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Pubic hair is the hair in the frontal genital area of adolescent and adult humans, located on and around the sex organs, the crotch, and sometimes at the top of the inside of the thighs, in the pubic region around the pubis bone.
Although fine vellus hair is present in the area in childhood, pubic hair is considered to be the heavier, longer and coarser hair that develops during puberty as an effect of rising levels of androgens. Pubic hair is therefore part of the androgenic hair (or body hair) and is a secondary sex characteristic.
Hair does not in itself have any intrinsic sexual value other than the attributes given to it by individuals in a cultural context. Some cultures are ambivalent in relation to particular body hair, with some being regarded as attractive while others being regarded as unaesthetic. Many cultures regard pubic hair to be erotic. In most cultures, both men and women are expected to cover their pubic hair at all times, but sometimes this is because it is associated with genitalia.
The development of pubic hair can be assessed using the Tanner scale. Before the onset of puberty, the genital area of both boys and girls has very fine vellus hair, referred to as Tanner stage 1 hair. As puberty begins, the body produces rising levels of the sex hormones known as androgens, and in response the skin of the genital area begins to produce thicker and rougher, often curlier, hair with a faster growth rate. The onset of pubic hair development is termed pubarche. The change for each hair follicle is relatively abrupt, but the extent of skin which grows androgenic hair gradually increases over several years.
In males, the first pubic hair appears as a few sparse hairs that are usually thin on the scrotum or at the upper base of the penis (stage 2). Within a year, hairs around the base of the penis are numerous (stage 3). Within 3 to 4 years, hair fills the pubic area (stage 4) and becomes much thicker and darker, and by 5 years extends to the near thighs and upwards on the abdomen toward the umbilicus (stage 5).
Other areas of the skin are similarly, though slightly less, sensitive to androgens and androgenic hair typically appears somewhat later. In rough sequence of sensitivity to androgens and appearance of androgenic hair, are the armpits (axillae), perianal area, upper lip, preauricular areas (sideburns), periareolar areas (nipples), middle of the chest, neck under the chin, remainder of chest and beard area, limbs and shoulders, back, and buttocks.
Although generally considered part of the process of puberty, pubarche is distinct and independent of the process of maturation of the gonads that leads to sexual maturation and fertility. Pubic hair can develop from adrenal androgens alone, and can develop even when the ovaries or testes are defective and nonfunctional. See puberty for details.
There is little if any difference in the capacity of male and female bodies to grow hair in response to androgens. The obvious sex-dimorphic difference in hair distribution in men and women is primarily a result of differences in the levels of androgen reached as maturity occurs.
Pubic hair and axillary (armpit) hair can vary in color considerably from the hair of the scalp. In most people it is darker, although it can also be lighter. In most cases it is most similar in color to the eyebrows of the individual.
Natural female pubic hair varies considerably around the world, ranging from short to long, from sparse to dense, and from straight and soft to wiry and curly. In colour, pubic hair does not always match head hair. Many dark-haired women have lighter pubic hair often with a red tinge. Most women have wavy and curly pubic hair, even when their head hair is straight. In the Far East, however, straight black head hair is matched by pubic hair that has been described as 'black, short, straight and not thick but rather sparse...' Hair texture varies from tightly curled to entirely straight. Such variations also appear in men.
Pubic hair patterns can vary by race and ethnicity. Patterns of pubic hair, known as the escutcheon, vary between sexes. On most women, the pubic patch is triangular and lies over the mons pubis. On many men, the pubic patch tapers upwards to a line of hair pointing towards the navel (see abdominal hair), roughly a more upward-pointing triangle. As with axillary (armpit) hair, pubic hair is associated with a concentration of sebaceous glands in the area.
In ancient Egyptian art, female pubic hair is indicated in the form of painted triangles. In medieval and classical European art, pubic hair was very rarely depicted, and male pubic hair was often, but not always, omitted. Sometimes it was portrayed in stylized form, as was the case with Greek graphic art. The same was true in much Indian art, and in other Eastern portrayals of the nude. In 16th-century southern Europe, Michelangelo showed the male David with stylized pubic hair, but female bodies were depicted hairless below the head. Nevertheless, Michelangelo's male nudes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling display no pubic hair. In Renaissance northern Europe, pubic hair was more likely to be portrayed than in the south, more usually male, while occasionally on female figures.
