You asked: To Go Bare Down There?

I’ve heard a number of conflicting things on this topic; is removing or waxing all pubic hair entirely from the vagina healthy, unhealthy, or something in between?

— Marie

Removing pubic hair is a cosmetic choice that may have health consequences for some women.

Before we get started we need to get one fact straight — pubic hair is on your vulva (the outside, where your clothes touch your skin) not your vagina, which is internal or at the vaginal opening (think of the places you touch when reaching inside for a rogue tampon) .

Pubic hair serves several biological purposes. It is a physical barrier protecting the skin; it traps discharge, dirt and debris; it also traps moisture, helping the vulvar skin maintain a higher moisture content relative to skin elsewhere on your body. As each pubic hair is attached to a nerve, tugging during sex may also increase sexual stimulation. Pubic hair may also have a role in dispersal of normal odors.

Pubic hair removal is common — approximately 80 percent of women ages 18-65 report they remove some or all of their pubic hair.

Pubic hair removal is associated with medical risks — in one study 27 percent of women who reported removing their pubic hair had sustained an injury at some point and 2.5 percent reported needing surgical intervention (think draining an abscess or stitches). Infections related to pubic hair removal can be very serious.

There is also emerging data that links pubic hair removal with an increased risk of some sexually transmitted infections (S.T.I.s), such as herpes and the human papillomavirus (HPV). The microtrauma of hair removal may facilitate transmission or change the environment of the area in other ways that facilitates infection.

[Have a question about women’s health? Ask Dr. Gunter yourself.]

Trends regarding pubic hair removal wax and wane (sorry about the pun), much like eyebrow shape. Removing pubic hair is not right or wrong, it is a cosmetic choice that has medical risks. Adults make decisions about their bodies every day, ideally those decisions are informed and reached after you have balanced your personal risk-benefit ratio.

Whatever you decide is right for your body, please do not remove your pubic hair for a visit to the gynecologist. It is not necessary and we would not want you to incur any risk of injury or infection on our behalf.

Dr. Jen Gunter, Twitter’s resident gynecologist, is teaming up with our editors to answer your questions about all things women’s health. From what’s normal for your anatomy, to healthy sex, to clearing up the truth behind strange wellness claims, Dr. Gunter promises to handle your questions with respect, forthrightness and honesty.

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