Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
Crabs kick the bucket
But is it thanks to Brazilian bikini waxes or medication?
Have you heard the news? There are no more crabs! According to Dr Basil Donovan of the Sydney Sexual Health Centre, the incidence of pubic lice has dropped dramatically, amounting to all but complete extinction of the bothersome little beasties. He attributes the crab apocalypse to "better grooming," including the popularity of Brazilian waxing. The story was first reported on the Australian website Bloomberg, and was quickly picked up last week by almost every leading North American news outlet from ABC to CBS to MSNBC.
At a time when all we seem to hear about are new syphilis outbreaks and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, the possibility of winning the war against at least one sexually transmitted bug seems like great news. So should you grab your phone and book a Brazilian? Maybe not just yet.
Once again, the headlines and actual research don't seem to match up with this story. Donovan claims that his clinic in Sydney has not treated a woman with crabs since 2008. At first glance, that seems utterly conclusive. However, effective over-the-counter treatments have been available for some time now. These days, most people know what crabs are, recognize that they have them and would much rather run to the drugstore and pick up a bottle of insecticide lotion than go to the doctor.
Even if the good doctor's recollection of the lack of crabs in his clinic is correct, it would be almost impossible to show that this was the case anywhere else. Pubic lice are not reported to any central health authority in any district worldwide since they are certainly uncomfortable and a bit of a nuisance, but they themselves do not cause any actual disease. This means that the record keeping on the incidence of crabs is spotty at best.
The Bloomberg article makes it sound as if we were overrun by crabs until the amazing seven sisters from Brazil brought their miracle waxing technique to Manhattan in the '90s. Even if the incidence has dropped, it's quite a leap to say that this is the reason. The article presents some data about the number of women who remove their pubic hair, but it neither shows that more women do it now than in times when crabs were more prevalent, nor does it reference any research that shows a causal link.
It may seem like I'm splitting hairs here. After all, there's no harm in waxing so why not do it just to be on the safe side? Dr Emily Gibson, director of the health centre at Western Washington University, disagrees. She believes that pubic hair removal actually increases the risk of infections, both sexually transmitted and not, and has started a campaign to discourage women from doing it. Rachel Posner, clinical associate at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has been researching body-hair removal in women. She cites journal articles from 2010 that refer to problems created by pubic waxing and shaving. "Dangers include septicemia, second-degree burns, contact dermatitis, skin infections, micro-abrasions and increased potential for transmission of viruses due to the frequency of open wounds, " Posner says.
If waxing can cause all of these potentially serious conditions, doesn't it seem just a bit odd to heartily endorse it as a solution for a bug that is not all that terribly common and usually causes no more than a few days' worth of itchy crotch? I don't think we should necessarily ban pubic hair removal, but there is definitely more to consider than the Bloomberg article would have us believe. It appears that the victory of the amazing Brazilian wax over communicable bugs has been proclaimed prematurely. V
Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.
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