Hair Removal aka ‘Manscaping’ - Better Than The Hand

Hair Removal aka ‘Manscaping’

Hair removal for men can be a sensitive subject. A man’s body hair can be a source of pride or shame, and for some men it can feel closely related to gender identity. It is also a sensitive region that does not come with an instruction manual (side note: my ikea-style instruction manual for dicks is forthcoming). Even once you get over the idea that grooming makes a man more feminine, and then you get over the idea that being more feminine is in any way a bad thing, you still have to decide what you actually prefer. It is easy to let this question affect your self esteem.

Fuck that noise!

You get to decide how you want your genital region to look and feel, and there is no wrong decision. The best advice I can give you is to learn about your options, consider safety, comfort, budget, convenience, and your own gut feeling, and choose the one that will make you feel the best about yourself. 

On the weekends I volunteer as a medic at a men’s sexual health clinic, and in that role I see a lot of skin issues on men’s genitals. Many of them are caused by various hair removal strategies (hint: mostly shaving).  In varying degrees, all methods (shaving, waxing, laser and trimming), increase the risk of viral and bacterial transmission through the micro-abrasions caused by hair removal.  If you have to order your grooming based on safety alone, it would be: 1) natural 2) trimming 3) laser 4) waxing and 5) shaving.  When choosing the right grooming method for you, it is worth taking into account which methods are most likely to keep your delicate skin healthy and free of infection.

A note about terminology: the term “manscaping” has always struck me as a desperate attempt to butch-up the whole concept of genital grooming. It’s as if we feel the need to compensate for the vulnerability of momentarily objectifying ourselves by making it extra clear we’re not getting all touchy feely or anything. We put our gender right in the word, so that it totally doesn’t make us any more feminine. Because like, grooming is for pussies. I’m basically just taking a machete to the jungle, weed whacking my junk. No homo here. I’m MANSCAPING!

While your grooming habits shouldn’t be driven by gender issues, words like “rough,” “grizzled,” or “hardcore” are not at all the direction I would go when describing my ideal experience of genital hair removal. I want to feel as comfortable with my bits and pieces as possible. It is ok with me that some of the best products for achieving this are often sold in pink bottles and are scented with essential oils or — whatever.

I’ve tried a lot of methods of hair removal. When I was young and exploring my sexuality, I was very clumsy and embarrassed about tending to my pubic hair. Unless a partner specifically asked me to do something, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of fastidious genital grooming. It felt a little feminizing to care about that sort of thing and, like most men, I made my grooming choice through inaction. I simply let my hair grow.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I started performing in porn, and I was forced to start seeing myself and my body the way the camera might see them. I wanted to look ‘good’ of course, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. I suddenly found myself thinking critically about
all the small choices I make about my body’s presentation, including grooming choices. My exploration of grooming and examination of my own inclinations has helped me appreciate my own body in ways that I didn’t know I missed.

Letting it Grow

I love my body hair. I have thick fuzz all over my chest, back, stomach, armpits, arms, and legs, and I have always happily let it grow. For most of my life, I had the same philosophy for my genital hair.

There is a lot to be said for going natural. If you keep your hair clean, this is one of more skin friendly choices. Your hair follicles avoid all irritation and abrasion that could be caused by any attempt at hair removal, and your skin gets a soft cushion to protect it from irritation from chafing or clothing seams. And of course you save money by not having to do anything.

For people who do not grow a lot of body hair this is often the best choice. Those of us who tend to grow a small jungle all over our bodies face more of a tradeoff here.

Despite appearances, this is not necessarily the laziest option for furry people. With a lot of genital hair we have to be very careful about hygiene. Hair can get smelly. That whole area tends to get sweaty. Hair traps odors and incubates bacteria and fungus. I fully support growing out your pubic hair into a righteous mane, but you should be washing that hair at least as carefully and as often as you wash the hair on your head.

If you have very hairy genitals, you may want to take a shower before sex, unless your partner is specifically into your sweat smell. Nobody gets to tell you that your body hair is disgusting (because fuck that noise), but nobody is obligated to put their mouth up on it either. When I was sporting a pubic mane, I tried to take a quick shower when getting ready for a date, to condition my pubes and make them softer and more inviting. When I found time for that wash, I noticed that my partners were a lot more enthusiastic about spending time and attention down there.

If you do choose to embrace your natural hairy glory and want to stay clean and healthy, best practice is as follows: use liquid body wash and scrub down the whole area – including under all your bits of skin wheresoever they may be – with a loofa (or similar exfoliating scrubber) at least once a day and ideally after every time you get really sweaty. Be sure to dry your pubic hair thoroughly after bathing or sweating. Fungus and bacteria love to grow in moist, hairy areas, and will happily make your sweaty crotch their home. With a lot of pubic hair, you need to be extra careful to towel off thoroughly when you get out of the shower. Take time to inspect in the skin under your hair in detail on a regular basis; it can be easy for nasty skin issues to go unnoticed underneath.

