These days, rocking a full bush feels sort of like still requesting “The Rachel” at a hair salon. Sure, it still looks great, but it’s gone out of style. In a recent study of over 3,000 women, 84 percent reported doing some pubic hair grooming, with 62 percent saying they’ve gone completely bare at least once. The study also looked into why we’re going pube-free — and it’s not because hot wax is a treat for the vulva.

Unlike research from 2010, which showed that pubic hair grooming was associated with sexual activity, this time around, a majority of women said they groomed for hygienic purposes. But is there actually any proof that shaving your pubes is healthier or more hygienic? Let’s take a look:

The protective powers of pubes
Leaving your pubic hair alone is free and involves a zero percent chance of hot wax mishaps, so let’s start with the benefits of doing nothing. There’s some disagreement about why we have pubic hair in the first place, but some experts think of the little curlies as a powerful shield — not only do they reduce friction from skin-to-skin contact as you walk and wick away sweat, they also protect you from infection below the belt, trapping bacteria and keeping it from entering into the vagina.

Wait, isn’t bacteria trapped in pubic hair also bad?
Yep, hair can harbor bacteria around the hair follicles, says Dr. Marina Peredo, celebrity dermatologist and owner of Skinfluence in New York City. “The connection [between pubic hair removal and hygiene] is understandable.” But while going bare makes it easier to keep the area clean, “overall, good hygiene is not dependent on whether or not you groom your pubic hair.” Bottom line, regular showers will do more for your hygiene than regular wax appointments.

The pros of going pube-free
The hygiene link may be tenuous, but that doesn’t mean baring it all is completely without health benefits. For one, there’s some evidence that pubic hair grooming leads to decreased rates of pubic hair lice. And if you opt for laser hair removal to keep your bikini line bare, you also lose the risk of getting ingrown hairs which can lead to infection, says Dr. Peredo. (Of course, that also means you’ll have to add a lifetime of merkins (ed. note: NSFW-ish) to your personal care budget if you ever change your mind about baring it all.)

The downsides of down-there grooming
As anyone who’s ever had to hold an ice pack to her crotch knows, pubic hair removal comes with its dangers, too. Skin in the genital area is thin, says Dr. Peredo, and a nick or cut in the area can lead to a bacterial infection. Even if you don’t end up with a visible cut, waxing and shaving leaves behind micro-abrasions, which can leave you more vulnerable to bacteria, parasites, and viruses, and potentially increase your risk of acquiring certain sexually transmitted infections from a contagious partner. Does that mean you should break up with your bikini waxer? Not necessarily. The potential risks are there, but it’s unlikely that your tombstone will read “death by waxing strip.”

To groom or not to groom: there’s a case for both, so we’ll leave what’s in your pants up to you. As for me, I’m inspired to start working on recreating “The Rachel” in pubic hair. Does anyone have a very, very small flat iron I can borrow?

Diana Vilibert is a freelance writer and copywriter living in Brooklyn, NY. She loves flea markets, martinis, to-do lists, traveling, and wearing leggings as pants. You can see more of her writing at www.dianavilibert.com and follow her on Twitter at @dianavilibert.