So wait. People can hold farts in?!?
October 9, 2013 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I have made it to middle age without realizing that other people are capable of holding in their flatulence until a time and location where it can be expelled without offending greater society. My body does not work this way. After a small window of warning, they just. Come. Out. Am I a freak of nature? How did my bowels never learn this marvelous trick?

I can sense when my body has the need to expel a small quantity of gas from my lower bits, and notice the sensation between 15-45 seconds before the emission. I excel at making these eruptions silent, and can feel if they will stinkify my space, or just odorlessly waft into the atmosphere.

BUT there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING I can physically do to prevent them from erupting into the world when they decide the time is right. I do my best to be polite about it. At parties, sometimes I abruptly walk away or "need to get a beer." I am good about finding absorbent cushions to sit on, if needed. I know how to redirect sexytimes quickly enough so that no lover faces my airblasts up close.

But not long ago I was staying the night at a friend's house, I was sitting on the couch when a little poot emanated from my backside. My friend looked at me with horror and said, "wow, you really ARE comfortable here." And I was completely mortified. It dawned on me that he believes FARTING IS A CHOICE, and not just a regular (albeit embarrassing) emission that no one can control. Since that moment, a growing horror has dawned on me: I am starting to fear I am the only person on the planet who lacks this basic bowel control (and everyone thinks of me as a horribly farty person with no manners).

(It's probably TMI, but it also doesn't take me long to poop. I have no idea why people need 30 minutes in the bathroom to poop. That's insane to me! Now, solid matter I can hold onto for a good couple of hours, but when I choose to go, there is no waiting around for it. Insta-Plop!)

So what gives? Is my body just loose? Is there some kind of crazy ass training I can embark on here to tighten my tunnels? And what should I do when I can't hold it in? It's sometimes hard to run away from people with only 30 seconds warning. Will people assume I'm being rude if a smell or audible eruption eminates from my clumsy bum?

Help me, Good Green.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
What happens when you actively clench your anus really tightly as though you had to poop but couldn't make it to a bathroom yet? Does that not keep the farts in?

Will people assume I'm being rude if a smell or audible eruption eminates from my clumsy bum?

Generally, yes.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:17 AM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have no idea why people need 30 minutes in the bathroom to poop.

We're not pooping, we're just hiding from everyone else!

Google kegels & start doing them, you'll be amazed at what your body can do.
posted by headnsouth at 11:17 AM on October 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm under the impression that if the flatulence seeps out slowly enough it doesn't cause an appreciable smell. I think that's what's going on, more than complete retention.
posted by alms at 11:21 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, in general, I believe the ability to retain farts until an opportune moment arrives to release them is a common trait.

Also common is the simple fact that when one ages, one may lose this ability as well as losing the ability to care about doing it in public.
posted by elizardbits at 11:22 AM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

An ex boyfriend of mine always claimed he was physically incapable of holding in farts. I thought he was an idiot.

Now I'm starting to re-think his claim. (Still an idiot, though, let's put that on record.)

This would make you officially only the second person I have ever heard of having insta-fart problems. Unless you are secretly my idiot ex boyfriend.

Thankfully, biology has provided us with the means to manufacture farts pretty easily based on diet choice, so get some tex-mex for dinner and go home and practice. (Alone.)
posted by phunniemee at 11:24 AM on October 9, 2013 [12 favorites]

I have no advice to offer, but would like to thank you for alerting me to the existence of people who can't hold them in. Up until now (likely close to your age), I just assumed people who passed gas around me just weren't terribly concerned about being polite. So thank you - I'll keep that in mind in future instead of glaring at (or - depending on the relationship - chortling at) the openly flatulent.

And... um... some people's systems just take longer than others. I won't elaborate. But please don't keep coming back & knocking on the door - "some people" would take less time if "they" could. *ahem*
posted by pammeke at 11:24 AM on October 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

I also recently realized, with true horror, that others are able to hold farts in. Like you, I can't do it no matter how hard I try (in fact, sometimes that backfires and results in louder noises!), and moreover I am not usually able to change the volume or tell if there will be a smell or not, so you're ahead of me there.

