Body hair is often a source of shame for people — especially for those who identify as women. For O.school's own version of No-Shave November, we wanted to hear from writers about their evolving relationships with their pubic hair. No matter how you choose to style yours, we celebrate your love for your body.
Coming of age in the UK in the early ‘00s — at the beginning of the digital era and on the cusp of a new sexual revolution — my generation bridged the old and the new. We were the first teenagers to learn about sex from watching internet porn, to grow up in an age when sex was becoming so mainstream that you could beam an 80-foot image of a naked woman on the Houses of Parliament and call it empowering, and to hit puberty at an age when it was no longer just normal to remove one’s pubic hair — but a societal expectation and political hot topic.
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, TV shows like Sex and the City pushed a unique brand of sexual feminism, teaching us that removing our pubic hair could be liberating, sexy, and empowering. Waxing scenes in family movies like Miss Congeniality brought the idea of pubic hair removal into my preteen consciousness. Internet porn and lads’ mags further cemented the idea that it was “normal” to be bare down there, and pushed the idea that sex and porn were more about a man’s pleasure than a woman’s — a sentiment echoed in the headlines on the teen magazines that my preteen friends and I used to spend all our allowance on every week. Lured in by freebies inside the mags, like lipgloss and hair clips, we’d get brainwashed by headlines like “10 Things You Can Do To Drive Him Wild” that appealed to that inner voice inside all of us that wanted to be good at sex, attractive, sexy, and “normal” — especially down there.
Life was a walking contradiction while growing up in the UK. We had topless women on page 3 in the newspapers, and all-but-naked women on the covers of magazines and plastered to the walls of workplaces around the country — I can distinctly remember walking into my father’s office and seeing pictures of glamour models all over his colleagues’ desks, wearing nothing but barely-there bikini bottoms and short shorts so low you could see where their pubes would have been, were there any to see. And yet, people were still incredibly prudish when it came to talking about sex — let alone pubic hair or downstairs grooming habits.
I had developed quite early, and remember looking down at my growing bush one day when I was about 10 — aware enough to realize that it marked the end of my youth as I knew it.
Even at that young age, I felt like I had been conditioned into believing that pubic hair wasn’t sexy and people would only be attracted to partners as smooth as Barbie dolls. I was so ashamed of my pubes that I tried plucking out the hairs as they grew in, but that hurt too much. So I just left them alone and tried not to think about it — the hairy elephant in my underpants.
But I vividly remember one of my first internet searches, so it clearly stayed on my mind. Before Google was a thing, I Asked Jeeves whether it was “normal to have pubes.” I must have been as young as 12 at the time, but I was intrigued by sex and sexuality — especially after being surrounded by pictures of beautiful, hairless women for most of my life and feeling inadequate because I looked nothing like them. My incredibly awkward preteen self cringed at the idea of having conversations about sex with family or friends, so I asked my question to a screen, sitting at my family’s PC in the darkness of our living room after everyone else had gone to bed.
Then, in 2003, when I was 13, Victoria Beckham said in an interview that “Brazilians ought to be compulsory at age 15” — a statement that would echo in my brain for years to come. I wonder if she knew how much her words would impact young teenagers like me who were trying to come to terms with our changing bodies and burgeoning sexualities, desiring nothing more than to fit in and be normal.
But somehow, by then, in spite of all the media messages, I found that I’d actually started to love my lady garden, just a little bit. It felt like my secret that brought me comfort and made me feel grown up and feminine. Despite my own personal feelings, however, I was scared that if anyone saw my hair down there, they would be instantly put off. And I was already worried enough about what other people would think of my body and my vagina. The genitals I’d seen in media — which were the only genitals I’d ever seen at that point — had been totally hairless and neat, so there was no one to reassure me that all bodies are normal, or that it was my choice whether I wanted to shave my pubes — not anyone else’s.
The final nail in the coffin for my pubic hair came that same year, in a late night conversation on MSN Messenger. Out of the blue, my boyfriend at the time asked me how I groomed my bush. Panicking, I asked him what he preferred. Of course, he said “shaven” — I mean, what 13-year old boy coming of age in the internet porn generation wouldn’t?!
I felt like this proved nobody besides me could ever like my pubic hair, so I scurried off to the bathroom and picked up the razor for the first time.
I didn’t actually have sex for the first time until a few years after that conversation, but as an insecure and far-too-eager to please teenager, it had kickstarted a habit that would last nearly 15 years: Do whatever it takes to make my partner happy — even if it comes at a personal cost to me.
Shaving my pubic hair that night felt a bit like saying goodbye to an old friend, but also like a necessary rite of passage in order to become the sexual creature I dreamed of being. Now, I thought to myself, I would be able to please my partners just as much as the people I’d seen in porn and on TV. So, off the hair went, and off the hair stayed as I entered adulthood. Occasionally I would treat myself to a landing strip, and if I was hooking up with someone new, I would make a special effort to be as smooth as possible. But over the years, shaving eventually became just another part of my routine, like shaving my legs and my underarms — something that I did, but barely even thought about.
I also took pride in how I’d honed my sexual skills so I could please others. It gave me confidence. The sexiest thing in the world to me was using my mind, my body, and my words to help make someone else’s sexual desires a reality. I felt like a puppet master, a facilitator. I appeared submissive — and perfectly smooth — in person, but I mentally pulled all of my partner’s strings. My satisfaction was intrinsically linked to their enjoyment — it was my thing.
Then, a few years ago, I ended up in a long-distance relationship and would go months without seeing my partner. Without him around, I finally felt free to let my downstairs garden grow out again.
I could run my fingers through my pubes and twiddle them absentmindedly when I was falling asleep, and I could stop putting myself through painful bikini waxes. I wasn’t annoyed by stubble rash or itchy regrowth, and would instead feel empowered, feminine, grown up, and rebellious. By making the active decision to regrow my pubic hair, I had a fun secret that no one else knew about — and that would change everything.
For the first time since that night when I was 13, my body felt like it was mine, and with that came a different kind of body and sexual confidence. Studies show that women feel most sexually confident in their 30s because more of them have learned to love their bodies. While I was still a few years shy of the peak age of 31, I felt like a switch had been flipped in my mind. Growing out my pubes was like my own small act of sticking it to the man, allowing me to let go of all the insecurities and conditioning that had pressured me to shave my pubic hair and resulted in one-sided sexual relationships where I prioritized other people’s pleasure.
Emboldened by my newfound appreciation for my body and my lifelong ability to talk more freely online than face to face, I shared the news with my partner through arty pictures. Inspired by how much I loved my new look, I would also tell him all the things I wanted us to do together. After several months apart, I was excited to share my newly uncovered sexual confidence once we were together in the same place again.
While I had been a little nervous about breaking my body hair news to him, and how it could potentially change things between us once we were back in the same area code, I quickly realized I needn’t have been. He loved the new, confident me and fully embraced my lady jungle.
Still, I never once asked what he preferred because it wasn’t about him — it was about me.
In fact, I actually have friends who intentionally grow out their pubic hair as a way to vet potential new partners — I guess their reactions say everything they need to know.
For me, though, it was funny how — nearly 15 years after the first time I shaved my pubic hair — I finally felt like I had come full circle. By regaining control of my body and my own pleasure, I found that I wanted to be part of the narrative. A partaker, rather than a facilitator. When we were back to long-distance, our conversation once again condensed into simple, uniform letters on the screen, I continued to reclaim control of my own sexuality. I had finally taken onus of my own body and my pubic hair.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back.