Why do we have pubic hair and what is its purpose?

Boys and girls develop pubic hair as they start to produce hormones during puberty and it’s a sign of sexual maturity.

There are a number of reasons that the hair there evolved – predominantly down to protection from friction (from everyday things like walking as well as having sex) but the glands you have in your nether regions produce an oilier sweat (the same as those under your arms) and the hair helps to wick that sweat away from the glands and acts as a trap for pheromones (those extraordinarily powerful, sexually stimulating scents!). There is also evidence pubic hair works as a barrier to bacteria.

Does shaving/waxing make it cleaner down there?

Absolutely not, when pubic hair is shaved or waxed it leaves microscopic open wounds in the skin membrane which means bacteria can enter. Given the warmth and moisture down there, it’s a perfect environment for bacteria to breed and there are a rising number of infections, including some nasties such as Streptococcus A and Staphylococcus aureus (including MRSA, the antibiotic resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus).

Can shaving/waxing cause infections?

As mentioned above shaving and waxing can cause damage to the skin membrane but the hair follicles themselves are often irritated and can become inflamed, especially with frequent hair removal which is necessary if you want to stay smooth.

The follicle shape is oval not round (which is why pubic hair is curly) and there is a likelihood of an odd blocked hair follicle which can develop into a pustule or abscess – occasionally these need to be lanced and the infection treated with antibiotics – but they’re not life threatening!

Can pubic hair protect us against STIs?

Shaved hair means there is no barrier against the bacteria mentioned above and they can be transferred from skin to skin, this can lead to cellulitis infection (a bacterial infection of soft tissues) of the labia and scrotum. Because of the small tears and damage made to your skin during waxing or shaving, you’re also more vulnerable to herpes and HPV (genital warts).

Should we leave it natural?

There are very few benefits to removal of pubic hair; certainly zero health benefits. Some people report enhanced sexual sensations (but this could just be a learned response from watching porn, the probable instigator of the ‘no hair’ fashion trend where more than 90% of ‘stars’ are hair free) There’s also the fact that a lot of us wear smaller underwear – thongs etc – these days, so that a natural bush might be perceived as being unsightly… Having said that the trend is common in both men and women, gay and straight. There’s been a dramatic rise in the number of genital lacerations over the past few years, so if you are going to shave – be careful!

Would should you do if you get an ingrown hair down there?

If you are ripping a hair out from the root, the new hair can be weak and unable to break through the skin causing it to grow back in on itself. If you do get an ingrown hair, before attacking it, it helps to make it warm by laying in the bath or putting a hot flannel on it for five minutes. Make sure the area and your hands are clean and gently squeeze either side to push the hair under the skin upwards. Once the tip is exposed, pull the hair upwards with some clean/sterilised tweezers trying not to break the skin.

Once it’s out let the air get to it for a while and you can put some antiseptic cream such as tea tree onto it if you feel necessary. Wearing cotton underwear can also help. Regular exfoliation (removing the dead skin cells) in the area can help longer term in the prevention of ingrown hairs (I sound like a beautician!) If a cyst or pustule develops that you’re worried about, go and see a healthcare professional as it might need to be drained and you might need antibiotics.

Brigette Bard, is CEO of BioSure UK, which specialises in the supply of rapid point of contact tests. Its aim is to revolutionise the diagnosis of infectious diseases including sexually transmitted infections as well as the detection of drugs of abuse. In 2015, BioSure launched Europe’s first CE marked HIV self test. Brigette is also the founder of Last Taboo, a social enterprise focused on reducing the rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV in the UK through awareness, education and smashing stigma – find out more and get involved at www.lasttaboo.co.uk.

This article was first published on The Daily Star