Hair can be a touchy subject when it comes to sex and communication. Everyone has a preference for their own body hair (whether it’s the hair on your head, legs, pubic area or otherwise) and a preference for their sexual and/or romantic partners. Navigating this can throw even the most open-minded, openly communicating partners for a loop.
The trick with hair really boils down to how you give someone feedback about your preferences and, separately, how one receives that feedback. Like any feedback, people have different styles on giving and receiving feedback. It can help to know how your partner(s) likes to receive feedback in general, i.e. coupled with a compliment, direct, etc. Think back to how you or they received feedback at work, in school or in other relationships and what worked or didn’t work for you.
Giving Feedback on your Preferences for Hair
Recognize that your preference does not override your partners’ choice for their own body. Go back and read that first line again as this is probably the single most important tip in here. Take it a step further and ask for consent to give feedback, something like “I would like to talk to you about (pubic, leg, etc.) hair, are you open to hearing about my preferences?” but of course, liberty granted to make the wording your own.
Keep in mind how society plays a role in one’s experience of sexuality. A lot of trends for pubic hair for example, are heavily influenced by porn and the adult industry. Just like natural pubes were popular in Playboy in the 70s, mainstream porn seems to make completely shaven pubic areas seem like the norm these days. Thus, you or your partners’ experience (positive, negative, neutral or lack thereof) with porn may be at play whether conscious or not.
Some people may not be able to shave or style their hair in a certain way no matter the preference. For example, say you mention someone would look good in a certain haircut, but they have cowlicks or their hair doesn’t grow a certain length/way that makes that haircut not work for them. Or, sensitive skin is very real and the pubic area can be incredibly sensitive to bleeding, pain or razor bumps.
Continuing to bring up your preference after your partner has told you they aren’t in agreement isn’t cool. Or in other words, no means no. Even though it may seem harmless, it can feel like coercion or pressure to your partner if you keep asking or sharing your preference. This may also make your partner feel controlled.
Make it a partner activity. If your partner is enthusiastically consenting to trying a new hairstyle or something like shaving, waxing or sugaring their hair and you have the means, you can offer to help them/or pay for a trip to the spa or salon. Or if you both feel comfortable, you can even offer to shave them at home — it can be a very intimate experience that involves a lot of trust.
TIPS FOR Receiving Feedback about Hair
Be clear about your boundaries and stick to your guns. Your body hair is your choice no matter how strong your partner’s preference(s) may be. You can only control your response and set boundaries if your partner continues to bring this up and you feel uncomfortable. Consider letting them know that you feel uncomfortable and/or pressured if this is the case.
Pause and recognize that it took a lot of courage for your partner to give the feedback. Being direct and vulnerable like this can be scary (for your partner and you), so you can even start by thanking or praising them for this. Put yourself in their shoes and think of how you would feel sharing this information.
This should be a dialogue, not a one-way street. Perhaps your partner giving you feedback can be the start of the conversation. Like most topics in relationships, it may take some talking through or processing, and negotiation if you are open to it (though don’t feel pressured to negotiate if it’s a strong boundary for you.) For example, consider if there’s a middle ground you are open to trying — like a trim for your hair (pubic or otherwise).
Pay attention to what comes up for you when you receive this information. This applies to both your feelings about the request and your thoughts that you experience. You can process this on your own through journaling and/or talking with a therapist, your partner or a trusted friend (or all of the above). Recognize what’s coming up for you, where your idea of what hair looks like/should be comes from and how you feel — pressured? Insecure? Triggered?
Instead of focusing on the actual look, process what’s underneath the preference. If you are open to it, ask your partner what they like about . For example, say your partner has a preference to shaved pubes but if you talk to them about the deeper preference, say they really just don’t like getting that stray hair in their teeth during oral sex. This can be great (and dare I say fun?) opportunity to work together for a workaround – maybe you trim… or wear crotchless underwear. Get creative!
Caitlin Bovard is a Sex and Couples Therapist in Broomfield, CO that specializes in sex, relationships and LGBTQ+ counseling with individuals and couples alike. Hit the button below to schedule a free phone consultation to see if Caitlin can support you.