These days, the vast majority of women in porn have smooth-shaven vulvas, or close to it. What's shaved always looks very smooth. Silky smooth. Baby smooth. And if you've ever tried to duplicate that "porn smooth" look, impossibly smooth. What's the porn stars' secret?
"I wish I knew," sighs Louanne Cole-Weston, a sex therapist in the Sacramento, Calif., area, who is the "Sex Matters" columnist for OnHealth.com. "But I'll tell you one thing: There's a surprising amount of interest in pubic hair removal. The recent column I did on it got more responses than anything else I've ever written for 'Sex Matters' -- and not just from women. Many men are interested in getting rid of their pubic hair, too. I was surprised at all the interest."
It's not easy to track the history of pubic presentation. Ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman erotic art generally depict genitals -- both male and female -- without pubic hair. Did the ancients remove it? Or did the artists simply not include it? Art historians are silent on the subject.
Trackable pubic fashion dates from the mid-19th century invention of photography. Compared with today's crotch close-ups, surviving erotic photos of nude women from the Civil War era tend to be demure. They show naked breasts and buttocks, but often not the pubic area. However, in those that show frontal nudity, the amount of pubic hair varies from full to none.
Early pornography -- the "blue movies" of the 1920s and 1930s -- show a similar range of female pubic hair, from bushy to bald.
But in recent decades, there has been a clear trend in the sex media toward bush wacking. "If you track Playboy and Penthouse over the years," explains Marty Klein, a Palo Alto, Calif., sex therapist and author of several books (most recently "Let Me Count the Ways: Discovering Great Sex Without Intercourse"), "you see full bushes through the 1970s, then from around 1980 through the present day, a steady trend toward less and less hair."
"I was a Penthouse model in the early 1980s," says retired porn star Kelly Nichols, "and I posed with a full bush. No one in adult entertainment shaved back then. Now everyone does."
"For many years, I've been a lifeguard at a pool at a large university," writes one woman contributor to the Shaving Forum on Joan Elizabeth Lloyd's Secrets for Lovers Web site, one of the many Web sites devoted to the smooth look, "so I see a lot of naked college-age women in the shower and locker room. Over the years, there's been a trend toward pubic trimming and shaving. Most college women these days keep their pubic hair trimmed short. And it's not uncommon to see them completely shaved."
But the lifeguard adds that pubic trimming might be an age-specific phenomenon: "I still see full bushes, but usually on high school girls, or women out of college, in their mid-20s or older."
"The trend toward shaving might just be fashion," Cole-Weston speculates. "In another 10 years, the full look might return."
Unlikely, says Betty Dodson, a sex educator based in New York City, and producer of "Viva La Vulva," a video celebrating the beauty of women's genitals: "I think we have changing ideas about what's public and what's private. Nudity is less private than it used to be. When women's clothing began showing bare arms and legs in the 1920s, leg and underarm shaving followed soon after. Not all women shave their legs and armpits, but most do. And now that nudity is more public -- nude beaches, routine nudity in film, and the enormous amount of exhibitionism and porn on the Web -- I'm not surprised to see a trend toward pubic shaving. I think it's probably here to stay."
If anyone should know how the porn stars get so smooth, the producer of "Viva la Vulva" should. "Honey," Dodson says, "I have no idea."
Every summer, many women shave the bikini line around their upper thighs and lower abdomens to keep unsightly hairs from poking out of their bathing suits. It's a short step from there to shaving the vulva, or for men, the penis and scrotum.
Several Web sites are devoted to the joys -- and hassles -- of baldness below the belt, among them, Smoothnews.com. On all of them, razor shaving rules. Very few people even mention other options. Shaving is easy, convenient, cheap and can be done at home, usually in the shower.
One happily razor-shaved woman posted this: "I recently shaved my pussy as a surprise for my boyfriend. Our sex was incredible. I love the feeling of being shaved and enjoy touching my soft lips. Of course, to stay smooth, I have to shave almost every day and use a quality shaving cream and razor. I follow with a cold water rinse and then use baby oil or a good moisturizer. Those little red bumps stay away if you take the proper precautions. I intend to stay shaved. Sex has never been better.
Other people, however, aren't so enthusiastic. Another post: "I need to find a better way than shaving. For me, it's just too painful."
"Shaving can be a real hassle," Dodson explains. "Many women find that it irritates the vulva. Or that it gives them ugly red razor bumps. Or that the area itches unbearably as the hair grows back. Or that they get painful ingrown hairs."
Razor bumps are the most common complaint among pubic shavers. They're ugly and they itch. The bumps develop because razor shaving leaves hair with a thick blunt end, instead of the fine tapered end of unshaved hair. As pubic hair regrows, those blunt ends irritate hair follicle walls, causing inflammation and bumps. A few products claims to prevent razor bumps. The one with the most testimonial support is TendSkin. According to one post: "TendSkin after-shave works very well for me. It almost entirely eliminates razor bumps." The manufacturer claims the product lubricates the follicles, preventing blunt ends from snagging and causing inflammation.
Ex-porn star Nichols, who is now a Hollywood makeup artist, concurs: "TendSkin definitely helps with razor bumps."
"Personally, I think the women in porn probably wax their pubic hair," says Vena Blanchard, a Los Angeles sex therapist. "It's hard to get really smooth with a razor. Waxing can do it, but it can also be quite painful."
After razor shaving, waxing -- and sugaring, which is similar -- are the second most popular approaches to going smooth in the nether region. Recently, waxing has become something of a celebrity fad with such stars as Gwyneth Paltrow and Kirstie Alley opting for "Brazilian" wax jobs -- most of their pubic hair removed, with just a little tuft remaining as a surprise under a thong bikini. But few people who tout total pubic smoothness on the shaving Web sites recommend waxing or sugaring.