The one great advantage to a ‘natural’ look is that it is the best option if your main concern is reducing the risk of STD/STI transmission, as all hair removal practices result in some degree of micro-abrasions that act as portals for infection.

Shaving

Shaving is often the easiest way to get that extra smooth look and feeling and your sensitive skin, as if there were no hair growing at all. It is also the most temporary method, and the one most likely to irritate your skin and cause infections.

When I shaved for the first time, I found that with a little patience it was easier than I expected to get the job done properly without drawing blood or having a panic attack. I found it was significantly easier than shaving my face as far as avoiding cuts, but harder in terms of catching all of the hairs. After I got comfortable with the razor, it was a pleasant sensation. It was interesting to spend a lot of focused attention on each part of my genital skin. As soon as I was finished shaving and dried off, it felt amazing to run my fingers over the bare sensitive skin of my scrotum and inner thigh. I really enjoyed the slightly different look of my cock without fuzz on the sides, but it was the sensation of smooth skin that was most intriguing. Immediate gratification is a big point on the side of the razor. If you can shave your face competently, you can probably manage this without many cuts or scrapes, and it may feel quite good. For an evening.

The problems come in a few days when the thick hair stumps grow back in. A three day stubble itches like a motherfucker in my asscrack, my taint, and on my inner thighs. Scratching it is no good for anybody, and embarrassing in public. Ingrown hairs are common, and often lead to infections (folliculitis). The irritated skin caused by the razor and by scratching also becomes more vulnerable to viral and fungal infections.

For this reason, shaving is considered one of the least health-conscious methods of genital hair care. If you plan to do this regularly, keep in mind you will be at higher risk for many types of skin problems in that area. And you will very likely have a much higher incidence of crotch acne and itching. These are very significant downsides, which ultimately made me decide not to shave my junk regularly.

Trimming

If you have a trimmer or buzzer (for beards or head hair), you can use this to remove some pubic hair but leave the majority intact. It is common to leave as little 0.25 in of hair, or as much as 0.75 inches for a more natural look. For many of us, either option would mean removing the majority of our natural hair by volume. Less hair means less odor, and less trapping of bacteria and fungus. However, unlike shaving, a trimmer blade never needs to come into contact with the skin. Because of this, when used properly, a trimmer can avoid most if not all of the itching, ingrown hairs, and increased risk of infection associated with shaving. Most trimmers come with adjustable length guards, allowing you to choose appropriate lengths for each section of pubic hair you trim. For many, this combination of convenience, safety, and flexibility makes trimming the best grooming option available. However, it does require buying a special expensive gadget, and spending time learning to use it well.

Most trimmers allow you to remove the length guard to trim the edges of a beard to the bare skin. I do not recommend using a trimmer this way on the genitals. I have found it deceptively easy to cut myself in sensitive places this way.  The first time I removed the guard from my trimmer it looked as if my balls had been in a knife fight.  And lost.

Waxing

I recently had my first experience with genital waxing, and let me tell you, I am a huge fan. I had always been hesitant about trying it, because it is expensive, because I hadn’t really heard of men doing it before, and because I was worried that it would look weird alongside my fuzzy unshaved legs and belly. I didn’t want a frame of hairlessness around my genitals. I need not have worried. I wish I had tried it earlier.

First I’ll tell you the good stuff. I went in once for an hour five weeks ago. Every day since, without me having to do anything at all, my entire pubic region has looked and felt amazing. I used to be really hairy; now the few hair that have grown back are soft and thin.

One of the first impediments to getting this done was figuring out what to ask for. The menu seemed really confusing, and googling the services only returns results relevant to an anatomy that is different from mine. In the end, it turned out what I wanted was a “men’s brazilian + between the cheeks”. The beautician who did the waxing knew what she was doing. She appreciated that I warned her ahead of time that it was my first time. I had her walk through what she was going to do, which I found lowered my anxiety a lot.

She had me take off my pants and lie on the table, and asked me if I would like her to leave a trapezoid of pubic hair in the middle above my penis (I did). She told me that she would remove strips of hair above, below and to the sides of the trapezoid, as well as all of the hair from the sides of the penis and from the scrotum, from either side of the scrotum, from the taint, and from the inside of the butt crack.

It hurts. Of course. I expected that; I was paying someone to yank the hairs out of my testicles all at once. It isn’t going to feel like a massage, but it also isn’t that bad. Some areas hurt more than others. Remember to breathe. Remember how manly you felt when you bought the metal colored shower gel instead of the flowery lavender scented one even though you liked how it smelled. Take the pain. I hear it hurts most the first time, but I’ve only had it done once so I can’t confirm or deny that. I can definitely tell you that it’s worth the pain.

