Neuroses about feminine hygiene: The present (pubic hair removal)
A further case of the similarly unwholesome climates of the mid-century and our Millennial age is an unhealthy obsession with feminine hygiene and a compulsive set of rituals to try to relieve their anxiety, only to worsen their self-doubt and, in all likelihood, to worsen whatever minor problems they might have had. Radically altering the ecology down there is likely to wipe out the good flora and leave only the bad guys left.
There is a parallel unwholesomeness among males, who begin to feel ever greater disgust toward female sexuality, beyond basic taboo feelings and warping their minds back into a pre-adolescent reflex of "ewwww, you put your thing-y in her what-y?!?!?!" The closest case outside of developed societies is the pervasive fear and disgust of female sexuality found among tropical gardening cultures (horticulturalists), such as those found in the Amazon, New Guinea, and much of black Africa.
I've split this topic up into two posts, the next one covering the douching craze of the mid-century. This one will cover the past 20 years.
Well, I finally figured out what the whole removal of hair down there trend is all about -- the re-emergence in our society of extreme OCD thoughts and behaviors about hygiene. Us dudes have tried to figure it out for awhile, batting ideas around without simply asking the girls themselves. You can't do so in real life, but the internet has recorded plenty of frank discussion from girls who wax or shave it off.
I won't provide links because they're all over the place, though Yahoo! Answers and comment threads at various chick-only sites (e.g. Cosmopolitan) were pretty helpful. This article from the Atlantic is the best single source, including an estimate of just how common it is -- 60% of 18-24 year-old females are bare sometimes or always (higher for college students).
Whether offering a reason spontaneously or when asked directly, the hair-removers over and over use words related to hygiene and disgust. Hygienic, gross, clean, fresh, eww, disgusting, sick, icky, nasty, etc. Occasionally they mention a better feel or smell when they're sweaty after a work-out, again a hygiene theme. Sometimes they mention personal comfort. And they only rarely give reasons about oral sex or intercourse feeling better, their appearance looking prettier or sexier, or some other sex-related reason.
In sum, it is rarely out of concern for someone else, like looking prettier for the boys. All of their other style choices point the other way -- not wearing visible make-up, not adding volume or waviness to their hair, not wearing jewelry, not smiling, and so on. They are trying not to invite boys over to chat them up, which would creep them out.
An ongoing fixation about, and ritualistic maintenance of personal hygiene smells like OCD, and indeed the hair-removers often emphasize how inflexible they are. It's not like your favorite color being red, where sometimes you'll wear other colors without feeling disgusted. Rather, these girls use phrases like, "I can't stand it", "it makes me feel ill", or "Having hair down there is kind of annoying to me and I'm a huge neat freak."
For their part, the guys who chime in to these discussions tend to offer the same hygiene and disgust-based reasons. So, even to the small extent that girls are catering to male demand, that too is heavily influenced by hygiene/disgust. However, because it is on the internet, there are a lot of desperate nerds ejaculating praise about how much better it feels to hoover a waxed floor than a shag carpet. Note to dorks: shouting enthusiasm for muff-diving will not help you lose your virginity.
Pubic hair removal is a phenomenon of the past 20 years only (see here, and an academic reference in the Atlantic article). And sure enough, that's when we've seen people grow more obsessive and compulsive about hygiene, most clearly visible in the rapid adoption of hand sanitizers and antibacterial everything. Back in the '80s, it was common to walk around outside with no shoes or socks on, weather permitting, but that feels so dangerously unclean to the OCD masses of the 21st century.
Was there an earlier era of widespread OCD and an unwholesome anxiety about feminine hygiene? Well, definitely not the '70s, and not much of the '60s either -- somewhat in the earlier part, but fading out even then. As usual, we've got to go back to the mid-century to find our closest parallels. And it's even weirder than the current mania for lawn-mowing.