Shorn Genitalia, “Porn Culture,” and Pubic Hair as Self-Expression

shaving-beaverI found this utterly hilarious post over at feminist law professors, courtesy of Bridget Crawford. I really only take issue with the last sentence, in bold.

“This network television ad for the Schick Quattro TrimStyle for Women razor proclaims, “Now it’s easy to shave, trim and transform with just a flip of a handle, whatever your style.” A female runner passes three small bushes that go from unkempt to roundly trimmed. As a woman in a bikini walks pool-side past a potted plant, it goes from wild and ungroomed to a neat rectangular strip.

Circular, triangular, rectangular, oval and square — “whatever your style” — as long as it’s not natural, according to this commercial, it would seem. Ok, so it is a razor ad, after all, so it’s not like I expected Schick to take a pro growth position. Nevertheless, this ad’s not-so-subtle hints that we should all get to trimming did take me by surprise. It’s just more evidence of how porn culture has become mainstream culture.(source)

I normally find Crawford’s perspective to be thought provoking and intellectually honest — even when I disagree with her. On this occasion, I wonder if we might benefit from a dialogue about whether genital shaving is really “porn culture,” or if there is perhaps more to it.

Pubic Shaving Throughout History

Before we get to the politically-charged term of “porn culture,” lets take a look at the world before the first issue of Hustler: In the ancient world, pubic shaving was the norm. In fact, the Ancient Egyptians abhorred all hair and removed every bit of it from their bodies. Charles Darwin wrote of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and described how they too did not tolerate body hair of any kind, on men or women.

He saw one waxed snatch 3000 years ago, and he's been raging ever since

He saw one waxed snatch 3000 years ago, and he's been raging ever since


In many Middle Eastern and eastern European cultures, pubic hair is considered unclean, and for matters of both religion and/or good hygiene, women in those cultures have removed their pubic hair for centuries. Some examples of regions where this is typical are ancient Persia, Turkey, Albania and ethnic-Albanian portions of Kosovo, and in many other cultures throughout the Mediterranean. (source)

In fact, Islam considers the removal of body hair to be a preferred practice:

[R]emoving unwanted hair from the body is an act of fitrah. Referring to this, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said “The fitrah is five things: circumcision, trimming the mustache, cutting the nails, plucking the armpit hairs, and shaving the pubic hairs” (source)

While I have my critiques of Islam (no more than any other religion), I don’t think that the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) is exactly “porn culture.”

Back in the day, European prostitutes shaved their genitals to keep the crabs away, and to be able to show their customers that there were no unsightly bumps, sores, or things that go “eeeew” at the doctor’s office. This practice gave us the glorious merkin. So, before there was pornography, as we know it anyhow, pubic shaving abounded. We didn’t need any porn to tell us that grooming was good. We just knew it.

“Porn Culture”: What is it?

What?  My Imam said to do it!

What? My Imam said to do it!

With the long history of pubic shaving packed into a few paragraphs, lets look at that term — “porn culture.” What a deliciously expedient rhetorical tool. I think that the good professor is perhaps a bit under-exposed to what “Porn Culture” really is. The fact is this:

There. Is. No. Such. Thing.

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that it completely democratized porn. Back when you needed a lot of money to run a porn company, and only a few companies controlled the market, you had “porn culture.” The marketplace demanded that porn companies aim at the bulls-eye of sexual preferences, which usually followed along with body types and body images that Madison Avenue and Hollywood fed to us. Therefore, most porn actors and actresses looked relatively similar.

Once the internet became the preferred vehicle for delivery of porn, the niches became the norm. If you prefer your women older, larger, with penises, or women in high heels smushing cupcakes with their feet, the internet went from a “one thing on the menu” to a vast world of digital pornographic dim sum. And yes, if you are into the “Natural and Hairy” look, you’ve got it!

The fact is, there is no such thing as “porn culture.” One woman’s porn is another man’s National Geographic. One man’s porn is another woman’s raised eyebrow with that Scooby Doo look of puzzlement. The fact is, there is porn for everybody — and there is no mandate that pussies be shaved.

