Have you ever stopped, looked down, and asked yourself, “Why do we have pubic hair?” Wondering if there’s some grand purpose of pubic hair makes sense because, when you think about it, pubic hair is one of those things that unites most of humanity. No matter who someone is or where they come from, chances are they have pubic hair after they reach a certain age (unless they’ve jumped on the hair-removal bandwagon or don’t grow pubic hair due to a health condition like alopecia). So, seriously, why do we have pubic hair in the first place? What is the purpose of pubic hair? Are there any medical reasons to groom it? Below, the results of another vagina-focused SELF investigation.
Just to be super clear: What is pubic hair?
This might seem obvious, but pubic hair is, well, hair that grows around your genitals. Growing pubic hair is a hallmark sign of puberty for most people, though the amount of it varies from person to person. During puberty, your body is becoming sexually mature, and hormone fluctuations result in physical changes like more body hair (armpit hair, facial hair, and pubic hair), as well as other changes like breast development, getting a period, larger testicles, muscle growth, deepening voice, and acne, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains.
Okay, but what is the purpose of pubic hair?
Like most hair on your body, pubic hair is thought to have some protective benefits. “It [may act] as [a] gatekeeper for preventing dirt from entering the vagina,” Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob/gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. She adds that it might also serve as a cushion of sorts to protect against friction from sex or other forms of exercise, or even a covering to keep those parts warm (like much of the rest of our body hair). None of this means that there is necessarily anything wrong with choosing to trim or remove your pubic hair, however. It’s simply an indication that there isn’t a strong medical argument for removing it.
Another theory around the purpose of pubic hair has to do with pheromones, or chemicals your body produces that send subconscious messages to other human animals, including potential mates. “One theory is that you produce pheromones, which your pubic hair then traps. It does make sense that the smell from pubic hair can sexually entice your partner,” says Dr. Ross.
Additionally, many scientists think apocrine sweat glands, which are plentiful in areas that have lots of hair follicles—such as the pubic region—could create pheromones, and, interestingly, that these glands don’t really start working until puberty, according to a January 2012 article in Journal of Advanced Research. That dovetails nicely with another theory about pubic hair purpose: that it signals to possible mates that you’ve gone through puberty and may be able to produce offspring. “For primitive purposes, perhaps pubic hair was a gender-specific way to identify women [of reproductive age],” says Dr. Ross.
With that said, science is divided when it comes to pheromones. There’s debate over what they really are or do, and there’s also no conclusive evidence that they even exist in humans.
Why do some people choose to remove their pubic hair?
There are various reasons why people might decide to remove their pubic hair, but a lot of them are rooted in sexual health myths.
“For many [of my patients], having less pubic hair signifies a tidy, cleaner [vulva],” says Dr. Ross. Indeed, a 2015 study published in The Journal of Sex Medicine surveyed 1,110 people and found that “women are likely to report stronger associations with feelings of cleanliness, comfort, sex appeal, social norms of their peer group, and affordability as reasons for their chosen pubic hairstyle.”