Serial manscapers and bikini-waxers beware: Doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, have found that frequently removing your pubic hair may increase your risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, syphilis and human papillomavirus.
According to the study, participants who said they had trimmed, cut, shaved or otherwise removed their pubic hair at least once in their lives were twice as likely to say they had been diagnosed with at least one STI. Participants who said they removed all their pubic at least 11 times per year were a whopping four times as likely to report they’ve had an STI. Even if you fall between the two categories as a “high frequency groomer,“ or someone who trims the hedges once or twice a month, your luck isn’t much better. Those people were still three times as likely to report having an STI.
The study surveyed 7,500 men and women, age 18 all the way to age 65. The researchers asked them to describe their personal grooming habits, like how often they remove their pubic hair and to what degree it is removed, and then asked them to divulge their sexual history, including the number of partners and STIs they’ve had. While only 10 percent of participants admitted they fell into the “extreme groomer” category, the majority of men—about 65 percent—said they had groomed their pubic hair to some degree at least once in their lifetime.
Dr. Benjamin Breyer, the lead author of the study, says that the doctors don’t yet know if hairless genitals directly cause an increase in risk for infection. All he can say for sure is that the two factors are connected. But before you panic and throw out your razor, keep in mind that this study was severely limited. The researchers didn’t ask if participants if they practiced safe sex nor did they ask, quite crucially, whether they were diagnosed with an STI before grooming or after. Even so, Dr. Breyer doesn’t recommend doing a full shave right before sex—at least not until doctors have more information.
Over on NPR, Dr. Jennifer Gunter added to that advice by warning that shaving causes tiny knicks and cuts that provide bacteria easy access to your body’s most sensitive areas. Even if it might not be aesthetically appealing, pubic hair is there for a reason: to act as a barrier to outside invaders.
The study’s findings come at a time when pubic grooming is on the rise, especially for young women, according to a June 2016 study in the JAMA Dermatology journal. In other words, if going bald does increase your risk of STIs, it will join the ranks of female beauty trends, like those cement and super glue butt injections, that put women’s health at serious risk.