Previous studies have suggested that trimming or removing pubic hair is associated with sexually transmitted infections (STI), possibly because of easier transmission through broken skin or because individuals who groom more frequently might have more sex and therefore greater exposure to STIs. But the new study, published in PLoS ONE, found that lab-confirmed diagnoses of chlamydia and gonorrhea had no connection to women’s grooming practices.
“It is important to investigate factors that potentially put a person at a higher risk for STI because if we are aware of the problem, we can address these factors and decrease the burden of these infections on people’s health,” said lead study author Jamie Luster, who did the research at Ohio State University in Columbus.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are the most common STIs in the U.S., and infection rates have been increasing since 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young women between ages 15 and 24 have the highest rates of these infections. Risk factors include a high number of sexual partners, high sexual frequency, forced or transactional intercourse, incarceration, low socioeconomic status, and identifying as a racial, ethnic or sexual minority, the study team notes.
Luster and colleagues recruited 214 college women who received on-campus STI testing in 2017 and 2018 to answer questions about themselves, their grooming habits and sexual activity. The researchers also received permission to learn participants’ STI test results.
Luster’s team defined “extreme grooming” as removal of all pubic hair at least weekly for the past year or more than six times in the past month.
About 98% of participants reported some pubic hair grooming, including 54% who were extreme groomers during the past year and 18% in the last month. About 83% reported using a non-electric razor to groom, and nearly two-thirds had experienced a grooming injury.
Nearly 10% of the women tested positive for gonorrhea or chlamydia, including two who tested positive for gonorrhea and 19 who tested positive for chlamydia.
When researchers accounted for sexual frequency, family income and other factors, extreme grooming during the past year or past month wasn’t associated with risk for either STI.
“We were surprised that grooming was so prevalent,” Luster said. “In addition to that, what we defined as extreme grooming – removal of all pubic hair at least weekly within the past year – was reported by over half of the people in our study.”
Future research should continue to use lab-confirmed infections to measure STIs as opposed to self-reported infections, she said.
“The idea from grooming and transmission is that if someone grooms, cuts themselves and then quickly has an STI exposure, does this cut lead to more infections? At this point, we don’t know for sure,” said Dr. Benjamin Breyer of the University of California at San Francisco, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Other studies should include different sexual practices, different types of grooming and risks for STIs that appear on the skin such as herpes and HPV, Breyer added by email.
“Enjoy yourself but always practice safer sex. Groom yourself however you prefer,” he advises. “If you do groom, be sure you don’t have fresh lacerations or wounds when you do have sex.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2k74aKI PLoS ONE, online September 4, 2019.