Notes on Nudity and Pubic Hair
Issue #70, October 2004
I wanna be naked, I wanna be nude,
I wanna walk around in my birthday suit.
— Screeching Weasel, I Wanna Be Naked
As I walked through the entrance of Club Erotica, the largest "ALL NUDE" strip joint on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, I deposited 37 dollars and a 3 dollar-off coupon into the hands of a large, bouncer-type whose tremendous frame filled the entirety of the plexiglass ticket booth. Following a quick exposition of my pockets and cigarette tin, another Spartan-sized beast took the liberty of exploring every nook and cranny of my body with a paddle-shaped metal detector; a technique that is apparently used to discourage the testosterone-surged clientele from carrying weapons into the otherwise delicate homoerotic atmosphere. After making our way through the short gauntlet of bulky men, Bay and I were fully paid for and his bachelor party had officially begun. During the five foot walk from the bouncers to the naked room, there were two distinct thoughts racing through my head; 1) Nicole, the fiancé of my dear friend and the instigator of this strip club odyssey, was undoubtedly one of the coolest women around, and 2) there should be an emotional coat-check at the door where one can conveniently deposit their values/beliefs for the duration of the evening. I mentally sketch out such a scenario while I stagger through the hallway: A young, sweaty, haggard-looking male says "Hi, I'm number 57, I'm here to retrieve my sense of inhibition." The all-nude woman behind the counter kindly says, "just one second," as she sorts through various hangers draped with emotions of all types. "Let's see here...ah...here it is, I couldn't see it at first...it was lodged between staunch feminist and closeted gay man. There you go. Have a good night and come back again."
With a sharp, right-hand turn, we entered the main room in the club where the women were not really stripping, they were already ass naked. It was a cornucopia of booty. An arena of nudity. A coliseum of fake boobs, high-heels, and faux-pornographic expressions; replete with mirrored walls, TV sets, and loudspeakers that pounded our eardrums with dance-infused metal and monster-truck-style announcements..."AND UP NEXT IS SKYLA!!!" Despite the barrage of naked, made-up ladies writhing inches from the faces of the seated customers, there was an endless sea of guys in the room. It felt as if I had walked into some horrible gay bar, without the comfort of gay friends or the feeling of giddy bashfulness that temporarily arises when a guy hits on me. Instead, I was just overwhelmed by the environment — the women dancing, the bad music, the ever-present ape-like bouncers, the random strippers who sauntered through the crowd like scantly-clad majestic royalty. Without exception, I had never seen so many women, so naked, in all of my life.
By the time I sat down, I had drank two full beers and smoked about 150 cigarettes out of pure nervousness and excitement. To my right-hand side was Pat, whose decision to wear a cowboy hat prompted sexy remarks from just about every women in the room, and on my other side was Bay, whose smile was so engorged that his cheeks appeared to close off his eyesight altogether. Pat was apparently more shocked than myself, given the slew of times I heard "HOLY SHIT" come out of his mouth while a girl pressed her perfume-scented breasts against his eager, cherub-like face. After awkwardly trading these quick exchanges for dollar bills, I walked away from the table in order to talk with Mike, who like myself, was a little unsure about what to make of the scenario. We both agreed that the spectacle was a little overwhelming, but certainly appropriate for the type of ambiance desired — a strange, erotic purgatory lingering somewhere between disco and sex.
Being a somewhat neurotic Leftist, I couldn't just enjoy myself and have a carefree evening at the strip club. Instead, I proceeded with my usual patterns of self-examination, continually debating my taste in women and sexuality. It seemed like every perspective I had about women until that point became fused into a WWF-style royal rumble inside my brain. The fictional ring held dozens of competitors, including the likes of Angela Davis, Kathleen Hanna, my girlfriend, Nietzsche, Larry Flint, and a version of myself when I was an ultra-horny 13 year old. Each of the various characters represented some perspective on sexuality that I had learned to embrace over the years, either by choice or force. Feminists, pornographers, politicians, athletes, friends, activists, and advertisers threw punches, grabbed one another in headlocks, went off the ropes Snuka-style, and dealt out the occasional body slam. As my attention wandered back and forth between short conversations, alcohol, and the dancers, the battle continued to take place in order to determine a variety of issues at hand. Is this place degrading or liberating, and who am I to judge? Is my taste in women determined by other people or myself? And the most basic thing I wanted to figure out was when it honestly comes down to it, are our tastes in sex determined by what we choose to believe or what makes us excited?