Eagerly watching this thread, hoping to finally learn the secrets of fart control.
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:32 AM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have you considered that maybe this is not so much an inability to hold a fart in but rather and inability or inattention to the fact of a developing fart? Maybe this is something you could practice by trying to notice any raising pressure earlier and then deliberately farting.
posted by Authorized User at 11:34 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband also claims he has no control over it, but I've never talked with him seriously about it, just the "why did you come over here, cuddle up to me and immediately fart? couldn't you have done that over there??" "uh... no? I didn't mean to..." "whatever. (smooch)" I think he said at one point that no, he didn't really have any choice about it, but I haven't asked for details.
posted by aimedwander at 11:46 AM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I just clench. Always worked for me. But now that I'm approaching middle-age, I realize my clench isn't clenching as good as it used to be. So now a little adorable poot escapes once in a while. I forgive myself.

(The internet. AKA The Confession Box.)
posted by HeyAllie at 11:47 AM on October 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

Another gory detail - it's not that I can "hold" a fart, it's more that many farts have to be actively pushed out, and if I'm not alone I don't encourage them.

Wouldn't it be fun if there were some threads in which all commenting defaulted to anonymity?
posted by aimedwander at 11:47 AM on October 9, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'm another data point on the side of "Can't hold them in," for the most part. Sometimes I can, but most of the time, it's just like you describe: "Here it comes... and it's out."
posted by Etrigan at 11:48 AM on October 9, 2013

AFAIK it is normal and socially expected to be able to hold farts in, even for people who have no difficulty pooping when it is time to do so.

I think it's taught, though. I remember both my children would fart unconcernedly as little toddlers and had to be taught (via pointing and laughing on my part, obviously) that it was something they had to be aware of and not do in company. *Dabs eyes at sweet memory*
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:49 AM on October 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

What Etrigan said.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:51 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Complete control here. Although, if you hold it long enough, you end up playing fart roulette in that who knows what is coming out when you let go.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:54 AM on October 9, 2013 [11 favorites]

The same anal sphincter that holds in your bowels, which you say you can hold in, is the same muscle that would hold in your flatulence. You probably should consult a doctor if this is a cause of concern for you. Our urinary and anal sphincters are pretty much supposed to do their job without effort on your part.

Will people assume I'm being rude if a smell or audible eruption emanates from my clumsy bum?


Oh, and sometimes we spend a long time in the bathroom because we are just enjoyed a good book.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you don't have great control over your anal sphincter muscles. People should usually be able to hold them in- that's why we excuse ourselves if we accidentally break wind in company.
posted by windykites at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My theory's always been that when we think we're "holding in" farts what we're really doing is letting them creep out slowly over the course of a half hour or so, so that the net result is "the entire room smells worse by an imperceptible fraction" rather than "there's a loud noise and a sudden perceptible increase in smelliness in this one corner of the room."

Think of it like the difference between a loud open-mouthed belch and a discreet, silent closed-mouth burp.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

My mind is blown too, my whole life I've assumed it was a specifically American delusion that it's possible/socially desirable to hold in farts. Clearly not a delusion. Time to practise!
posted by pickingupsticks at 12:10 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who claims he can't hold it in, but I'm deeply skeptical.

As for long bathroom trips, the typical American diet doesn't include very much fiber. Most folks could be eating much better, or at least use fiber supplements.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:11 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the ability to hold it is somewhat regulated by your diet too. I am lactose intolerant and ate yogurt every lunch in high school and had terrible uncontrollable farts every afternoon; no matter how hard i tried to hold them in, I just couldnt. Now i am 33 and avoid dairy, I can hold in farts. But if i have ice cream? Bets are off. I agree that it is an awareness thing too. Once the gas is low enough in my belly, i cant hold it no matter what; but if i can feel the fart starting up higher, i can hold it in for an hour or more. I am also a vegetarian now and eat a lot of beans and farty veggies (onions, brussels sprouts, brocolli) and still i can hold it in.

I also think there are people who just are gassy, something genetic. My dad has always been farty, my mom not so much. I know she farts in restrooms and such, but it seems to be like 5 times/day for her and my sister whereas me and my dad fart 20/30 times a day (I'm a woman, so its not a gender thing).
posted by holyrood at 12:14 PM on October 9, 2013

As far as my own experiences suggest, holding in a fart is basically the same trick as holding in poop, using the same muscles. (Hence the truly unfortunate but thankfully very rare possibility of a "shart"). I don't know if that helps to make the mind-muscle connection?
posted by erlking at 12:16 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Different people have different amounts of control over their farts, and this control can be affected by aging, hormones, diet, health conditions, physical stress, and other things. Pregnant women, for example, both produce more gas during pregnancy and have less control over their anal sphincter due to hormonal relaxation of muscles and later due to abdominal crowding.

