This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
More specifically: I've been thinking about a social trend I keep hearing about. If what I'm hearing is correct (and it may not be -- it's not like I've done a rigorous, statistically representative, peer-reviewed study on the subject), then shaving and/or trimming pubic hair has become fairly standard among the new generation of sexually active adults. (At least in the U.S. and Europe.) It's become understood, apparently, that pretty much everyone shaves or at least trims their pubic hair, as just a normal part of modern civilized grooming procedures.
And I have very mixed feelings about this.
First, let me spell this out up front: I have absolutely no issues with the shaving of pubic hair itself. I have some personal aesthetic and erotic opinions about it; but as a socio- politico- sexual phenomenon, participated in or not by other people who I'm not having sex with, I have no opinion about it whatsoever. I consider it an entirely private, none- of- my- business decision. (And even my personal aesthetic and erotic opinions about it are pretty non-committal, amounting to, "Yeah, shaved or trimmed is nice, but it's not that big a deal, it's really fine either way.")
My mixed feelings aren't about shaving itself. They're about the degree to which shaving has become de rigueur.
(If indeed that's true. See disclaimer above.)
My initial reaction is to be against it. I don't like the idea of any specific form of sexual expression being de rigueur. I think that sex is too personal, and too important, for it to be controlled by the whims of fashion. I don't like the idea of people shaving their pubic hair just because all the cool kids are doing it... any more than I like the idea of people doing bondage, or having three-ways, or saving their virginity for marriage, just because all the cool kids are doing it. Sex is too special for that -- and people's sexualities are too unique, and too idiosyncratic, for that.
And I have issues with what I strongly suspect is the source of this trend: namely, mainstream commercial porn. I hate the idea of porn being the trendsetter, the sexual yardstick by which our sexual activity is measured. The sex in mainstream commercial porn is highly exaggerated; it's choreographed primarily to look good on camera, not to feel good for the participants; it focuses largely on male pleasure at the expense of female pleasure; and it's standardized to an almost ritualistic degree that would be laughable if it weren't so sad. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Porn is not sex education. It scares and saddens me to think of an entire generation of sexually active adults getting their ideas about what is and isn't normal/ acceptable/ desirable in sex from porn.
So. All that bugs me.
But. Yet. On the other hand.
I will also say this:
I like the casualness that the standardness of pubic shaving reveals. I like how it treats genitals as just another body part, like armpits or legs or faces -- just another body part that people shave or trim to make themselves more sexually appealing. I think this shows a healthy, relaxed attitude towards sex: an attitude that treats one's genitals as an integral part of one's body, and sex as an integral part of one's life.
And I like the way it treats sex as important and valuable, worth preparing for ahead of time. As I've written before: The idea that sex always has to be completely spontaneous in order to be truly valuable, and that preparing or planning for sex makes it antiseptic and lifeless... it's one of the most pernicious sexual myths we have. If the new generation of sexually active adults is showing the value they place on sex, and their willingness to take responsibility for it, by grooming their genitals for sex ahead of time -- not just for special occasions, but as a matter of everyday practice -- then maybe that's not such a bad thing.
I'm not wild about the idea of it becoming de rigueur. But then, I'm not wild about the fact that women have to shave our legs and armpits if we don't want to be seen as crunchy granola hippies or bomb-throwing radicals. Or that men have to cut their hair and shave or at least trim their beards if they don't want to be seen as... well, as crunchy granola hippies or bomb-throwing radicals.
And I've nevertheless come to terms with it. I get that dress and grooming are languages, symbols we use to signal our segment of society and to express our attitudes towards it. And I get that that this language shifts over time, in much the same way that regular language shifts over time. If the meaning of pubic shaving is changing -- socially and erotically -- from "weird kinky fetish" to "porn star slutty" to "standard for sexually active young cosmopolitan adults"... well, it's not that much weirder than the way the meaning of makeup changed in the last century or so, from "prostitute" to "daring and fashionable" to "respectable and conventional."
So I'm not wild about the idea of pubic shaving becoming de rigueur. So what. I wasn't wild about bell-bottoms coming back into style, either. If pubic shaving is becoming a standard part of the sexual language -- and if what's being said in that language is, "Sex is a normal and integral part of our lives, and it's a valuable part that's worth taking some time to prepare for" -- I think I can live with that.