be true during pubic hair removal.

Finally, it's important to mention that there is one STD that has been decimated by the decreasing popularity of pubic hair. Pubic lice don't like bare skin, and the rate of infection has fallen precipitously in recent years.

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