In the early 17th century a merkin was a pubic wig. Merkin also meant an artificial vagina and later developed into a slang term for the f emale genitals. As to why people would use pubic wigs, now at least you can know that merkin came from 'malkin', according to the OED. This was a diminutive of Maud or Matilda, and was used as a typical name of a lower class, untidy or sluttish woman, especially a servant. It was also the name for a female spectre or demon, a rag mop, a scarecrow and a rag puppet. Presumably the rag mop was the inspiration for the word merkin.
Here are some of the reasons people used merkins:
- They used to shave off al l the pubic hair as a cure for syphillis, so the well-to-do used wigs.
- Before penicillin was around to ease the lives of the promiscuous, merkins were used to cover up any sores prostitutes may have obtained in the line of duty. - They used to treat the syphilitic with mercury, which caused baldness.
- The merkin is for women with no pubic hair. Some people just don't develop hair down there, and this can be embarrassing.
- In days of old, a common problem was lice. One of the ways people dealt with this was to shave all the hair off their bodies, including arms, legs, and pubes. - Wigs became very popular. Pubic wigs caught on slowly, starting among the kinkier set, but eventually became halfway respectable.
- A merkin is a crotch wig for both men and women and is usually worn on the outside. That little fur "purse" in front of a Scot's traditional outfit is a merkin. - In a country of mainly dark haired people, a prostitute may wear a blond merkin to be unusual and therefore more desirable.
- One of the more recent uses is to allow exotic dancers to comply with local laws prohibiting full nudity. They wear what amounts to a flesh-colored panty with hair on the front, appearing to the patrons of the establishment to disrobe completely without actually doing so.