The muff, bush, patch, forest, trimming and gift-wrap, to the carpet, happy trail, lady garden and pubes, pubic hair is a wonderfully strange aspect of one’s life and identity. For something which everyone thinks about at some point in their life, no one really wants to talk about it. From the historical roller-coaster of necessity and practicality, to the religiously informed aesthetics we see in pornography, pubic hair is complicated. My first vivid memory of pubic hair that I can remember was when I was some where around 12 years old and I was in the kiddy pool that my next door neighbor set up on the lawn in front of their house. It was a hot day and my best friend at the time and I were attempting to cool down in the sweltering heat when I look up at her, as she rose from the pool and I saw dark, curly hair peaking from around her bathing-suit bottoms. I remember being stunned at the time. What and why are there weird things… down there: As my parents called it sometimes: the no-no place. Yet, as I grew older the images I saw on screen and in the porno mags I stole a peak from, there was no hair down there. I remember feeling self-conscious about it, especially during the summer where swimsuits haunted me as I assessed the amount of body hair which was acceptable before going to the beach. Then romantic and sexual feeling arose for various individuals and my mild obsession with people’s opinions got me asking questions about if I could be desirable if I had pubic hair, and whether anyone else could sense that I did or didn’t have some, or worse, they could smell me. Like some women and men who have removed pubic hair in an effort to be clean, I worried that I was dirty for having pubic hair or was I dirty for having a vagina?
I realize now that pubic hair is kind of like the frog, it is an indicator species. Perceptions about pubic hair is a gateway into understanding culture, religion and social ideas/ practices through out time, much like how toys have been analyzed. Overtime, pubic hair and the expectations of grooming for both men and women have greatly changed, as pubic hair did not appear to matter greatly until Christian and religious ideas of morality and cleanliness became infused into law, society and culture. While it is arguable that this change to a more modest enjoyment of the human form is due to religious ideas of fully covering where pubic hair and leg hair (for women) simply wouldn’t be seen under all those layers of dresses, even art displays a turn away from the bush. Slowly but surely, pubic hair became embarrassing and obscene while alternatively the necessity of grooming further complicates that narrative. Some women in the 1450s got rid of pubic hair to help eradicate pubic lice but they then donned what is called the Merkin or pubic wig, some donned these wigs to cover syphilis later on. (Note: never shave to get rid of pubic lice, they dig in, go to your doctor, and yes, the use of Merkins to cover syphilis does not help the idea that pubic hair is unclean.) Then the introduction of the swimsuit which would reveal pubic hair in the 20th century drove more women to trim their muff. Arguably, the muff is a fading memory sacrificed to the gods of aesthetics.
Yet what does ideas and practices regarding pubic hair say about society? Another way to control women’s bodies? Is the shaming of pubic hair really the shaming of the vagina or of the abyss of untold wonder and turmoil? Some have argued that the disappearance of the carpet is an attempt to make women look more per-pubescent and some say it just makes them feel cleaner. For men, does it make the Johnson look bigger? Or does bush make them look manlier? Ultimately, it comes down to the individual person. Yes, culture has a huge effect on our ideas about pubic hair but people are not mindless consumers which absorb the latest trends without a thought, people negotiate with these trends and culture-based changes constantly. Some individuals choose to rebel against the totalitarian regime of the bikini wax, whereas other simply like the feel or look of a bare vulva or nutsack. In my informal research into what people think about pubic hair, the opinions ranged dramatically. Some indicated that they did not like any pubic hair on themselves or their partners, especially when oral sex was to be performed. Others said that they preferred a little bit of hair because it made them feel like they were with a mature adult. Many indicated that the maintenance of the bush was largely due to practicality; shave or wax totally and razor burn, rashes or ingrown hairs happen, don’t trim and underwear pinches and pubes sometimes gets in your lovers teeth. One friend noted that she picks out nice wrapping paper for gifts but its the contents that counts. Whereas others noted that they really didn’t care but if their partner did, then they would try to make an effort for the other person’s preference.
While the great pubes debate has been criticized by some for being very hetero in its approach, no matter sexuality or even gender preferences, we think about pubes and what to do with them. There are so many different approaches to analyzing pubic hair, such as a feminist critique of the patriarchy or a marxist criticism of capitalism, to a queer critical question of “who’s bush are we talking about”. That maintenance or lack-thereof can be a powerful personal statement of one’s own politics, one’s identity or just how someone feels most comfortable. Personally, I like a little turf above the house and I like my partners to have that too. Yet, really there isn’t a good or bad way to maintain your no-no place, male, female or otherwise. There is nothing unclean about pubic hair, and you can get that fact checked by your doctor. Some are arguing now that the bush is making a comeback in pop culture media, even saw bush on both the 50 Shades of Grey characters this past week at the movies. Ultimately, what almost everyone I’ve encountered has said about pubes is that is has to be comfortable, and that comes from being comfortable in your own body, whatever way it takes to achieve that. One can be sexy and playful with a full muff, trimmed bush, waxed mound or heart-shaped packaging.
What do you think about muff? Do you consciously make decisions towards grooming because of your own political views or does it depend entirely on the comfort of yourself and your partners?