How we dress, adorn and decorate, and yes, groom ourselves may relate to our personal feelings on hygiene or religious practices. However, when it comes to pubic hair in western culture, it largely has to do with sexuality and the many varieties of things that flip our perverbial switches. So, while one person’s approach to pubic hair maintenance may be largely pragmatic, others may do it to attend (however minimally) to their particular erotic ideal. Unless you believe that attending to any erotic ideal is bad and oppressive, there’s no reason that pubic grooming is any better or worse a practice than the many other erotic ideals out there.

This “porn culture” term comes from the MacKinnon/Dworkin side of the street. It goes like this: All culture and publically audible voices are inherently male-dominated; therefore, all cultural and social influences are male; all men are sex-driven and powerhungry, and must seek to sublimate women’s sexuality and autonomy; ergo, any cultural influence such as an advertisement for pube-trimmers, is essentially men telling women what they should do and how they should look; which is by its nature an effort to keep women down.

The term “porn culture” is code for the idea that women should resist any and all cultural influences on how they should look or behave. Which, aside from being impossible and ill-advised, is a position that gives women no credit whatsoever for the various current and historical eroticisms of our culture. And, that’s just insulting to intelligent, strong, well-adjusted sex-positive women. The fact is, you can wax, shave, or go with the “flying V” and still be just as feminist as the next woman — even if you wouldn’t necessarily be admitted to the Second-Wave-Feminist, Junior Anti-Sex League meeting.

So, to Trim, Wax, or Let it all Hang Out?

The Hawk, he make me this way.  Very nice!

The Hawk, he make me this way. Very nice!

When I was in college, I lived in a place known as “Butterfield.” The prevalent dorm culture was one where nobody washed much, body shaving of any kind was frowned upon, and I thought it was gross. That doesn’t change the fact that I respected their little cult of hippiedom. It would be a wonderful world if we could stop spending money on products that make us smell “better” or that make us “look better.”

Personally, I prefer to see a woman’s genitalia nicely groomed. Hey, those who like the natural and hairy thing, more power to you. It sure makes things easier. But, just as some people like their food heavily seasoned, and others could live on TV dinners, we all have different tastes — and speaking of taste, one can’t deny the fact that how a vagina is groomed has a direct influence on how it tastes, but that’s just a heterosexual male (or lesbian female) perspective — and it is only one.

Tatiana von Tauber, our resident feminist issues columnist and erotic art photographer is in favor of some female pubic hair. “A woman just isn’t a woman without a little something to show she’s a woman,” she said. Nevertheless, “bush ladies need not apply.” Much like anything else that is well-maintained, well-groomed genitalia is naturally more attractive. “To shave oneself means time and attention was placed on the sexual organ and that may be a sexually attractive component.”

To Von Tauber, individualized genital trimming its all about the self-reflection and sexual creativity — something lacking in the full on bald look. She said that a fully-shaven woman is not ideal.

A groomed woman exhibits a sensual, almost masturbatory essence via genital vanity, self care, self-acceptance of her sexuality because grooming the genitals is an intimate self-action. It seems like it would take more thought, precision, and intentful action to trim than to rake at it with a buzzer.

Nodding to diversity, Von Tauber considers a full bush to be “scary.” Nevertheless, “I know men who like to get lost in that kind of mystery, unbathed for a few days,” she said as she invoked Napoleon who is reported to have preferred the sight and smell of a vagina run wild — with too frequent washing robbing the fruit of its natural flavor. Indeed, notions of cleanliness have waxed (no pun intended) and waned over time. The Romans were obsessed with cleanliness and bathing, Catholic Europe took a four hundred year hiatus from the daily bath. The Thais shower five times a day, the British, not so much. The fact is, cleanliness, the natural, and shaving run around in circles as cultural preferences change like the phases of the moon. What was sexy to Napoleon, a completely unwashed woman, would likely be relegated to an extreme fetishist today.

But what of the “porn culture” indictment? This is what I really asked Von Tauber about. The rest was just extra juice (so to speak). Von Tauber rejected the “porn osmosis” theory.

I don’t think a woman is going to go to one extreme or another solely for a man or because of porn osmosis. A woman has to feel comfortable with her pubic “haircut” choice to be comfortable sexually. I could not perform confidently if I looked like a cavewoman down there but it’s for a variety of reasons. Porn has no effect.

