Good news for fans of Brazilian waxing or other "extreme grooming" practices: Removing pubic hair may not increase your risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), according to a small new study.
The findings contradict earlier research, which found a link between frequent pubic hair removal and an increased risk of several STDs. However, these earlier studies relied on self-reports of STD diagnoses, rather than diagnoses that were confirmed with lab tests.
The new findings "do not support ... the need for public health or clinical interventions to address pubic hair grooming as a risk factor" for STDs, the authors wrote in their paper, published today (Sept. 4) in the journal PLOS ONE.
The researchers analyzed information from more than 200 female college students who underwent STD testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, two of the most common STDs in the United States. Participants also answered questions about their pubic hair grooming practices. They were considered "extreme groomers" if they reported removal of all pubic hair at least weekly over the past year, or more than six times in the past 30 days.
Nearly all participants reported grooming their pubic hair at some point in their lives, and most reported using a razor. More than 50% reported removing all of their pubic hair at least weekly, and 18% reported removing all pubic hair at least six times in the last month.
About 10% of the women tested positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea.
However, extreme groomers were no more likely to be diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea than those who did not practice extreme grooming.
In late 2016, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, reported results from a study of more than 7,500 people linking pubic hair grooming with STDs. The study, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, found that people who removed their pubic hair were 80% more likely to report contracting an STD at some point in their lives, compared with those who never groomed. However, at the time, the researchers cautioned that the study could not prove that grooming was directly responsible for people's increased risk of STDs.
Critically, that study wasn't able to take into account how often the participants engaged in sexual activity. It may be that those with more frequent sexual encounters — who were thus at greater risk for STD exposure — were also more likely to practice extreme grooming.
The new study improves upon previous research because it does take into account sexual frequency. However, the new study still had limitations — only a small number of women acquired an STD during the study period, and all the women came from a single university in the Midwest, and so it's unclear if the results apply to men or other populations. Future studies on the topic should be larger and include more diverse populations, the authors said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can reduce their risk of STDs by using condoms consistently and correctly during sexual activity, reducing the number of sexual partners and being in a monogamous relationship.
- 27 Devastating Infectious Diseases
- Men vs. Women: Our Key Physical Differences Explained
- 5 Myths About Women's Bodies
Originally published on Live Science.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.