Athletes of both genders sound off:
I’ll apologize for taking this thread in a new direction, but as a guy who swam competitively for many years, I have inhabited the flip side of this coin (though of course without the kind of oppression that women endure, to which I am wholly sympathetic). When we shaved for competition, it was considered by many to be an effeminate act and we endured taunts from classmates. Folks were particularly merciless when it was revealed that we made an event out of it and shaved together as a team. It must have been the mental image of a room full of high school athletes shaving together, and shaving each other. Part of the advantage of shaving was thought to be related to the removal of the top layer of skin, so we shaved backs and other inaccessible areas – try that without a helper.
The removal of a layer of skin was thought to make you more sensitive to the flow of the water, but I remain skeptical.
The first thing I noticed about being shaven is how little you can feel, compared to being hairy. When you swim with hair, you know exactly where your leg is and how the water is acting on it, due to the tiny tug that passing water exerts on each little hair. When swimming following a shave, I felt temporarily lost in the water and swam largely on muscle memory. Folks saved their shave for the most important race of the season.
Maybe this was the reason most swimmers used “motion lotion,” a Ben Gay-sort of oil that gave your skin the icy-hot feeling. It was described to me as lubricating the body so it slips through the water better (swimmers would avoid applying the oil on parts of the arms and hands where you would want to “grip” the water”). On reflection, it seems more likely that the icy-hot feeling helps swimmers feel the water, in the absence of hairs.
This seems like an area ripe for systematic study.
Just to make the conversation interesting, I thought I’d throw in the topic of men who shave their legs. I suppose there are a few reasons that come to mind, either you’re a body builder, a swimmer, or in my case, a racing cyclist, then there’s also those who perform in drag and those who just feel like it. Others abound I’m sure.
As a cyclist it’s a funny thing because unlike swimmers, we do it throughout the season, and not just before competitions (as I understand it, that’s what they do). The reasons a cyclist does it are 1) for treating road rash, which if you’re racing, is inevitable, 2) to signify that you are a racing level cyclist, and not a weekend warrior, 3) pros have the additional reason of making it easier for leg massages. People talk about wind resistance, but the time saved is an insignificant difference. Some people might not mention reason 2, but I contend that that’s a force motivating people to do it – like a monk shaving their head before committing to the lifestyle.
The funny thing I’ve run into is having to mentally prep a girl for when I might be hairless again, and the understandable response of “oh, hmm.” I think it’s less a visual thing for girls – cyclist legs are ripped and sweet lookin – and more a feeling thing. When we lay in bed making sexual congress, the silk feeling of my legs against her legs will prompt a “wtf” reaction whether she’s “cool” with it or not. It’s a mixed signal since a part of her mind is expecting one feeling and getting a very different one It’s a small matter to me, if a girl would really object to having sex with me because I have shaved legs I’d stop being interested anyway, but still funny to remember there’s a minority of men who deal with the same problem, though in reverse.
A female cyclist:
I have one particular reason for keeping my nether-regions nearly clean-shaven and haven’t seen it addressed on the blog: cycling. Yup, I’m a long distance bicycle rider and, after many years of feeling a post-ride soreness that felt as if someone had taken a baseball bat to my genitals, I realized my pubic hair was the problem! Being on a saddle for 8 or 9 hours at a time resulted in my pubic hair being tugged every which way for hours. Tugged, pulled, yanked. Ouch. So I began trimming and realized immediate relief. No more tugging or yanking as I shifted around on the saddle. That was years ago and I remain happily trimmed. As long as I continue to turn a pedal, I’ll keep the trimmer close by.