Another Reason to Let Pubic Hair Grow

Dermatologists have suggested that "microtrauma" from waxing and shaving may increase the risk of a viral infection that is sometimes transmitted sexually.
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MattHurst/Flickr

A few months ago, there were reports that the extinction of pubic hair might be fueling the disappearance of pubic lice. Those were subjected to a healthy dose of skepticism and rather quickly debunked.

Now we may have a slightly more unsettling notion: a purported rise in viral infections tied to shaving (and other hair-removal methods). The warning, published as a letter in a British Medical Journal groups' Sexually Transmitted Infectionsrefers to molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV). The researchers refer to MCV as a "minor" STI (scare quotes theirs).

This particular virus is only sometimes sexually transmitted (in which case it's called STMC). But there has been a rise in these incidents over the past decade,which spurred researchers to investigate. Of 30 cases of STMC that presented at a private French dermatology practice from January to March of last year, 93 percent were in patients who had removed their pubic hair.

The dermatologists saw 6 women, 24 men, and a bunch of lesions -- which were "located on the pubis with extension on the abdomen in four cases and legs in one." Six patients also had ingrown hairs. Four had genital warts, indicators of papillomavirus. Two had folliculitis, and another had a benign cyst. One had scars.

In 70 percent of those cases, the patients had used razors. From this admittedly small data set the authors put forward the idea that, "as MCV can spread by self-inoculation (eg, scratching, in children), hair removal (especially shaving) could favor its acquisition, propagation, and transmission." 

The microtraumas caused by shaving, clipping, and waxing are to Brazilian adherents what crotch-scratching is to children. Left untreated, MCV will usually go away on its own. But in the meantime, it presents as red, infectious bumps that probably work against whatever sexiness is conferred by the clean-shaven style.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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