Doctor visit delayed by shaved pubic hair

Originally Published: February 19, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 2, 2014
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Hi Alice,

I recently shaved the lower part of my pubic hair. I am a female. My husband and I both like the results, but I am a bit self-conscious about going to the doctor for a pap smear. Do you have any info on the prevalence of this practice and the response to it by doctors?

Please let me know. I have delayed scheduling a much needed pap smear for fear of embarrassment.

Thanks, Curious

Dear Curious,

Having a relative stranger or anyone who's not an intimate sexual partner examine private parts of your body may be uncomfortable and embarrassing, especially when you think those private parts don't fit the norm. In your case, though, it may be more beneficial to put mind over matter. If it makes a difference, most health care professionals have seen body treatments a lot more "radical" than your shave. Why, some need look no further than their own mirror (crazy tattoo, perhaps?). Though it may be believed that having no pubic hair is common, a recent study suggests that there isn't one pubic hair "style" that is most common or "normal" among all women. Age, however, does seem to be a factor in prevalence. In the study, more than half of the women ages 18-24 reported going bare at least once in the past month. Older women were less likely to remove all of their pubic hair, which might suggest that it's a relatively new practice. Regardless of the amount of hair you have "down there", it's no reason to forego visits to your health care provider.

Health care providers go through rigorous training throughout their schooling and career, which gives them a firsthand introduction to just about every kind of disease and bodily function. Not only that, it's likely that they've treated thousands of patients during their career which means that they've certainly seen their share of unique body art, adornments, "enhancements," etc., including shaved pubic hair. Regardless of the unique characteristics of their patients' conditions or physical features, health care providers are bound by law and their medical code of ethics to care for you, respect you, and keep your personal information confidential.

However, if you feel uncomfortable with your health care provider or feel as though they are judging you, there is nothing keeping you there. You have the right to find a provider that allows you to be open and honest and, more than anything, someone who makes you feel comfortable. Consider calling their office and speaking with a nurse or physician assistant about your concerns before your appointment. This may allow you a sense of anonymity to ask your questions and prepare yourself for your in-person visit. Then at your appointment, bring up your embarrassment with your health care provider. Being up front may give her/him the opportunity to reassure you and talk about ways the two of you might work together to make the appointment a more positive experience.

Alternatives are good to keep in mind and if embarrassment-driven delays were to result in failed detection and/or treatment of an annoying or serious health problem, most people, if given a second chance, would probably break through those thick walls of self-consciousness in the name of prevention.  Though sharing your little secret with your provider may feel uncomfortable, just remember that s/he is there to help you, and not judge you. If you feel that s/he is not holding up her/his end of this deal, find another health care provider that will. Columbia students can do this by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or at the Student Health Service (CUMC). In the Related Q&As below, there are also some tips to overcoming embarrassment and making the most out of a provider visit.

Health care providers are people, too, so they likely have their own secrets and insecurities about their body. Embracing and overcoming your own, whatever they may be, may ultimately improve your confidence and your health.

Alice