Now, I’m no Sheila Jeffries, so I would never suggest that pornography straightforwardly teaches us how to perform our sexuality. However, despite mainstream industrial heterosexual porn making a point of marking itself off as a pornotopic ‘fantasy space’ in both narratives and aesthetics, I would argue there is certainly an interaction between the doings of porn and the doings of sex and sexuality in the real world.
One such interaction is the construction of what a fuckable body looks like. The bodies in mainstream industrial heterosexual porn are clearly and inarguably depicted as being sexually attractive, because sex happens with them and to them, and it happens quite a lot. These bodies tend to have a particular look: smooth and glossy, well-toned and willing, pliable, flexible, strong, with various kinds of semi-realistic extensions in hair, nails, breasts and cock. The body of a mainstream porn actor is an obviously constructed one. These bodies are almost cyborg-like, as close to CGI as living, dying flesh can be. These bodies also have little or no pubic hair, especially, but not exclusively, the women’s bodies.
Big tits and nice arses as signifiers of female sexual attractiveness have a long history, but the routine equating of female sexual attractiveness with genital hairlessness is far shorter and more curly. Exactly why the mainstream porn body is predominantly a hairless one is, unsurprising enough, contentious. Many critics of porn have suggested that the lack of pubes speaks to the paedophillic desires of your average porn consumer. Indeed, the idea of young or ‘barely legal’ bodies is a familiar trope in mainstream porn. However, pubic hair can start to grow on girls as early as nine, and will most usually be in place by the time they are 16. The desires of mainstream porn are not for a childish, prepubescent body. This can be evidenced through the fact that although the women of mainstream porn lack pubic hair, they most usually do have fully developed breasts. I’m not saying that mainstream pornography and mainstream beauty culture’s obsession with adolescent sexuality is unproblematic, merely that it doesn’t explain the lack of pubic hair in the genre.
Instead, the lack of pubic hair in porn can perhaps be more convincingly argued to be a result of pornography’s forensic interest in genitals and their interactions. In porn, the camera is always a part of the sexual exchange, and the removal of pubic hair allows the camera close, clear representation of the workings of orifices. In other words, the equation of genital hairlessness with sexual attractiveness and activity is a post-industrial desire that has been created by what cameras want and can do.
Nonetheless, even without cameras trained upon them, women outside the porn industry now routinely remove their pubic hair. You could think of this as part of ‘raunch culture’ if you like, for, as critics such as Ariel Levy have pointed out, many women who wish to be either sexually active or attractive work towards a self presentation that echoes the stylings of porn. Waxing is a relatively low risk and low energy way of getting at least one of the attributes of a porn body: compared to the hard physical exercise and the surgical interventions that build the superhuman bodies of porn, waxing is cheap, bearably painful, and there is little risk of permanent deformity.
Of course, the total removal of pubic hair (aka the Brazillian or the Sphynx) has a history longer than the history of electronically recorded pornography. And in recent times, the spread of the Brazillian probably has more to do with women watching Sex and the City – in which Carrie Bradshaw was depicted as happily getting a Brazillian way back in the year 2000 – than it does with women watching a whole lot more porn. Back then, removing one’s pubic hair still had the risqué thrill of doing something that obviously signaled an interest in the type of liberated, aspirational sexuality that Sex and the City preached. That genital hairlessness was a signifier of such liberation can at least in part be ascribed to a greater familiarisation with the aesthetics of porn. And Sex and the City’s presentation of waxing was so influential that in the 13 years since that particular episode went to air, pubic hair has disappeared at such a rate that pubic lice are now dying out through loss of habitat.
Because removing pubic hair has now become a mainstream activity, there has emerged a countercultural interest in depictions and enactions of female sexual activity that are done with one’s pubes still on. For the porn industry, this means that there has been a rise in ‘hairy girl’ or ‘natural’ porn. The owners of sites such as Abby Winters and Feck have done very well out of their representations of ‘amateur’ models who are, to quote Abby Winters, ‘Happy, healthy and natural . . . full bush, no piercings, no tattoos’.
Smut-maker and hairy girl model Gala Vanting has worked for Abby Winters, where she was asked to cover up her tattoos in order to have footage taken of her full bush. She has also worked for local porn makers Feck, and has cammed and modeled for numerous hairy girl websites. She believes that her audience’s interest in pubic hair is fuelled by a number of factors, one of which is that they believe it is ‘natural’.
‘One guy told me that he likes bush because that’s how we are born,’ she says, ‘which gives me a picture in my head of a baby with pubes …’ She observes that many clients are nostalgic for bushy 1970s porn. She also says that many clients express the idea that the having of more hair means that a girl is more ‘animalistic’ – hence, more interested in having a strong bestial desire to actually have sex.
Truly, there is a history of people with a fetish for pubic hair, as can be evidenced by a quick browse of Krafft-Ebing’s seminal work on sexuality and fetish, Psychopathia Sexualis, or Freud’s work on fur and velvet fetishes. But because hairless genitalia abound in the real world, the meaning of an interest in pubic hair has changed. In pornography, and maybe even in real life, pubic hair has become a signifier that the woman who owns it is ‘deviant’, freed from the ‘conventional oppressions’ of society in general and the ‘beauty myth’ in particular. This means she could well be ‘intelligent’ and ‘independent’ and ‘real’, and even a little bit ‘dirty’, and so more ‘genuinely willing’ to engage in ‘natural’ sexual activities – including the making of electronically recorded pornography. As you can see from the italic marks I’ve scattered like so many stray pubes, there are a lot of dense concepts at work here. And that’s a big cultural load for a few square inches of bush to carry.