According to John Ruskin's biographer Mary Lutyens, the notable author, artist, and art critic was apparently accustomed only to the hairless nudes portrayed unrealistically in art, never having seen a naked woman before his wedding night. He was allegedly so shocked by his discovery of his wife Effie's pubic hair that he rejected her, and the marriage was later legally annulled. He is supposed to have thought his wife was freakish and deformed. Later writers have often followed Lutyens and repeated this version of events. For example, Gene Weingarten in his book I'm with Stupid (2004) writes that "Ruskin had [the marriage] annulled because he was horrified to behold upon his bride a thatch of hair, rough and wild, similar to a man's. He thought her a monster." However, there is no proof for this, and some disagree. Peter Fuller in his book Theoria: Art and the Absence of Grace writes, "It has been said that he was frightened on the wedding night by the sight of his wife's pubic hair; more probably, he was perturbed by her menstrual blood." Ruskin's biographers Tim Hilton and John Batchelor also believe that menstruation is the more likely explanation.
Francisco Goya's The Nude Maja (1797) has been considered as probably the first European painting to show a female subject's pubic hair, though paintings had hinted at it. The painting was considered quite pornographic at the time. Gustave Courbet's L'Origine du monde (The Origin of the World, 1866) was considered scandalous probably more because of the presentation of thick pubic hair than the exposed female genitals. Examples of male pubic hair in contemporary art are harder to find.
In the late 18th century female pubic hair is openly portrayed in Japanese shunga (erotica), especially in the ukiyo-e tradition. Hokusai's picture The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (1814), which depicts a woman having an erotic fantasy, is a well-known example. Fine art paintings and sculpture created before the 20th century in the Western tradition usually depicted women without pubic hair or a visible vulva. In Japanese drawings, such as hentai, pubic hair is often omitted, since for a long time the display of pubic hair was not legal. The interpretation of the law has since changed.
A preference for hairless crotch in oneself or in another is known as acomoclitism. According to the Oxford Companion to the Body, in the 1450s women would shave their pubic hair for personal hygiene and to combat pubic lice and would then don a merkin or pubic wig. In Middle Eastern societies, removal of female body hair has been considered proper hygiene, necessitated by local customs, for many centuries. In Islamic societies removing pubic hair is a religiously endorsed practice known as an act of Sunan al-Fitra. Evidence of pubic hair removal in ancient India dates back to 4000 to 3000 BC. According to ethnologist F. Fawcett, writing in 1901, he had observed the removal of body hair, including pubic hair about the vulva, as a custom of women from the Hindu Nair caste.
Among the upper class in 19th-century Victorian Britain, pubic hair from one's lover was frequently collected as a souvenir. The curls were, for instance, worn like cockades in men's hats as potency talismans, or exchanged among lovers as tokens of affection. The museum of St. Andrews University in Scotland has in its collection a snuffbox full of pubic hair of one of King George IV's mistresses, possibly Elizabeth Conyngham, which the notoriously licentious monarch donated to the Fife sex club, The Beggar's Benison.
In Western societies, exposure of a woman's body hair below her neck has traditionally and continues to be widely disapproved of culturally. Many people consider exposure of pubic hair to be embarrassing. It may be regarded as immodest and sometimes as obscene. With the reduction in the size of swimsuits, especially since the coming into fashion and growth in popularity of the bikini since the 1940s, the practice of bikini waxing has also come into vogue. However, some people also remove pubic hair that is not exposed, for aesthetic, personal hygiene, cultural, religious, fashion, or other reasons.
In more recent times, models and actors who appeared nude on stage, film, or photography used to shield their frontal genital area by the angle of their body or leg in relation to the camera, or in some other way; but now it is more common for female adult entertainers who appear nude, such as strippers and pornographic actresses, to remove their pubic hair. The presentation is regarded by some as being erotic and aesthetic, while others consider the style as unnatural. Some people remove pubic hairs for erotic and sexual reasons or because they or their sex partner enjoy the feel of a hairless crotch.
In some Asian countries, for example in Japan, the intimate hair removal is not very widespread fashion: it is quite common that women leave their pubic hair untrimmed.
Trimming or completely removing pubic hair has become a custom in some cultures, and is widely referred to as bikini waxing. The method of removing hair is called depilation (when removing only the hair above the skin) or epilation (when removing the entire hair). Beauty salons often offer various waxing services. It is sometimes referred to as "pubic topiary".
It is unusual for pubic hair to be dyed or painted, except incidentally to bodypainting. Concerns have been raised about the safety of using regular hair dye for this purpose, but dyes have been formulated for use on pubic hair. This is sometimes done to enable someone to match their pubic hair to the (dyed) hair on their head, or in whimsical colours.
Some people modify their pubic hair as an expression of their style or lifestyle.
Some styles include:
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