Two things happen when we never talk about certain body issues. One of them is a lack of understanding. Another is shame. For some reason, we avoid talking about perfectly normal, everyday bodily functions because they are “inappropriate,” when openly discussing them could remove stigmas and reduce shame.
Here are five things we should start talking about more.
That’s right—pooping! I said it, and I’ll say it again. Poop.
Did you ever wonder why kids find bathroom-related jokes so hilarious? It’s partly because they’ve realized “poop” is not something they’re supposed to say out loud; it gets a negative reaction from the adults around them.
As soon as we start talking, we’re taught that certain things are socially unacceptable to talk about. And while it’s understandable that we don’t appreciate children talking about farting and dropping deuces at the dinner table, the taboo nature of the topic extends into adulthood. If we develop an illness or condition that involves these bodily functions, we experience shame and are hesitant to talk about them. In fact, people delay getting checked for cancer and other serious conditions because they’re embarrassed about their symptoms.
We suffer in silence, alone, because we’ve been taught that these are socially unacceptable problems to have. If you break your ankle, you can tell your doctor, your friend, your classmates, your fellow employees, your followers on social media—and you will be met with sympathy, commiseration, and support. If you find blood in your stool and start to have pain when you poop, you keep quiet, possibly even too embarrassed to mention it to a spouse or loved one.
Everyone poops. No one should be ashamed of it.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and other bladder issues are common, and yet these also fall under the “socially unacceptable” category, especially if you’re a woman.
Writer Carla Gee documented her shame about a UTI on Instagram, noting that she cancelled an appointment stating a “medical emergency” rather than giving specifics.
“As I carried around the cranberry juice [at a local supermarket], I thought to myself, ‘I really hope no one thinks I have a UTI,” she writes. “When I got home, I had a good think about why I felt so self-conscious about having a UTI. I realised that I had a learned, misogynistic attitude towards my own body. UTIs are most common amongst women, due to the design of our bodies. A UTI often occurs after sexual intercourse, and/or simply due to the fact that a woman’s urethra is short and closer to sources of bacteria from the vagina or anus. Essentially, I was ashamed of being a woman.”
If we normalize talking about bladder issues, especially women’s bladder issues, that shame will be experienced less.
Many men hold a surprising number of misconceptions about periods, including the following:
a) Women can hold in period blood and pee it out like urine.
b) Premenstrual syndrome isn’t real.
c) Women can’t get pregnant during their periods.
d) All women menstruate at the exact same time.
e) Extreme pain during a period is normal.
While some of these misunderstands are hilarious, they can cause some huge frustrations, such as not being allowed to leave a work meeting to change a tampon or serious health issues going undiagnosed.
In addition, women hide their supplies in the deepest cupboards of their bathrooms, and heaven forbid someone find a tampon out in the open; that would be “gross.” In high school, when I needed a pad, I would slip it into the sleeve of my sweatshirt, so no one noticed as I made the trip between the lockers and the bathroom. I made sure to wear something with long sleeves during the week of my period. But if menstruation was treated as the normal bodily function that it is, we could eliminate some of this shame and misunderstandings that result in frustrating consequences.
When I had my first UTI after becoming sexually active, one of my married friends checked in with me to see if I knew that you should always pee after having sex; this helps cleanse the urethra from harmful bacteria and reduces the chances of getting a UTI. I had never been told this before. Or if I had been told, it had been once, years ago during seventh grade sex ed, and I no longer remembered. Here are some more things I only learned in my late twenties:
a) If you have a vagina and don’t orgasm during intercourse, you’re in the majority. You’re not broken. There is nothing wrong with you. Around three-quarters of people with vaginas need other sexual activity and/or clitoral stimulation to orgasm.
b) Intense pain during penetration is not normal, inevitable, or “okay.” If sex hurts, you don’t just have to lay there, pretend it feels good, and take it. You can have sex in pain-free ways.
c) Sex doesn’t always feel amazing. It’s not magical the first time and can take practice with your partner to feel good.
d) Men can control themselves. Even when they’re aroused. True story.
e) It’s perfectly okay to talk about what you want and communicate with your partner. In fact, this will likely improve your sexual experiences with each other.
Sex is another one of those taboo topics that we need to start talking about more openly in healthy ways. People, particularly those with vaginas, go through a lot of pain and shame that they shouldn’t have to due to these stigmas.
5. Yeast Infections, STDs, Discharge, and Everything Else “Down There”
Similar to sex, topics related to genitals are avoided like the very STDs that can occur. Going to the doctor to ask about itching and strange-smelling discharge is embarrassing. Buying cream at the drug store is embarrassing. Telling your friend about your issue “down there” is embarrassing.
But it shouldn’t be shameful to open up about something so normal. Maybe if we encouraged real talk about our bodies from childhood, we wouldn’t have to be embarrassed, we wouldn’t lack crucial information about how our bodies work, and we would be more confident in tackling our health issues. Talking about our bodies in healthy ways equips us to be content in our own skins and enables us to seek help when we need it, even if it means using the dreaded p word. (Poop. I mean poop. Get your mind out of the gutter.) Pooping is normal. UTIs and yeast infections happen to all of us. Menstruation is normal. Pain in uncomfortable places should be brought up. So get used to talking about it.