Why Pubic Lice Are Becoming Endangered

By Alan Boyle on Wednesday, November 27, 2013
head louse
“These are times of discomfort, often of suffering.” —Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

In A Nutshell

Most people had head lice as a kid, but fewer will admit to a pubic lice infestation. The crab louse is a harmless critter, but can cause irritation if it sets up home in your groin. Having a shave or wax down there is a lot less obvious than getting a buzz cut up top, so getting rid of these annoying ectoparasites is usually easy. Yet keeping downstairs hairless is increasingly popular in general, which is bad news for little Pthirus pubis seeking to spread. Ever since Carrie Bradshaw and pals made going bald popular, crab lice have been seen less and less.

The Whole Bushel

There are a few topics most people don’t bring up with even their closest friends. Minor sexually transmitted conditions are pretty high on that list. Pubic lice infestation is probably the least harmful condition you can pick up from a partner. That’s lucky, because condoms won’t stop them and they’re one of the few conditions you can pass on by sharing clothes and towels with someone. It’s doubly lucky because they can also live in beards and eyelashes.

Like head lice (which are a different family of animal altogether), pubic lice hide among body hair. If you don’t have any hair, then there’s nowhere for the lice to hide. Logically, the increase in pubic shaving and waxing seems like it should make a difference. Research indicates that indeed it does. This little beast that has kept us company for 3.3 million years is disappearing, and the experts are pointing the finger at Sex And The City.

The British Association of Dermatologists point out that for the period 1997–2003, the numbers of reported cases in the UK has more than halved, and Australia has shown similar numbers. Other sexually transmitted diseases have been increasing over the same period, so it’s not the case that people are having less sex.

There are downsides, though. Hair removal can (and often does) break the skin, which is a risk factor for transmission of other conditions. Then there’s the chance of an ingrown hair, which is about as fun as playing host to a swarm of miniature blood-sucking insects. While the data we have looks encouraging, nobody actually bothers to track pubic lice. Lice don’t cause disease and are easy to treat, so the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and other national bodies find keeping tabs unnecessary. That, and just talking about it is enough to make you itchy.

Show Me The Proof

NHS: Pubic Lice
British Association of Dermatologists: Was ‘Sex and the City’ the beginning of the end for pubic lice?
Bloomberg: Brazilian Bikini Waxes Make Crab Lice Endangered Species
Featured image credit: Head louse, by Jacopo Werther