Scientists have found that pubic hair grooming is linked to a heightened risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
The association seems to be strongest among those who groom their pubic hair frequently and intensively; a practice dubbed ‘extreme grooming’ by researchers from the University of California.
Pubic hair removal is becoming increasingly common among men and women worldwide amid changing perceptions of the role of body hair in attractiveness, cleanliness, and feelings of masculinity/femininity, say the researchers.
‘Extreme’ groomers were classified as those who removed all their public hair more than 11 times a year, and ‘high frequency’ groomers as those who trimmed their pubic hair daily or weekly.
Overall, groomers tended to be younger, more sexually active, and to have had more annual and total lifetime sexual partners than those who said they didn’t groom their pubic hair.
And the number of sexual partners among extreme groomers was higher than it was for any other category of groomer.
An electric razor was the most common grooming tool among men (42%), while a manual razor was more common among women (61%). Around one in five men and women used scissors.
In all, 13% (943) respondents said they had had at least one of the following: herpes; human papilloma virus (HPV); syphilis; molluscum; gonorrhoea; chlamydia; HIV; or pubic lice.
After factoring in age and the number of lifetime sexual partners, any type of grooming was associated with an 80% heightened risk of having a sexually transmitted infection compared with no grooming.
Intensity and frequency of grooming also seemed to be linked to the magnitude of risk. Among high frequency and extreme groomers, the practice was associated with a 3.5 to 4-fold heightened risk, particularly for infections that arise through skin on skin contact, such as herpes and HPV.
On the plus side, higher levels of grooming appeared to reduce lice infestation, suggesting that grooming might make it harder for lice to breed successfully.
While there is no direct evidence, or firm conclusions about cause and effect, the researchers suggest that grooming might be favoured by those engaging in higher levels of sexual activity, with an associated infection risk, or that it might cause tiny skin tears, through which bacteria and viruses can easily pass.
More than 7,500 American adults were surveyed in the research, which was published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.