We’d already slept together once.
It was at the staff drinks, the new team getting to know each other after our first week together. I had known we were going to sleep together from the moment I sat down in that first meeting. Not because I was instantly attracted to you or because I sensed some magical bond between us, but because of the way you looked at me. It was the look of a womaniser, a look that broke me down into body parts, made me feel like a piece of meat. But I liked it. I knew that look; it was uncomplicated and straightforward and ended, hopefully, with an orgasm.
When I turned to you over my pint of Guinness and said, ‘Obviously, we’re going to have sex’, you were like a cartoon character, frozen in shock. But I was bored of playing games, so we made our not-so-subtle excuses and went to your flat, where I fucked you with a grim sense of inevitability. There comes a point where sex isn’t really about enjoyment anymore, but simply for the fact of having done it. A tick off a mental list. A mantra in the mirror: I am still worthy of male attention, still desirable, still alive.
And so, months down the line, I was drunk and leaving London for good; there was no reason to say no. Had I enjoyed it the first time? Not especially. But you were there, wanting me, and sometimes that’s enough. We went through the same routine, back to the flat, down on the bed, clothes off. But then you surprised me. You were going down on me while I was watching the ceiling spin, and before I could figure out what was happening, you had reached over to your bedside table, grabbed a pair of scissors, held my pubic hair in one hand and, with two swift snips, proceeded to dispose of my entire lady garden.
What made you commit this act of barbery? Did pubic my hair offend you? Were you shocked at the audacity of my natural look, refusing to mimic the bare vulvas of your porn films? Maybe my unkempt bush tickled your nose. But what gave you the right? The right over my body, the decisions I made about it, the way it looked. By going home with you, undressing, letting you touch me, letting you inside me, I was not giving you ownership of my body. I was not saying ‘Do whatever you please’. I was not yours to groom and style in a way to suit your own aesthetics.
You acted like it was nothing. As though it was the most natural thing in the world. When I protested, asked what the hell you’d done, you laughed and carried on, as if I could enjoy your lazy cunnilingus when it came at the price of my pubes. To you it was hardly worthy of comment. To me it was a violation – not simply of my right to look however I damn well please, but of the trust I put in you when I came back to your flat. Admittedly, much worse could have happened, but I granted you access to my body that night and rather than respect that, you vandalised me.
I can’t say I was traumatised. At a party the following night, I held the attention of the room, telling them this absurd tale. There was shock and laughter in equal measure. But four years later, I still lie awake sometimes, wondering why you did it. I imagine you sticking a clump of my pubic hair into a scrapbook, along with the souvenirs you’ve taken from other women. Or maybe you were crafting a merkin with it, maybe you liked my pubic fuzz so much you wanted to replicate it on future lovers. But I think the reality is simpler: you didn’t like the fullness of my bush and so you removed it. You had a problem and so you solved it. With no consideration for me. I doubt it occurred to you that my pubic hair might have been an active choice. You probably thought I was lazy or hadn’t had a wax in a while.
If you had only asked my permission. Because, frankly, I never asked you to go down there in the first place; it would have been no skin off my nose (or pubes off my vulva) if you hadn’t. You were no skilled master of oral sex. Given the choice between my pubes and your tongue, I know which I would have chosen to stay down there. You didn’t give me that choice though, you went ahead and did what you pleased. And I can’t even blame you, when it comes down to it, because our society teaches you that female bodies exist for men’s pleasure. No wonder you thought nothing of altering mine when it didn’t suit you. And the only small rebellion I have against your act of pubic barbery is to grow my hair wild and proud and free. Perhaps I’ll get a tattoo above it that reads: Natural Protection Area, Do Not Disturb. But I hope it won’t be necessary. I hope men will learn to respect women and our bodies, however we choose to wear them. And I hope no one will ever again have to wonder: did my pubic hair offend you?
Jemma Stewart lives in Somerset, where she also grew up, and recently received a distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Creative Writing. She’s now putting the finishing touches on her first novel, Barely Functioning, which is about female friendship and was shortlisted for the Grindstone Literary International Novel Prize 2019. She has had a short story published by Bandit Fiction and when not writing can usually be found drinking wine and ranting (politely) about feminism. Find her on Twitter at @JemKatrina.