A merkin is a pubic wig worn by all sexual identities, made out of animal or human hair (sometimes even real pubic hair), which is either tied or glued onto the body. The merkin came into fashion in the 17th century, but prevails until today. The word merkin first appeared in the 15th century and is believed to derive from a derogatory term for a lower-class woman.
In the 17th century, pubic hair was shaved off to prevent the spread of lice. Wearing a merkin was therefore seen as a sign of being able to “afford” pubic hair. Additionally, a large amount of pubic hair was considered sexually attractive at the time. Most commonly, however, the merkin is associated with 19th-century sex workers seeking to conceal syphilis scars and blisters, as well as hair loss caused by the STD.
Today, merkins are mostly worn in movies and in theater productions - either for privacy or for the purposes of costume and make-up. Moreover, a merkin is also used to refer to a male companion who helps to conceal a woman’s sexual orientation, something like the lesbian counterpart to a “beard”.