When you sit at the strip club in search of answers, you are bound to get more questions...or at least really drunk. This seems to be one of the only guarantees in this world. But I seemed to be on to something with my line of questioning. Here I was, in the midst of a bustling (no pun intended) nightclub in a high intensity grapple with my sexual desires and gender identity. Too often, we take the up the interesting questions once we have left the scene of the crime, as opposed to diving in headfirst with a full beer in each hand. This was one of the rare times in which I managed to entertain a delicate balance between experience and reflection, conscious of my actions but not so absorbed that I couldn't pay attention to what was going on in front of me.
Between sips of cheap booze, I was eventually able to pinpoint one of my central concerns regarding sexuality in the 21st century; an unchecked social trend that had manifested itself in front of me and demanded dollar bills. This trend...this dilemma...this unspeakable social problem...is that of shaved pubic hair.
Call me crazy, but I think there is something extremely sexy about pubic hair. Perhaps this was a trait developed early in my teens when friends of mine would liberate old Playboy magazines from their dad's closet and share them with the rest of us. These images, which were amongst the first glimpses I ever saw of naked women, undoubtedly provided some basis from which I learned to judge the female form. And like anyone that hasn't been living under a rock for the latter portion of the 20th century, I can tell you that nude models in the 1960's and 70's had mad pubic hair. Because I memorized these images like holy portions of the Torah, pubic hair became something of an important signifier for my blossoming sex drive. In the most basic sense, pubic hair served as an immediate indicator that you were seeing something that was supposed to be kept a secret. Like most teenage boys, I anxiously hoped to spot pubic hair at any time or place — in a movie, a magazine, or more importantly, in person.
Since that time, I have matured in age, become conscious of a vast number of perspectives on pornography and eroticism, and I have also seen a fair amount of naked people in my day. However, pubic hair still holds the same signifying value it did for me when I was younger — it stands for nudity and sexuality. Maybe I am being nostalgic, but in today's tooth-whitening, anti-bacterialized, smoke-free culture, it is no wonder that pubic hair has gone the way of the buffalo. In our quest to be as clean and polished as possible, the masses have seemed to embrace the trend of painstakingly shaving their genitals in order to appear sleek, tidy, and otherwise "sexy." Granted, I have not randomly inspected many people's underwear lately, but I have seen the shaved trend become commonplace in the world of online amateur pornography (unlike you...I admit it), cheesy late night movies, and now, officially, in the strip club.
Now, I understand that there are a probably a host of reasons that one might want to spend their spare time scraping a razor along their most delicate of parts. Oral sex is one of the most obvious motivations for this bold betrayal of human nature because pubic hair is regarded as somewhat of hindrance, if not a full-blown nuisance, in the act of oral sex. Pubic hair has the tendency to obscure some of our most orgasmic spots, making it difficult for both the giver and receiver. For the receiver, pubic hair covers areas of the skin that could otherwise be aroused, and for the giver, public hair makes it difficult for one to get totally funky with their business. As a result, people have seized control of their own orgasms and begun shaving it off. To these eager, motivated individuals, I salute you.
However, I firmly believe that shaved genitals say a lot about our culture that can not otherwise be attributed to personal, sexual preference. This is most obvious in the way that we have begun to utilize the shaved look in our movies, strip clubs, magazines and homemade pornography. In these circumstances, shaving has nothing to do with personal satisfaction, but everything to do with our aesthetic preferences. Like many of our other aesthetic preferences, these representations directly reflect our cultural norms, desires, and expectations. In this regard, pubic hair is like one of the many natural aspects of the body that we have chosen to hide, transform, or do away with. Rather than just accepting ourselves for the hairy enterprises that we are, people in Western society (particularly Americans) have become totally obsessed with the war against body hair; creatively defining most of it as "unwanted," "unpleasant," or "disgusting." Nowadays, this unspoken ideology has provoked legions of men, women, and transsexuals to pluck their eyebrows, shave their beards and armpits, wax their legs and butt cracks, trim their nose hairs, and chemically remove their chest hair.