Remember how important visual data is. The trim/ shave or wild look is also a visual extension for how someone might feel about their sexual being and how the other receives it.

In other words, the bold, unruly, au-naturale look isn’t just necessarily a rebellion against consumerist culture or the “you need to smell better, look better” message coming from Madison Avenue. It is a reflection of the woman’s psyche, and those who choose to let the hedgerow grow are clearly saying something. They are saying “I’m fine the way I came out of the wrapper and I don’t need Gilette to tell me otherwise.”

However, to discount the woman who chooses to lavish time and attention on herself as doing nothing more than internalizing fairy tale “porn culture” errs on two fronts: One, it makes a false assumption that there is such a thing as “porn culture.” Two, it discounts the absolutely feminist decision of how a woman will relate to her own body.

Satyriconista, Jessica Christensen gave us this:

Now, are there men in our culture who believe that all women should look exactly like the gals in their nudie magazines? Sure. And, there are women who try very hard to capitulate to this demand. But, these folks are hardly the norm. Certainly, they don’t so dominate that they create a pervasive “porn culture.” And anyway, really, why would anyone spend time or energy worrying about what those guys think?

Indeed.

But What About Manscaping? Shorn or Unshorn?

There really is nothing like a shorn scrotum — it's breathtaking... I suggest you try it.

There really is nothing like a shorn scrotum — it's breathtaking... I suggest you try it.

At the age of 14, a Zoroastrian named Vilmer ritualistically shaved my testicles — there really is nothing like a shorn scrotum — it’s breathtaking… I suggest you try it. – Dr. Evil

I realize that up until now, this has been a heteronormist discussion, so I approached a friend who works for a large gay porn company. His take was that male genital shaving, at least in the gay community, isn’t porn driven — but rather “just like everything else it’s a two way street.”

He says that his company caters to an audience that prefers its men “masculine.” Accordingly, all models are instructed to report for duty unshorn, with no tan lines, and no dyed hair. However, he knows of companies that specialize in men who are bulked-up bodybuilders. In that sub culture, shaving has long been the thing to do anyhow. On the straight side of things, Von Tauber helps out again. While she prefers her men to look age-appropriate, she applies her female standard across the board. Well-groomed means that the man has a good relationship with his cock-n-balls, and she finds that rather attractive.

Conclusion

The fact is, this is a personal choice, and “porn culture” has nothing to do with it. Of all the men and women I spoke to about this piece, not a single one referenced “porn” or any cultural influence at all as a justification for their genital shaving habits.

More likely, this represents a simple cyclical preference pattern coupled with the natural tendency of corporations to try and increase their market share. If Schick only sells razors to men, it makes X dollars. If it sells them to men and women, it doubles its market. The more of our bodies we shave, the more razors they sell. We don’t need “porn culture” for capitalism to try and tell us that we need all kinds of shit that we don’t really need. Do we *need* deodorant, razors, or clothing that isn’t just a simple burlap sack? No. We really don’t. But, Madison Avenue tells us we do, because Madison Avenue is paid to tell us that by people with something to gain. And like it or not, many of us listen to Madison Avenue.

There might be a “conspiracy” afoot here, but it is consumerism. Not “porn culture.” (See an earlier post by Crawford where she acknowledges this, along with a critique of gender differentiation coming a bit too early in some circumstances).

In fact, “porn culture” seems to have nothing to do with anything except perhaps some deep-seated feelings of anger harbored by Second Wavers toward their dads. Fortunately, the Third Wave is upon us, and modern, sex-positive feminists can make their own decisions to lavish a little attention on their kitties without it meaning anything more than an act of self expression and empowerment. Yes, empowerment.

Cultural commentators believe that, as male and female roles become more and more interchangeable, so the desire to distinguish between the genders in other ways becomes more pronounced. For women, removing vast quantities of body hair is a straightforward way to do this. It’s true that depilatory demands have risen in step with women’s position in society. (source)

Yes, a trimmed quim can be an act of free expression and empowerment! So I think that it would be best if we abandoned the hostility and indictments with rhetoric like “porn culture” and “unnatural,” (and vice-versa, when men mock women who eschew shaving) and permit our sisters (and brothers, for that matter) the right to express themselves as they see fit. Waxed bald, the “Hitler,” the “landing strip,” the “flying V,” “the Dorito,” or the “Larry Fine,” there is something for everyone at the hair pie dim sum — so lets keep the menu vibrant and diverse.

