“You’re the Jedi pooper,” my boyfriend declared roughly six months into our relationship. He was referring to the fact that I’d managed to duck detection while going number two for the entire half a year. When he finally caught me in the act (well, not literally – he was on the other side of the bathroom door), I pouted from the toilet while he cheered as if welcoming me to a party.
My timing is roughly in line with the results of a recent poll. Of 1,186 other women in long-term relationships, the majority said they didn’t feel relaxed enough to fart and burp in front of their significant others until the 7.5 month mark. Meanwhile, their boyfriends entered the comfort zone around week three.
So yeah — when it comes to the scatological, women take much, much longer to loosen up.
Knowing all this, should it be an indication of relationship progress when a woman slackens her bathroom attitude? Should we consider it a feat once we can fart, poop, and talk about periods around a partner?
Fearing judgment by a lover for expelling foul smells and sounds is something nearly every woman deals with. I’m not shy about my bodily emissions — I used to call my younger brother to describe my bowel movements (often in real time). Still, it took me more than half a year to overcome my fecal anxiety around my boyfriend.
There’s method to our madness – as natural as it is to urinate, defecate, and release gas, our bodies’ needs can be trumped by our desire to preserve our sex appeal—especially in the beginning. As accurate as Louis C.K. may be in explaining to John Stewart why farts are funny, our culture doesn’t exactly embrace female flatulence as sexy.
But the benefits of “breaking the barrier” may outweigh whatever sense of security we reap from reaching for odorless perfection. It was a huge relief to stop waiting for my boyfriend to leave the house before doing my business on mornings involving excessive coffee. It meant something when I let my real self out, in full. More than personal comfort, the two of us gained a sense of mutual acceptance, which felt like an achievement.
Sex columnist Tracy Clark-Flory agrees that reaching this relationship stage is huge. Clark-Flory confesses to camouflaging her bathroom noises by running the shower when her boyfriend is around. After belching in his presence and relaxing her leg-shaving regimen, she contends that acknowledging flatulence and shelving the fake-shower are an important step in the relationship, on par with saying “I love you.”
Over the years, professional matchmaker Samantha Daniels has fielded countless related stories. Daniels says a common anxiety involves the inaugural couple’s vacation, during which many women refuse to go to the bathroom anywhere besides the hotel lobby. When a woman feels confident enough to “let her partner see her as a real human being, rather than a perfect lady,” it’s a good sign, according to Daniels.
Sure, there can be risks to embracing each other’s humanity too eagerly. Rachel Sussman, LCSW, urges that “some privacy and boundaries,” are crucial to maintaining a healthy sex life. It would be a mistake for new lovers to assume that nothing is off limits – it can be a slippery slope from mutual infatuation to disgust (for both men and women).
The trick is for couples to assess where the line between sharing and over-sharing is. And since the spectrum for scatological tolerance is so broad, this can get very, very complicated.
In a response to a question about the etiquette of farting for Rookie’s “Ask A Grown Man” video series, “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm notes the obvious: “everybody farts”.
Still, people like Daisy Barringer—who recalls the horror of farting so loudly in her sleep once that it woke her boyfriend up—are raised to believe that abstaining from “gross” behavior in front of loved ones is a matter of respect. If all it takes is some discomfort, abdominal muscle control, and dedication to scheduling, many people feel it’s worth the hassle.
Whether or not accepting the scatological marks an upswing or a decline in a relationship, the fact is that if you can at least address the issue, it’s a great litmus test. No matter how sexy you want to remain, at some point, you’re gonna have to use the bathroom within his earshot. So you may as well accept that once the relationship has hit a point where you can and should be discussing the fact that both of you are human beings with flaws (and colons).
Still, also remember to articulate your own boundaries as far as what’s cute/comfortable/intimate and what’s just gross. As I was writing this article, my boyfriend called on his way to a stressful meeting. “Just thinking about it makes me want to diarrhea,” he said. And there it was: the edge of what’s acceptable to me.
Mélanie Berliet is a New York City based writer and producer. Her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, New York, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Self among other publications. For more of her work, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.