I heard the ding of a message notification and immediately knew who it was—an Australian named Mark. We sort of dated but formed more of a casual sexual relationship than an emotional bond. “I want your hairy legs all over me,” it said. He was serious. I laughed, thinking his attempt to be seductive felt more like a bad rom-com line.
Let me explain: Mark is a heterosexual man without any known body hair fetish. I am a heterosexual woman who more often than not doesn’t shave. Mark wanted to have sex with me and knew I would be hairy. This message was his way of letting me know he wanted a hook up and didn’t seem to care about what else came with it.
It’s odd to hear such enthusiasm for body hair, or in this case, leveraging it to entice me. Men, and even women, are supposed to overwhelmingly hate female body hair. The shaming we see daily is proof of that. Plus, it’s always been that way.
When I share stories like this with others, their normal reaction is to say, “Wait, what? You actually hook up with people without shaving?” They usually remark they’re shocked that neither of us—myself nor my partner—would mind.
Being a ‘woman’ in our society means being hairless. “Hairiness is viewed as a distinguishing characteristic between men and women,” explained Marika Tiggemann, a researcher at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.
Researchers explain that women are taught early on to engage in body hair removal to be attractive and sexy because gender is linked to physical traits, not achievements. A hairless woman’s femininity isn’t questioned—she fits in. This ideal carries into sexual relationships, informing preferences.
Body hair shaming by the numbers
Cosmopolitan recently ran a survey of pubic hair grooming patterns. The results were exactly what we’d expect: the majority of women (57 percent) went bare, and nearly half of men (47 percent) preferred their partners to go bare. Forty percent of these men have asked a partner to change their pubic hair. In another unsurprising find, Cosmo reported that “Men (30 percent) are also likelier than women (19 percent) to say that a partner’s pubic hair might make them reconsider dating someone.”
This echoes a 2014 study of university-age students grooming patterns, which suggests that men are more likely to prefer a hair-free partner, and women report feeling cleaner, more comfortable and sexier when hairless.
If these results still don’t clarify it, I’ll reiterate: hairy women are seen as disgusting. Study after study indicates the deep-rooted abhorrence of female body hair and the common expectation for females to shave to be a ‘good’ sexual partner.
Research indicates my hairiness makes me less of a woman and a less attractive sexual partner. Being hairy should make things problematic then, right? Not quite. Mark isn’t an anomaly. My sexual partners haven’t seemed to mind. In fact, some have overemphasized their acceptance. Perhaps the abstract concept of a hairy woman is gross but the practical application isn’t as fear-inducing.
Is going hairless an American thing?
It’s important to note that nearly all of my sexual experiences have been with non-Americans. Therefore, my partners’ acceptance may be indicative of a difference in cultural expectation. However, researchers explain that negative attitudes towards female body hair often traverse cultural landscapes.
A few weeks after Mark asked if I would caress him with my Brillo Pad legs, I was at a club in Melbourne. A friend and I finagled our way into the VIP section to a table of executives from Pakistan. There was a man who liked me and bought me drinks. Later, he came close and whispered: “I want to lick your entire body.”
Oh, yeah? I thought. Wait until he sees what’s below these pants. Testing him, I lifted up my armpits, exposing a small bush. “Even my hairy armpits?” I questioned, waiting to see his face change.
“Yes, I’ll lick those, too,” he said without hesitation. I even caught a side glimpse of a fiery-eyed wink. I tried not to burst out laughing. I’m not a very serious person, so hearing this reaction shocked me more than my hair probably shocked him. Nothing came of this flirtation, but it was an interesting social experiment nonetheless.
A few years earlier, I had a similar encounter. I was in Spain and met a man who went out of his way to approve of my body hair.
We sat side by side at a bar, chatting about his work at a winery. He reached over to put his hands over my crossed legs peeking through the slit in my maxi dress. A flirtatious gesture. My legs had been mostly hidden, so he couldn’t have seen the hair. I felt his fingers make their way over the rough surface and turned to him. “Just to let you know, I’m really hairy,” I admitted. I like to give a sort of warning because even though I am body hair positive, I understand it’s not the norm.
He shrugged. “You know what they say,” he said, looking at me and glancing back at my hair, “Vello es bello.” He said, “body hair is beautiful,” but in Spanish vello sounds identical to bello, making a sort of play on words. That time, I couldn’t help but giggle. I was glad he was accepting, but the cheesy line deserved some teasing.
So, if the majority of men are supposed to detest hairy women, are my experiences just an odd few? I often assume men will react a certain way, but they surprise me. What’s happening here?
A preference is just a preference
At least when it comes to pubic hair, Dr. Debby Herbenick, a sex researcher at Indiana University and author of six books on sex and love, explains that hairiness might not be as important of a factor as it’s assumed to be. “A preference is just a preference,” she said. There are certain traits we like a partner to have, she explains, but if someone catches our attention in a different way – maybe they make us laugh or treat us well – it’s not a “deal breaker” if they don’t have those desired traits.
“…most people do NOT have a ‘strong’ preference based on such a relatively minor feature of a human being….especially as they become experienced and, hopefully, compassionate and interested in more than just body traits,” said Herbenick.
So in a one-time hookup, or even with a casual sexual partner, the person might not enjoy body or pubic hair, but there are still other factors at hand determining if they are interested. Perhaps I made a funny joke or impressed someone with my dance floor flailing. There was something about me beyond my body hair that my partner found attractive.
And thus, the surveys might demonstrate an overall preference for hairless women, but in practice, it may be less important. I’ll continue to shave when I want but also be lazy about grooming when I want. And they’ll continue to ask: “How do you hook up without shaving?”
And I’ll continue to meet people. I might strike up with a conversation with someone and we’ll end up leaving together. He’ll see my hair and shrug. Maybe he’ll even say “beautiful hair.”
And that’s how you hook up without shaving.