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Isn't He Lovely: Bare Down There and Everywhere Else

young man with shaving cream on his face and chest shaving his chest hair with a disposable razorWhile mulling over the male quest for muscularity a few posts ago, I brought up the notion of the "sanitized ideal" that has recently become de rigueur for the mainstream masculine body image. We're talking hair-free, sweat-free, odor-free; in other words, the same unrealistic standards peddled to women for so long, à la leg and underarm shaving. And like the hairless female ideal, it isn't just the most visible fur that men are tending to these days; statistically, men groom their pubic hair more than any other type of body hair (sans beards).

This notion of the hairless male particularly piqued my interest since it's a relatively new grooming habit among men these days. It isn't a minority of young men fussing over their follicles, either. Brown University psychologist Michael Boroughs began studying male body depilation (hair removal) in the early 2000s, and his 2009 dissertation found surprisingly high rates of body hair removal among male participants. His follow-up research since has continually confirmed this emerging behavioral pattern, which is consistent among gay and heterosexual men alike.

"It's very possible that [body hair depilation] is a sociocultural thing that's happening among men as well," Boroughs told me in a phone interview. "There's something happening out there with regard to appearance concerns and that the change in men's behavior relates to something that's happening in terms of culture and practices for appearance."

For starters, the gender gap in body hair removal (not including facial hair) is narrower that you might think. According to Borroughs' and others' research:

  • 90.1% of women depilate
  • 80.9% of men depilate

Moreover, for both women and men, a negative correlation exists between body hair growth and dissatisfaction. In other words, the more body hair that grows on the groin, chest, arms, the less people tend to report liking that anatomy.

So what's the self-reported motivation for these hairy hangups among younger males (Boroughs' sample populations have largely focused on college-aged cohorts)? Says Boroughs:

...Quoting some magazine publishers, for example, they'll say there hasn't been a magazine cover that has displayed a man with chest hair in 10 to 15 years. So, one of the things we're doing is looking at sociocultural influences on men's body hair reduction or removal behaviors. The reason that's most often cited for a variety of hair removal and reduction behaviors is cleanliness, and the original hypotheses we went into with these studies is that we thought men were doing to it for the purposes of improving appearances surrounding muscularity.

Six years after Steve Carell got a chest wax in "40-Year-Old Virgin," male body hair removal also has become something of a pop comedy trope. The recurring jokes acknowledge that the practice exists and dodges the normative femininity associations by cloaking the behavior in humor.

 "I've seen no less that three episodes of Two and a Half Men where the issue of body hair removal has come up, and the same is true for Family Guy," Boroughs said. "So it's kind of this thing where people who in high school and college are watching, they're already talking about this in a joking kind of way."

The big difference between how the social pressures to shave applies to men and women comes with the decision to quit shaving/waxing/tweezing, etc.

...Men and women are very close in the number who report depilating, except that men have the option of stopping. And they probably have an option of stopping because they're not going to receive negative social feedback if they were to let their hair grow back. Whereas, there have been studies where women have received negative social feedback when they allow their hair to grow back on their bodies naturally.

In that case, men clearly still have more leeway to their hair grow as it will, but perhaps the social pressure is mounting—especially when it comes to the appearance of pubic hair. Just as the shorn vulva has become the sexual (and arguably infantile) beauty standard, the clean-cut penis is becoming par for the course.

Breaking down male hair removal by body part, men in Boroughs' studies pay more attention to hair down there than anywhere else (remember: this excludes facial hair):

  • 59% of men reported trimming groin hair
  • 41% of men reported removing groin hair

"Many experts in the body image area have regularly asked me about the question of whether men are reducing or removing hair at the pubic area in order to have their genitals appear larger, which is a great hypothesis," Boroughs said. "I imagine there may be something to it, except that it...wasn't endorsed for very many men for any of the body sites including the pubic area."

However, that isn't to say that the idea of optical illusion doesn't play a factor, even though study participants aren't eager to admit it.

Boroughs says, "For men, at the pubic area, 5.1 percent of men in my sample said 'Makes body part look larger.' A majority said 'Sex appeal,' and what does that mean? The next largest group was cleanliness: 22 percent. Then, 'Youthfulness.' So this is one of those areas where further qualitative research is needed, I think."

