Can shaving or waxing my pubic hair affect my STD risk?

Waxing
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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.

There is evidence that doing so 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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, may be 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.

    Sources:
    Armstrong NR, Wilson JD. (2006) Did the "Brazilian" kill the pubic louse? Sex Transm Infect. 82(3):265-6
     
    Castronovo C, Lebas E, Nikkels-Tassoudji N, Nikkels AF. Viral infections of the pubis. Int J STD AIDS. 2012 Jan;23(1):48-50.
     
    Desruelles, F., Cunningham, S.A., Dubois, D. (2013) Pubic hair removal: a risk factor for ‘minor’ STI such as molluscum contagiosum? Sexually Transmitted Infections. Published Online First. doi:10.1136/sextrans-2012-050982  
     
    Herbenick D, Hensel D, Smith NK, Schick V, Reece M, Sanders SA, Fortenberry JD. (2013) Pubic hair removal and sexual behavior: findings from a prospective daily diary study of sexually active women in the United States. J Sex Med. 2013 Mar;10(3):678-85.
      
    Tanner J, Norrie P, Melen K. Preoperative hair removal to reduce surgical site infection. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Nov 9;(11):CD004122.


     

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