Ever since I started writing this blog’s monthly STD Awareness column, I’ve kept my eye out for news related to sexually transmitted diseases. And, while some might find my enthusiasm for STD-related items to be slightly odd, I have been intrigued by what has been splashed across headlines so far this year.
First, in January, the claim surfaced that pubic lice (colloquially known as crabs) are being driven to extinction as their natural habitat is felled by razors and waxes. Then, just last month, a little-known STD called molluscum contagiosum got its 15 minutes when it was associated with the increased popularity of hairless pubic regions.
Some say hair removal is causing a decline of pubic lice; others say it increases virus risk. So what’s the deal?
These headlines might raise some questions: Does waxing or shaving my pubic area decrease my risk of crabs, but increase my risk of molluscum contagiosum? Should I shave or not? The answers to these questions aren’t quite as simple as the headlines make them out to be. Let’s take them one by one.
Does Waxing Prevent Pubic Lice Infestations?
The claim: As reported in the media, pubic lice are disappearing, and the Brazilian wax is the culprit. Articles cite statistics that pubic-hair removal is more popular among young people, and then jump to the conclusion that this trendy hairlessness is spurring a decrease in pubic-lice prevalence.
What the science says: The problem with this claim is that it isn’t backed by solid scientific data — it’s supported by anecdotes from doctors who have noticed a decline in pubic lice among their patients. As the saying goes, though, the plural of anecdote is not data: Without well-designed population studies spanning many years, we can’t actually know if there are fewer pubic lice today than there were before our groins were subjected en masse to depilation techniques. Furthermore, as that other saying goes, correlation does not equal causation: Even if there were a correlation between the Brazilian’s popularity and a decline in public lice, we would need more specialized data to determine if pubic-hair removal actually caused the lowly louse’s depopulation. Continue reading