'Back, Crack and Sack'
Pubic Shaving Trend Baffles Experts
Once again, the pornography industry pointed the way. In the late 1990s, the first female porn stars began appearing with shaved pubic regions. At the time, it was something novel. But these days, with most female porn stars having their pubic hair removed, women with natural pubic hair are gradually turning into oddities on pornography Web sites. They do show up here and there, of course, but only on fetishist sites featuring things like female dwarves and women clad in latex.
What's more, intimate-zone depilation isn't just popular among porn stars. In Germany, at least, the chances are increasing that the young lady next door is also experimenting in pubic-hair reduction as well.
According to a representative poll by Leipzig psychologist Elmar Brähler published this Monday, 50 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 25 admit to shaving their pubic hair. The study also shows that men in the same group are following their lead: A quarter of them either trim or remove their pubic hair.
It wasn't long ago that men were proud of their public hair, no matter where it happened to sprout. But now that seems to be changing. The devotees of the latest trend are removing much of their pubic hair and trimming the rest into playful diamonds or so-called "penis beards." Or perhaps they leave an "N" for Natasha or some other form of decorative pattern.
In the past, if you were waiting in a depilation studio, you'd usually find yourself in the company of women, bodybuilders and an almost exclusively gay male clientele. Nowadays, no man needs to feel ashamed when ordering the standard selection of treatments at the front desk: "back, crack and sack."
The reasons behind the trend are unclear. The depilated of both sexes like to say that the naked, smooth skin simply looks better and better groomed. Besides, they add, it makes sex more enjoyable when pubic hairs aren't constantly ending up in your mouth.
But now even children and teenagers are becoming interested in the issue of pubic hair removal. Many fail to realize that far from all adults are doing it. "They're convinced that this is the only thing to do," says Gudrun Schäfer, a youth educator at a branch in Tübingen of the "pro familia" organization, which offers a number of counseling and educational services related to sexual and reproductive rights.
Schäfer knows a lot about such things. She gives talks in schools, leads discussions in youth centers and provides online advice on the organization's "Sextra" sex-education Web site. She has found that teenagers as young as 14 or 15, who are just entering into puberty, are already waging battles against their pubic hair. "And most of them aren't doing it because they like to," says Schäfer, "but because they feel that pubic hair is disgusting and unhygienic."
In fact, young people have become so obsessed with hygiene that they now see their genitals as inherently dirty. For example, Schäfer says, you'll often find boys applying fragrant lotions to their penises, while girls are obsessively using vaginal douches and keeping genital wipes in their bags. "This borders on hygiene mania," she says.
All of the excitement is no accident. Young people have the media to thank for teaching them that normally hairy private parts are practically taboo these days. And study after study -- most of them funded by companies like Gillette, Philips and Wilkinson, who have cashed in on the trend -- are fueling this belief. According to a study conducted by the GfK market-research group that was commissioned by Wilkinson, 61.9 percent of women want men to shave their pubic hair. Similar sentiments apparently predominate among men, as can be seen from another recent study that concluded: "Unshaved women have fewer sex prospects."
Last November, Brähler came out with figures that were considerably more spectacular than his current results. At the time, a study he had conducted among university students concluded that 88 percent of women and 67 percent of men depilated their genital areas. Those numbers have since been circulating throughout the media. But they were based on a survey of only about 300 students at a university hospital. The new poll, on the other hand, provided representative results for the first time from 2,512 test subjects -- and the percentage of young men who said that they shaved their pubic hair precipitously dropped from close to 70 percent to a little more than 20 percent.
Experts are baffled by the phenomenon. "We can't explain it," Brähler says with a shrug. Nor has the newer study erased the world's memory of the older figures. Just last week, the conservative weekly paper Die Zeit declared in shocking, bold letters: "Shaving One's Pubic Hairs Has Become a Strict Fashion Necessity for Over Half of the Population." But if you believe the more recent report, the figure is actually much closer to 18.4 percent.
Social pressure to shave oneself is having a definite effect. Adolescent girls are more anxious because their genital region is now bare and more exposed to scrutiny. "The girls are very concerned about what they should look like down there," says Schäfer. The inner labia, which gradually becomes visible at this age, is often seen as unattractive because of its wrinkled and protruding appearance. As a result, says Schäfer, "people are increasingly asking me about surgery."
The fear of looking outlandish is not limited to adolescents. Adult women are also worried that their labia, which were previously semi-hidden by their pubic hair, could appear too large or saggy. "A woman's private parts have become her second face," says Aglaja Stirn, director of the Department of Psychosomatics at Frankfurt's J.W. Goethe University Hospital. And the same aesthetic principles are applied to both the face and the genitalia. "The labia should look youthful, well-proportioned and taut," says Stirn.