This is a cat.

I first tried shaving my pubic hair the week before my sixteenth birthday. I had warmed up to the idea of some light under-the-pants shenanigans with my then-boyfriend, and from the brief glimpses of mainstream porn I had seen so far, I had gleaned that a prepubescent party zone was a prerequisite.

Just to be sure, I also consulted the world’s greatest repository of deeply personal questions from confused teenagers, Yahoo! Answers. After scrolling through dozens of “Should I shave my pubes?” posts, one of the more consistent responses burrowed in my brain: “You don’t HAVE to, but if you don’t, don’t be surprised if your boyfriend won’t go down on you.”

I didn’t know a ton about sex back then, but from what little I’d heard, having someone go down on you seemed like the fun part. Clearly, my pubes had to go.

The girl who sat next to me in computer class at my Catholic high school gave me some pointers: trim first, use shave gel, apply deodorant after to prevent ingrown hairs. I followed her instructions with a level of faith and discipline that under different circumstances might have made the nuns proud, but far from sexy smoothness, the end result was a red, itchy crotch with a bunch of stray hairs that I couldn’t seem to catch no matter how many passes I took with the razor.

But beauty is pain, right? And I was pretty sure that my boyfriend would be pleased with the effort.

I never found out, though, because he dumped me a few days later. The miserably itchy regrowth process was an extension of my heartbreak; a near-constant, uncomfortable reminder of how desperately I’d wanted to impress a boy who’d ended up rejecting me.

Later in my teens and into my early 20s, I went through periods of shaving off my pubic hair or not depending on my relationship status. I never once did it because I, Kaylee Wolfe, personally wanted a hairless vulva. I did it because it was what I thought I was supposed to do, and sometimes because it was specifically requested by my (male) partners. Notably, none of them ever did the same to their own bodies for any sustained period of time — as one of them explained to me, “it’s a lot of work to keep up.”

My goal here is not to write an anti-pube shaving screed. There are lots of people out there who genuinely prefer that their pubic hair be trimmed, manicured, or hairless, and they have every right to make that choice. But it should be a true choice, not an expectation.

If you’re removing your pubic hair — or any of your hair, for that matter — it should be because doing so enhances your life in some way. If it makes you feel sexier, cleaner, or more confident, awesome. If sex feels better for you when you shave, or if dyeing or manicuring your pubes into fantastic shapes is a way you like to express yourself, more power to you. If trimming, shaving, or waxing is a net positive for you, go forth and depilate.

Here are some less great reasons to remove your pubic hair: shame over the way your body looks, fear that a partner will criticize or reject you, obligation because your partner prefers it, or deference to anyone else’s idea of what is sexy.

And let me be perfectly clear on one point in particular. While no one ever owes another person sex, if someone tells you that they won’t perform oral sex on you unless you change your pubic hair to match their preferences, they do not deserve to have sex with you at all. Why? Because that’s fucked up, and selfish people are usually shitty lovers anyway.

How we care for, groom, and present our bodies to the world is among the most personal and fundamental forms of human expression. You have a right to make the choices that feel best for you regardless of what others might say, think, or prefer. You have a right to not be shamed or humiliated for how your body looks. You have a right to not be pressured or manipulated into making choices that cause you discomfort, whether physical or psychological, to please another person.

Above all, you have a right to decide what happens to your body. Whether it’s the choice to go natural or trim or get a Brazilian, to have sex with someone or not, to go bungee jumping, to get a cat, or just deciding what you want for breakfast, you are in charge. Your partner, the porn industry, and your friendly neighborhood sex columnist might have their opinions, but you gotta do you.

This is the first in a three-part series on pubic hair. Part II will explore the history and science behind pubic hair removal. Part III will feature real Portlanders’ thoughts and experiences when it comes to pubes.

Have a personal story or perspective on pubic hair that you’d like to share with Kaylee? Send it to kayleewolfetwss@gmail.com for possible anonymous inclusion in Part III of this series.

Kaylee Wolfe is a sexuality educator, advocate for survivors of sexual and relationship violence, clinic escort, and birth doula. She thinks you should get tested.

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