I feel a little bit controversial whilst writing this, purely because it's so pathetically taboo to converse about anything remotely near your nether regions, let alone the actual region itself. The word 'vagina' doesn't get enough airtime, but it's a wonder why this is - these things are part of our bodies, and we like to look after them; therefore we need to discuss HOW to look after them, because otherwise, how will we ever know?
First of all, I'd like to address the fact that there is nothing unfeminist about getting a bikini wax. It doesn't matter if you're doing it to enhance your romantic life, to feel a little more 'hygienic', or to fulfill the original purpose of the treatment: to look a little bit more kempt in a bikini. Just for the record, there is also nothing wrong with not getting a bikini wax. Your vagina, your rules.
What exactly does it feel like? To answer the most obvious question - yes, it does hurt. Someone (albeit a qualified beautician) is ripping hundreds of hairs out of one of the most sensitive areas of your body. However, the pain is gone in an instant - and if you're extra sensitive, the beautician can apply some soothing cream upon request.
The pain is equivalent to someone slapping your skin quite hard - there's an ever so slight burning sensation caused by the hairs being ripped out by their roots (after a brief Google, I couldn't find any info on the science behind the pain, so I won't try to sound clever). It tends to be more painful towards the inner thigh; however, if you have coarse hair, the top of the bikini area can also feel sore when waxed.
Once the beautician has finished waxing a section, they will usually tweeze any strays. This can be a little painful, as the area has only just been waxed - but it's over quickly (the entire treatment lasts 15-30 minutes).
How long does it last? Waxing in the bikini area lasts around 4-6 weeks. You'll probably be 100% hair free (providing you haven't shaved in the month beforehand) for around a fortnight before the hairs regenerate and slowly start to grow back through the skin. If you have shaved prior to waxing, the shaved hair will grow back quicker.
Once you've had at least two waxes, your hair will grow back thinner, making the area easier to manage.
How long you should let hair grow before waxing? Around an eighth to a quarter of an inch is fine. Any shorter and the wax won't grip the hairs. Any longer and the hair will get clumped and result in a very painful experience.
What if I don't want to go the whole hog? There are usually four different types of bikini wax offered at the average salon: a 'Bikini Line', which removes hair from the area which surrounds your panty-line; an 'Extended Bikini Wax' which goes slightly further in; a 'Brazilian' which removes hair from your front and behind, leaving a strip of hair (a 'landing-strip') in the bikini area; and a 'Hollywood', which leaves you completely bare. I would recommend going for the Bikini Line or Extended Bikini if you've never waxed before, then work up from there.
How do I find the right beautician for me? I advise finding the right beautician through word of mouth. Just because someone's licensed, doesn't mean they're skilled. Also, different beauticians have different ways of handling their clients: some are chatty to take your mind off the pain, some just get on with it, and some are very sensitive to your requirements to make sure that you're not too uncomfortable.
How much does it cost? Like a haircut, the cost of a bikini wax can depend on a number of factors. The price goes up if you have more hair to work with, and if you live in an expensive area. Cost can also vary depending on which type of treatment you choose, and also on the type of wax (some salons offer a more soothing wax for sensitive skin as an alternative option).
How awkward is it? It depends on how you see it. Basically, you will be lying on a raised bed wearing a paper thong with someone in very close proximity to your bikini area. If that's too weird for you, I'd avoid the process.
To compare, it's a bit like a trip to the gynecologist, but without the invasiveness. Your beautician will have seen everything a hundred times over, so there really is no need to feel embarrassed.
If you're based in or near London, here are a few of my recommended spots for professional bikini waxing:
Ministry of Waxing, 56 Neal St, WC2H 9PA - Brazilian £29, Hollywood £50
Aveda Institute, 174 High Holborn, WC1V 7AA - Brazilian/Hollywood from £37
Strip, 102 Fulham Road, SW3 6HS - Brazilian £49, Hollywood £52
Cowshed, Foubert's Place, W1F 7QG - Brazilian/Hollywood £50