I never fart in front of my boyfriend. At least not audibly. We’ve been living together for over a year now, but still, my sphincter closes up like a collapsed ant hole in his presence. This type of rectal clenching—certainly unhealthy—is probably a result of my internalized notion that farting is unladylike, or “not cute,” or a sign the relationship is void of romance. Of course, my brain recognizes these ideas are bullshit but apparently my bowels do not.
My resistance to fart openly around my partner might make me seem like a repressed 50s housewife, but I honestly feel like I have some kind of mild fart trauma due to evenings spent with my grandmother, a particularly flatulent old woman. Throughout my childhood, I would watch her traverse the kitchen floor, farting loudly with each step as though she had a whoopie cushion lodged in her slipper. But no, she just had a very loose butthole, and her thunderous walk appeared to me like some kind of slow, horrifying march towards the grave. She rarely, if ever, acknowledged the farts. They just gurgled freely into the soundscape.
I vowed never to become that.
I’ve tried to unlearn this association between farting and geriatric femininity, but it seems hardwired into my digestive system in a way I can’t undo. As a modern woman, I know I should have the confidence, and the self-assuredness in my desirability, to allow myself to let one rip in front of my boyfriend. But I just can’t.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a gas bag on legs. He has a tuba for an ass, and his burps are constant. In fact, he is burping audibly from the bedroom as I write this article. Does his stream of gaseousness bother me? Not at all. If anything, it makes me like him more, because I know he’s comfortable around me.
So why can’t I apply this same logic to my own body?
I don’t know, and maybe this is something I need to work through in therapy, but either way, VICE decided to launch an inquiry into the sociological underpinnings regarding the performance of bodily functions within romantic relationships. As in, we asked couples about farting and shitting.
Stacey, 26, and Sabrina, 26, living together
VICE: What is your comfort level with farting around each other?
Stacey: Well let me tell you, when we first started dating, it was not comfortable at all. I’m a gassy person and so I was constantly nervous and worried that Sabrina was gonna hear me farting, especially when we were sleeping in bed, because that’s when I’m the most gassy. I’ve gotten past that fear now, but back in the day I devised this method.
Sabrina: It was called the spread.
Stacey: Yes, the spread. So when you’re afraid that your partner—or like anyone, really—is about to hear you fart, you just reach back and spread the butt cheeks apart a little bit and then it won’t make a sound because the air will just fly on through. But the funny thing is that, when we first started dating and Sabrina was worried that I was going to hear her fart as well, she also separately started doing the spread. So we were both doing it without the other person knowing. We had each invented the spread independently.
Sabrina: Trademark The Spread. I think it’s a common practice, though. It’s just an easy way to turn a noisy one into a silent one.
Well clearly this was a sign you were meant to be together. But what about the smell? In relationships I feel like I’m most worried about revealing myself as, you know, a stink bomb, not just a noisemaker.
Stacey: Well, you know, it is what it is—especially since we just started eating vegetarian. Like a lot of times when we’re driving, Sabrina will just roll down the window and I’ll know that she just farted.
Sabrina: It’s like a courtesy fart.
And at what point in your relationship did you achieve such a level of comfort?
Sabrina: There comes a point in relationships where you just let out a big one, laugh and say “this is where we’re at now.” You say, “we’re gassy people, we admit it, now let’s move on with our lives.”
Stacey: And this happened probably about a year into our relationship. Another thing that’s interesting is that Sabrina is much more gassy from a burping perspective—she is often burping super loud—whereas I am more gassy from a farting perspective. I think burps are gross, and so one day when Sabrina let out this huge burp I was like, “ugh, burps are gross,” and she was like, “how is that any different from you farting at me?” And I was shook. It’s not any different. I have to accept the burps if she has to accept the farts.
Sabrina: Gas is gas. Comes out either way.
Stacey: Also, sometimes when Sabrina burps or farts she’ll be like, “better out than in, that’s what Shrek always says!”
Haha what a Dad line.
Sabrina: If I’m not a Dad then I don’t know who I am.
Is “destroying the mystery” or “killing romance” a real thing that either of you ever worry about?
Stacey: Look, when you date someone for long enough, romance happens in different ways.
Sabrina: I think something that’s romantic is knowing your partner is a person with bodily functions, and you just learn to accept it. You’re like, oh, you also do all these things that I do.
Stacey: And we don’t pee or poop in front of each either. We close the door. There’s still a little mystery left. But we do live in a very small apartment that isn’t super noise proof, so sometimes if one of us is in there, you can hear what’s happening on the other side of the door. Everybody poops and it shouldn’t be something that you need to hide.
