Shaving Your Pubic Hair Won't Increase Your Risk of Certain STDs, According to a New Study
But this might not be true of ALL sexually transmitted infections.
What you do with your pubic hair is 100 percent your business. But some people believe that shaving down there or getting a bikini wax might increase their risk of STDs. If you're one of those people, researchers from The Ohio State University are now saying there's "no connection" between grooming your pubic hair and contracting certain STIs.
Researchers recruited 214 female college students, who underwent STD testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea and completed a questionnaire about their pubic hair grooming habits. The survey asked whether the participants groom their pubic hair at all, what hair-removal method they prefer most, how often they groom, and how much hair they remove when grooming.
Nearly all of the participants (98 percent) said they've groomed their pubic hair in some capacity (shaving with a non-electric razor was the most common method). About 53 percent of participants were identified as "extreme groomers," meaning they'd removed their pubic hair weekly or daily within the past year. Eighteen percent of participants said they'd removed their pubic hair six or more times within the past month. (Related: 13 Down-There Grooming Questions, Answered)
While pubic hair removal was clearly common among participants, only 10 percent tested positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea, according to the study's results, published in the journal PLOS ONE.
However, this study had limitations: For instance, the sample size was small and not very diverse. All participants identified as female, and the majority (about 75 percent) were white, single, and had high levels of income and education. Plus, the questionnaire only asked about participants' grooming habits, not their sexual history. But perhaps most importantly, researchers only looked at the connection between pubic hair grooming and the risk of chlamydia and gonorrhea, excluding other STIs like herpes and HPV. (Related: These 4 New STIs Need to Be On Your Sexual-Health Radar)
Other research in this area has found different results. For example, a 2016 study—which 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—accounted for a wider range of STDs, such as herpes, HPV, syphilis, and HIV, in addition to chlamydia and gonorrhea. Researchers found that those who did grooming of any kind were 80 percent more likely to get an STI compared with those who never groom. More specifically, they found a link between grooming and an increased risk of skin-related infections like HPV and herpes.
It's important to note, though, that neither of these studies suggests that grooming your pubic hair causes STDs. Rather, they're both uncovering a potential association (or lack thereof) between the two. That link could exist because the skin acts as a "barrier" between the body and certain bacteria/viruses, Nicole Budrys, M.D., medical director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Henry Ford Health System, previously told us. "Anything that causes small breaks in the skin, like shaving, makes it easier for infections to happen," she said.
Since infections like HPV and herpes are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, it makes sense that these STIs could be more common among those who frequently shave or wax, explained Dr. Budrys. However, both Dr. Budrys and researchers from The Ohio State University have said the science in this area isn't conclusive, so it's best not to make any assumptions one way or the other.
Generally speaking, there's no medical reason to groom your pubes, says Sherry Ross, M.D., ob-gyn and women's health expert. "Pubic hair grooming, extreme or otherwise, will not increase your risk of an STI," she explains. "Whether you choose the blade, laser, or wax for pubic hair removal, just make sure your skin is kept clean before and after."
Before you shave, wax, or laser, be sure to clean and gently exfoliate your bikini area, suggests Dr. Ross. "If you wax or laser, use a loofah on the skin after the procedure, which helps prevent ingrown hairs during the regrowth period. Antibacterial soaps and lotions are also helpful in protecting this delicate area against acne, rashes, and other skin irritations."
If you're still concerned, talk to your doctor about how to practice safe sex and prevent STIs, familiarize yourself with the most common signs and symptoms of STDs, and be sure to ask your partner about their testing history.