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Does Your Bikini Wax Increase Your Risk of STDs?

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What you choose to do with your hair *down there* is a highly personal decision, but these days, many women opt to shave or wax it off. Not only does this require somewhere between weekly and monthly upkeep, but it can also be pretty painful. Now, there might be one more reason to just leave it alone. A new study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections found that those who frequently groomed their pubic hair were more likely to contract STIs. Yikes! (Here, find out which STIs are much harder to get rid of than they used to be.)

The study looked at over 14,000 women and men, surveying both their pubic hair grooming habits and their sexual history, including their number of lifetime partners and any incidence of STIs. The researchers found that the group of people who had the highest chance of getting an STI were those who classified as "super groomers," meaning they did their grooming more than 11 times per year, and "high-frequency groomers," who did maintenance weekly or daily. So basically, if you get a bikini wax once a month or shave weekly, you're in this category. In fact, those who did grooming of any kind were 80 percent more likely to get an STI compared with those who never groom. In particular, the risk of skin-related infections like HPV and herpes is elevated.(Read the weird thing that makes you more likely to get a Brazilian wax.)

While the study doesn't fully explore the reasons frequent groomers are more likely to get STIs, it is possible that the hair removal process plays a role. "The skin naturally forms a barrier between organisms, like bacteria and viruses, and the body," explains Nicole Budrys, M.D., medical director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Henry Ford Health System. "Anything that causes small breaks in the skin, like shaving, makes it easier for infections to happen. It makes sense that infections like HPV and herpes, which are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, are seen more frequently in those who shave more than twice a month. With waxing, we know that these small skin breaks can also happen and are also likely to increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases." (BTW, your HPV vaccine excuses are total BS.)

It may seem like a simple fix is to just not have sex after shaving or waxing, but according to Budrys, that probably isn't the best solution. "These breaks in the skin are tiny, so most people probably won't even know they have them," she says. "My recommendation would be not to shave or wax in order to prevent the breaks in the skin." As of now, both the researchers in the study and Budrys agree that more research is needed to determine if waxing and shaving actually increase STI risk through these microtears or if there's another cause that hasn't been discovered yet.

The authors also acknowledged that this particular study doesn't prove that grooming actually causes you to get STIs, just that the people who do it most often have a higher chance of getting one. So what does that mean exactly? Well, there's a pretty good chance that people who groom themselves more often are also more sexually active, and thus have a higher chance of contracting an STI anyway. While the researchers did adjust their findings to take into account the number of sexual partners each respondent had, that doesn't mean that they can totally remove that bias from the results.

Of course, use protection every time you have sex, and be sure to ask your partner about his/her testing history, which we'd recommend whether you shave, wax, or do nothing at all!

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