Bodily functions in relationships: can we talk about them?
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Bodily functions in relationships: can we talk about them?
Talking about bodily functions in a relationship can be a matter of life or death, especially if you have a chronic illness.
I am watching interviews with the cast of Queer Eye on my phone whilst on the toilet. A place I have to spend quite a lot of my time with partial gastrointestinal failure and a whole host of other digestive system symptoms, issues, complaints. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and one of the less talked about complications of this condition is gastrointestinal failure, in many forms.
Watching the Queer Eye guys is an act of self-care for me. They generally make me feel calmer and fill me with happy, fuzzy, warmness at times of distress. But this time, they start having a discussion that gives me pause and makes me want to climb through the phone, pants around my ankles and interjects with ‘excuse me, I have something to add.’
One of them, (I won’t name names, cause I do really adore them all) states that you should never pass wind in front of a romantic partner, and in doing so you ruin the romance or something to that effect, whilst at least two of the guys say this is ridiculous, and that if you are going to be comfortable with a partner, then bodily functions are part of the deal.
Time to talk about bodily functions in a relationship
Now, I think if you want and are able to hide your bodily functions from your partner, then that’s your choice, but the idea that farting in front of someone ruins the romance, as a one size fits all mandate on relationships and sex appeal needs to be critiqued.
The statement doesn’t account for the people who that is literally not an option for and perpetuates a dangerous culture of shame about bodily functions. My partner and I are in our twenties, I am chronically ill and disabled, and our relationship involves some physical care requirements.
My life often revolves around my bowels. Our lives often revolve around my bowels. We celebrate when I fart because it means in that moment things are working. We celebrate when I poo, we sometimes even celebrate the quality of a certain poo. Yes, I pooped without dislocating my coccyx or without passing blood or without prolapsing or without pain, or my bowel obstruction has resolved, and we won’t be going to the hospital today.
If I have been in the bathroom alone for a long time without his assistance when I come out, he looks to me for a comment on how it went, and if all is good, he answers me with a genuine ‘well done, good job.’ My bowels have become such a normalized part of our every day, and they do not and will not desexualize me to him or to myself. However, getting to this point of bowel acceptance took work.
Talking about bodily functions can be a matter of life or death
When my bowels first began failing, before I understood what was going on, I had just begun seeing someone, a relationship that had been building up from a friendship for years. We spent the night together, and when getting water in his kitchen, I shat myself whilst wearing his clothes. I was mortified. I could not talk about what had happened. I returned to his room, quickly told him I had to leave, and didn’t explain why. Surely he knew? And he never did get those clothes back. Either way, I left, and a relationship that was just beginning was over, just like that, because I couldn’t talk about something we all do. It worked out for the best because I met my current partner, who has helped me to unlearn this bodily shame.
A bowel movement can be life or death for me and others with similar conditions. So having to hide that, through fear of losing sex appeal or due to any of the other numerous stigma surrounding our bowel movements needs tackling. Bodily function acceptance should go hand in hand with other body positive movements.
“Bodily function acceptance should go hand in hand with other body-positive movements”
I have fairly frequent bowel incontinence, and usually, after the fact, my partner and I can find humor in these incidents. Still, by talking openly about it, we can deal with them in the most effective way for my health, mental well-being, and self-confidence. We have an incontinence bag, if I say we need to get to a toilet now, he acts quickly without too many probing questions in public.
Aside from the practical benefits of being open about bowels in a relationship, there can be serious health implications. Your poo can say a lot about your health, and if you notice a change, but don’t feel comfortable discussing it with your friends, family, or a partner, then will you go to the doctor to seek help?
Read more: Dating disabled women in wheelchairs
Get over it! Talking bodily functions in relationships is nothing to be embarrassed about
I have lost count of the number of doctors who have given me a rectal exam. I have had colonoscopies, gastric emptying studies, flexible sigmoidoscopies, and soon I am having a defecating proctogram (where the X-ray needs to visualize and record my small bowel and rectum in action). Medical investigations are always stressful, but add a layer of shame to that, then maybe we will avoid getting help completely?
Bupa recently released survey findings that suggested over half of British people put off seeking medical advice for symptoms they find embarrassing, bleeding from the rectum was a leading source of embarrassment in this study by Bupa: “Embarrassment causing millions of Brits to delay getting cancer symptoms checked.”
Queer Eye guys, I love you all equally, and you have such an important platform and help so many people find self-love, myself included. How you handle your own bodily functions in your relationship is your business, but next time you are asked about farting in front of your partner in a public forum, think of me on the toilet with my hand up ready to chime in. Because I have bowels, they will not be ignored, and I am still a babe. #BabeWithBowels
Charlie Fitz is a British artist and writer who identifies as sick and disabled, her multiform projects resist and challenge the expectation that the 'sick' be patient or passive to medical paternalism.