Jessica Christensen and Tatiana Von Tauber contributed mightily to this post.

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25 Responses to Shorn Genitalia, “Porn Culture,” and Pubic Hair as Self-Expression

  1. Tatiana says:

    Without a doubt, this is among your masterpieces.

    I’ll never look at a razor quite the same way again. Don’t know if it’s cause of our conversations about this or the Quattro, though I have to say, this little tool seems quite handy and worth a purchase.

    When I first saw the commerical the first thought I had was “Wow. Have women come a long way or what?” Damn good idea. Do I call it ingenuity or American convenience taken to the next level? How about I just call it smart.

  2. Mark Bennett says:

    Is it “shave, trim and transform” or “shave trim and transform”?

    Only her copywriter knows for sure.

  3. […] self-maintenance?  Self-love?  Perhaps even simple self-hygiene?  This has been the hot topic at The Legal Satyricon.  After seeing the super duper razor/trimmer combo, the Quattro commercial, I itched to discuss […]

  4. Marty says:

    outstanding! a tip of the hat to all involved. the historical perspective gives it weight, while the female contributors lend credibility. The only thing missing was a comprehensive glossary of terms- I always preferred ‘begging strip’.

  5. […] PUBES: Shorn Genitalia, “Porn Culture,” and Pubic Hair as Self-Expression A nice article about how the Schick Quattro TrimStyle For Women is not about women conforming to a [now non-exsitent] "porn culture". Another WIN from The Legal Satyricon, a great blog. (tags: politics articles sex blog editorial women porn vaginas men history commercials shaving hair SexaulFreedom TheLegalSatyricon publicHair pubes Schick SchickQuattro razors pornCulture) […]

  6. Doug Colt says:

    Great post Marco! Much enjoyed the history accompanying the piece.

  7. Sweet article. That clip of Stewie infant-scaping on Family Guy is my absolute favorite. “Brian, would you shave my coin purse?” Comedy gold.

  8. spamwarrior says:

    Wow… just wow!

  9. […] PUBES: Shorn Genitalia, “Porn Culture,” and Pubic Hair as Self-Expression A nice article about how the Schick Quattro TrimStyle For Women is not about women conforming to a [now non-exsitent] "porn culture". Another WIN from The Legal Satyricon, a great blog. (tags: politics articles sex blog editorial women porn vaginas men history commercials shaving hair SexaulFreedom TheLegalSatyricon publicHair pubes Schick SchickQuattro razors pornCulture) […]

  10. Kim says:

    Awesome.

  11. Gary says:

    Great analysis, but it doesn’t really address the underlying question: While people may have shaved their pubic hair throughout history, why are they doing it today? Because porn is so widely accepted and easily accessible, I think it’s entirely possible that it is an influence. So what?

  12. Perhaps it has “some” influence … perhaps.

    More likely, it is simply a cyclical preference pattern. Also, companies are always trying to increase their market share. If Schick only sells razors to men, it makes X dollars. If it sells them to men and women, it doubles its market. The more of our bodies we shave, the more razors they sell.

    We don’t need porn for capitalism to try and tell us that we need all kinds of shit that we don’t really need. Do we *need* deodorant, razors, or clothing that isn’t just a simple burlap sack? No. We really don’t. But, Madison Avenue tells us we do, because Madison Avenue is paid to tell us that by people with something to gain.

    There might be a “conspiracy” afoot here, but it is consumerism. Not Porn Culture.

