Sex, friends and strangers: what to expect when you stop shaving

Contrary to what you've been told, the world doesn't end when a woman stops shaving.

In 2013, deciding to keep your body hair feels like a small revolution, a political rebellion: it sends a message, and is the equivalent of walking around with a placard saying “I’m a scary feminist, and almost certainly left-wing”. Not that I mind: I personally am both of these things, but had been told from the beginning of puberty that I had to remove everything apart from a vague triangle between my thighs, or face never getting laid and never having friends. In fact, it took me several months to get my head round the idea of throwing away my razor for a few weeks, and see where it'd get me. I am, however, very happy I did, and lived to tell the tale. If you're ever considering to stop shaving (and you should), here's what to expect:

I guess the most telling incident I had was, when walking around an estate in East London, a man walking behind me shouted that I had nice legs, “love”. I ignored him, as one does, but he felt the need to add “you should probably shave them though”. I instantly got angry, but as I was about to turn around and respond something not publishable here, he concluded “Yeah, actually I don’t mind”. I was so gobsmacked by his honesty (and his obvious tendency to just think out loud) that I simply walked off without saying anything. And if you ever stop shaving, this is exactly the sort of reaction you’ll come to expect from random people: surprise, possibly disgust, then realisation that it really is nothing. Heartening.

Sadly, friends can be a bit harder to deal with: I’ve heard absolutely everything on my apparently terrifying armpits – from feminist fistbumps to outright “I don’t want to be seen in public with you” – but the funniest probably is the hypocritical enthusiasm. It’s an easy one to notice: just take your jumper off, and the person will start with a shocked “Oh!”, feel guilty about said exclamation, and proceed to spend about fifteen minutes telling you “Yes! No ! Really! It’s great! I wish I could do that! In fact, YOU’RE great!”, when the only thing in their minds clearly is “ew”. You might also get an “ironic” razor for your birthday, or get asked “jokingly” if you’re really going swimming like that. You’ll want to tell them that it’s fine, they can be honest and stop pretending and that you’re not going to cry if you don’t feel validated by every single person you know, but chances are you’ll just smile politely and move on.

Now we’ve covered most social situations, let’s get down to more serious business: sex. The first time I got into bed with someone after ditching the wax, I panicked. I clearly remember thinking “Jesus, I’m going to take off my tights, he’s going to scream, jump off the bed, call his mum and start crying”. Except, well, he didn’t: in fact, I’m not even sure he noticed – and if he did, he didn’t mention it. Nor did any of the lovers that followed. When I quizzed a male friend on the subject, he told me that he was normally too happy to have someone getting naked in his bed that he sincerely could not care less whether she had some hair on her body or not. These wise words were echoed by nearly all the men I asked, which, when thinking about it, hardly is that surprising. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never brought someone back to mine, only to scream in surprise and run away because their chest was a lot hairier than I was expecting it to be. In fact, the conversation I seem to be having practically every time with women is whether men get terrified to go down on you. Newsflash: it doesn’t even really change anything – I’ve slept with women before, you can take my word for it. And pardon me for being crude, but if someone is disgusted by the idea of getting down on a woman who doesn’t wax, he probably doesn’t lick the right bits – all in all, it merely is a matter of personal taste (ha, ha).

On a more serious note, my point here is that throwing away your razor really isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be a big deal. Standing naked in front of a mirror and lifting my arms up felt weird at first: I felt a lot less attractive, and nearly ashamed of my body. Then I got used to it, and started wishing that other women would do the same.

In fact, I'd just like it if it could just become something a bit more normal. Just like wearing heels, dresses, or make up, shaving should become more of a personal choice again: something you do because you feel like it, not because the thought of having three hair on the side of your bikini would fill you with shame or uneasiness. Though sadly, I should probably warn you beforehand: your legs will not feel any warmer during the winter.

 

[Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad