Jeb isn’t the only unpopular bush these days.
A new survey of over 5,000 people conducted by AskMen and The Huffington Post found that 41 percent of their predominantly male respondents prefer women to have no pubic hair whatsoever. Thirty-eight percent find pubic hair acceptable so long as it is “trimmed,” 15 percent have no preference, and only five percent prefer an au naturale mons pubis.
But the bush is not back. The menfolk have spoken and they prefer their lawns mowed. Of course, as The Huffington Post rightly put it, women don’t necessarily “give a damn what men think” when it comes to personal grooming. But is there any explanation for men’s love of the Brazilian beyond the proliferation of hairless bodies in online pornography?
Dr. Christopher Burris, a psychology professor at St. Jerome's University in the University of Waterloo, suspects that men may associate untrimmed pubic hair with infertility, further reinforcing cultural expectations that women trim or wax their pubic hair.
In a new study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Burris and co-author Armand Munteanu asked a small sample of 63 Canadian undergraduates to rate seven schematic drawings of pubic hair ranging from completely waxed to landing strip to full-on 70s bush, to use the proper scientific terminology.
The subjects also completed a questionnaire about the importance of sterility and fertility for themselves and their prospective female partners.
Burris was not surprised to discover that the men were most aroused by the hairless and neatly-trimmed drawings given prevailing pornographic pubic hairstyles. But he also uncovered an intriguing correlation between the size of the, ahem, “pubic expanse” and men’s relative comfort with the infertility of a female partner.
“Even though our men rated more profuse public expanses as not very arousing in an absolute sense, there was variability,” Burris tells The Daily Beast. “Men who were more okay with the prospect of being in a relationship with an infertile female partner were more aroused by the three most profuse pubic expanses.”
In layman’s terms, men who didn’t care about female fertility liked bigger bushes. But why would these two seemingly random variables be connected?
For women, dramatically increased testosterone levels are associated with both fertility problems and an excess of body hair. At its most extreme, increased testosterone is associated with hirsutism in women or the appearance of body hair in a typically male pattern on the chest, legs, and face.
Based on this link between testosterone, body hair, and infertility, Burris believes that there may be “some sort of connection in men’s brains between more profuse female pubic hair and decreased female fertility, or vice versa.”
The expanded logic: Men associate less pubic hair on a female partner with greater fertility leading to increased arousal and they associate more pubic hair with testosterone, infertility and, therefore, lack of arousal.
Although the most unkempt pubic hair in the study’s set of drawings was still tidier and less expansive than the sort of excessive hair growth that accompanies a true clinical condition, it may still carry associations of infertility for men making the momentary judgments that lead to arousal.
“Just like in hand grenades and horseshoes, ‘Close enough,’ seems to count,” explains Burris.
The results of this study fall in line with decades worth of research on the intersection of perceived female attractiveness, waist-to-hip ratio, and fertility—an area of inquiry first opened up the famous evolutionary psychologist Devendra Singh in 1973. Singh suspected that the appeal of the “hourglass figure” could be explained via its associations with fertility.
If Burris’ results can be replicated with larger samples, it’s possible that the rise of bikini waxing is at least partially attributable to that same evolutionary logic.
But although Burris tells The Daily Beast that the connection between minimal pubic hair and increased attractiveness “makes sense” from a “gene-survival-via reproduction standpoint,” he cautions that it cannot account for individual patterns of arousal.
In other words, men are not necessarily evolution-obsessed automatons programmed to shut down at the mere sight of pubic hair.
“Our research documents statistical trends,” says Burris. “So if somebody says, ‘I want kids and I like a big bush,’ we can just shrug because statistically-based research seldom captures an individual’s experience exactly.”
Burris also warns that his sample size is small and culturally specific but he nonetheless maintains that the study is an important precedent for future research. As he and Munteanu write in the article, theirs is “the first [study] to offer empirical evidence” for the statistical correlation between men’s positive response to pubic hair and their relative indifference toward female infertility.
But as fascinating as the evolutionary interpretation may be, Burris notes that the bare look is so overwhelmingly popular that its rise can only be explained in conjunction with cultural factors like online pornography consumption.
In contrast to the unshaved starlets of the “golden age” of 1970s porn, the vast majority of present-day performers have neatly-trimmed pubic hair or none whatsoever. The waxed style is so pervasive that some mainstream porn sites have cordoned off special categories for “bush,” “classic,” or “vintage” porn, designed to appeal to those men who still have a soft spot for some shag carpet.
The dominance of the waxed look in pornography is one obvious cultural explanation for its heightened demand among young men.
“Perhaps fertility cues get some trends going but cultural factors subsequently kick in and broaden or shape the impact,” says Burris.
As for the men who responded to the AskMen/HuffPo poll, many of them claim a more altruistic motive for their Brazilian obsession: cunnilingus. “A huge number of men were quick to point out that they really, really, really don’t like going down on women who have loads of pubic hair,” the AskMen editors reported.
It’s certainly the simplest and most pleasant explanation, although one that carries with it a particular burden of proof.
The good news for women: the poll found that only about 9 percent of respondents had ever ended a date early or backed out of sex because they wandered into an overgrown lady garden. So whether it’s evolution, pornography, or sexual generosity that leads men to crave a bare bikini area, women may not have to humor that desire in order stay sexually active.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether your carpet is as elegant as the drapes in your house. Most men are just happy to be home.