As humans, we spend a large portion of our lives shaving. We spend an even larger portion of our lives dreading, avoiding, or attempting to shave our pubic hair. For men in particular, the practice of intimate grooming is one that's kind of confusing, a catch-22 of too hairy or not hairy enough. Question number one: why the hell do we even shave down there in the first place?
It's likely that you have your fair share of questions about your hair below the belt, questions that you've never even deigned to Google, let alone ask a professional.
The following FAQ attempts to answer everything you didn’t know and didn’t realize you needed to know about your pubic hair. You've been warned: once you've got the info, you can't un-know these things. Godspeed.
Why is pubic hair curly?
We talked to a lot of doctors, dermatologists, hair specialist, urologists, and pubic hair enthusiasts trying to find the answer. Most of them had no idea, and a few had educated guesses.
Marc Glashofer, a dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, claims that the texture of pubic hair tends to be thicker and coarser than hair on the rest of our body because of its origins as a buffer.
“It prevents friction during intercourse that can cause skin abrasion and rashes,” he says. “More importantly, pubic hair serves as protection against bacteria and other pathogens.”
As for the curliness of pubes, Brian Steixner, M.D., Director of the Institute of Men’s Health at Jersey Urology Group in Atlantic City, suspects it’s because curly hair does a better job at trapping the pheromones secreted from sweat glands around the groin area.
In fact, it's theorised that nearly three million years ago, when human beings were still walking around half-naked, a nice pungent odour wafting up from your junk was actually considered an aphrodisiac.
So, our ancestors actually liked stinky pubes?
That’s one way to look at it, yes. It was also how your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent announced to a mate that they were sexually mature enough to procreate, says Andrew Thompson, author of What Did We Use Before Toilet Paper?: 200 Curious Questions and Intriguing Answers.
“Some anthropologists have suggested that pubic hair in males might have been an ancient way of impressing and deterring other males who were in competition with them,” says Thompson. “Similar to a lion’s mane.”
Robin Weiss, a Professor of Viral Oncology at University College London, proposed another interesting animal-based theory in the 2010 issue of the Journal of Biology.
According to Weiss, the coarse, thick texture of our pubes is evolutionarily similar to that of gorillas. And phthirus pubis — or as you probably know it, “crabs” — is something we acquired, in Weiss’ words, "probably directly from gorillas."
“Because [crabs] were already adapted to the coarse body hair of the gorilla,” Weiss wrote in his study, "crabs would have found a suitable niche in human pubic hair.”
The pests may have found their way to humans who ate gorillas and came into regular contact with gorilla carcasses, which made it possible for crabs to make the leap and feel right at home on humans' gorilla-esque pubes.
Should we be washing our pubes with shampoo to avoid bacteria or any other sorts of adjacent conditions?
Shampooing isn’t necessary, says Ricardo Mejia, M.D., a dermatologist from Jupiter, Florida. A little soap and water are more than enough.
"The shampoos these days are used to maximize volume in the hair, to give it excellent shine and bounce," he says. "Unless you are a pubic hair model, I don’t see why it is necessary to shampoo."
How long is a typical pubic hair?
Most pubes grow between 25mm and and 38m, according to Steixner.
But if the Illustrated Book of Sexual Records — published in 1983 by G. L. Simons — is to be believed, a young lady named Maoni Vi of Cape Town, South Africa once possessed pubic hair that dangled down to her knees. According to the book, her hair reached 711mm.
As Glashofer reminds us, “Each hair follicle on our body is genetically programmed to have different growth cycles which influences the hair length... The hairs of the pubic region have been biologically programmed to grow only to a certain length.”
Can your pubes fall out?
Your crotch will not start balding as dramatically as it happens on your head. As you age and your testosterone decreases, usually in your 50s, you’ll start to notice things are a little less bushy down there.
“It’s a slow progressive loss,” Steixner explains. “It’s not so much balding as a progressive thinning of hair until it appears to be almost non-existent.”
Is it a good idea to shave off your pubes?
A 2013 study conducted by the University of California San Diego found that between 2002 and 2010, groin shaving mishaps requiring emergency room visits increased five-fold between 2002 and 2010. With the dangers involved, is it any wonder that pubic hair may be making a comeback?
In 83 percent of penile injuries, there was a razor involved. Scissors were responsible for 22 percent of the balls-bleeding. And hot wax accounted for less than 2 percent of reported ER visits. Which is still a lot, if you think about it.
“The skin on the scrotum is very unique in that it has nooks and crannies,” says Steixner. “Those areas have been proven to trap huge amounts of bacteria. When you shave that pubic area, even a minor cut or laceration can cause bacteria to get inside there, and can very easily cause cellulitis, abscesses, and in very rare conditions, something called Fournier gangrene.”
If you thought about Googling Fournier gangrene, don't. Steixner calls it “flesh eating bacteria of the balls.”
Steixner tells us that the condition is actually “quite common."
"I see it once every three months," Steixner says. "And it’s not a joke. I’ve seen people die from this.”
It happens primarily in people with weakened immune systems, like severe diabetics or HIV carriers. But in some cases, it can happen to perfectly healthy guys.
“It starts with a Knick to a hair follicle during shaving,” Steixner says. “A very specific bacteria gets under the skin, and it travels fast. It basically starts to eat away at all the skin.”
In the end, the treatment isn't pretty.
"We have to surgically remove all of the skin on a man’s scrotum," Steixner says.
Your Pubic Hair Grooming Kit
If you insist on a shorn scrotum, Steixner recommends going for an electric razor over a straight razor. There are a few tools that can help aid you in your hair-free journey.
But before you get going, here’s a word of warning from Steixner:
"It’s Friday night," he says. "You’re getting ready to head out and maybe meet some girls. You’re in the shower, and you decide, what the heck, I’ll give the boys a quick shave. The next thing you know, it’s Sunday, and you’re in the ER with no nuts."
Use caution when it comes to your pubes. Always.
This story was originally published on Men's Health.