Duane Hoffmann / MSNBC
By msnbc.com contributor
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/22/2004 2:03:41 PM ET 2004-04-22T18:03:41

Press ... rip ... YEOW!

That guttural scream you hear rattling the door of a back room in your local day spa just may be coming from a man getting his pubic hair waxed. Yes, it’s true. Men are grooming, uh, down there.

And, for those of you who haven’t seen a skin magazine since you were a tyke hiding behind the Knights of Columbus lodge with a flashlight, women have been coiffing for at least 20 years. But now many women are going for the Yul Brynner look.

At first glance this trend could be taken as yet another sign that the collapse of Western civilization is nigh or that the Queer Eye guys (clear-cutting body hair has long been a staple of gay maledom) have completely addled our brains. Well, relax.

Centuries-old practice
The idea of removing pubic hair is an old one. It’s likely that ancient Egyptians shaved, perhaps to prevent or treat infestations of lice. Some European women, and probably some men, removed their pubic hair at least as early as the 1500s. In its place, they sometimes wore a “merkin,” a pubic toupee.

How the current fashion for stylin’ pubes arose is a matter of some debate. Theories include everything from anti-feminist backlash to admiration for shaved Olympic swimmers to the aforementioned influence of gay culture.

But here’s mine: The high-cut one-piece bathing suit hit big during the 1980s because it made women look a little bit like Elle MacPherson, the model with legs that stretch from here to Cincinnati. But the suits left tufts of curlies sticking out, so women had to mow down the sides. The more skin the suits showed, the more trimming. Finally, women wound up with the “landing strip,” that little line down the center that looked like Groucho’s mustache. Super-low cut jeans only added to the fashion imperative, mandating shaving from the top down. 

I think the mainstreaming of porn had something to do with it, too, because porn actors tend to shave, the better to show off the naughty bits. Men began asking their wives and girlfriends to do it because it made giving oral sex more pleasant and because it seemed wicked. Lately, in the interest of fair play, women have been telling men to denude penises and testicles and to trim back the rest.

Anyway, that’s my theory.

Serious business for some
However it all started, it has clearly become something of a hobby for aficionados. Some women are now giving themselves the equivalent of Friday night permanents. They dye it, they style it, they shave it all off. Of course, this being America, a minor industry has sprung up to sell them products and services.

Hair Care Down There -- yes, you read that right -- is a company founded one year ago this month by former corporate executive Judy Pfleger. She came up with the idea when she went to a drugstore to stock up on pubic grooming gear like shave gel, razors, scissors and skin conditioners.

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“I paid $125 for the products," she recalls, "went home and dumped them on my floor and said, ‘I don’t know how to use any of this stuff.’” So she researched. She looked at fetish magazines. She went to a strip club and grilled the dancers on their techniques.

“The girls had all these different looks,” Pfleger says, “like the landing strip, the smoothie with nothing in front, the Brazilian with everything off in front and back, hearts, the Charlie Chaplin with just a little patch above the clitoris. So I decided to create a guide on how to achieve them.” Next, she attended a hair show in Las Vegas and discovered body jewelry and stick-on rhinestones.

It all went into her “Ultimate Shaving Kit,” which retails for $59 from her Web site (www.haircaredownthere.com). She’s sold about 2,500 kits so far and has had demand from men for a men’s kit, which conjures the scary image of a hairless man with a rhinestone lightning bolt stuck to his penis.

Exactly how popular pubic grooming is among men is debatable, but it does seem to be catching on, largely because women like it. “One woman who wanted [the kit] for a man said, ‘Hell no, we are not going down there if it’s a mess!'” Pfleger says.

Not just for porn stars
Most men probably coif in the privacy of their own bathrooms with razor, soap and maybe a beard trimmer, but calls to skin care salons and day spas around the country revealed that many are now going pro. Beverly Hills skin care and waxing expert Nance Mitchell says she has about 50 regular male customers who come for pubic waxing “and they are not gay and they not porn stars,” she tells me before I have a chance to ask.

“Some go totally bare, some just do the shaft and up around the pelvic area," she says.

The style, Mitchell says, depends on what their wives and girlfriends want. Men go along, she explains, because removing the hair makes the whole package look bigger. She charges $85 and up for the service. 

“They get waxes?” I ask, incredulous that men, known sissies when it comes to any threat to their treasures, would submit to a procedure the United Nations would outlaw if it were used as torture. “And you do the waxing?”

“Yes, they get waxes,” Mitchell laughs. “It’s just like driving a sports car. You grab the [stick shift] and you go, babe!”

Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books, 2003).

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