How and Why Pubic Hair Is Back in Porn

Will the mainstream follow porn? Or is porn following the mainstream?

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Jun 6 2017, 5:45pm

Female pornstars have no pubic hair. Even someone who's never seen a porno would likely tell you that. It's a fact that has been established in the American cultural psyche in the past few decades. Shaved crotches are so pervasive that cultural commentators have written tomes on about what they say about porn's attitude towards women or how much their pornographic ubiquity has influenced the rise of pubic depilation in the general public. ("No one has authoritatively established a causal connection," the porn scholar Joseph Slade told me recently, but "surveys of students in my media and sexuality classes indicated that women felt pressured [to go hairless] by boyfriends who were themselves conditioned by porn.")

Yet all this common knowledge and cultural debate about porn's plucked pubes misses a major beat: hair has actually made a significant comeback in the industry. That very well may be because it's back in the culture at large as well (more on that in a bit). But as hair down there creeps back into the mainstream of pornography, it could serve as an aid to help decrease the pressure to go hairless among everyday people.


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Hairlessness was not always the norm in American pornography, of course. Instead, Slade noted, it was quite prominent in the 1970s and 80s "when hirsuteness was equated with virility and lubricity. Harry Reems and many male performers sported mustaches and hairy armpits and chest hair. And women sported hairy armpits and crotches." Even into the 1990s, for some in the general public, the idea of a woman fully shaving her nethers seemed odd, even a bit like a fetish.

But heading into that decade, heavy grooming became more and more common. By its end, the "landing strip" was pretty much the pornographic norm. And midway through the aughts, the landing strip was about as much hair as you'd find down there, with total shaving, waxing, and lasering gaining dominance. "When I got into the adult film industry" as recently as 2014, said porn star Kasey Warner, "I had a bush only on top of my pubis. I was one of extremely few girls to sport anything more than a landing strip."

There's no consensus on why porn (or the general public for that matter) turned on pubes. Some think it was a purely practical choice. Shaving allows the camera to capture more of the purely mechanical ins and outs of genitals that porn thrives on. That's why male pornstars shave their pubes as well—that and to make their dicks seem a bit larger in some shots. It also makes it easier to clean a crotch or lessen friction and hair tugging when doing tons of scenes. It may even have been part of a misguided attempt to keep things hygienic, which many in the wider public also seem to believe, despite the reality that pubic hair likely protects against disease. Not to mention that shaving or waxing, while good at preventing crabs, can cause injury or infection. "Those messy pubes of yours were seen as a haven for all sorts of bacteria, turning you into a perceived cesspool of disease," explained pornstar Hedera Helix.

Others argue that it was part and parcel with wider norms and forces, which may already have been promoting pubic grooming before it caught on in porn. Think of the progressively skimpier fashion trends, or the popularization of hairlessness by mainstream movie stars and fashion icons throughout the late 90s and early aughts. Some also argue that it was an extension of a wider infantilization of women and fetishization of youth.

Many of the performers I spoke to told me they had been shaving or waxing for years before getting into the industry due to a general sense, gleaned through cultural osmosis, that their pubic hair was weird, gross, or unnatural. Those who've been in the industry longer also noted that many booking when they started out explicitly called for a clean crotch shave. So in all likelihood, it was some mixture of practicality and a chicken-and-egg feedback loop between porn and general cultural tastes that killed hair in the adult industry and kept it down.

Then around the turn of this decade, according to sexuality researcher Debra Herbenick, some performers started to opt to keep a bush. Herbenick believes the number of performers who do this is low overall. But according to performer turned producer Lily Campbell, within a couple of years, it's become normal for a third to half of the girls she shoots to keep a bush.

Todd Spaits, who works at yanks.com with Campbell, noted that over 15 years he's seen a drastic change in the number of girls opting for hairlessness. Of the last 50 girls who shot scenes for yanks.com, only a third have gone completely hairless, about a quarter went all natural, and the rest opted for basic grooming. Performer Dolly Leigh added that younger performers appear to be especially fond of keeping their bushes, suggesting a trend that will grow with time.

There are still stories of directors and producers pushing for hairlessness in the adult industry. Warner for one said she's received plenty of flack from folks who've refused to work with her because she won't shave. And Campbell adds many girls still come into the industry under the impression that they'll only get filmed if they shave. But Leigh maintains that in the year she's had a full bush she's had no complaints, and new stars like Jasmine Summers who have had a bush from the start of their careers say directors who push back are the exception and not the rule. In fact, agents and directors are even encouraging performers to grow out their pubes now. Leigh grew her bush back out at the behest of her manager.

"I was literally shocked when I let the bush grow half an inch and got compliments and thank yous from men," said performer Ana Molly. "Fans, photographers, and lovers all say they like 'something down there.'" Since she stopped shaving as a preference, she added, "I don't believe I've ever been asked to shave everything entirely, or ever lost an opportunity" because of it.

The return of pubes to porn is as mysterious and likely multifaceted as their vanishing a quarter century ago. Leigh and a number of other porn stars assume it's just part of a cyclical trend. People have grown tired of hairlessness, so they're looping around to something new yet very old. It could also just be porn riding a wave of pro-pube (and generally body-positive) sentiment that welled up in pop culture from 2013 well into 2015. "The trend has faded due to social media," argued performer Olive Glass. "There are so many people posting images of their bodies, their pubic hair, armpit hair, leg hair, and having discussions [about] what is 'socially acceptable.'"


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No matter the social pressures at work, it helps that porn is generally getting more diverse as the industry struggles with old production norms, producers scramble for new markets, and more diverse tastes and viewpoints take control behind the camera. "There is not one look or thing that is standard the way it was in the 70s or 80s," said indie-alt porn star Joanna Angel. "Whatever you got," added yanks.com model Raven Snow, "somebody is probably going to want to see it."

As pubes become a part of the porn landscape again, it could help accelerate a greater acceptance for pubic hair within the general public, especially given that horse is well out of the barn already. After all, even if porn played a role in sparking anti-pube norms in the popular culture, they now perpetuate themselves through a host of culturally entrenched and self-reinforcing preferences and popular opinions. But seeing porn morph into a force pushing body diversity is a noteworthy and meaningful shift.

The newfound viability of pube diversity allows performers and others "to be the subject instead of an object that has to conform to the centralized industries' cookie cutter porn star" standard," said Turquoise Faye, an actress whose work appears on various hairy fetish sites and new-ish model at yanks.com "It's not a complete social revolution. But it's an improvement."

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.

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