Sabrina: And if Stacey’s in the bathroom, sometimes I’ll turn the volume up on my music so that she feels like she has some semblance of privacy.
Carleigh, 41, and Sean, 46, living together
VICE: Do you two fart openly in front of each other?
Carleigh: We do, but it’s been surprisingly fraught. So the first thing I’ll mention is that we moved in together after dating for only four months. So things got real in a big hurry on the farting front. In my mind I thought, well, we’re two adults and we should be farting in front of each other without it being a big deal. But I surprised myself because I was not immediately prepared to do it. I was basically waiting for Sean to break the seal. But it just wasn’t happening! And the days stretched on, and with every passing day things got more awkward for me. I was just like, jesus, I have to do something. So I talked to my friend Tasha, who has been farting in front of her boyfriend for ages. Like even during sex sometimes, she just busts out and goes, “baby, I have to fart,” and her boyfriend is like, “yeah, just let it out.” So they’re an A-level couple for that. So I talked to her and she was like, “come on, be an adult.” But still, there were times when Sean and I would be sleeping on the couch, and I’d wake myself up having farted like a dog, and I’d worry that he’d heard. But I usually sensed he hadn’t.
Finally, one day we were out having cigarettes and I made some kind of fart joke as an opener, and Sean was like, “well, yeah, maybe I’m a bit reserved on that front, but of course, of course we should be farting in front of each other.” But like a couple of teenagers, we still needed to laugh our way through it. So we decided we would enter into an agreement and we would sign the Magna Farta, which has probably been joked about a million times before, but we thought we were the smartest, most creative folks ever to have come up with the Magna Farta.
And what exactly is the Magna Farta? Is it like a manifesto?
Sean: The Magna Farta was just kind of a joke, a funny way of sealing the deal that we were actually talking about this important thing and acknowledging that we were at a stage where we could fart in front of each other but also trust each other not to be totally gross about it.
Carleigh: Meaning no Dutch Ovens.
Sean: Yeah no Dutch Ovens. And boundaries like you have to stand at least six feet away, down wind, and next to an open window.
Carleigh: But I gotta say, if Sean hasn’t farted in front of me in a while, I still am a little bit like...well I don’t want to do it.
Virginia*, 26, and Clyde*, 27, recently married
VICE: How long have you been together?
Virginia: Almost four years. We’ve been living together for two years, and we got married two months ago.
What is your comfort level with farting around each other?
Clyde: Too comfortable.
Virginia: Too comfortable. Whenever one of us has to fart, we just do it and then smile at each other. There are even times when one of us will just let out a ripper and not even acknowledge it. Or like Clyde will just give me the shifty eye.
And how did you, I guess, break the seal? Was there ever a conversation?
Clyde: Well when we first started dating, Virginia was really against butt jokes.
Virginia: Yeah I’m not big into toilet humor. He’d make a joke and I’d be like, “stop it, that’s so gross.” But eventually I caved and saw the humor in it too. And before we dated, we were in the same friend group so Clyde was always farting in front of his friends when they were over. So that stuff was there from the beginning. I also think there is a stigma against women farting, and there’s a lot of women who still say, you know, “I don’t fart.” Not that I‘m trying to make this politicized, but it took me some time to be like, “oh, I can fart too and have it be funny.” And now I do it all the time, even in front of friends. But I always announce it beforehand.
Is there any situation where you wouldn’t feel comfortable farting in front of each other? Like how about during sex?
Clyde: I don’t think I’ve ever had to fart during sex.
Virginia: Yeah, no, we don’t do that. Although queefing sometimes happens and even though it’s funny, I do find it kind of embarrassing because I’m never expecting it and it’s completely involuntary. We do shit in front of each other, though. Like I’ll take a dump while he’s in the shower.
Clyde: I’m more private about shitting. I’ve had to start locking the bathroom door because otherwise Virginia might come right on in. The only time I lock the door is when I’m taking a dump.
Virginia: Whereas I’m super open about it. Like the other day, he was going to work and I was saying goodbye to him from atop the toilet, while shitting, and he still came in to kiss me goodbye.
Clyde: But I didn’t actually kiss her goodbye. I debated it but decided not to. There has to be a line somewhere.
Nelson, 25, and Amid, 24, living separately
VICE: Tell me about your comfort level with farting around each other, and how it’s evolved over time?
Nelson: I mean, I’d say we’re pretty comfortable with each other. If it happens, it happens. We don’t do it purposefully though. I think with every couple, there’s a level of intimacy you reach where you’re able to fart openly and for us, I’d say that happened about two months in.
Amid: No, it was more like one month. It was early.
Nelson: I think with same sex couples, you can reach that level of comfort more quickly. But we have a couple funny stories. Amid remembers them quite well.
