Monday, October 15, 2007

The Fire Down Below

I love nursing school. You get to have some of the best conversations on topics that are completely taboo other places.

The topic last week was cancer. The instructor was talking about how chemotherapy works on rapidly-dividing cells including cells that line the GI tract, skin cells and hair follicles. Because of that, as most people are aware, a person who gets chemotherapy loses her hair. What most people don't know is that patients lose ALL their hair including eyebrows, eyelashes and pubic hair. Nobody blinked. We're used to hearing information about woo-woos and wee-wees by now. We've seen lots of naked people and had our hands in poop too many times to count.

The kicker was what she said next. She told of a woman who lost her pubic hair and then had trouble controlling the direction of her urine. She said that every time she peed she got it all over the toilet seat now that she didn't have her pubic hair there to direct it to the right place. I saw many female heads turn to each other and mouth "what the........"

During break I talked to some of the women whom I saw squirming when they heard the pubic hair story. What I found was that a very large number of women in my class have a grooming practice that was unheard of when I was in my 20s. Many young woman shave their pubic hair. Not only do they shave but they can direct their urine to the toilet just fine.

I'm not talking about the sideburn-variety bikini wax that was common in my younger years. They shave further and more completely than anything I'd heard of before. Until recently I thought shaving pubic hair meant shaving it all. No, I'm talking about what is known as a Brazilian. Shaving the whole thing to make you look 6 years old again is called a Sphinx, and from what I've been told is fairly uncommon outside the porn industry.

The knot of people gathered around the vending machine got other people curious to find out what all the fuss was, and I was able to do a rather scientific poll of the women, and men, about their attitudes toward shaving pubic hair. Of course, the men were enthusiastic fans of the practice. What I found was that the line between women who shave and women who don't is somewhere in women in their 40s. Everyone I polled said that there was no way their mothers would consider doing such a thing. I didn't get to ask any women in their 40s if they shave their pubic hair because, once they heard what we were talking about they scampered back into the class and said nothing. I won't talk about my shaving practices because I'm sure anyone who knows me doesn't care to know me that well. I will say that my daughter told me of this nifty electric shaver about the size of an electric toothbrush that saves me tons of money on getting waxed.

So why the difference? There is definitely a shift in opinion from one generation to the next, but why? Is it possible that the 40-somethings shave but don't talk about it, or they just don't shave and also don't want to talk about it? Could it be that swimwear has changed enough to make it necessary to shave more? Is it because the Internet has made pornography more accessible and women or imitating porn stars?

When I was a child we were given "the talk" in fifth grade about babies and feminine hygiene, but the message was loud and clear; it's dirty and nasty and you don't talk about it. You ignored your genitals and pretended you didn't have any. I grew up in the so-called "sexual revolution" but that just meant that your body was even more available to be exploited by men. There was Playboy and Penthouse, but that sent the message that your genitals are for the enjoyment of men, and not yours to touch or take care of. In other words, the sexual revolution was for men. Women were still expected to keep those genitals locked away in a secret place until marriage. Until then you pretended you didn't have any and you only spoke about it in euphemisms . After all, we had Barbie as our example. Everyone who has a Barbie has taken off her clothes, examined her stem to stern, and found a smooth, plastic mound where the genitals ought to be. Yep. If we are to be like Barbie we must imagine our genitals into non-existence.

Nowadays women are much more comfortable with their bodies. They are comfortable with the fact that they have genitals, and they don't exist just for the pleasure of men, but are a part of their bodies like noses, hands and feet. Shaving their pubic hair is just another part of their regular grooming, as normal to them as washing their hair and cutting their toenails. To me, the fact that they are paying attention to their pubic hair says that they value their bodies, their WHOLE bodies, enough to pay attention and take care of them.

I even found this discussion among some nurses when a patient asked a nurse to shave her pubic hair, and the nurse was just sure the woman was trying something sexual on her. I'll save the discussion about how lesbians are not men for another day. It's not all that uncommon for men to ask for certain hygiene assistance because it turns them on, but it's rare for a woman to do this, especially from another woman, and let me put a finer point on it by saying why would you even think this when both women in question are straight?

I mean, really. Who among us would ask another woman to do something sexual to us when we are lying on our backs, not having bathed for a few days, feeling stubbly and grungy, people are constantly walking in and out so there is no privacy, you are likely in a lot of pain and scared to death of losing some body parts? That is probably the least sexy scenario I could imagine. All the candlelight and soft music in the world can't cancel it out. I don't care who you are.


Anonymous said...

What's going on with shaving pubes? I think being shaved looks terrible and unnatural. I wouldn't even shave for a surgery or let anyone else shave me. If the surgean told me I needed to be shaved there I'd go to a different surgean.

Nurseknowpp said...

For a lot of peole shaving pubes is part of their normal hygiene. It's noticably cooler if you live in the south and there is less odor. As a nurse I'm very aware of my hygiene. I don't want to subject my patient to anything unpleasant as I lean over them to put on a blood pressure cuff or hook them up to dialysis.

Really? Find another surgeon? For something that'll grow back in a few days? The reality is they aren't going to ask your permission - they're just going to do it. And if it were me I'd be more concerned about my physical condition than what my pubic hair looks like. But then I see all sorts of people dying unnecessarily early deaths because they worried too much about their appearance or discomfort to go through a test or procedure that could have saved their lives. In America appearance is so important than people put their lives at risk all the time for the sake of how they look. But that's a topic for another post.

Anonymous said...

It's not that I want to keep my pubic hair because I think it's pretty. It's that I believe that a female of any occupation shouldn't be seeing or touching my private areas. If it's necessary to shave that area for surgery I insist on having a male do it.