I’m 23 years old, perched on the edge of the bathtub. My legs are spread. My boyfriend is crouched on the cold tile in front of me, holding a can of vanilla-scented shaving cream and a cheap pink razor. He’s about to shave my lush brown pubic hair for the first time. We’re both nervous, and more than a little turned on.
So, how did we get here?
When I was young, I felt strongly that only women who were brainwashed by the patriarchy shaved their ladybits. As a teenager, my body hair was a clear demarcation of self-determination. I was hurting to rebel and I knew that I could make a statement with my hair. I had tried shaving my legs and armpits for a while in middle school after being tormented about it by girls in gym class. By the time I was sixteen, I gave up any beauty ritual that bored me. Anything that I was told I had to do because I was a girl was anathema.
When I went to college in Santa Cruz, California, I was fortunate to be welcomed into a culture that valued simplicity and rejected anything that was perceived to be consumerist or conformist. My personal ethos fit in nicely there. I wore thrift store shorts that displayed my wispy sun-bleached calf hairs. Wiry curls poked out from under my arms. Being unshorn didn’t send a message that I was gay or straight or butch or femme. The people I wanted to date were not turned off by irrational fear of strong scent or poor hygiene. If you’d joined me for a skinny dip in the Pacific Ocean, or if you’d gone to bed with me, you’d have experienced my full bush, the kind that had never seen so much as a bikini trim, let alone a razor, Nair, or waxing salon.
But when we’re young, these things seem cut and dry. Want to rebel against conformity? Shave your head, and nothing else. Want to rebel against animal cruelty and factory farming? Eat tofu. As we grow up, we encounter things that complicate these matters.
The issue of women’s pubic hair is not as simple as bald or bush: there are many different razor lengths.
My college boyfriend and I moved in together when we graduated, and we reveled in our anti-establishment lifestyle. We had met in a vegetarian co-op, played in a punk band together, rode bikes, shared flannel shirts. Living in opposition to the status quo was, well, our status quo.
One night, snuggled up in our mattress on the floor, we watched some porn together. We both generally liked the tattooed alterna-girl indie film we had chosen, but I made one snarky critique:
“Ugh, all the shaved pussies in this porno are so disgusting.”
Later, I would look back and realize he got real quiet after that. And I would ask myself, why did I even say that? Did I really think bare pussies were so gross? I don’t really buy the whole “it makes them look like little girls” thing. Yes, the infantilization of women is a huge issue in our culture; but when it comes to hardcore movies, I really think the idea is just to be able to see the aroused vulvas more clearly.
Because aroused vulvas are awesome.
So much later in the night, my neurotic boyfriend got up the nerve to give me a nervous speech that went something like this:
“Hey I just want you to know I totally respect that you don’t shave but I have to tell you something I actually really love the way differently groomed pussy looks and feels and if you were down I would totally shave you and I would shave myself too because that’s just egalitarian so what do you think?”
In that moment, I realized I was being a judgmental fundamentalist asshole: the exact thing I hated and always rallied against.
My sweet, shy, recovering Catholic boyfriend was asking for something he really wanted, that really turned him on. It takes a lot of nerve to ask your righteous feminist girlfriend for something you want, especially when that superficially seems to threaten her values.
So I decided to be game. I decided to let him shave me.
And that was how I ended up in our windowless bathroom, watching him groom me, as my precious bush fell in little clumps to the blue bathmat.
And when I looked down, I saw something I never expected.
I saw my vulva with a clarity I’d never imagined. Sort of like when you can see someone’s facial features so much clearer when they shave their head. It was as if my lips and clit had been hiding from me. I was really beautiful. And I could see in my boyfriend’s face that he thought so, too. He wasn’t trying to control or subjugate me. He wanted to see me.
Subsequently, I learned a few sexy things about being hairless. I learned that a freshly shaved crotch is a fantastically sensitive crotch. I also found that it’s nice to give head without feeling like you’re flossing. And most importantly, I experienced first hand how preconceived notions about sexuality and the body can change completely when a loving partner respectfully requests that you help fulfill a fantasy that gets their motor running.
That boyfriend and I broke up many years ago, but we are now good friends. I wrote him to ask how he remembers the story of the first time we shaved my bush, and this is what he told me:
“I suppose what I like about it is that different shapes and patterns seem to reflect something about the personality or attitude or kind of person who would choose that look. I’m not a tits guy, I’m not an ass guy. My gaze goes straight to the vagina. And why shouldn’t it? My fascination in naked people is driven by curiosity, by a primal boys-are-different-than girls thing, and getting to see it is rare, brief, naughty glance, that even as a 30 year old who has had sex and long-term partners I can’t get past. I love them and I love looking at them…
I don’t give a fuck how hairy or shaved it is, it just is, and getting to see it in different lights, in different circumstances and in different styles and shapes is a pleasure and a privilege and a unique experience beyond measure for me. ”
My experience being shaved by a partner taught me that it was juvenile to think that not shaving was inherently empowering, or that being “unfeminine” was empowering. It is empowering to consciously make choices based on our own personal identity. And being open to considering new possibilities.
Nowadays, my current partner trims the hair between my legs with the same electric clippers she uses to keep her pompadour tidy. I prefer a nice long landing strip for fuzziness and a soft bare labia for easy access. And sometimes I grow my bush out because I miss the sensation, or it’s winter, or I’m lazy, or because I just fucking feel like it. But whatever the state of my hair, I don’t keep it that way because of porn, or celebrities, or because I’m enslaved to dominant culture, or following the demands of a counterculture. My pubic hair is always about my own style and comfort, at every length.