Monday, December 9, 2013

Bush & Porn

This may be offensive for some-- it is meant to be thought provoking & I'm still working on my technique.


A few years ago I was sitting in a Starbucks in Japan with fellow Americans when the conversation turned to pubic hair. Stop here if the words pubic hair bother you. 


The American women were offended by the presence of pubic hair on a women's body. To cover my shock, I coughed into my latte. I wondered, What exactly is the American norm? 

In Japan there is an entire bathing culture built around taking an onsen bath. The sexes are divided. Women with bodies at various stages of development and aging, ranging from young children to the kyphotic elderly, bathe together at the onsen. With little more than a hand towel you enter into the washing area and sit on a small stool facing a spigot or hand shower to wash both your body and then leaning forward (not backward as in a shower) you wash your hair. There is a fair amount of scrubbing and washing before a final rinse with the bucket. Hair is tied up and out of the way. Some wear the small hand towel on their head though most drape it in front of the body as a nod toward modesty. The hot water beckons as you make your way toward a pool with clouds of steam floating over it. Somehow the onsen wears you out and restores you at the same time. A cold splash of water or a dose of fresh air chills the body so it can return to the heat again and again. Like a fire in a dark cave, it is an elemental activity. 

North American culture offers little by way of experience with nudity beyond the movies or perhaps at the gym which with shower curtains and dressing stalls, it is more about avoiding nudity. I love the way of modesty and ease in the Japanese onsen. I had thought little, if at all, about pubic hair. Apparently, I missed the conversation where grown sexually mature women were not supposed to have pubic hair because the American ladies were talking about the bushes the Japanese women sported, meanwhile, most Japanese women have less body hair from their eye lashes to their legs than Caucasian women. While my fellow Americans commented on various hair removal options, I made a mental note to never go to the onsen with the coffee klatch.

At a recent holiday party, I found myself in conversation with a gentleman who studies media and pornography. He pointed out that the porn industry has shifted into more mainstream culture since the sixties and that there is a gentrifying within the industry itself-- films are less shocking. When I asked about the pubic shaving trend, he noted that the porn industry needs shaved genitals-- without pubic hair the penis appears larger and the vagina can be better visualized. As these industry requirements have found their way into mainstream, its acceptance has been especially popular with those under thirty. 

My conflict is not with the individual's choice to practice pubic hair or no pubic hair removal, but that women are adapting to norms for the porn industry and then judging others without so much as a discussion or concession to the meaning behind the practice. 

Consider that female nudity is defined by an infantilizing sex industry and then women use scorn and disapproval to legitimize it. Does it matter that the practice of removing pubic hair came from the porn industry? While we're busy fiddling, I fear Rome burns. 

A newer trend-- the surgical removal of dangling labia minora looms. Dangling is relative to the beholder, but it should be noted that without pubic hair there is certainly less cushioning to protect any protrusion. Also dangling is within the realm of normal except in the porn industry. My brain skipped straight to the idea of female circumcision (not the same thing) and to the concern that young women are choosing to alter their sex organs and thus the actual experience of sex for an image.

Why would anyone want mature sex organs to mimic a child's? What conversation aren't we having? Should the porn industry be the standard barer of nudity? Is personal practice above reproach in lift of the willingness to condemn others who choose not to follow trends?

Once a practice takes root, it takes on its own path. However, sometimes we find ourselves on a journey we never meant to start that drains us of energy for the one on which we really want to be. Pubic shaving versus bush takes on cultural connotations from the experiences around the practice. If we shave and condemn, do we enhance our own sexual experiences or do we put ourselves falsely above others as we adopt standards from an industry which objectifies women?