It was 1999 and I was 17 years old when I discovered my then-boyfriend's collection of porn.
Finding the magazines wasn't hard. They were prominently displayed on his bookshelf, organized chronologically, and we lay on the floor of his bedroom on our stomachs, flipping through their thick, glossy pages. He tried to distract me with the interviews in the back, but I had never seen pornography before and I was mesmerized by the smooth, tanned models, whose hairless nether regions looked absolutely nothing like mine.
"How come they don't have pubic hair?" I asked him.
"Because they wax."
"They wax their vaginas?!"
"It's called a Brazilian wax. Haven't you ever heard of it? Lots of girls like to do it."
I may have been naive, but it should be noted that this particular boy was in no position to be discussing what "lots of girls" like.
"Wow. I had no idea."
"Yeah, totally. It's so hot. And I heard it makes you so much more sensitive because there's no hair getting in the way. You could do it, you know. I would be so into that."
He looked at me hopefully. I stared back at him in disbelief. We hadn't even started having sex yet and he was suggesting I have my lady bits landscaped like Jenna Jameson's.
"I don't know. . . it sounds really painful."
"I bet it's not that bad." Another thing he was in no position to be speculating on.
I was skeptical, but, alas, eager to please, so after several days of staring at the Yellow Pages, I flipped open to "Waxing Salons," picked up the phone, and made myself an appointment for the next day.
My hands shook at the steering wheel of my parents' Volvo station wagon as I pulled it into the salon's parking lot. I parked and then walked into the little salon and gave my name to the receptionist. She took me into a lavender-scented, private, candle-lit room. An Enya song swelled in the background.
"Take off your pants and panties and lay down on the table under this sheet," she instructed. "Your waxing technician will be in in a few minutes."
I did as I was told and tried to relax. Moments later, a large Russian women in a white smock came into the room. Wordlessly, she lifted the sheet and inspected my . . . situation.
"So hairy," she said, matter-of-factly.
"I guess that's why I'm here," I whispered, mortified.
Then she went to work. She dipped a tongue depressor-looking wooden stick into hot wax and spread it thickly over the top of my labia. She covered it quickly with a fabric strip, pressed down, and then tore it off in the opposite direction. It was, without a doubt, the most painful thing I had ever experienced.
I let out a wail. She ignored me and continued the torture. Provoking cries of pain was, I guessed, a daily occurrence for this woman.
With every rip, she glanced down at the hair-covered fabric strip and scowled, adding insult to injury.
Mercifully, she finished about 10 minutes later and smoothed some kind of cold gel over the inflamed skin.
"Don't touch or you will infect. Pay at the front desk." And with that, she left the room, closing the door behind her with a loud smack.
I lay on the table, breathing heavily, tears streaming out of the corners of my eyes. Eventually I stood up. I looked down at my raw red crotch and then, horrified, turned my eyes immediately away. Pulling on my underwear and jeans proved to be an excruciating task-every bend and stretch hurt. I hobbled to the front desk, paid the receptionist, and made my way home.
After a few days and some very careful showers, the pain eventually went away and I had the opportunity to show my boyfriend my new look. Unsurprisingly, he was thrilled. With my enormous DD breasts and Jewess hips on top of what looked like the groin of a child, I, on the other hand, felt freakish, not sexy.
At first, his sheer glee was enough to make me feel like the money, physical pain, and extreme discomfort with the way I looked was worth it. But, as time went on (we're talking like two weeks, maybe three-enough time for those pesky ingrown hairs to begin to sprout) and his excitement about my wax job began to fade, it became glaringly clear to me that I had made a mistake. This boy-who, at the age of 16, was already conditioned by porn to prefer (and request) a hair-free vagina-was not worth changing my physical appearance in a way that I hated. Neither, I would eventually learn, was anyone else.
Since the Great Pussy Wax of 1999, I've been lucky enough to largely avoid hair-removal requests. Those sexual partners who haven't been A-OK with my neat-and-tidy-but-definitely-still-there approach to below-the-belt landscaping simply stopped getting to have sex with me.
And I learned a great lesson from the whole experience: If you change your body for someone else in a way that doesn't feel good to you, sex (or, you know, heavy petting) is difficult to enjoy. I feel lucky to have learned this over a decade ago, before I even started having sex. And to today's teenage girls, who are growing up in an even more porn-saturated world than I did, this is in no way an attempt to convince you not to wax. If you like to be hairless, take it all off, baby, and relish feeling empowered to groom yourself exactly the way you choose to. If letting your pubic hair grow wild and free makes you feel sexy, then do that and celebrate your body in all its glorious naturalness. Want to experiment with brightly dyed, colorful tufts? Go for it, girl. But whatever you do, don't do any of it because someone else tells you that you should.