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Trimming pubic hair 'linked to higher STI risk'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard

6th December 2016 – Men and women who trim or shave their pubic hair may be at higher risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection (STI), say researchers.

The study, published online in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, found that tiny cuts to the skin may be partly responsible for the extra risk.

Also, people who frequently groom their pubic hair may be more likely to indulge in risky sexual behaviour.

There is one good piece of news for those who shave off their pubic hair, though. The practise makes it harder for pubic lice to breed successfully.

The findings are based on questionnaires filled out by 7,580 adults in the US aged 18 to 65. Those taking part were asked about their pubic hair grooming practices, whether this had ever caused any injury, their sexual history and whether they had ever had an STI.

'Extreme groomers' and high frequency groomers

Overall, 74% said they had groomed their pubic hair. Women were more likely to have shaved or trimmed, with 84% of women saying they had done so compared to only 66% of men.

Of those who groomed, 17% were defined as 'extreme' groomers, meaning they shaved off all their pubic hair more than 11 times a year. Twenty-two percent were classed as 'high frequency' groomers who trimmed their pubic hair on a daily or weekly basis.

One in 10 of those taking part fell into both of these categories.

More sexual partners

Overall, those who groomed their pubic hair tended to be younger, more sexually active, and to have had more sexual partners than those who didn't groom.

In all, 13% of participants said they had acquired at least one of a list of STIs at some point in their life. These were herpes, human papilloma virus ( HPV), syphilis, molluscum contagiosum, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV and pubic lice.

After the researchers made allowances for the age of those taking part and their history of sexual partners, they found that any type of pubic hair grooming was associated with an 80% higher risk of having a sexually transmitted infection compared with those who did not groom.

Also, the extra risk was linked to how often people shaved or trimmed their pubic hair. High frequency and extreme groomers had a 3.5 to 4-fold heightened risk, particularly for infections from skin-on-skin contact, such as herpes and HPV.

Skin cuts

The authors of the study, led by San Francisco General Hospital, say they can't prove cause and effect because they carried out an 'observational' study based on individuals self-reporting their pubic grooming and sexual behaviours.

However, they say that trimming pubic hair might cause tiny skin tears through which bacteria and viruses can pass more easily. Also, those who groom their pubic hair might just be more likely to pick up STIs because they have a risker sex life involving more partners.

Avoiding STIs

Sexual health charity, the FPA, has tips on how to have safe sex and avoid STIs. These are:

  • Use male or female condoms every time you have vaginal or anal sex
  • If you have oral sex, cover the penis with a condom or the female genitals and male or female anus with a latex or polyurethane square
  • If you are not sure how to use condoms correctly seek advice
  • Avoid sharing sex toys, or make sure you wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.
Reviewed on December 06, 2016

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