If you're just accidentally releasing farts and not accidentally releasing fecal material, your butt is doing JUST FINE and you're well within the range of normal. But you can actually ask your doctor about it! (And be told you're well within the range of normal.) How insistent the need to fart is actually has a lot to do with your intestinal peristalsis, which you probably cannot gain control over no matter how much you practice. :) But butt-kegels can't hurt, might help.

I had terrrrrrrible pregnancy gas and spent a lot of time talking to my doctor about farts.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:21 PM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Huh. Everybody farts, but not everybody can fart on command. Count me in on Team Uncontrollable Gassiness. I assume it's a combination of a) I really can't stop farts, just maybe control the speed at which they escape? b) I am awesome at pooping (lots of fiber? or a colon built for speed!) c) I was raised in a culture with no hesitation in speaking about bowel function. (Korean immigrants)
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:22 PM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

I can report that this kind of muscular control has gotten much worse for me with each child I've given birth to, but that kegel exercises seem to help. It was definitely a nasty surprise to deal with after having kids!
posted by queensb at 12:22 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't recall having any fart control as a kid/teenager, but it seems pretty infrequent that one slips out nowadays, so I think controlling them must be a learnable skill. They generally seem to find their way out while I'm in the bathroom on other business. (But I will concede that this is probably a lot easier for a woman, because if you're already sitting on the toilet to pee, if you were to let out a fart that turned out, um, not to be a fart, you wouldn't be in any sort of embarrassing situation.)
posted by heliotrope at 12:33 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The structure of the rectosigmoid is what allows "long term" storage of fecal matter as well as farting as well as (to a lesser extent) holding in a fart. You can look it up, but basically there is a dip in your sigmoid colon that allows stool to collect there while gas sort of "floats" above it (this is why you can release gas without having a bowel movement). I wouldn't be surprised if, structurally speaking, your sigmoid has less of a dip than other people's. This would explain why your BMs are faster and also why it's more difficult to hold in a fart.
posted by telegraph at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2013 [13 favorites]

The amount of control people have over fart retention varies widely from person to person. In my experience, those who find it easy to control their farts are confident that everyone has the same ability, and ascribe any evidence to the contrary to rudeness, laziness, lack of training, or weak character.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2013 [17 favorites]

I had the opposite problem until sometime in my twenties. I couldn't make (let?) myself fart. Or burp for that matter. A very patient friend took the time to teach me how to move and pass gas through my body. Now that I can allow myself to pass gas, I can prevent myself from passing it too. I think some of it is about moving it along faster at socially appropriate intervals so that it doesn't build up and force the issue during inappropriate times.
posted by dchrssyr at 1:01 PM on October 9, 2013

Oh god, I completely can't believe I'm admitting to this here, but yes: This varies widely on a person-to-person basis. I'm one of those people, like you, OP, who can feel 'em coming but can't hold them in. I have similar coping mechanisms to the ones you've developed as well.

Eventually, after being married for a year or more, I realized I'd never heard my husband fart. So, I asked him about it! I marveled at the mysteries of human anatomy when I he told me he just waits until he's going to the bathroom anyway, and hung my head sheepishly when I admitted I just... can't... do that.

Anyway, this all evens out somehow, because I magically don't need to poop for days on end when I'm traveling remotely (it's like my body somehow knows it would just be too inconvenient), while my husband suffers from major GI distress every time we travel (the more remote the locale, the worst it is for him).

This has officially been my grossest, most overshare-y AskMe response ever.
posted by booknerd at 1:04 PM on October 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Until this thread I had no idea that anyone could actually 'hold them in' for more than, say the few seconds it takes to shuffle out of a room, or clench through an awkward lift/elevator ride.
I actually *have* had this conversation with friends/family and have *never* met someone with the sort of full control implied here. Who knew! I have zero problems in any other related area (um) and have been appropriately 'trained' to control that, so I can only assume it's a personal thing.

I'm choosing to believe that the so-called 'holders' are just 'slow sleepers' and judging them just as they seem to go around judging those of us who deliver in a single gust.

