Shaving, Showering, and Slathering

June 25, 2013 at 1:24 pm

My husband gets to have the same conversations with me over and over (or, rather, he gets to listen to me ramble over and over about the same bizarre stuff that rolls around my brain). For example, the conversation about how we all shower and shave too much. I really do talk about this excessively. Sorry, husband. I’ve been contemplating writing this blogpost for a long time. I nickname it “the pubic hair post.” Ha ha. But really it’s about so much more than pubic hair. Hear me out…

So here’s my premise:

Body hair is surface area for oils, pheromones, and other unseen natural chemical messengers we probably haven’t yet discovered.

And:

These unseen chemical messengers give us valuable information about each other, facilitating some relationships and preventing others (for good reason).

I’ve written about this concept before (see my “Mate Selection” post HERE). And a 2008 Psychology Today article, sums it up well: “As we act out the complex rituals of courtship, many of them inscribed deep in our brain, scent-based cues help us zero in on optimal partners—the ones most likely to stay faithful to us and to create healthy children with us.”

As I was rambling about this topic to my husband (again) yesterday, I mentioned that it’s unfortunate that the phase of life when it’s most important for our body’s natural oils and scents to be broadcast to the public (during the mate-selection process), most “first-world” people are daily shaving, showering, and slathering themselves in artificial fragrances (I know I did). As a society, in general, we are routinely stripping away and masking our authentic scents in an effort to appear/smell “attractive” to potential mates when, in reality, the way we’re most likely to find an ideal reproductive match would be to shave, shower, and slather ourselves less.

So if you think about puberty through this lens, it makes a lot more sense why pubic, arm pit, and facial hair appear when they do–as youth approach their reproductive years. Body hair is surface area (though it serves other purposes as well). As we approach the period of life when we are seeking a mate, the increase in surface area (provided by facial/armpit/pubic hair) for pheromones and other natural oils and chemical messengers is an aid to our selection process. Body hair actually helps us find a good genetic match.

So it seems modern trends toward hairlessness are steps in the wrong direction as far as the continuation of a healthy human race is concerned. It makes me wish the leg-shaving custom most American women (including me) have adopted had never been embraced. It helps explain why I find my husband much more attractive with his full beard than I did in the years when he was clean-shaven, and why most of the men I know prefer long hair on women. I don’t think it’s just a visual thing. Think surface area.

Relatedly, I groan as I hear that more and more young men (and women) view the appearance of normal adult female pubic hair as “gross.” We in the birth-community talk so much about the importance of respecting and honoring the body’s wisdom in the pregnancy and childbirth process, but what about honoring the body’s other natural adult reproductive technologies, including the important functions played by genital hair? What about respecting and trusting nature’s wisdom in that?

As a mother of three daughters, it scares me to know that a large percentage of men are now sexually aroused by hair-less genitals. This trend has some scary implications for our pubic-hairless young daughters who will be increasingly at risk of male sexual advances. (For an eye-opening and disturbing read about this, see “Wiring Sexual Tastes to Hairless Genitals… Oops!“)

I agree whole-heartedly with Dr. Emily Gibson:

Pubic hair does have a purpose, providing cushion against friction that can cause skin abrasion and injury,  protection from bacteria and other unwanted pathogens, and is the visible result of long awaited adolescent hormones, certainly nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It is time to declare a truce in the war on pubic hair, and allow it to stay right where it belongs.  We owe it to our patients to encourage them to let it be. (Source)

I’d really like to see customs around hair-removal shift… less shaving, more embracing of the intelligence of our body’s natural design and normal appearance (sans waxes/razor blades). If more and more females in our society chose not to shave their genitals (and even legs and arm pits), I would applaud it. I wish we didn’t feel pressure from media, peers, and partners to alter our normal adult female hair physiology. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the world will be jumping on this retro-body-hair revolution anytime soon.

But what if we encouraged our children to move toward less-frequent showering and shaving and got rid of artificial fragrances altogether?

If people actually did this, what would likely happen? Here’s what I like to think…

  • Some people would smell much more intensely repulsive to us. No big surprise there. But someone who smells horrid to you might smell absolutely delicious to me. That’s because we would be attracted to the smells of those whose immune systems and gene pool would be ideal matches for us, and that would vary for each of us. If we all showered and shaved less, these important chemical cues would be much clearer to us. Sometimes I beg my husband not to shower after he gets sweaty on a run. Seriously, I love his natural scent.
  • Fertility problems would decrease. Couples who are less “genetically compatible” often have more frequent miscarriages and fertility problems. If we all showered and shaved less, our ability to sniff out an ideal mate would be easier, so we would be more likely to have success getting/staying pregnant. (Unless we were sniffing out a mate while taking hormonal contraceptives… these reverse our body’s natural mate-selection inclinations. More on that HERE.)
  • Allergies and auto-immune diseases would decline. When you reproduce with someone whose immune system and gene pool are too similar to your own, any offspring who are born tend to have weaker immune systems and may be more prone to allergies and auto-immune diseases. Of course there are many factors contributing to rising allergies and auto-immune diseases, but I do believe this is one of them. If we all showered and shaved less, I really do think our kids would be stronger and healthier.
  • Fidelity and marital satisfaction would increase. Physical attraction, though not the only factor in marital satisfaction, is an important part of a long-term/committed relationship. As the number of similarities in immune system genes increases, women’s sexual responsiveness to their partners decreases and the number of sex partners outside of the relationship increases (More on that HERE). If we all showered and shaved less, we’d probably end up “falling out of love” a lot less, especially if we all kicked “the pill” in favor of contraceptives that don’t alter our body’s innate mate-selection wisdom.

These would be excellent steps in terms of improving the relationship/reproductive success and immune-system health of humanity’s future. I’m not saying we have to abandon personal hygiene altogether. Cleanliness is important, but I do think there is such a thing as “too clean,” and I feel it has impacted humanity in a detrimental way with unnatural ripples that may continue for generations.

Just think! We could save thousands of gallons of water in skipped showers, reduce the number of disposable razors in landfills, cut back exposure to nasty hormone-warping artificial fragrances, and help everyone spend less time “primping” and more time doing things that actually matter and have a real positive impact in the world. OK, I know, I’m stretching here. But seriously… am I just way out in left field? Who wouldn’t love to spend less time shaving? Who’s with me?