A new study has found that people who shave their genitalia are also more likely to have sexually transmitted infections. The study, "Correlation between pubic hair grooming and STIs," was led by researcher Benjamin Breyer of the University of California, San Francisco, and was conducted via an online survey. Of the 7,470 survey respondents who said they'd had at least one sexual partner, 74 percent were deemed "ever groomers," which means that they "reported a history of grooming their pubic hair." There were also some who had never rid their genitalia of hair.
Breyer designed different categories of pubic hair havers along a spectrum of behavior. The "extreme grooming" label was reserved for people who remove all of their pubic hair in excess of 11 times a year, while "high frequency grooming" refers to those who regularly perform "daily/weekly trimming," and "low or infrequent groomers" presumably tend their crop the least. Compared to the people who do not groom their genitalia at all, the grooming population was "more likely to report a history of cutaneous STIs," like herpes, as well as "secretory STIs," such as HIV. The results also varied between groomer subgroups: Extreme groomers were more likely than high frequency groomers to report cutaneous STIs, but they were not more likely to report a history of HIV.
The researchers do not know why people who remove their pubic hair are more likely to have STIs, but they've got some theories. It is possible that the removal of one's pubic hair—through shaving for instance—causes microtears in the skin that make it easier for STIs, especially herpes and other contact infections, to enter the body. Or perhaps people who remove the hair on their so-called swimsuit areas are also sharing hair removal tools, like razors, which could increase STI risk. The third theory presented by the researchers is that people who are removing the hair on their nether regions may also be more likely to partake in "risky sexual behaviors," which could increase their exposure to STIs.
These findings are purely correlational, but they may be particularly relevant for women. A higher percentage of the female subjects (84 percent) reported pubic grooming, compared to male subjects (66 percent), and most of the extreme groomers were young women. Other research has demonstrated that men, as a group, claim to remove their genital hair less than women. While there has been an online movement toward embracing female body hair, it seems as if women have not, by and large, decided to stop genital hair removal. One study released earlier this year by professor Tami Rowen found that a whopping 84 percent of American women groom their public hair and, as in Breyer's study, those women also report having more sexual interactions than their non-grooming counterparts.
In an interview with Broadly, Breyer explained that "those who groomed more frequently and more intensely were more likely to get an STI." So, while the numbers appear to suggest that women are affected more than men, Breyer says that the correlation between STIs and hair removal defies gender; if men as a group were to report higher levels of genitalia hair removal, we would also expect to find higher STI rates. "Male or female," Breyer says, "the more you groom, the greater your risk."