To hair or to bare... down there? Seems there's a new factor to take into consideration when deciding on this vexing (or should that be waxing) question.
Francois Desruelles - a dermatologist with a clinic appropriately located in the French Riviera city of Nice - has investigated the link between pubic hair removal and a viral disease, molluscum contagiosum which can be sexually transmitted, that produces firm, flesh-coloured, round bumps up to 5mm wide, on the skin's surface.
Although this pox virus is common in children (often spread through warm water in pools for instance) and also in people whose immune systems are compromised by illness or drugs, in adults it can also be sexually transmitted.
Desruelles and his colleagues' research was recently published online in the Sexually Transmitted Infections journal.
The researchers wanted to ascertain whether the rise in the number of localised molluscum contagiosum infections in both women and men over the past decade was triggered by the increasing popularity of "Brazilians" and other types of genital-region hair removal.
From 30 new case studies made up of six women and 24 men, with an average age of 29.5 years, 93 per cent of the subjects had opted for hair removal: the majority, 70 per cent, used shaving; 13 per cent clipping and 10 per cent waxing.
This led the researchers to hypothesise that the microscopic tears caused by the hair removal was the culprit in the acquisition, propagation and transmission of this nuisance virus.
Dr Spring Chenoa Cooper, a sexual health researcher and senior lecturer at The University of Sydney, says that micro-trauma to the skin provides an opportunity for infection to get into the body. "In the case of genital warts, for instance, these can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact," she says.
Neutral Bay dermatologist Dr Terence Poon points out that the French study was small and not a controlled trial. However, he concurs that it does suggest that shaving and waxing can break the skin barrier, conceivably putting one at risk of infection.
"If people are wishing to remove pubic hair, perhaps they should consider an alternative method," he suggests. "Laser may be a better option as it is less likely to cause trauma at the skin's surface as the beam targets the hair follicle beneath the surface."
According to Dr Cooper it was a groundbreaking 'Sex In The City' episode in 2000 that popularised the Brazilian after Carrie Bradshaw's ouch-inducing wax "put a spring in her step".
It's not only Carrie who waxes lyrical. According to Dr Chenoa Cooper, a December 2008 study of Australian female undergraduates revealed that around 50 per cent removed all, or most of their pubic hair presumably to increase skin sensitivity and for aesthetic reasons.
"I would say it's pretty much the same numbers today. Balancing out the increase in popularity, are the feminists who don't want to create a hairless, pre-pubescent look that caters to men's ideas garnered from the porn world," she says.
Purely on the health front, is pubic depilation all bad news? Apparently not. "One benefit is that there is less likelihood of attracting pubic lice," Dr Cooper says. Devoid of their favoured coarse human hair habitat, 'crabs' are on their way to becoming quite passé.
- FFX Aus
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