August 8, 2010

Millennials less sexual due to shorn body hair?

The sexual counter-revolution of the early 1990s was not a result of the Baby Boomers reaching their 40s, as even hormone-crazed high schoolers steadily dialed down their libidos (check the Youth Risk Behavior Survey). This was just one piece of a very broad decline in wild behavior. Still, I wonder if other recent trends haven't made the boys-and-girls situation even worse for them.

For instance, too many young people today trim, shave, or wax too much of their body hair, both guys and girls. This is especially true for down-there hair, but you also see even young guys with shaved armpits. We have a gut reaction of "that just ain't right," and because these reflexes are the product of natural selection, we should at least take them seriously rather than toss them aside as mere superstition.

How might this lack of body hair further deflate the already flaccid sex culture of the past 20 years, as compared to the 30 years before that?

Imagine you're a boy or girl coming of age and during your first real-life view of a nude body, you don't see any bush. That has to be one of those fixed-action patterns that ethologists talked about -- like when a predator sees an image that resembles his typical prey, he reflexively lunges at it, even if he's raised in captivity and has never seen his prey for real. When you first behold the sight of a naked girl (or boy) with pubic hair, some chemical cascade must go off in your brain, switching you from still-growing-up mode to get-down-to-business mode. Lacking exposure to that powerful visual, you don't get quite so out-of-control.

Aside from real-life girls, what about real-enough girls that most boys will see first, in some pornographic context? Just compare a typical Playboy Playmate from 2008 to only 20 years before in 1988. There's a primal response to the sight of bush that makes the 2008 girl look de-sexualized, like Rapunzel after the witch cut off her flowing braids. That first big reveal is supposed to provoke your teenage curiosity and create a sense of mystery about the other sex -- I wonder what it looks like! If what you see is not at all different from when you played "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" way back in pre-school, you can't help but feel that the other sex isn't quite as fascinating as you'd hoped they would be.

And don't forget the role of scent. Hair holds in whatever is going on down there -- sweat, pheromones, etc., all of which play a role in human signaling. For example, a famous psych experiment showed that other people can tell when a girl is ovulating because they rate the scent of her underwear as more pleasant when it came from that phase than from the non-ovulating phases of her cycle. (This study was done in the '70s -- surprised?) Several recent studies show that we prefer the body scent of people who have different variants of genes than we do at a spot in the genome called the MHC, which is involved in immunity. The more diverse we are at that location, the less likely it is that pathogens will have already seen our combination before, so they won't have an immediate lock on our position to exploit us. Thus, preferring a mate with a different profile from ours helps to make our offspring more robust against infectious disease.

But just how are we supposed to tell that some girl is ovulating, or that someone would make a great match for us at the MHC locus, if we can't get a good feel for their body scent? Lack of hair to trap the scent in must really mess up the lines of communication between the sexes.

Zooming out, the lack of hair and therefore of scent drastically changes the larger environment we live in. It's not just the scent of this partner or that one that throws the "time to grow up" switch on in our brain -- it's also what we perceive about the community we live in. Does it smell like people are very sexually active? Well, maybe it's time to grow up and get to it ourselves. If it doesn't, then maybe it wouldn't hurt to put it off for awhile longer until it becomes more urgent. Via Ray Sawhill's blog, here's a look back on New York in the 1970s. Excerpt:

What do I remember most? The smell; pretzels, piss, sweat and sex. Yes, in 1978 New York actually smelled like sex. At the time I didn’t have a name for the smell, but I recognized it, was excited by it, was intoxicated by it.
30 years later New York is changed. The smell of piss is occasional, rather than pervasive. The smell of sex is gone. I don’t find myself in the neighborhoods where the pretzel wagons ply their trade that often. The city is safe.

And it’s a little boring.

Young people growing up today can just smell that their world isn't very wild; they don't need to conduct a random survey of their society. What little activity is going on no one will know about because the overall level of body scent in an area has been dampened by the decline in body hair. It's almost as though people were trying to cover up their tracks or keep others from knowing what they're up to. Where there's no smoke, there can't be fire.

Bottom line: pubic hair is a secondary sex characteristic, i.e. one that develops only during puberty, so messing around with it would be like playing around with other such traits. A girl wouldn't want to lose her hips and look like a little boy again, would she? A guy wouldn't want to lose his jawline and look like a little girl again, would he? I think the same must apply to underarm hair as well, although I realize we're past the cultural point of no return for girls shaving under their arms. Sure, it looks better visually, although the look would not change much if girls merely trimmed it down to an inch or two, plus you wonder what we've done to the richer set of experiences we're supposed to have.

