Sometime in the recent past it became against the law to have natural pubic hair. I don't mean some piece of legislation passed by Congress that no one would obey, but the tacit social law that people live by. Many have been curious to find out roughly when this happened. After all, the change was not trivial, like abandoning yellow shirts for blue ones. I don't mess around with my hair down there, but from what I've heard, read, and can easily imagine, it must be at least a great inconvenience -- yet another grooming chore -- and perhaps downright painful.
Since the change has been most pronounced among females, and because someone else can study changing fashions in men's habits, I restricted my study to women. Because individual women may be slow to respond to changing demand among men for more or less hair, I figured it was better to look at something that reflects mainstream tastes and behavior, and that would provide easy data. So I found an online archive of every Playboy Playmate of the Month from 1985 through 2010, subjectively graded how much hair she had on a 0 to 3 scale, and averaged the ratings for each year. For a little more detail about the method, see the footnote. *
Here is what the change looks like over time:
The years 1985 to 1991 more or less overlap each other, and they are all somewhere between 2 and 3 (or slightly shapened and natural). It's not until 1992 that there is a clearly visible downward trend. Rounding to the nearest whole number, it's not until 2001 that the average is more or less 0, i.e. completely gone or with only a minimal token amount. It has stayed at that low level ever since -- in fact, in 2009 and 2010 every single woman had a value of 0.
Focusing on individual women instead of the overall average, the first 0 appears in 1993, and the last 3 showed up in 1995. The shift is not one where everyone used to have natural hair, and then more and more women began to remove it all, although that was part of it (and now of course that is the norm). But the women who left hair at all began clipping it shorter and shorter, if not all the way down, and bringing in the edges more and more, if not all the way.
This picture shows several things. First, we can put the rest the silly idea that getting rid of more and more hair began in the porno movie industry and somehow went mainstream. Even without looking at data like this, we should wonder why people would imitate every trivial detail they saw in a dirty movie. Did the broader availability of these movies cause an epidemic of guys who pulled out before they finished? And have these theorizers ever seen a dirty movie from the 1980s? -- they tend to be natural or close enough. Once again pop sociology proves even stupider than academic sociology.
According to the internet, the first Brazilian waxing service came to America in 1994, basically the same time that the first Playmate has a value of 0. There was thus a common trend that affected everyday women, pin-up girls, and porno actresses. This is also clear if you look at the hair on their head -- all those groups of women sport similar hairstyles within a given time period. Aside from weird fetish movies, the women are chosen to look like real-life chicks, not serious deviants (in appearance anyway).
Second, we should probably view the removal of pubic hair as part of a larger trend of reducing the volume of hair on the body -- including head hair and eyebrow hair. The average girl has adopted much shorter hair, and has kept it nearly plastered to the scalp with straighteners, over the same time that she started messing with her other hair. She's also started to pluck, tweeze, and re-paint her eyebrows to an extent that would have been unbelievable before. As recently as the late '80s and very early '90s, women kept their pubic hair more or less natural, they wore their head hair longer, and they really made it stand away from the head. It's as though there's a general impulse to cover up, reduce, or eliminate signs of hair growth.
Third, the timing should make us think of how the prominence of body hair responds to whether the violence level in society is rising or falling. In this case, women began minimizing their hair as the world got safer. In contrast, during the rising-crime times of the '60s through the '80s, hair only got more prominent. As far as I can tell, it's not the state of pubic hair specifically that responds to the violence level, since there don't appear to be cycles up and down in shaving it or leaving it alone. In earlier waves of violence, the evidence isn't crystal clear but is suggestive. Since that would take us too far afield, I might return to a longer but shallower historical look later on.
Finally, what's the link? We've seen before that people become more sexual when violence levels rise, and more prudish when they fall. Then it shouldn't be surprising if people chose to sexualize their appearance more during rising-crime times, and to asexualize it in falling-crime times. Hair is one of the most strongly sexual parts of the body -- that's why married women cover it up around the world, and why in other parts even unmarried girls must cover it up to maintain their honor and reputation for chastity. So it is only fitting that they would try to minimize their hair in safer times. A flowing mane of hair and a full bush might give men the idea that she's more of a wild animal than her otherwise hairless skin had let on. That's the last thought you want to give men in safer-prudish times, although you might well choose to play it up in dangerous-wilder times.
The topic for future research (not by me) is what's been going on with guys, and when. The fact that guys now trim, shave, or "manscape" their junk is one of the clearest signals that the culture has turned completely homosexual. "But it makes my you-know-what look bigger in comparison!" Sorry, but if you're resorting to shaving your hair down there, you're going to need more help than that. The same trend of shorter hair worn closer to the scalp applies to men too, of course. We're back to the 1950s when crew-cuts were the only length allowed, and I can't remember the last time I saw a black guy with an afro in real life.
* "How much" hair, I take to mean how much volume or space it takes up. Since this volume is a base area times a height, it is affected by how much she has completely shaved or waxed (which shrinks the base area) and how tightly she has cropped the existing hair (which shortens the height). Taking all of that into account, I used a scale of 0 for bald or minimal (e.g., bald except for a token patch that was tiny in area and trimmed very close to the skin), 1 for low (e.g., a "landing strip" that was wider, longer, and that went farther up toward the belly button), 2 for medium (e.g., pulled in here and there at the sides and nearer the waist, and no trimming), and 3 for more or less natural (perhaps with the sides pulled in at the bikini line).
There are usually more than one shooting sessions per woman, so if there was any doubt, I went with what she looked like in the majority of shoots. When it was close to call, I would find another woman from that year who was also a close call, and rounded one down and one up.