The peril of pubes

Sarah Britten asks why pubic hair is such an issue.

When I first visited the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, I made a point of viewing the most shocking painting of its time. Painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866, it is called “L’origine du monde” or “The Origin of the World”.

It features a cropped view of a woman’s torso, legs spread, luxuriant mound of dark pubic hair in full display. At a time when female nudes were shown devoid of anything but the hair on their heads, this was radical.

Today, it is as shocking as it ever was – but for an entirely different reason. Now that any of us can schlep to our local beauty salon for a Brazilian, pubes are not part of mainstream sexual practice. They’re verboten, unthinkable, banished. Maybe you’re allowed a landing strip but that’s it. Bush is banned.

It’s rather ironic that we’ve come full circle, only this time the reason is porn rather than prudery. Back in the Victorian era, the famous art critic John Ruskin was supposedly unable to bring himself to consummate his marriage because he was so appalled by his new wife’s pubes. We laugh, but I’d bet that there are men out there who wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to have sex with a woman who wasn’t waxed.

I remember my first pubic hair very clearly.  It appeared when I was ten, a dark and twisted harbinger of the looming angst of my teenaged years. At the time, I was still innocent enough to share a bath with my younger siblings. Of course they spotted it, and of course they mocked me mercilessly.

Eventually I got used to it, and stopped worrying. But then I got divorced, and started dating again, and discovered that sexual culture had moved on quite radically in the ten years I was with my ex-husband.

Pubes are a minefield now. I have male friends who like hair – including one who is rather fond, not just of bush, but underarm hair as well - but that’s rare. My research is anecdotal, but there seems to be a distinct generation gap out there. “As chairman of the "bring back beaver" campaign I want a return to hirsute,” declared a friend of mine, a columnist who turns 60 this year. “We are fed up with this pre-pubescent porno look.”

But a lot of younger men seem to expect hairlessness. Apparently this is because they have grown up assuming that real life is like porn.

Also, as oral sex has become mainstream and part of most heterosexual couple’s repertoires, I would guess that the motivation to do some pruning down there has become that much more compelling. Nobody wants to combine flossing with cunnilingus, right?

The issue of pruning one’s bush is subtle. Nobody has ever told me to wax. But I’ve paged through enough magazines and perused the services offered by beauty salons to twig, finally, that this is what I’m supposed to do.

Because I have – how do I put this delicately? – inadvertent cougar tendencies, this is not an issue I can avoid. Pubic hair is a very intimate part of our bodies, but it’s also the one most often subject to the preferences of someone other than ourselves. In this, I defer entirely to men. So, whether or not I have pubes is entirely dependent on whether someone other than me will ever see them. If not, then I couldn’t be bothered. If yes, well… one has to spruce up.

Origin of the world or not, this is the way the world is now.

 

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