Whether or not it’s worth the money for you is a different question. One waxing visit set me back $100, and they recommend coming back every 6-8 weeks. You can probably find a better deal if you shop around, but it is not going to be a very cheap service. If I got this done consistently, it would come out to around $750 per year for hair removal. Most people do not have the option to spend that much regardless of their personal priorities. If this is a financial possibility for you at all, I recommend you try it at least once before you decide.

Laser Hair Removal / Electrolysis

I have no personal experience with these methods of hair removal. Typically, they involve repeated visits to an office where hairs are individually removed one by one in a semi-permanent fashion. Hairs may not regrow for years. These procedures tend to be expensive, time consuming, and uncomfortable, but are often very effective. To my knowledge, this type of hair removal has never become common for male genital grooming.

Don’t be a Dick

As always, do whatever works best for you. Don’t listen to haters. Don’t be a hater. No matter what choice you make, don’t judge other people for whatever they do with their genital hair. I can’t think of any situation in life that would be improved by you making someone feel bad about how their genital hair looks. Even if you are being utterly selfish about things, remember that people fuck better when they feel good about themselves. For the sake of good sex, love your body hair and help the people around you do the same.

Addendum by the Editor

As an competitive ultra-endurance athlete, I’ve been shaving for decades without issue.  My lifestyle, however, resembled a monastic dedication to fitness.  When that changed to include sexual activity with multiple partners and I learned that shaving was possibly the worst thing I could do to minimize transmission of unwanted bacteria and viruses, I froze.  I didn’t know what to do to both maintain my much needed and wanted clean cut while ensuring safety for all.  That’s when I asked Ned to share his knowledge on grooming.

After reading Ned’s piece, I decided to see the same person he did for waxing.  During my visit, I learned a few things that I’d like to add to Ned’s great piece:

  1. As the waxer prepares your area for waxing, there’s a lot of soft touching and stimulation that will likely induce an erection.  It did for me!  And don’t worry—they’re used to it and it happens across all orientations regardless of the waxers’ gender and orientation.  It’s worth bringing up the possibility with your waxer just to diffuse the tension.
  2. Not all shops perform waxing on men—and for good reason.  Waxing men involves techniques and risks that aren’t really an issue for men; mainly, the skin on the scrotum is very soft and can easily come off during a session with someone who lacks specific experience and training in waxing men.  Yikes! (I was told this just as the wax had been applied to my balls!)  My waxer explained that most shops use a soft wax that works well for women but not as well for me.  She used a harder wax that did not bond with the skin as much as the more common softer waxes.
  3. It hurts!  I think my threshold for pain is pretty high, but having the hair ripped off your balls does not feel good.  I did not use the numbing gels, so I don’t know if that would have helped significantly, but I can definitely say that you are in for a surprise.  That said, although your skin will feel a bit raw for a day or so, the pain occurs only during the removal of the wax—which is like having a band-aid quickly removed.
  4. It can take a day or two to recover.  I run a lot, so it was a bummer to feel a bit raw between my legs, but the effect lasts for 5-6 weeks, so i think the minor adjustment period is well worth it.
  5. Your hair grows back soft.  One of the things i hate about shaving is that only a few days later you’re balls feel like sandpaper against your thighs.  Not so when the hair return after waxing: it’s much softer.
  6. Soon after, you should wash with an exfoliating glove and fragrance-free, gentle soap—like Dove.  Just gently rub the area to remove and dangling hairs and apparently the use of the glove helps reduce the possibility of ingrown hairs.
  7. You can also have your perineum and ass waxed.  Most waxers have options (just the inside of the cheeks or the entire ass) and most will wax other parts of your body as well.  Experiment to find what works best for you.

Despite the brief but intense pain of the procedure and the short-lived sensitivity of the area, it’s little to pay for the incredibly feel, long-lasting effect and hygienic benefits over regular shaving.  I’m sold!

I know straight men might have some hesitation to visit waxing salons that specialize in servicing gay men, but let me tell you, I’ve been waxed by women and gay men, and the men were FAR more skilled.  It makes sense: not only are they more attuned to your body, but they only work with men, so they really know what they’re doing.

 

This article is an excerpt from the book, ‘Better Than the Hand: How Masturbation is the Key to Better Sex & Healthier Living.’

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Ned Would

Ned Would is a bay area queer geek with a background in experimental Physics and a very dirty mind. He has been involved with the porn industry since 2010 as a performer and adult industry web developer, providing software support for independent performers and small studios (including, for a while, his own DIY porn site). In 2011 Ned created a biometric buttplug capable of wirelessly streaming live data about muscle contractions, heartrate, and other physiological signals of arousal and orgasm to a nearby computer in real time. Ned's work in the adult industry focuses on fighting stigma, created a safer work environment, and increasing performers' agency over their role in the adult industry. He is currently working on a suite of privacy and security tools designed for adult industry performers and studios.

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