Pubic hair. We’ve had feelings about it for a long time. Ancient Egyptians couldn’t stand the stuff. Fast-forward a couple of millennia and Catherine de Medici, Queen of France between 1547 and 1589, forbade her ladies-in-waiting from even thinking about removing any hair down there. More recently, its presence or absence has been a contentious issue in sexual politics. No matter if you grow, tend or raze that particular farm, here are five things you may not know about it.
We’re the only primates with the stuff.
In fact, we may be the only animals with pubic hair at all. Which raises the question: why? Most theories are speculation. It’s been posited that pubic hair improves the environmental spread of pheromones produced by a high density of apocrine sweat glands in the area. A complementary theory imagines pubic hair as a kind of ‘dry lubricant’ necessary for successful execution of the face-to-face intercourse that became possible once our prehistoric forebears began to walk on two legs. Both pretty good reasons for keeping it around.
Georgian-era kinksters would keep it as souvenirs.
While we tend to think of the Victorian era as pretty stuffy and repressed, the preceding Georgian era was pretty risqué. During this period, locks of a paramours’s pubic hair were exchanged as symbols of affection and some libertines even wore them in their hats as a signal of potency. King George IV himself got in on the action: this article in Slate describes how a university in Scotland got a hold of a locket containing pubic hair from “the Mons Veneris of a Royal Courtesan of King George IV”.
Removal options used to be a bit more dramatic.
Anyone who has undergone a waxing knows contemporary hair removal still isn’t a painless process. However, they’d still concede that it’s preferable to this recipe for a rudimentary depilatory found in the Trotula, a medieval compendium of women’s medicine:
Boil together a solution of one pint of arsenic and eighth of a pint of quicklime. Go to a baths or a hot room and smear medicine over the area to be depilated. When the skin feels hot, wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.
Stay safe: don’t remove it in November.
Of the hospital visits documented in the study ‘Pubic Hair Grooming Injuries Presenting to US Emergency Departments’, 12.2% of them occurred in November. If you don’t want a mishap with a razor to end up in a trip to the emergency room, keep in mind April accounted for only 4.5% of cases in the study.
Just don’t go looking for it in paintings.
Western art has always been full of nude people. However, of all the historical nudes hanging on countless gallery walls, you won’t find a woman with a wisp of pubic hair before 1800. You can thank Francisco Goya and his painting The Nude Maja for breaking that particular taboo. Things have always been a little more liberal for depictions of men, but even the Renaissance masters had mixed feelings about it: Michelangelo’s David sports a neat outcrop, whereas you won’t find a single strand on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.