When Boroughs began investigating male body hair depilation around 10 years ago, he thought it could be a fad in the same vein as Tom Selleck's mustache. Considering that a majority of young men groom their body hair, and that manufacturers now offer "male" depilatory creams, body hair clippers and other specialized products, this clearly isn't just a trend. Now, the big question on Boroughs' mind is whether men will pass down these behaviors to succeeding generations, or if today's younger men will give up the grooming ghost once they couple up and settle down with mates.

"If we look at what happened with women as a model then it's very possible that the future will hold that men will be talking to their sons about keeping their body hair in check, whether it be through clipping or shaving or whatever they might do," Boroughs said. "It seems like at this point we would believe that middle-aged men and men generally don't engage in the behavior, and younger men do pretty broadly. The question is whether or not that will be sustained."

Previously: Isn't He Lovely: It's Boom Time for Male Skin Bleaching, Isn't He Lovely: Why the Old Spice Guy Wasn't Revolutionary for Black Men in Advertising

 

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Comments

16 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Can't stand the hairless

Can't stand the hairless prepubescent look. Playing with chest hair is fun.

Another possible reason...

I think another possible reason for the pubic hair trimming could be to make girls "going down" easier... Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Samantha is so upset because a sexual partner told her she needed to trim and/or remove her pubic hair if she wanted him to go downtown? She was so insulted because she had never complained about the amount of HIS pubic hair that might not be completely pleasant for her. I think it's possible that women have become more vocal with their partners, saying "If you're gonna complain about my needing to trim, I'm gonna let you know if you need it too." And this might fall into that vague "sex appeal" category that men noted.
Perhaps? Thoughts?

Men have to get alot closer

Men have to get alot closer to women's pubic hair to give oral sex to them. That's not a fair comparison.

not necessarily

The pressure for girls to get closer down there is steadily increasing and the chances of catching the stray hairs in your mouth are just as likely for girls as they are for guys. I think fair is fair- if it is socially acceptable or even mandatory for girls to remove down there hair, it should be the same for guys.

I agree that fair's fair.

I agree with the poster above me. I would imagine that deep throating would require a lot of closeness.

This is only true if you are

This is only true if you are focused only on the penis itself (and there is no hair on the shaft, which often results from a circumcision that is too tight- don't circumcise babies!)... many men enjoy more sex play than that- including anywhere from balls to ass- and that requiring an up close and personal relationship with whatever hair is there! I'm almost surprised that someone honestly suggested that a blow job includes only the head and shaft...

Even that is a bit

Even that is a bit conservative. Just because hair isn't growing in a spot doesn't mean there will never be hair there. You can often find shed hair still clinging to the shaft or head which will end up in your mouth even if you're giving the most unimaginative blow job ever.

Personally, I enjoy both

Personally, I enjoy both women and men and, personally, I enjoy performing oral sex a great deal more if the groin area is trimmed and I don't have to worry about choking on stray hairs. I am not all that into the bare look, although if that's my partner's preference that's fine, and I don't mind the au naturale look either, but yes, I am less enthusiastic about going down. I feel sexier when I trim because I feel more confident asking for oral pleasure, and I love a trimmed partner because it attracts the eye to that region and denotes they've been thinking about sex and receiving sexual attention. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. My male life-partner trims and has since before we became intimate and he's the first male partner I've ever had that does this on a regular basis - and I love it. It's sexy and yes, I feel more confident performing oral sex on him knowing I'm much less likely to suddenly be coughing because is hair in my throat, which makes it more fun for everyone. That said, I know the overall trend for hairlessness in men is bigger than pubic trimming and denotes more social pressure about appearance and that's not a good thing, but trimming might just be about it being more fun in bed. Removing chest hair, etc, though, that's something else. And like an above commentator, I love chest hair and miss representations of attractive men with hair being in all forms of media.

The Groomed Man is a Manly Man

I don't understand it, but I think a lot of hair removal has to do with the actual "doing" part---it says, hey, look, I put time and money into my appearance! Therefore, I am sexier than the other dude who did nothing!

Redundant much?

