This story was originally published on February 17, 2016.
Last week, Reddit user ismybfwrongorme submitted a since-removed post to the Relationships subreddit seeking advice on his partner’s refusal to meet his (eminently reasonable, he insisted) standards for her. "My (32m) girlfriend (30f) has decided she is sick of my expectations and wants me to loosen up,” he began. "I don't think my expectations are that high.” He didn’t understand, he continued, why his girlfriend would be unwilling to, among other stipulations, wear makeup at all times, including at home; provide him with a minimum of three blow jobs a week; and regularly remove all of her pubic hair — since, in his words, hair in this area is "incredibly disgusting."
This post was probably not real. (Commenters still leapt to respond as though it were: "So you want her to be perpetually hairless, always sexually available...and you want her to do the things that you want her to do?" one shot back. "So you shave or wax all of your pubic hair, armpit hair and leg hair, do you?” another challenged.)
Many people, however, who are not irredeemable assholes do have preferences with respect to their partner’s hair down there. My partner does (the less hair, the sexier); I do (a little trim so that I don’t end up flossing my teeth with your pubes is nice, thanks); if you don’t have them, you’ve likely been with someone who does. And, while pressuring your partner is unacceptable, you're allowed to like what you like.
Many people who are not irredeemable assholes have preferences with respect to their partner’s hair down there.
Yes, grooming should be driven by personal preference, but that, in turn, is often driven by outside influence. Earlier this week, a Vogue story declared that "the full bush is the new Brazilian," and that in-the-know women are now more interested in "cleaning up" their pubic hair than in total deforestation. The story cited a scene in the new movie How To Be Single in which Rebel Wilson’s Robin glimpses the unkempt pubic hair of Dakota Johnson’s Alice; Robin informs Alice that she has — the horror — "LTRP," or "long-term relationship pubes," which, in Robin's mind, achieve the same effect as a chastity belt. "It’s like you dropped your hairbrush and your vagina caught it,” Robin scolds. "It looks like a hard ball of petrified curly fries.” Ignore that Negative Nancy and go for the curly-fry look — it’s in!, Vogue implies.
Robin would place my pubic hair in LTRP territory, too, but that’s more a product of laziness than aesthetic preference. Waxing is expensive, time-consuming, and painful, shaving leads to razor burn, and, unlike Johnson’s character, I am, in fact, in a long-term relationship. That doesn’t mean that my partner has stopped finding hairlessness sexy, it's just that I can ignore this fact without fear of turning him off, because he knows what to expect. (I highly recommend managing expectations as a relationship tactic: Going natural most of the time means that when I do go bare or carve out a "landing strip," it’s a surprise treat! With a few swipes of the razor, I’m basically a Victoria’s Secret model!)
Were I single, though, and in the early stages of dating someone or anticipating going home with someone new? I know I would wax, shave, or trim more often. Much more often. Blame porn, blame "paedophiliac" beauty standards, blame patriarchal aversion to women’s natural bodily functions — and I believe that all of these play a role here — but the fact is that many people, particularly hetero men, find little-to-no pubic hair attractive and untouched hair off-putting. No, ismybfwrongorme, you may never describe another person’s features as "incredibly disgusting." But while it is (or should be) always and forever your choice what you do with your body, we can’t, short of sending someone to therapy, dictate what another person finds sexy.
With a few swipes of the razor, I’m basically a Victoria’s Secret model
Is it ever acceptable, then, to express an opinion on your partner’s pubic hair? "I think I would be offended if a guy expressed any preference at all," my friend M. opines. "Not up to you, brah." She’s right. It isn’t up to the brahs, or anyone else. And I agree that a one-night stand (or even a several-night stand) is not a forum for airing your unsolicited perspective on another person's crotch-scaping.
But, between partners who trust each other, I can’t see what’s wrong with some open communication on the subject — open communication being "Hey babe, of course it’s up to you, but I would love to see what you look like with a little less/more hair; I just happen to find that super hot" and not "Hey babe, your pubic hair is INCREDIBLY DISGUSTING" — or, as one anonymous human male told Cosmo for a "What Guys Really Think About Your TK" story, "It's weird to go down on a girl when you're probably rubbing your nose in a fucking jungle." If anyone speaks to you (or a magazine) this way, he or she has deeper problems than societally instilled pubic hair preferences. Run.
But. There is nothing inherently feminist about having body hair. There’s nothing inherently unfeminist about not having it. What’s feminist is approaching grooming as a choice — your choice. And there is nothing wrong with incorporating your partner’s desires into your choices, as long as you do it because you want to and because you both find the end result sexy, the same way you’d choose a tie your partner liked or apply a certain lipstick after your partner complimented you on it. As for me, my LTRP are working out just fine for now — but who knows when my razor will make a surprise visit?
The Bed Post is a series that explores what holds us back from loving and fucking whom, when, where, how, and why we want. We all deserve sex that’s not only free of obvious evils, but full of what is good. Let’s talk about all of it. Follow me on Twitter at @hlmacmillen or email me at hayley.macmillen@refinery29 — I’d love to hear from you!