The first problem with these practices is that capitalists are having a field day at our expense. By encouraging these trends through advertising, capitalists have reaped the rewards of our hair-phobic culture by first convincing us that our natural state is repulsive and then cashing in on the remedies; ala razors, shaving cream, hair remover, hair clippers, beard trimmers, home waxing kits, etc. The second problem with our fight against body hair is that the shit grows back! As a result, once you start the process of plucking, trimming, and ultimately shaving your pubic hair, you could easily spend hours of your otherwise free time locked in the bathroom, contorted into some monstrous position that allows you to shave your ass in the reflection of a small, foggy, strategically placed mirror — all the while trying to keep a straight face and not slip on the wet tile. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the disappearance of pubic hair erases that sexual signifier that many of us developed in our youth. The erasure of pubic hair creates an inability to distinguish between regions of the body that were once distinct. Because we have deleted these precious visual markers, there is a seeming lack of excitement that comes along with the exposure of bald genitals. In short, when one shaves off their pubic hair, their once "private parts" run together with the rest of the highly-cleansed American body. As a result, there is no immediate visual distinction between legs, thighs, stomachs, and genitals. For people like myself, this is one of the greatest losses of the modern media epoch. However, for other groups of people, specifically white males, this lack of distinction might fulfill a deeper psychological need. Work with me here...
Because white men have traditionally been in positions of power in the realms of advertising and pornography, they have been instrumental in promulgating the shaved looked in all facets of the media. It's possible that one of the reasons men prefer the shaved look on women is that the lack of visual distinction between a woman's body and her genitals makes it much easier to view her entire body as a giant vagina — unconstrained by the boundaries of pubic hair. Along the same lines, maybe these images have become popularized by men's desire to have visual mastery over the female form. After all, women's genitals are quite complex; there are lots of folds, wrinkles, and bumps to visually contend with. Pubic hair further shrouds this region in mystery, presenting a difficult challenge for men who feel entitled to know what's going on in there...as if the vagina should be exposed like an engine at a vintage car show; hood up, with a crew of wanna-be greasers and mid-life crisis-riddled men lurking around the periphery. Men have external, highly visible genitalia and they want women to be exposed in the same way that they are; hence the reason for advocating shaved pubes in the media.
On a slightly different note, perhaps the shaved look has less to do with gender issues and more to do with suppressed feelings of racism. Unless you are in the exclusive minority of people with blonde or red hair, pubic hair is typically dark, coarse, curly, and difficult to manage. In short, it is very similar to the hair of various ethnic groups throughout the Middle-East and Africa. Because of this similarity, maybe the shaved look has grown in popularity because people are subconsciously attempting to dissociate themselves from these ethnic groups — symbolically shaving off their connection to the ethnic "other." Or maybe I am full of shit, and their is something intrinsically attractive about grown women with 12 year old-looking genitals, and fat mid-western men who proudly display their shaven taints on amateur webpages across the world. Either way, it is difficult to ignore this pressing issue when you are sitting in a room where diverse erotic desires are ignored in favor of a uniform presentation of sexuality.
All things considered, I had a great time at my friend's bachelor party until my eardrums almost blew out during the techno remix of "Rock You Like a Hurricane." But by that time it was getting really late, I was totally shitfaced, and I was walking away with a much more focused perspective on the complex world of sexuality — a perspective that reveals a great deal about who we are and what we hold dear.
Let this be said: Pubic hair is as distinct as the people who grow it, and for that reason alone I think that we should learn to embrace the natural look and stop contributing to the over-groomed culture crammed down our throats by underwear merchants, magazine producers, pornographers, and the entire "beauty" industry. Yes, pubic hair might be a nuisance during oral sex, but we must learn to work within it if we are ever to overcome it. We must celebrate our unique differences and reclaim our right to have hairy vaginas, hairy asses, and hairy armpits. Because folks, there is only one thing uglier in this world than a scrotum....and that is a shaved scrotum.
Thank you and goodnight.
Zack Furness sings for the band Voice in the Wire and is currently writing about bicycles and bike culture in the United States. He hopes to finish his doctoral dissertation while traveling in a van.