Sexuality is complex and in a great many ways hardwired into us from hundreds of thousands of years of selection pressure. It’s often a mistake to think that there’s someone “out there” setting arbitrary rules, and it is equally often a mistake to pull in transiently politically correct notions and judge sexual matters thereby.

Contrary to the notion of some all-powerful anonymous patriarchy inflicting (for what reasons?) its peculiar standards it may be more useful to look both at history and at evolution. Historically we know both men and women have been depilating for millennia. The Greeks and Romans did it, the Ottomans did it. The crusaders brought the practice of regular depilation back from their Middle Eastern predations during the medieval period. There were two principle reasons for the practice of depilation back then: aesthetic, and sanitary.

We no longer need fear body lice as much as those born in earlier times, so today the emphasis is on aesthetics, which in terms of the human body is strongly related to evolutionary preference. Why does no one make a fortune from selling women fake flabby stomachs, or from selling men surgery to make the penis much smaller? Why do people not rush out to buy strap-on sagging chins? It’s because we evolved to compete for mating opportunities and this in turn means we (subconsciously) strive to look as mate-worthy as possible. So much, so obvious. Hair on a woman implies, to our evolved brain, that she’s moving out or has already moved out of her period of peak fertility. The presence of breasts but relatively little hair implies she’s at peak fertility. Clearly from a mating perspective the latter is more desirable.

Now let’s be clear: this is not a moral argument or an argument about what “ought to be” the case; it is merely descriptive. If a biologist describes the habit of a wasp laying its eggs in the body of a living caterpillar the biologist is neither endorsing nature’s strategy nor making any ethical judgement upon that strategy; the biologist is merely recording what actually happens in the world. Similarly acknowledging the strong influence of selection pressures is not equivalent to prescribing or endorsing these pressures; it is merely a record of fact.

Clearly people today are free to do what they like with their bodies. Most people abuse them by consuming unhealthy foods, by failing to exercise, and by the intake of various substances that have over time potentially lethal consequences. Likewise people modify their bodies with tattoos and piercings and all manner of other activities. Deciding to depilate or not is merely one choice among many. But confusing personal aesthetic choice with any notion of transient political correctness (which shifts and changes rapidly over the decades and therefore is a highly unreliable lodestar by means of which to steer one’s own life) seems likely to result only in confusion and emotional discomfort.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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