Last summer, out of personal confusion and curiosity, I wrote a story called "So What Am I Actually Supposed to Do With My Bikini Line These Days?" Caught between my commitment to destigmatizing female body hair and my commitment to not disturbing strangers at the swimming pool with too much rogue pubic hair, I was eager to know how women in the 21st century were actually grooming down there and what motivates their choices. I didn't have the resources to conduct an empirical survey on the matter at the time, but to my good fortune, I recently encountered a survey from Chicago's Advanced Dermatology that did.
The folks at this Midwestern skin health center had similar curiosities: They wanted to know how and why people of all genders arrange their body hair (from their pits to their nether regions) in 2018. "Grooming, or preening, is essential behavior to many species. From cats to birds to chimpanzees, social animals implement specific grooming behaviors to stay healthy and clean, to bond with other members of their group, or to attract a mate," the survey's authors wrote. "As a species, humans are no different, but how and why we groom ourselves is far more complex."
To discover more about women's and men's body hair habits and what influences them, the study surveyed 2000 participants. Read on to learn more about the results.
First question: Which areas of the body do men and women groom the most? For women, legs, eyebrows, the groin area, and underarms top the list—95%, 77%, 68%, and 67% of women remove their body hair from these areas respectively. For men, the numbers were a little different. Ears (91%), back (76%), nose (73%), and chest (71%) were the topmost groomed for dudes. Only 32% of men reported grooming their pubic area. (Seems low, no?)
The experts I talked to for my bikini area story last year told me that shaving the groin area was on the way out and that women were opting for waxing and laser hair removal instead. But the survey found different results, revealing that most folks use a good old manual razor just like they did in high school and shave once a month.
Next question: Why do we go through all the trouble of shaving, plucking, and waxing our naturally occurring body hair? For whom do we do it for? We might tell ourselves that we preen our underarms, legs, and pubic areas for our own personal confidence and taste, but the survey tells a different story.
The numbers say that our romantic partners and friends have the biggest effects on our grooming behavior (accounting for about 84% of respondents' body hair choices). External influences are also at play: 26% of respondents reported that fashion influences their grooming, 18% said the media does, 15% are influenced by celebrities, and 14% are influenced by pornography.
Interestingly, the survey says that men are 88% more likely than women to groom their body hair based on what they see in porn and 38% more likely to be influenced by a romantic partner. Women, on the other hand, are 61% more likely than men to be influenced by their siblings' grooming habits.
The motivations for our body hair removal are obviously very complex, but it's no wonder most people put the effort in. According to the survey, 85% of participants have a preference when it comes to their partner's pubic hair—56% say they prefer it trimmed, 18% prefer total hairlessness (lower than I personally would have predicted), and 9% say they like an au naturel style best.
Luckily, while most people have preferences, whatever grooming style their partner flaunts usually doesn't matter that much: 65% of respondents said that a partner's grooming habits were not a deal-breaker. However, 70% of the remaining respondents said a completely ungroomed pubic area would be enough to turn them off.
Though these numbers are intriguing, it's also important to remember that numbers aren't people, and one's theoretical body hair habits and preferences can change pretty easily once they meet someone they really like. At the end of the day, we all just have to groom the way that makes us feel the most like ourselves. That confidence alone will surely be more of a dealmaker than a perfectly trimmed bikini line.
Advanced Dermatology Blog. A Hairy Situation. Published January 22, 2018.