Amid: So when we were just kicking things off, Nelson came over and I don’t exactly remember what we were doing but—
Nelson: We were doing a face mask.
Amid: Oh yes, we were doing a face mask in my bathroom, and I just let out a tiny burp. I was like, ok, well, burps are harmless.
Nelson: The burp was so tiny.
Amid: It was! So tiny. And Nelson was like, well, since you went there first...and then he farted pretty loudly.
Nelson: And once it’s done it’s done. It’s like, “you’ve heard this,” and it’s not a big deal anymore.
Amid: The next time was accidental, though.
Nelson: We were in bed watching TV. And I was at the edge of the bed, about to get up, and when I tried to stand up Nelson reached for me so that his hands were basically on my waist, and there was just this big pssffffffft.
Amid: He let it rip. And it was pretty bad but I was laughing so hard. Both situations were really funny, and I was the one to initiate things for sure, like I will take that, because I don’t know, everyone likes a little fart humor. There has to be comedy involved, because we’re not so comfortable that when someone farts we just...ignore it. At least not at this point anyway.
What are your boundaries like in terms of bathroom stuff?
Amid: We definitely pee in front of each other, and when I’m sitting on the toilet I really don’t care if he sees, but he never wants to be there.
Nelson: It’s funny, yeah, that’s my line. As silly as it is, it’s a line I don’t want to cross. I know that he poops, but that’s the one thing he can do on his own and I don’t want to be around it.
Why do you think you have different feelings or comfort levels around pooping?
Nelson: I knew a married couple where the woman told me that, after forty years of marriage, they’d still never seen eachother go to the bathroom. I was like, wow, holy smokes. And her reason was that she just...couldn’t. And I don’t know, I never [pooped] in front of anyone growing up. Like peeing is one thing, but [pooping] is sooo another. I figure that if someone could hold out for forty years, then I could hold out for my whole life.
Amid: For me, I grew up with brothers, and so if one was in the washroom and someone needed to go in there to get something, well they’d just go in.
Nelson: Whereas I grew up with sisters, so it was a little different. My sisters would always share the bathroom together and go in front of each other—so maybe it’s a same sex thing—but for me, I mean, nope. It’s something I’d rather not see. Also, Amid has IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so sometimes it’s quite violent, from what he tells me. And quite honestly, I feel like...
Amid: The bathroom is my safe space.
Nelson: Exactly, so I let him have that. He really doesn’t feel good a lot of the time, and also no one wants to be around that. I have a weak stomach anyhow. I let him have his peace.
Liv, 25 and Braden, 24, engaged and living together
VICE: What does your farting practice look like around each other?
Liv: I’ve always been a silent farter, like I’ve developed the skill of silently farting. Braden and I are in a band together and there are definitely times when I’ll fart on stage and no one notices. It’s a little inside joke for myself. But farting around Braden hasn’t been a thing. When I know it’s silent but deadly, though, I just warn.
Braden: I guess the unspoken—until now—agreement seems to be, well, just be respectful. If you can get away, get away, but if not, give warning.
And how long did you go before broaching the subject of farts in your relationship?
Braden: A couple years. We’re both fairly private people, myself a little bit more than Liv. It’s not for lack of being comfortable talking about it, but I don’t see a lot of necessity to discussing it. For other couples, it almost seems like farting in front of each other is a right of passage, or else there’s this idea that you’re not truly intimate with each other unless you talk about it, but for me it’s just not that big a deal.
What about in terms of other bathroom stuff—peeing, pooping, periods?
Liv: I don’t really care that much about having privacy, but Braden prefers to keep that stuff to himself.
Braden: I do like having my privacy. I mean, when we’re on tour or on a road trip, and I need to pee because I have a small bladder, I’ll get out and pee on the side of the road with Liv nearby, like that’s fine, but when we’re in our own home I don’t need someone else in the room while I perform bodily functions. There’s a real spectrum to it though. Like we know another couple and the woman of the pair will sometimes “steer the ship” while her partner pees. And that to me is just a little much.
Liv: Actually, recently, Braden saw me put a panty liner on for the first time, which was interesting because he was like, “oh, I didn’t realize there was a sticky side that you put on your underwear...how smart.” I don’t know, it was just kind of interesting to have a fresh pair of eyes see something that’s been a part of my life for so long. We talk about period stuff all the time, and he knows what my Diva cup looks like—all that.
Braden: With any of this, it’s not that I feel squeamish or uncomfortable talking about it, but it’s just never seemed like a huge deal to me.
Liv: Yes I feel similar. I don’t feel like I need to watch Braden pee to go through some kind of right of passage, intimacy-wise.
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