I'm sorry, but I feel like I've read about this is a million different places and it got old about ten years ago. I can't speak to what men did in bodily grooming before the 2000's as I wasn't sexually active during that time, but I'm kind of confused as to why trimming, of all things, merits intense academic study. Frankly, I don't think most guys give it much thought, so I don't see why sociologists should. I'm certain what it boils down to isn't societal expectations, but the intense desire they have to have their balls tongued. Raunchy, but true. In like manner, I don't trim because I care what it looks like, but because hair covers the skin, making oral sex less enjoyable. Remove the hair and you improve your sex life. It's that easy. The aesthetics of the situation don't really bother me, as I've never really seen genitals as particularly beautiful in the first place. It's more like an elbow-- it looks fine hairy and it looks fine clean. Any time spent wondering why it's hairless or hirsute would be better spent exploring the sensory improvements hair removal provides.

Hi Anonymous, Clearly you're

Hi Anonymous,

Clearly you're a fan of shaving and you have your reasons, that's fine. However, that doesn't make shaving unworthy of study or discussion. Rituals like shaving are often indicative of larger social trends (e.g., men feeling more pressure to conform to a beauty ideal) and therefore more than worth investigating. It's one thing to practice whatever grooming rituals you feel like, but it's another to dismiss an entire subject based on that logic. Just because you don't see the point doesn't mean there isn't one.

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Why no context?

I'm primarily annoyed by how single-minded the focus is. Male beauty standards may exist (though a brief survey of my male friends indicated that those who trim only do so to improve their sex lives in the manner described previously), but they didn't suddenly give rise to a brave new world of bald genitals. If you're going to devote time to studying hair removal, the least you can do is admit that it isn't by any means a new or culturally-specific phenomenon. Muhammad mandated hair removal centuries ago as a hygienic precaution-- societal pressure, yes, but also practical in regions that suffer periodic drought, as hair is requires more water to cleanse than skin and therefore retains more body odor. Egyptians shaved or waxed their heads and pubic regions to control body odor and to avoid head and pubic lice. Buddhist nuns shaved their pubic and armpit hair for hygienic purposes. I don't know this because I've extensively studied hair removal, but because this subject inevitably came up in every History course I've ever taken because apparently it's just that interesting. Even if you assume this study targets only "Western" society, given how culturally and genetically diverse that society is, I just don't see how a statement claiming pubic hair removal is "a relatively new grooming habit" can be considered accurate.

mmmm

My husband is a hairy, hairy man and is a sexy, sexy beast!

The only part of his body he shaves (in this instance, me) is his back because he thinks it's gross. But everything else, hello!!!

But seriously, when I went to Thunder From Down Under (yes, I know, my friends dragged me to it) all of the men were completely hairless, sans the hair on their heads. And I was grossed out and could only think of how much waxing they all must go through. And i'm talking EVERYWHERE.

Let me say though, I think that grooming is natural, in the vein of trimming and making sure things aren't unruly. We cut the hair on our heads, so why not trim the hair on our bodies?

The non-sensual world

I think men going hairless is just another sign of our youth-obsessed society, and how women's beauty ideals are transferred to men, and perhaps is a result of the pornification of our culture. It's sad that men don't feel they're handsome in their natural, often hairy state. My boyfriend shaves his groin area, he says it's because it's cleaner, and less smelly and sweaty. I trim my pubic hair but he doesn't ask me to shave/wax, so I'm not going to tell him to let his grow. But I love the hair on his chest, legs and arms, even the silky hair in his armpits. I think body hair is very sensual, and I'm glad he left some hair, at least. Although our culture is sex-obsessed, the sex is sanitized, cold and calculating, used to sell us things we really don't need. Our culture is very anti-erotic. If our world was more sensual and erotic, I think there would be much less obsession with body hair removal, for both men and women.

A little bit of hair is nice!

I vote for a little bit of hair, not completely hairless. Especially around the junk area. When there is no hair there it give me the creeps because 12 year old boys don't have hair there, men should. Trimmed is nice, but not totally bare!

Trimmer not Razor

In my experience girls tends to enjoy it trimmed short, but not completely bald (shaved with a razor). It gets super prickly if you've shaved bald, which isn't nice on a girls private parts, or her mouth :)

I started off using a razor, then progressed to hair clippers, but after many painful cuts, nicks, and in-grown hairs I started looking for alternatives. I bought the body trimmer recommended on http://extra-optical-inch.com/. It's a Phillips brand and is water proof, so you can use it in the shower!

Couldn't be happier, everybody that I've recommend it to has loved it as well.