  13. Tara Warrington says:

    Excellent essay. My thoughts:

    Genital shaving – for either gender -is purely a matter of personal (sexual or hygenic) preference. What I prefer for myself or in a partner has absolutely nothing to do with a misconceived notion of “porn culture.” (This is slightly off topic, but I’ll bring it back around.) My undergrad thesis topic was “a reexamination of the emergence of a conspiracy culture in late 20th century America.” The paramount objectives with such a topic are defining the parameters of the “culture,” providing concrete examples of characteristics that identify such a culture, discounting (or devaluing) other reasonable explanations for the characteristics you have identified as defining the culture, and tracing factors that have influenced the development of such a culture. Back on topic: even assuming there is such a thing as a “porn culture,” or even multiple subporn cultures, genital shaving of either gender cannot be considered indicative of such a culture. The opposing argument seems to be that there has been an identifiable change in patterns of behavior regarding genital shaving traceable directly to this so-called porn culture. Thanks to Prof. XXX for refuting the underlying assumption that there has been a change in behavioral patterns, but even accepting that a change has occurred, there are too many other reasonable explanations justifying such change for it to be traceable to a porn culture.

  14. Maybe it has something to do with Adam Sandler?

  15. iNonymous says:

    tl;dr, but it’s silly to imply that women are shaving their bushes because there’s some kind of ongoing renascence of ancient Mesopotamian cultural norms. This is all about porn.

  16. You gotta read it to intelligently comment on it.

  17. […] and the pubic square By iamcuriousblue H/T to The Legal Satyricon for this article on pubic shaving and “porn culture”, more commentary here at the Pro-Porn Activism […]

  18. “There might be a “conspiracy” afoot here, but it is consumerism. Not Porn Culture.”

    Consumerism and porn are not mutually exclusive entities. Porn Inc. is a subset of commercial consumerism. Any billion dollar industry will have an appreciable sociological impact, be it blingware, skirt lengths, or pubis sculpting behavior. Porn is mainstream and the impressionable demographic strata take their cue from their reality-tunnel cultural fodder. Of course, mound shearing is a recurring cultural phenomenon that would assuredly exist outside of the porn influence, but maybe not to such a penetrating extent.

  19. lateigra says:

    Marc, this is an extraordinary post!

    I agree that there is a vast variety of women in porn depending on the genre—voluptuous, hairy, mature, butch, small breasted, it’s an internet search away—there are many more non-cookie cutter women in porn than mainstream Hollywood or even many indie films.

    That is not to say Crawford chose the term “Porn Culture” carelessly. There are many women who are still suspicious of porn and can’t get past that free Adam & Eve sampler DVD they ordered on the sly full of blond girls with bald, hairless pussies.

    We all learn in Women’s Studies 101 that shaving any body hair is an act of oppression because you begin to identify your womanly body with that of a prepubescent child. A prepubescent child has no power in comparison to the strong, brave, man “with hair on his chest”. (You even point out in your article that masculine=unshorn)

    But for anyone that’s watched their share of retro porn, I’m pretty sure that the industry has come to embrace a shaved look partly for the utility of filming genitals. Most mainstream male porn stars shave and I’m sure this has nothing to do with making him feel like a prepubescent boy. Shaved genitals are more explicit visually; they look less like a clump of hair.

    So it should not be surprising to anyone that sex in real life will always have a visual component and that shaving, not shaving, or dying your pubes blue, is just as much a form of sexual expression as getting a nipple ring or wearing a strap on. I agree with your conclusion that diversity in sexual expression is more empowering than adopting any one standard.

    Bravo!

  20. smurfy says:

    “Hey, those who like the natural and hairy thing, more power to you. It sure makes things easier” – Though it doesn’t make things easier to find.

  21. wmdkitty says:

    Shaving is important, as it makes personal hygiene easier to maintain, and aids in keeping things cleaner.

  22. […] dropped thinking “WTF?!” but as the commercial progressed and keeping in mind the huge discussion here on LS and a great contribution by sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein about shaving down there, be it mound or […]

  23. […] 11, 2009 by Tatiana One of the best posts I’ve read on The Legal Satyricon since the genital shaving debate  (though very far off that topic, for the record): Last week, I published a piece on C.F. v. […]

  24. PostModernFeminist says:

    Young women who go to the beach (or swim) usually start shaving for very practical reasons – so that their pubes won’t hang out the top and sides of their bikini. It has very little to do with sex and is not porn-influenced. Back in the late 80’s I thought the girls on the Playboy channel all had the “landing strip” look because they probably wore bikinis so often, just like my friends and I — not because they were porn chicks. I never thought of it as some kind of fetishized thing. Just a practical matter. It still is a practical matter for most of us – for all the reasons you mentioned.

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