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2010: The History of the Merkin

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from the archives

For those of you unenlightened in the ways of strange sexual accessories, the definition of the word “merkin” in Webster’s dictionary is “a woman’s pubic wig.”

These soul patches for down-under are more prevalent than you might think. In today’s market, they come in all sizes and shapes and are commonly made of synthetic or animal hair. Generally, they are attached to the pubic area with non-toxic glue, much like false eyelashes. Merkins, however, are more than just pube wigs. They have a long and sordid history that illustrates the changing sexuality and turn-ons of mankind. More important than red lipstick or high heels, the history of the merkin illustrates the development of sexual practices and aesthetics. So, without further ado, here is 600 years of hairy glory.

The merkin was invented in China in the 1400’s. It was originally heart shaped and made of animal hair. Women did not wear them in this era. Instead, they were tied to the back of chairs and used as an artificial vagina to aid men in masturbation. This was the birth of the merkin and over the next 150 years, it would be adopted by other cultures and eventually make its way west.

The merkin came from humble beginnings, but by Elizabethan times it was widely used in Europe. Elizabethan theatre companies did not allow women to act in plays. Young boys always played female roles, which made staging love scenes difficult. Directors would spend hours planning elaborate costumes and makeup to make these lads look like lasses, so in the process these young men began wearing merkins to hide their genitalia from audiences during sex scenes.

One hundred years later, in the 1600’s, pubic hair was all the rage. Nothing was sexier to a Renaissance man than a full bush. Unfortunately for sex workers, pubic lice was not part of the fantasy. Ladies of the evening were forced to shave their pubic hair in order to de-louse themselves for clients. These clients were not happy. They demanded a fluffy muff. So sex workers began wearing merkins to simulate the homey feel of hair. Samuel Pepys even mentioned it in a diary entry from 1667, saying,

“I did go to the Swan; and there sent for Jervas my old merkin-maker and he did bring me a merkin; but it was full of nits, so as I was troubled to see it and did send him to make it clean.”

Ewwwww

Sex workers continued to wear merkins into the Victorian era. Pubic wigs of this time were often made of horsehair. However, some lucky people owned merkins made of genuine human hair.

By the 20th century, merkins made it across the Atlantic to North America. In the U.S., prior to World War II, it was illegal for a woman to strip completely naked. This law resulted in strippers making less money and customers leaving disappointed. Strippers started wearing merkins made of monkey hair to get around these laws. There are even cases of strippers being taken to court on charges of indecency. In these cases, owning a merkin proved to be an effective defense in court.

Today, merkins are making a come back. In the past few years, the entertainment industry has begun using merkins to make actors more comfortable while filming explicit sex scenes. These are often made of skin-tone fabric so they are easy to edit out. In addition, many directors have lamented the recent waxing trend, especially when filming a historical project. It seems that landing strips weren’t a commonly practiced form of lady-scaping in the 1960’s or the 1920’s or, as we now know, Victorian times. Recent merkin users in period films or television series include the lovely ladies of “Boardwalk Empire,” Sienna Miller in “Hippie Hippie Shake,” and Kate Winslet in “The Reader.” Even Hollywood’s leading men are merkin converts. Jake Gyllenhaal is rumored to have requested one for the love scenes in the upcoming movie “Love and Other Drugs.”

It seems merkins have officially made it into the mainstream. Recent trends in merkin-wear, as mentioned on many a late-night talk show, include the phenomenon known as “vajazzling.” Instead of hair, these new merkins are made of rhinestones and fastened onto skin like stickers. If you are so inclined to want a sparkly vagina, they come in many shapes from hearts to unicorns and are available on numerous adult websites. Should you choose to take part in this vaginal trend, congratulations, you’ll be the latest in a long line of privileged merkin wearers. Whether you decide to wear it fluffy or jeweled, let’s hope the merkin continues to prosper well beyond the 21st century.

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