‘When that irritation is combined with the warm moist environment of the genitals, it becomes a happy culture medium for bacterial pathogens,’ doctors warn

Research has shown increasing numbers of women shave their pubic hair because they believe it is “more hygenic”, despite medical advice to the contrary.

Whereas previous studies suggested women felt compelled to remove their pubic hair for the purposes of sexual activity, new research indicates many think the failure to do so creates a health risk.

But the scientific evidence is exactly the opposite, medics have warned.

Dr Vanessa Mackay, who is a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said pubic hair was vital for preventing pathogens entering the vagina.

“Pubic hair offers a natural barrier to keep things clean, to decrease contact with viruses and bacteria, and to protect the tender skin of the area,” she told The Independent.

“While protecting against diseases and skin problems, pubic hair prevents foreign particles like dust and pathogenic bacteria from entering the body.

“Pubic hair also helps to control the moisture of the area which decreases the chances of yeast infections.”

The new study, published the journal JAMA Dermatology, suggests a majority of women of all ages “groom” their pubic hair to some degree.

Sixty-two per cent of US women surveyed said they chose to completely remove their hair, while 84 per cent reported some kind of grooming or trimming.

And younger, white women with a college education were the most likely to shave or wax, with the highest percentage aged between 18 and 34.

Pubic hair also acts as a soft cushion for the sensitive skin of the labia and vagina, experts have said.

Underwear which fails to protect the area, such as thongs and even pants that merely thread a string between the legs, cause particular pain and abrasions for women’s genital parts.

Other complications include vaginal and vulvar infections, inflammation of the hair follicles, abscesses, lacerations and allergic reactions.

Dr Mackay said that tiny “wounds” left by shaving, along with the warm and moist genital area, created a “happy culture medium” for bacteria to grow in.

“If you shave your pubic hair, you are putting yourself at a higher risk of contracting genital warts,” she added.

“Although pubic hair doesn’t completely prevent it, it helps avoid skin on skin contact with someone who may already have it.

“Removing pubic hair also irritates and inflames the hair follicles left behind, leaving microscopic open wounds.”

Critics have pointed out that women in pornography footage are often shown completely shaven.

Male pornography performers are also usually clean shaven, and a recent Gillette survey suggested that some 20 per cent of men “groom” their genital area.

This is not close to the 80 per cent of women, even though more than 90 per cent of women said they preferred a man who was “clean and tidy” down there, according to the Gilette survey.