Reclaiming the bush: pubic hair and pornography

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 Cityin 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.

Helen Addison-Smith

Helen Addison-Smith has been previously published in journals such as Island, Hecate and refo, and was featured in Overland's first e-book Women's Work. She's a reformed chef and a persistent single mother.

More by Helen Addison-Smith ›

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  1. Interesting ideas there, Helen. As a completely lateral thought… is the shaving of pubic (and armpit) hair by women somehow akin to facial shaving by men, another odd custom that goes in and out of fashion? Why does the common clean-shaved face preserve the hair-line of prepubescent males? I suspect this whole thing starts and ends beyond the confines of porn and reflects something deeper… but no idea what!

  2. Good point Ian! There are also very few beards in mainstream porn: I think this is because they also block the view. I think the general way body hair is dealt with has a lot to do with ideas of being ‘natural’ and ‘animalistic’, and the further we want to position ourselves away from being what we are (which is almost naked monkeys), the more we remove our body hair. And, yes, beards seem to be connected to ‘thoughtfulness’ and ‘naturalness’ in the same way that lady’s lower beards are. . .

  3. I think this normalising of a lack of pubic hair extends in all sorts of ways. As a woman with a healthy bush, I remember being anxious when I was pregnant and seeing an obstetrician for the first time. I seriously thought she might find it odd to have to deal with my pubes. This might seem extreme, but there you go. The absurd Tori Spelling once boasted in an interview of how her husband had to maintain her pubic hairlessness during pregnancy because she couldn’t see or access the area sufficiently. Similarly, the ‘restoration’ of the female body after child bearing can often include the resumption of a vigorous hair removal program; once the unavoidably mammalian task of birthing is done, women can resume the animal-denial process again. Personally, I find it all ridiculous and find men who favour hairless vulvas to be deeply suspect. But that’s just my personal take on it, of course.

  4. Great article Helen, and this is a discussion that has been popping up with increasing frequency in the past couple of years. In Germany where I’ve been living, there is a common perception among many of my friends that the hairlessness craze only emerged there in the mid-late 1990s, or post-unification. This in itself is a fascinating factoid, and one that I’ve been meaning to pursue in more detail. Also fascinating is the fact that hairlessness, which is popular amongst both men and women from ‘ethnically German’ backgrounds (for want of a better term!) across all social classes, is especially popular in the lesbian community. The common homophobic and sexist insult “hairy lesbian” simply doesn’t wash there at all.

  5. Having read the opening line “Now I’m no Sheila Jeffreys… However…” My hackles stood on end.
    But I seriously enjoyed this piece.
    I see parallels between porn actors and athletes, both of whom decorticate to emphasise their physique and performance.
    I don’t believe the phenomenon is limited only to women, but I won’t go further into that to avoid a TMI moment.

  6. Great article. The hairlessness bit is not just porn though, is it, and (here I go being a goddamn gender leveler, which I do not particularly want to be) is not just women either. Invariably mens’ genitalia & arses are similarly waxed clean, unless they are bears in gay porn, for example. Indeed, in mainstream media as is often now commented, mens’ bodies tend to be as hairless as women’s. So, perhaps what started as a predominantly female (pre)occupation & persecution, if we must, is now equally a male thing and has enslaved us all! Funny how patriarchy has a way of biting back.

    For instance, when I get my back waxed monthly (have done for nearly two decades), I have increasingly noted the women waxing me now suggest the back,crack & sack package as well. That’s after I’ve turned down the chest wax; thankfully, there does not seem to be a synonym for chest that ends with ack. I decline, largely out of anxiety about pain, but they tell me a great many man desire it. That suggests to me that their male and female partners also desire it, if not insist on it. Would I go the whole package if a partner insisted on it? Only if she knocked me out with Oxycontin first. So, when it comes to the carpet matching the curtains, I prefer Venetian blinds and polished floorboards.

  7. Your athlete comparison is really spot on, I think, and sport as a cultural movement has a similarly troubled relationship to what is a ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ body. Yes, in porn and IRL there is certainly an increasing prevalence of lack of pubes in mean. I’ve heard that this has something to do with the idea that lack of pubes makes your cock look bigger. As you can tell, I TMI a fair bit. I could also write a fair bit of the changing phsyique of men in mainstream industrial porn in a post Viagra industry.

  8. I’ve had so many discussions (and sessions and ticket sales) about my body hair that removing it would probably cost me my livelihood. Consumers and clients of the sex industry seem to have a deeply personal investment in the choices of providers / performers about what in pedestrian society is a ‘personal choice’. Here’s a great discussion on a site run by Feck, about this very topic: which provides some insight from the consumer’s POV…

  9. I’m 46 and autistic, and realised after early, er, dysfunctions, that I have a distinct difficulty ‘maintaining’ when a partner is smooth.
    For a long time I was worried that there was something wrong with me physically.
    Even when in a relationship, they might surprise me with a freshly shorn wasteland, I would try to perform but more often than not, make embarrassed apologies and stress myself out.
    After ‘successes and failures’ I realised that it only ever happened when a partner was smooth/nearly so.
    In the nearly 19 years since my last relationship, I’ve had sexual intercourse three times.
    On tow of those occasions, the partner was smooth/razor-rashy.
    I had told the second of these encounters of my worries, and she said “that’s fine, I’m hairy”, and we had started getting down to things.
    She ‘started things off with me’ and after longer than she might have preferred, I asked to return the pleasure, which she refused (never in my life has someone not wanted to be gone down on) and she asked me to just continue, and it was only then that I discovered her to have about a week’s worth of stubble (at most), with an unsightly stubble rash.
    I almost immediately ‘lost the ability’ going from one extreme to the other, and you can imagine how embarrassed I was.
    Being autistic, I already have enough anxieties about social interaction without playing Russian roulette with ‘bush or not’ so have spent the majority of this century sex-free, after seeing numerous polls stating as low as 3% of women now grow one, and the majority of those are lesbians.
    Glad for anonymity.

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