(yes, weirdest thread ever for me).
posted by AFII at 1:35 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know someone who seems to have utter control over his farts. He has always maintained that the only decent thing to do is excuse oneself from the room and fart in private or wait until privacy can be had. He also poops like clockwork immediately after getting out of bed in the morning-- which is when all of the suppressed farts are emitted in a rather alarming burst that he likes to call The Trumpet Involuntary. Sounds more like a herd of elephants to me.

I personally do not have that level of control. Like AFII, I can clench for a few seconds and then it's no longer a matter of choice.
posted by idest at 1:45 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Data point, my husband farts in his sleep with unfortunate frequency, but I get up in the morning and go sit on the toilet, and let off lots of pressure, which implies that I wasn't slowly outgassing all night.
posted by aimedwander at 2:00 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

A tick in the column for "has to actively decide to fart" here, to the point that many a fun childhood jape involved chasing my brother to fart at him.
posted by lucidium at 2:15 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I rarely fart. Like, probably not even once a day outside of actually shitting. I also don't burp even once a week.

This is not because of some magical elegance, it's just my weird digestive system. I also vomit without retching. I think I must be peristaltically deficient.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:29 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can hold in farts for almost as long as I want, but it isn't much help for me because then my intestines make crazy burble noises that sound almost like farts anyway, so who knows.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:37 PM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Er, exactly what do you do with ice water when "practicing?"
posted by megatherium at 3:05 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also think there are people who just are gassy, something genetic.

I think i'm one of these people. Both of my parents are olympic athletes of busting ass. Like big, mike meyers south park ass blasting cartoon sound effect room clearing farts. Me and my dad used to bail out of the house and go to toys 'r us when i was a kid if my mom ripped a particularly heinous one. It was chemical warfare. My dad isn't much better, i've had to jump out of the car at a stop light before because i was being choked to death.

As a result of this in a "yours powers combined!" sort of way with both of them being my parents, i'm like the Anakin Skywalker of farting. My bowels are rich with midichlorians, and the "force" Is strong with my ass. I am pretty much the chosen one of flatulence.

Neither of my parents ever really figured out what foods exacerbated it. Me and my dad used to joke that everything up to and including water made my mom gassy. I figured out over the years that there's certain foods that make it worse for me, but eliminating them doesn't eliminate the gassiness... just lessens it a bit and decreases its offensiveness.

What does this have to do with the original question? I think quite a bit of this is a psychological/subconscious thing. I find it extremely hard to believe that there are people who actually can't hold farts in. I'm not 100% against believing in their existence, but from personal experience i'm fairly convinced that it's sort of that you've just gotten deeply into the habit of "Well i can feel a fart wedged in there, and it's awkward and uncomfortable and i don't want to have to concentrate on it, just blast it out".

Not that you're actually, consciously thinking that, but that as soon as you feel it your brain just has an automatic if>then of "oh, i have to fart, FIRE!". It's like pissing in the shower, but with 1000% less conscious thought.

And i'm saying this because i think at some much younger age that had just been the default in my brain, and it took a lot of "no, stop fucking farting, god damnit ass!" to train myself to be able to hold it in and catch it before my ass just waved the fart through like it had an ez-pass for my sphincters toll booth.

If you honestly, even when not distracted by anything and fully determined to hold it in actually can't you should be headed to the doctor as that's a legitimate medical problem and i'd imagine you might end up shitting your pants when you least expect it. Otherwise, i'm fairly convinced this is a software, not a hardware problem.

Because i know my parents are assholes who just like to fart at eachother(and me). "There's nothing i can do about it, it just flies out!" is something they would say to me as a kid after they had turned my bedroom into a superfund site after popping in to talk to me after school. Not, as far as i can tell, an actual legitimate point. If i had a spouse who said that, i'd be extremely suspicious of them and the integrity of that statement(as my S.O. was with me, until i quit fucking farting around her).

Maybe my sphincter is just buff as fuck though, who knows. Definitely feels like i could crimp connectors on to cables with that thing.
posted by emptythought at 3:50 PM on October 9, 2013 [23 favorites]

you just need to practice. It's the same muscle that stops you from urinating all over that place. (assuming you don't do that)
posted by jpe at 4:50 PM on October 9, 2013

In my experience, those who find it easy to control their farts are confident that everyone has the same ability, and ascribe any evidence to the contrary to rudeness, laziness, lack of training, or weak character.

