"Do I have to shave down there?"
My friend Lara whispered loudly to me as she leaned across the table at a restaurant in a part of town high-end enough that women could afford Brazilians, but old-guard enough that they wouldn't talk about it over their pecan-crusted tilapia.
After two years spent recuperating from a devastating divorce, Lara had finally put up her OkCupid profile and wanted to know how to navigate the new sexual frontier. New to her, anyway, since she had spent the past three decades with the same man.
"I mean, is that what men expect?" she asked.
"Pretty much," I said.
Before my divorce I had rarely watched porn, but I had seen enough to be put off by the jarring juxtaposition of balloon-sized breasts and baby-smooth pubic regions. I assumed that the only men who preferred shorn labia were pedophiles or guys who delivered pizzas.
Until my first post-divorce cavorting with a Romanian soccer player. He had divested himself of all body hair and requested that I shave off the patch between my legs, which I kept neatly groomed but had never once contemplated eliminating.
"You don't think that's weird?" I asked, as we lay in bed basking in well-earned exhaustion.
He took my hand and placed it on his hairless genitalia.
"Is this weird?"
Impressive, certainly. And also, weird. But there was a lot I didn't recognize about life after divorce, particularly my amped-up sex drive. So why not veer from my traditional intimate grooming ritual, especially if it was going to please the six-foot, four-inch gift to women lying next to me?
Brazilians were not in my budget, so I bought a tricked-out lady razor instead. I stood in the shower, holding my breath as I scraped the shaving cream off every bit of my lady bits, as least the bits that I could reach. Afterwards, I trimmed the remaining strays and inspected myself in the bathroom mirror. I wasn't sure what I thought. I hadn't been this bare since I was ten years old. But when I ran my fingers across my creamy-smooth skin, I loved how it felt. And I loved pulling on my thong without having to check for divergent hairs.
The Romanian liked it too. And so did the other men who became lovers, most of whom, it turned out, were manscapers. When did the standard of intimate grooming shift, I wondered? Everyone I knew, or had been with, in my teens and 20s, had pubic hair. And none of the men even trimmed. I felt like Sleeping Beauty, awaking after two decades of slumber to discover that all the princes in the land had gone commando.
All the princes under 50, that is. For whatever reason, the 50-plus men I've been with seem oblivious to the manscaping trend, while literally all those to the left of 50 shave, wax, or laser their privates. When your entire peer group is shunning pubic hair, bare becomes the norm.
I do think the prevalence of porn has changed the way we think about pubic hair: that sexy people don't have any. If porn stars had full-on muffs, we might all be going au naturel. A friend of mine, who's a lesbian, told me she wanted to grow hers out after seeing a sexy French film in which the actresses had thickets between their legs. She'd had electrolysis when she was a teen to tidy up her bikini area, and was now frustrated that she wasn't hairy enough.
I no longer think going bare is weird, and I don't buy into the belief that men who prefer waxed women are closet pedophiles, or simply can't tolerate being with their equal. I love the look and feel of a man's smooth genitals, yet I have no interest in sleeping with boys -- or in being with someone who isn't my intellectual and psychological equal.
I choose to go bare because I feel cleaner, and more relaxed not having to worry about errant bikini hair. And I prefer giving and receiving oral sex when it's just lips and tongue to skin.
None of us should get hung up on intimate grooming trends, however. What is, or isn't between your legs might make someone sexy in the moment. But it's that indefinable something that is the essence of sex appeal -- that kind of sexy lasts forever.