1. Do I have to do it?
We get it. You're bombarded by what seems like a million messages about pube-grooming—friends who talk about being totally bare, waxing ads at every salon—and you're all like: Is this THE norm? Am I a freak? Should I shave-it-all-off stat? But the truth is, some girls love a bare bikini area, while others get a little freaked by feeling exposed. Still others may be into a little bit of a trim… but not all that psyched about the upkeep of taking *any* of it alllll off. (Seriously, it can get to be a pain.) So consider your pubic-hair stylings a very personal preference, says Jennifer Ashton, MD, an ob-gyn and author of The Body Scoop for Girls. Just like anything else you'd do to your bod—your haircut, your nail art, your makeup routine (or lack thereof)—tap into what feels right for you.
2. But…why do I feel so much presh to go bare?
Believe it or not, this trend toward full (or even partial) hairlessness down there is fairly recent. "It really changed drastically when porn become more readily available online," explains Melisa Holmes, M.D., an ob-gyn and founder of Girlology.com. Now a mini-industry has popped up around this fad—Brazilian waxes that cost more than a pair of jeans, endless options for "bikini trimmers," etc. It's not wrong to get rid of it, but know the forces that are at work here. And only do it if that's what YOU like best. Period.
3. So guys hate hair down there, right?
It is impossible to speak on behalf of The Universe of Dudes! But our very informal focus group yielded a resounding: yes/nope/yes/nope/yes/nope/just do you. And while it sucks that there's no clear-cut consensus, we're going to counter that with a big old…who cares?! Because if he wants you to take-it-off, "chances are he has hair," says Dr. Holmes. "Hello! Double standard!" The bottom line is: No one move will please #TheWorld. So put pleasing YOU first!
4. But isn't pubic hair sorta dirty? As in… I should want to get rid of it?
It can seem to get a little dank down there, sure. You've got tons of sweat glands and oil glands up in that area, which can make for a pretty clammy, maybe slightly odor-y environment. But it's no dirtier than any other part of your body! And as long as you wash it with a little bit of mild, non-scented soap in the shower, you'll keep the hair clean. Promise. In fact—not to be gross—but some girls say they hate going totally bare because there's nothing there to "catch" their vaginal discharge, and that makes them feel uncomfortable... sometimes even red and itchy. "At the least, it's best to leave the hair right around the vaginal opening alone, because the skin there is so sensitive," warns Dr. Holmes. "Trimming is fine, but shaving can create a problem." Good to know!
5. Should I shave, or wax, or… something else?
Waxing is fine—and TBH, it will probably leave you with a smoother surface and slightly less frequent upkeep than shaving—but real talk: Ripping your hair out is incredibly painful. So only go that route if you're down to withstand about an 8 on a 10-point pain scale. On the other hand, depilatory creams can be pretty painless, but you have to read the package and the instructions VERY carefully, because not all are made for the uber-sensitive skin of your vulva and bikini line. (And even those that are can irritate—even burn—your skin if left on too long.) Shaving, then, can feel like an easier and more familiar introduction to bikini-line grooming: You've been doing it to your legs, so you've got the basics down, right?
6. I want to shave. Now… how?!
OK, first up: Grab a hand mirror and some sharp scissors and trim your hair in the spots you want to shave first. This pro move will keep your razor from getting all clogged up. Then hop in the shower and clean the area with some mild soap and warm water. (Yup, no pre-pool party, "oops-I-forgot" quickie jobs—this step is *super* important for preventing a major skin reaction...see #8!) "Any time you shave or wax, that hair follicle on your skin is going to be opened up," explains Dr. Ashton. "That makes it easy for bacteria to enter and cause an infection." So once you're sure you've washed that area well, take a brand new blade or a fresh-and-sharp disposable razor (because, FACT: pubic hair is the thickest hair on your body), apply some shaving cream/gel, and shave downward with the hair, i.e. in the direction it's growing. Using small strokes—and holding your skin taut with the other hand—will help protect against nicks and cuts. And of course: Take. It. Slow.
7. Will it really grow back faster/thicker/darker/coarser?
Nah, says Dr. Holmes. This one's a myth! The only thing that will change the type of hair or the speed of its growth is hormones. "It has a sharp edge after you shave, so it just feels thicker or coarser," she says.
8. What's with all the little bumps?
So you shaved…and now it's like your bikini line is breaking out on you? That's likely folliculitis, aka razor burn, and it happens when bacteria get inside those little hair follicles and inflame them, causing those prickly pink-and-white bumps you're seeing. Many times this issue will resolve on its own within a few days, but in the meantime, you can soothe your skin by applying a little 1% hydrocortisone cream (available near the first aid stuff at the drugstore) or an ointment with vitamins A and D/zinc oxide (aka diaper rash cream). And if it doesn't clear up or it's driving you nuts? See your doctor for a prescription for an antibiotic. "It can really, really help," says Dr. Ashton.
9. But I just have this one BIG bump?
It's as if the hugest, most painful pimple of your life has sprung up right by your swimsuit line, huh? Just in time to go to the beach? #Blessed. Don't freak, though—this simply sounds like an ingrown hair, which happens when dead skin cells clog up a hair follicle and force the hair that's inside to grow sideways under the skin (rather than up and out).
Resist the urge to dig or pick, and instead, treat it once a day with a mild toner containing salicylic acid—the same exfoliating ingredient used to beat acne. Now of course, this treatment works on your groin or your pelvis area, but you don't want to apply it right up in your privates, duh! In that case, leave it alone, and see a doc for treatment if the itching/burning/pain gets serious.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.