The Society of Women Artists’ 153rd Annual Exhibition recently removed Leena McCall's Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing after receiving a number of complaints “regarding the depiction of the subject.” Hmmm, what might that mean? As this photo reveals, the Society of Women Artists seems to have a problem with exposed pubic hair (ironically enough). Meanwhile, a recent review of scientific studies appearing in JAMA Dermatology suggests Ms. Ruby May, a Berlin-based sexological body-worker (her words), might actually be setting an excellent example for women… at least from a public health standpoint. “Pubic hair grooming is becoming an increasingly common practice among women of all societies and demographic groups,” the authors note in their published research. “While it has been shown that pubic hair waxing directly correlates with increased sexual prevalence, more studies are necessary to further elucidate the risk of STI transmission after waxing.”

Art vs. Life

In an ongoing series of paintings, McCall explores how women choose to express their own erotic identity. “The fact that the gallery has deemed [my] work inappropriate and seen it necessary to have it removed from public display underlines the precise issue I am trying to address: how women choose to express their sexual identity beyond the male gaze,” McCall wrote on her website. She also told The Guardian that Ruby May herself had wanted “to own the pubic hair that is so often waxed, covered or air-brushed away in contemporary depictions of the female body.” This attitude is the opposite of many women in the U.S., where "women are more likely to groom for reasons that are sexually driven and are more likely to stop grooming when lacking a current sexual partner,” the authors of the dermatology study write. For most women, then, waxing away their pubic hair is an expression of their interest in sex. Yet, when the practice causes “microtrauma” to delicate skin, doesn't this deal a major blow to sexiness?

Folliculitis — infection of hair follicles — is one common complication of waxing and may accompany an infection with some rather fancy-sounding, if nasty, bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Potential sources of these infections include waxing tool contamination or colonization from the person performing the procedure. (Run!) Pubic waxing may also cause burns, according to the authors of the study, though these are mostly superficial. Most cases of severe burns are usually the result of self-waxing kits. Whether slight or severe, a burn is hardly a sex incentive.

And there’s even worse news: Waxing may cause deficits in the mucocutaneous barrier — the zone where mucosa transitions to skin — potentially increasing the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections. Although this previously reported relationship between waxing and infections still needs study, the authors believe women and men who wax should be warned of the possible link to STIs and they also would be wise to consider abstaining for a period of time after waxing. Natural, as Ms. Ruby May believes, may truly be the most sexy appearance even if the Society of Women Artists doubts, and shuns, her.

Source: Schmidtberger L, Ladizinski B, Ramirez-Fort MK. Wax On, Wax Off: Pubic Hair Grooming and Potential Complications. JAMA Dermatology. 2014.