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‘Whether … or not?’ Our on-and-off affair with pubic hair
  1. Susan Quilliam
  1. Writer, Broadcaster, Consultant and Trainer, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Susan Quilliam; susan{at}susanquilliam.com; http://www.susanquilliam.com

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Background

‘The bush’, ‘bird’s nest’, ‘lady garden’, ‘briar patch in which a small mouse nestles’. The issue of pubic hair is surely of interest to Journal readers, even if only because in current society we are among the people most likely to have a balanced view. Unlike the vast majority of the population uninvolved in sexual and reproductive health care, we may witness pubic hair – or its absence – on a daily basis. Hence this Consumer Correspondent article, addressing the what, the why – and, above all, the ‘whether … or not’ – of the topic.

Definition and justification

Let's begin with the basic ‘what’. Human genital hair develops in response to the hormones of puberty; compared to head hair it's heavier, longer, coarser, often shorter and curlier (hence the popular term, ‘bush'). Left to grow naturally, in men it tends to taper in a thin, upward-pointing triangle, in women a thicker shape widening over the mons pubis.

But ‘why’ is it there at all? Explanations vary, and even the most informed are less than completely verifiable. Social modesty evolved long after genetic imperatives, so pubic hair probably did not develop to avoid embarrassment. It may well have developed to discourage debris from entering the body, though of course the hair itself can harbour dirt as well as guard against it. Desmond Morris quotes early anthropological reports of an island in the South Pacific where women used their luxuriant pubic locks as a hand towel.

Genital hair could be a heat-retaining device, but if that were so then surely women would have hairy abdomens to keep ovaries and womb warm and men, heaven forfend, would have hair-covered penises. It could be a protection in battle, but conversely it could offer adversaries something to grasp – a concept entertainingly expressed in the British …

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