Myth vs Fact, Safe Sex

Fact Check: Does Pubic Hair Grooming Increase the Risk of Getting an STI?

April 29, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise, and many people are curious about the reasons why. While the cause is obviously multifactorial, some have suggested that at least part of the rise in STIs may be due to increasing rates of pubic hair grooming in men and women alike.

Given that it’s not uncommon for people to experience cuts and skin irritation from genital grooming practices, it at least sounds plausible in theory that pubic hair shaving could potentially increase infection risk. But what does the research actually say?

A widely circulated 2017 study of more than 7,500 adults published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections found that participants who reported having ever engaged in genital grooming were more likely to report having had an STI. Specifically, the odds of having an STI were 1.8 times greater for genital groomers on average.

The odds were even higher for those who groomed frequently (i.e., daily or weekly) and those who usually removed all of their pubic hair. The STIs they were most likely to report were those that are passed via skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes, HPV, and syphilis.

However, in a 2019 study published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers found no statistical link between pubic hair grooming in general and STI risk—there was no link between “extreme” grooming and STIs, either.

This study involved a much smaller sample and only focused on women, so it’s not directly comparable to the 2017 study in some respects; however, the fact that they point to inconsistent findings is important and suggests that further research is warranted to better understand what link, if any, exists here and whether it differs across different demographic groups.

Also, we need to be mindful of the fact that even if a link exists between pubic hair grooming and STIs, we can’t necessarily attribute cause and effect. For example, in the study discussed above that found a link, we don’t know whether grooming actually preceded STI contraction. Future studies therefore need to account for the issue of timing.

Likewise, genital groomers may be different in various ways from non-groomers in their sexual practices. For example, some studies have found that groomers tend to be more sexually active and to have more sexual partners—so even if they do have a higher risk of STIs, it might have little to do with their genital grooming routine and more to do with other sexual behaviors.

With all of that said, the evidence isn’t there to suggest that the recent rise in STIs can be explained by changing pubic hair styles, or to suggest that pubic hair grooming is a significant risk to public health.

That said, one known risk of pubic hair grooming is injury. In fact, one study found that an estimated 1,300 emergency room visits per year occur on average due to genital grooming injuries [3]. So if you opt to groom, take care down there!

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[1] Osterberg, E. C., Gaither, T. W., Awad, M. A., Truesdale, M. D., Allen, I., Sutcliffe, S., & Breyer, B. N. (2017). Correlation between pubic hair grooming and STIs: results from a nationally representative probability sample. Sexually transmitted infections93(3), 162-166.

[2] Luster, J., Turner, A. N., Henry Jr, J. P., & Gallo, M. F. (2019). Association between pubic hair grooming and prevalent sexually transmitted infection among female university students. PloS one14(9).

[3] Glass, A. S., Bagga, H. S., Tasian, G. E., Fisher, P. B., McCulloch, C. E., Blaschko, S. D., … & Breyer, B. N. (2012). Pubic hair grooming injuries presenting to US emergency departments. Urology80(6), 1187-1191.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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