Pubic Hair Grooming Linked to STI Risk

Observational study suggests pubic hair grooming correlates with heightened risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections, although causation remains unclear.

Dec 5, 2016
Joshua A. Krisch

PUBLICDOMAIN, LYNN GREYLING Shaving, trimming, or otherwise grooming pubic hair may be associated with an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to a December 5 study of more than 7,500 American men and women, published in Sexually Transmitted Infections. The study, although observational in nature, suggests a potential link between frequent, intense pubic hair grooming and increased exposure to a host of STIs.

“Such a relation is plausible because the act of grooming with razors or shavers causes epidermal microtears, which may permit epithelial penetrance by bacterial or viral STIs,” E. Charles Osterberg of the University of Texas and colleagues wrote in their study. “Irrespective of the underlying mechanism—whether a causal relation or statistical association—understanding the possible link between pubic hair grooming and STI acquisition could be useful for developing strategies to reduce STI rates.”

Osterberg and colleagues surveyed 7,580 men and women, 74 percent of whom reported at least some pubic hair grooming. The researchers found that groomers were often younger and more sexually active than non-groomers, and that “extreme” groomers (those who remove all of their pubic hair more than 11 times per year) reported the greatest number of sexual partners.

The researchers concluded that any type of grooming is associated with an 80 percent increased risk of contracting any of eight STIs evaluated, including HIV, herpes, gonorrhea, and genital lice. Extreme grooming was associated with a 3.5- to four-fold increased risk, especially for cutaneous STIs, such as herpes and HPV.

Because of the study’s observational design, it is impossible to determine causation based on these results. And although the authors attempted to control for lifetime sexual partners and other confounding variables, it remains possible that pubic hair grooming is a marker not of increased STI risk, but of increased likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors. “Several mechanisms may work together to explain our findings,” the authors wrote. “For instance, our stronger findings for cutaneous STIs may be explained by both microtears and residual confounding.”