The first time the topic of pubic hair as public conversation graced my tender ears was in 2004 at a luncheon for people who volunteered at the local library. I was ten years old and mostly went for the rolls and chocolate cream pie. Everyone else at my table was at least 200 years old, except my mom, who was 44. There was a particularly ancient lady across me, and I remember three things about her: she was wearing some sort of leopard-print blouse, she had lipstick on her teeth, and apropos of nothing she said, “Can you believe it, apparently girls these days are shaving it all off down there!” I blushed, my mom blushed—we all blushed.

Eight years later, my friend D. told me my eyebrows were the texture of pubic hair. I blushed, she apologized, then she blushed. 

In February of my first year at Bowdoin, I got drunk (off Sunset Blush) with my best friend, O., after the Vagina Monologues. We spent the night running around Mac House during the Cold War party, encouraging our fellow Coleman lady friends to “Let it grooow!” They were horrified; we were empowered. But the empowerment faded when the hangover set in, and I blushed when I ran into my avid pro-grooming floormate brushing her teeth. 

It’s clear from my careful data gathering (a.k.a. living) that there are more options than the totally shaved look or going au natural. It’s not a binary—it’s not even a spectrum. It’s whatever you want it to be.

Last summer D. and I, friendship repaired, decided to get bikini waxes together, “cause you never know, E. said she actually liked how it felt.” After 20 minutes (or five hours, not sure which) of stinging, ripping, why-the-hell-am-I-paying-someone-to-do-this-to-me pain, it was done. Shawna, our technician, sent us away with a smile and some wisdom, “Don’t worry if you feel like a plucked chicken for a couple days, that’ll go away!” A familiar warmth creeped into my cheeks—did that woman just compare my vulva to poultry?

My no-bullshit friend N. confessed to me that she bought a beard trimmer to use on her pubic hair because she’s “not into the full bush, but [doesn’t] want a bald child-vagina either.” A month later, my friend J. described to me (in detail, while drunk) a 53-step shaving method she saw on Reddit which was guaranteed to prevent little red bumps. It had something to do with baby oil and exfoliation—I will never be meticulous enough to try it. 

Turns out real peer-reviewed data matches my sloppy life data pretty closely. The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas conducted a survey about the pubic hair grooming habits in 2011 of 1,677 women ages 16 to 40 years old. Just over 8 percent of women had never groomed their pubic hair at all.

Of the 91.4 percent of women who had at some point groomed their pubic hair, 77 percent had shaved, 23 percent had trimmed with scissors, 19 percent had used hair-removal cream, 16 percent had waxed and 2 percent had used “pubic hair dye” (not sure what that is, but it sounds fun). These numbers add up to more than 100 percent because many women had used more than one method. 

These data sets, though insightful, don’t get at the why. Why is there a hegemony for grooming? Certainly the “beauty” industry stands to profit from habitual hair removal—its existence is predicated on instilling and exploiting physical insecurities. But there are also arguments to be made for other causes, like porn or dance or sports or sex. Or maybe it’s just a question of genuine aesthetic preference. 

To complicate matters further, there are a handful of reasons to think the trend might be on the wane. In January, Emer O’Toole wrote an article published in the Guardian proclaiming 2014 “the year of the bush.” Additionally Cameron Diaz, hardly a crunchy bra-burner, said publicly that she has stopped shaving her vulva. 

So my advice is this: give a nod to the social, political and economic forces scheming to influence your decision to groom your pubic hair, then fuck ’em. Shave it, trim it, Nair it, wax it, dye it, braid it or let it grow. Embrace the human panorama of possibilities.