The Right To Keep Your Pubes: A Feminist Perspective on Shaving For Labor

This semester I’m taking a class called The Anthropology of Reproduction. It has opened my eyes to a range of new perspectives on birth, motherhood, and the role of the doctor. Something that particularly struck me was a common fact that was unbeknownst to me: that in the past, upon entering the hospital, most laboring mothers had their pubic hair shaven by a nurse. This brought up a lot of questions for me. Is it at all medically beneficial to remove the hair down there? Is it just so that the doctor can see everything better? Did the hospital staff ever ask these women if they gave consent to have their pubic hair removed?

Shaving the pubic area was common practice for hospital births up until the practice received critiques from feminists demanding that they keep their hair if they want to. According to the BabyCenter Advisory Board, shaving is not medically necessary for birth, but “is believed to make the birth more hygienic and to lessen the risk of infection.” The website also states that “there is no evidence to suggest that shaving significantly reduces the risk of infections.” In fact, cuts that often occur from shaving the vulva make the woman more susceptible to infection. So why did they do it? Perhaps shaving the pubic area was a way to further ensure that the mother be treated like a patient. Shaving body hair is a practice usually associated with surgery, and shaving the pubic hair of women in hospital births perhaps reminds both the woman and the doctor that there is a significant power dynamic involved in the birth- the doctor is in charge, and the woman is that doctor’s patient. However, as doctors and midwives began to realize that there may in fact be a purpose for pubic hair (not surprising to me that something is on our body for a reason), the practice has largely, but not completely, died out.

So what changed? The difference between women of the 1970s and women today is that now, people are shaving and waxing on their own. Though the hospitals don’t mandate any sort of practice in regards to shaving the pubic area, many of the women they see are already fully or partially shaven. We got into a fairly intense discussion in class over whether or not it was okay for women to shave before birth.

Here’s my take on it. As a feminist, I argue that it’s a woman’s choice what to do with their own nether regions. If you want to shave, go for it. Whether it be a brazilian, a landing strip, a bikini wax, or a lightening bolt, more power to you. That’s your call. However, what I’m not okay with is medical professionals telling women what to do with their hair, in cases where there’s really no medical difference either way. So, whether you go bare or you’re all there, just stick to your guns and don’t let anybody tell you how your pubes should look. That’s my advice, at least. For more details on this practice, and the research behind it, check out Debby’s new book Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva.

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About Michaela

Michaela

Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.