“Extreme personal grooming” — weekly or daily removal of all pubic hair — was not linked to higher odds of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young women in a small study.
Odds of gonococcal infection or chlamydial infection were the same among extreme groomers in the past year versus those who were not (adjusted OR 0.6, 95% CI 0.3-2.0), reported Maria F. Gallo, PhD, of Ohio State University in Columbus, and colleagues.
Similarly, there was a non-significant difference in the odds of these STIs among women who were extreme groomers in the past month (adjusted OR 0.4, 95% CI 0.1-1.9), Gallo and colleagues wrote in PLOS One.
They cited a recent study that reported an association between pubic hair grooming and self-reported STIs, namely gonorrhea, chlamydia, or HIV. A statement released with the current study added that “many media reports” had warned about the connection between pubic hair removal and STIs.
The authors themselves hypothesized several reasons for this — namely, that women could be sharing grooming tools with infected individuals, or that frequent stripping away of pubic hair could cause microtraumas that facilitate pathogen entry and transmission. Or the association could stem from confounding, where women who groomed more frequently were more sexually active, thus increasing risk for STIs.
“Previous research asked participants if they’d ever had a sexually transmitted infection, but didn’t measure whether they had one at the time of survey. That makes connecting any current grooming habits to STDs difficult,” lead author Jamie Luster, MPH, formerly of Ohio State and now at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said in a statement.
Gallo and colleagues decided to put this to the test using laboratory-confirmed evidence of STIs. They examined data from female students at walk-in STI testing sites at Ohio State, who completed a questionnaire about their sexual and grooming behaviors. Urine samples were evaluated for gonococcal and chlamydial infection.
Overall, researchers enrolled 214 female students, with a mean age of a little under 21. About three-quarters of these young women were white, over 70% were single, and about 80% reported a parent or guardian income of at least $60,000. Nearly all had either vaginal, oral, or anal sex, and prevalence of gonococcal or chlamydial infection was about 10%.
Nearly all participants reported ever grooming their pubic hair, but only half were extreme groomers in the last year. A little under 40% reporting extreme grooming in the last month. About two-thirds ever had a grooming injury, with a mean of about five lifetime grooming injuries.
Importantly, the authors reported that self-reported history of chlamydial infection has been shown to have “only moderate agreement with serologically-confirmed infection,” which was the standard used in prior research instead of laboratory testing.
“Our findings do not support for the need for public health or clinical interventions to address pubic hair grooming as a risk factor for prevalent [gonococcal infection or chlamydial infection],” they wrote.
“Future studies on this topic could use a larger, more representative sample to allow for more precise estimates and wider generalizability,” the authors concluded, noting this study’s small sample size and convenience sampling.
Gallo and co-authors disclosed no relevant relationships with industry.