Pubic wigs (called Merkins) were worn by prostitutes as early as the 1450s. The reason for this accessory was that pubic hair was considered popular and attractive, but sex workers shaved their lower parts to avoid pubic lice and used merkin to cover up STD’s from their clients.
In Hollywood film production, merkins may be worn by actors and actresses to avoid exposing genitalia during nude or semi-nude scenes. The presence of the merkin protects the actor from inadvertently performing “full frontal” nudity – some contracts specifically require nipples and genitals to be covered in some way – which may help ensure the film achieves a less restrictive MPAA rating.
The Oxford English Dictionary dates the first written use of the term to 1617. The word probably originated from malkin, a derogatory term for a lower-class young woman, or from Marykin, a pejorative way of saying the female name Mary.