Other body hair is more of a mixed bag since it's not as universal -- while everyone gets hair around their stuff and under their arms, hair elsewhere can vary a lot from one person to another, suggesting that it's not so crucial for survival and reproduction as is universal hair (including head hair). Messing with that doesn't seem like it would matter much, but keeping your pubic and underarm hair as close to natural as possible seems to be the best plan.


  1. I wish all women had pubic hair, and I see women without any as pretty much indistinguishable from pre-adolescent little girls from the waist down, and yeah, I like the smells, and feel, of pubic hair. But somehow, the younger guys generally prefer the shaven look, finding it a turn-on, whilst finding pubic hair a turn off. So I'm not sure it is having an lowered-libido impact on the younger generation, since they seem to like it.

  2. Speaking only partly in jest, one reason I'm not tempted to commit adultery is the understanding that once I got some young hottie naked, she'd have a bald pussy, which would kill much of my excitement at seeing a new girl naked.

    I've noticed, by the way, that the word "pussy," once the most common slang word for a woman's sex organ, is no longer used. Saying "pussy" marks you as over-35. Younger guys call it "vagina" or "vaj." No doubt a reflection that it's really just a vagina now: a hole past the bland labia, and not a furry little thing of mystery.

  3. "Thus, preferring a mate with a different profile from ours helps to make our offspring more robust against infectious disease."

    I keep seeing this MHC thing everywhere and I don't understand why there wasn't a big inter-racial free-for-all with the advent of modern travel if this is true. Or is it drowned out by other factors?

  4. I'd say more, but I have to run to the pharmacy for more antidepressants :(

  5. As a member of the millennial generation, I hate pubic hair on women.

    It's long, it's greasy, it smells, it gets in the teeth, and it just gets in the way! Yuck! Get rid of it. Hack it all off, and keep it off. Shave it, wax it, nair it, laser it, blow-torch it, or microwave it, I don't care how, just get rid of it.

    If it were up to me, all women would have all of their hair except for the hair on their heads, eyebrows and eyelashes permanently removed with a laser.

    I am not a wild animal, I am a civilized human being, who is groomed accordingly.

  6. PA: Exactly; after all, it's the hair that's trimmed with a more or less straight line at the top, and trimmed from the legs, that give it a cat's face shape. Without the hair, the labia just look like an open wound, a gash.

    Anonymous millennial twit: You're just an ignorant young punk who doesn't know any better; your attitudes are not civilized; rather, they correspond to the decline and fall stage of our civilization, which you and your ilk exemplify with your barbaric tastes and standards. For most of our history, our people have liked body hair in our womenfolk; it's you who are the outlier, historically; and you have no historical perspective to even realize that. Sad, really.

  7. it gets in the teeth


    In any case, when you're eating it out, trimmed hair at the labia are ok. The bush itself is above the twat. It also makes that awesome friction thing with the man's pubes when fucking.

  8. As a member of the millennial generation, I hate pubic hair on women.
    It's long, it's greasy, it smells, it gets in the teeth, and it just gets in the way! Yuck! Get rid of it. Hack it all off, and keep it off. Shave it, wax it, nair it, laser it, blow-torch it, or microwave it, I don't care how, just get rid of it.

    I've got a terrific suggestion for you: hang around a nursery school playground with a bag of candy. Plenty of hairless females for you.

  9. At some point in our evolutionary history, men began losing the hair on their back....and we women are forever grateful!!!! Egads, it's damn awful to see a bear passing for a man.

    I'm of the generation that finds that today's young men are pussified, gayified. A man can be well-groomed w/out being narcissistic, but all the shaving of armpits, chest hair, leg hair, the treasure trail hair, the hair surrounding his package...all of that gone makes Jack seem as girly and gay as my hairdresser.

    Bring back the signs of masculinity while keeping that hold on back hair.

  10. Agnostic. How do you comment about studies that show traditional dating has gone out the door; and that hooking up is now the norm in colleges?

  11. I think human pheromones are more pervasive than you give them credit for. I figure chopping off some body hair would reduce pheromones at the very most.

    I think showering every single day would have a bigger impact. But pheromones ooze out of the pores again as soon as the water turns off. Once again, reduction but not elimination.

    Then again, I'm an early millennial who doesn't shave anything and don't intend to. My smell is definitely a lot stronger than the average guy's.

  12. Calvin Klein mens underwear ads of muscled hairless young male gods adorned bys stop ads and billboards and print ads throughout nyc and elsewhere, gone was the Marlborough man and the open shirt hairy chest and chains of Tom Jones. As usual the women suffrred most from this transition to smooth being the new ideal. Making women feel a need to shave their privates is sad on every level.


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