Seriously. I am one of those "can't hold in farts most of the time" people. There is nothing wrong with my butt, my gastric system, my manners, or anything else. I often have gas in the morning (I'm a late dinner eater) and I'm a quick pooper. Don't care if people believe me, but trust me I've tried. My butt doesn't work that way.

you should be headed to the doctor as that's a legitimate medical problem

You are wrong.
posted by jessamyn at 5:29 PM on October 9, 2013 [14 favorites]

Count me in the hordes of quick poopers and involuntary farters.

I always thought when people talked about holding in farts, they meant for about 30 seconds so they could get away from company. Because that's about the maximum I can manage. And it doesn't feel like I am actually holding them in: just slowing them down by about that much. (Plus when I've slowed them up like that, they are ten times louder when they do come out, so sometimes it seems politer to just let little ones go when they happen, and look embarrassed.)

I could never fart on command, either. Either one is ready to happen, or it isn't.

But I don't fart much, anyway. Like, maybe once or twice a day? Perhaps that's why I never learned to hold them for longer. It seems like I'm maybe only accruing a 20th as much practice as most of you over my lifetime :)
posted by lollusc at 5:49 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I sometimes have a lot of gas, but strangely, only at home, not while I'm at work. This makes me think I must be subconsciously holding in farts at work, but I rarely feel any gas building up.

If I have a ton of gas building up, I can hold it in, but it generally makes me very uncomfortable. Small farts are easy to hold in. Maybe your farts just have a lot of gas volume?
posted by pravit at 7:35 PM on October 9, 2013

I, too, am fascinated and somewhat chastened to learn that there are people who simply can't control it. I always assumed they were just being crude and impolite. Now, sure, we all occasionally let one go involuntarily if we're exercising or making some movement that puts unexpected pressure on our lower gut but otherwise we just feel the need to fart coming on and... choose not to. It feels like applying a little bit of extra tightness on the sphincter, as you do when you need a shit but, obviously, want to get to the toilet first. I just assumed everyone could do this because, well, it's the same principle, and if you can walk around without soiling yourself surely you can walk around without farting, at least until a convenient moment? Very useful to learn, belatedly, that I was mistaken.

Also, when I fart, there is an element of choosing to push a bit. It doesn't just seep out without some sort of physical push from me - just like taking a shit, only less forceful. This is also why I have assumed people who fart at inappropriate moments must be doing so deliberately. Because I have to deliberately choose to expel. Sort of "right, I'll do this now...*push*... bingo!"

It seems to me that some sort of practice at keeping a tight grip with the old ringpiece is needed. Just keep trying to hold it in for longer and longer.
posted by Decani at 4:49 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Guys, this needs not to become an argument among posters, or general fart chat. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:50 AM on October 10, 2013

Exercise wakes up your digestive system, and helps get farts out, so get moving. You may be intolerant to certain foods. Try eliminating dairy; this has improved my abdominal comfort, and probably my social life.
posted by theora55 at 7:33 AM on October 10, 2013

Wait wait wait. I HAVE NEVER HEARD THIS. I trained myself to do it silently at an early age, but I had no idea other people could actually hold it in.
posted by missrachael at 9:50 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can hold it in, but I often show poor judgement as to when the right time to release might be. I think most people have control of 1 out of the 3 Axes of Farting: Time, Volume and Smell. A rare few control two, and those who claim three I suspect to be liars. As an additional data point: I can't burp. Even a bit.

I have worked with a poor fellow who was either completely unaware, or completely uncaring, of his gassiness. He'd drop a flabby woof woof while mid-sentence without missing a beat. Maybe it's like the littering thing that has previous been discussed on AskMe: they have it, then they don't. No thoughts or worries required.
posted by scruss at 6:24 AM on October 11, 2013

My husband also says he cannot hold them in -- they just come out and he gets a 'sensation' that they will want to come out sometimes 15 to 45 seconds before, like yourself.

He even said it was impossible for people to hold them in!

As for me, I can hold them in, but only so many and for so long. After that, my stomach starts bubbling.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:51 AM on October 11, 2013

Exercise wakes up your digestive system, and helps get farts out

Awesome. So my lack of fart-control means I'm in perfect shape, right? That's what I'm sticking with.
posted by randomnity at 9:03 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I re-stumbled across this thread and I think it may be my favorite ever.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:45 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

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