"Waxing is good for the occasional beach vacation," Nichols says. "One waxing and your bikini line or all your pubic hair is gone for the week you're away. But the problem with waxing is that you have to start with fairly long hair or there's not enough for the wax to grab on to. For best results, you have to let your hair grow out between waxings, and people committed to staying really smooth don't want to do that."
Waxing can be performed at home with kits available at pharmacies. Or it can be done by state-licensed aestheticians. Waxing involves applying a thin layer of warm wax to the target area, and then applying cloth strips. The wax dries, then you or the aesthetician yanks the cloth off -- and the hair with it. Waxed hair grows back after a few weeks. One San Francisco salon charges $50 for complete pubic waxing.
Sugaring is similar, except it uses a sugar solution instead of wax.
"Waxing was torture for me," says Cheryl Cohen-Greene, a clinical sexologist and surrogate in Berkeley, Calif. "I had my bikini line done once -- and once was enough. Never again. But my daughter gets her legs waxed regularly and has no problem."
"I've heard of aestheticians refusing to wax pubic hair," Klein says. "Some say it's illegal. I don't know if that's true or not. It may just be an excuse by those who don't feel comfortable removing pubic hair. You have to do a little dance with them. First you ask if they'll do a 'Brazilian.' If the answer is yes, then you can ask if they'll do a 'full wax,' meaning everything off."
The states regulate waxing. In California, it's done by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). DCA spokesperson Tracy Weathersby says, "The California regulations declare no body part off limits for waxing. If an aesthetician says it's 'illegal' to wax a certain area, it means that person is not comfortable doing it." Outside California, check with your state's equivalent of the DCA.
What about electrolysis? "Some women in porn might use electrolysis," Cole-Weston speculates. "It removes the hair for good. I once chatted with an electrologist who told me that he'd done women's pubic hair."
Those women must have been very patient and well-off. Electrolysis kills one hair at a time. It can take months, even years to depilitate large areas, such as the pubis. A state-licensed electrologist inserts a fine needle into the hair follicle, zaps it with electricity, which kills the follicle, and then tweezes the hair out.
But electrolysis is not popular for pubic hair removal. Few people who post messages on bare-genitals Web sites use it.
Electrolysis is permanent -- but only when it works. Sometimes the first zap doesn't kill the follicle and hair regrows, necessitating repeat treatment. Electrolysis can also be painful, and it's expensive -- on the order of $50 per half hour -- which means that for a person who's furry between the legs, complete pubic hair removal could cost more than $1,000. Electrolysis is usually used to remove a small number of unsightly hairs, for example, on women's upper lips.
And our mothers' choices -- tweezing and depilatories -- are always options. Tweezing is commonly used to remove a small number of hairs, for example, in the eyebrows. Most people consider it too time-consuming for large areas such as pubic hair. On the Web sites devoted to pubic hair removal, tweezing is rarely mentioned, and never touted.
Depilatory creams dissolve hair. They work well for some people. But most find the chemical ingredients too irritating for sensitive genital skin. Few people who post on pubic-shaving Web sites use them.
Nichols says that for spot hair removal, professional make-up artists recommend Magic Shave, a depilatory developed for black men's beards. "It's strong, but for little problem areas, it works."
All right. No more beating around the you-know-what. We asked four present and former porn actresses how they get their vulvas "porn-smooth."
The four actresses include Nichols, who quit acting in the mid-1980s, but who continues to work on porn productions as a make-up artist; longtime X-rated star Nina Hartley, who discusses pubic hair removal on her Web site; newcomer Adajja, who has been making adult videos for about a year; and Gina Rome, who recently retired after six years of porn acting to become a film editor. Nichols, Adajja and Rome were interviewed by phone from their homes in the Los Angeles area.
All four agreed that the porn starlets' secret is No Secret At All. They all shave with razors. All four insist that they have never tweezed, waxed, sugared, used depilatories or submitted to electrolysis.
"I'm surprised people think there's some big secret," Adajja said. "I just shave. I've never used anything but a razor. All the women I know in adult entertainment just shave."
The gals do have recommendations for the best shave, however:
In addition to careful daily shaving, the porn stars share one other attribute that contributes to their smoothness -- pubic hair on the fine and sparse side. "I'm just not very hairy down there," Rome explains, "and what I have isn't very coarse. I think that's true of many of the women in adult entertainment. That kind of hair is easier to shave."
But fine, sparse pubes and careful daily shaving don't exempt porn actresses from the hassles other women experience with razor shaving. "I've seen many women on porn sets with razor bumps and ingrown hairs," Rome says. "You just don't see it in the video. A woman can touch herself and examine herself very closely, and feel any irritation and see the bumps. A lover can do the same. But even during close-ups, the camera hardly ever gets that close, so the girls on video may look smoother than they really are."
"Video cameras don't pick up the little razor bumps a woman or her lover can see and feel," Nichols explains. "But cameras do pick up really red, angry-looking bumps."
Fortunately, there's a product that largely eliminates big red razor bumps: Visine eye drops. "If there's any porn secret to pubic shaving," Nichols says "it's Visine. You put it on, and the bumps disappear like magic in about five minutes." She says it acts like an astringent to shrink swollen tissue.
During her years in adult video, Rome shaved her pubic hair every day. "It was part of getting ready for work." But when she switched to film editing, she stopped shaving and let her pubic hair grow out. "Shaving was work. I don't have to do it anymore, so I don't."