Flatulence may be adaptive!

Dear Gentle Readers,

I know that for most Americans, flatulence causes extreme emotional responses (either embarrassment or laughter). As an anthropologist, I am concerned with human behavior, development, and evolution — and I just love taboo subjects! Farting (ok, let it out . . . the laughter, that is) is a normal, everyday aspect of the human body. In our culture, however, there is almost nothing more humiliating than to let one rip in public — unless of course you are a sub-adult male. In that case, farts are used as weapons. Women in American culture, of course, DO NOT fart. You know that saying “men sweat, women glow”? This is a good example of how bodily functions are subject to cultural interpretations and can be deployed to signal gender differences. Same with flatulence. For men, collective farting can even promote social bonding. For women, it’s another story [however, it should be noted that I have never lived in a collective of women such as a dorm, sorority, or convent, so my perspective may be skewed]. As we move along into adulthood, into the stage of relationship building (pair bonding), there comes the day that we must reveal to our romantic interest that we do, indeed, have bodily functions. Now, come on, admit it, you all know what I’m talking about. Have you ever gone in to tinkle and tried to muffle the sound of the stream? What about the first time you actually fully expelled your bowels in the vicinity of your lover? Moving up the chain of increasing trust, there comes a day when one can pass a small, innocuous fart with no consequence. Now that is intimacy!!

You may be wondering what brought on my musings about farting. Well, a new study indicates that the gas that makes farts stinky (hydrogen sulfide) may play a role in regulating blood pressure (see story here). Most of the gas in farts is made by bacteria in the digestive tract, but it is also naturally produced in the cell lining of blood vessels. Mice that were genetically unable to produce hydrogen sulfide were shown to be less able to control hypertension. Researchers will be following up on this research to develop treatments that would promote the production and release of more hydrogen sulfide. So, will we see a fart pill in the future? Next time you feel the need to suppress a fart, think twice — let it rip for better health!

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7 Responses to “Flatulence may be adaptive!”

  1. oniontears Says:

    It’s interesting because I wonder if there is a generational gap between some of these cultural practices. Or maybe I just didn’t think about it. Like sweating and trying to pee quietly…never really crossed my mind as something to think about. I totally agree with the farting, pooping, sneezing (ever notice girls/women try to sneeze like bunnies?), and so on. And from my experience all of these bodily functions were made worse because I was so concentrated on doing them that when I did need to ‘do my thing’ that it sounded like an elephant.

    I’m still really interested in your sweating phrase. I think it’s also a good phrase to examine women’s products like deordorant. I actually use men’s stuff because I like the smell better and it actually works. Personally I don’t want to smell like a baby’s bottom and it kind of weirds me out thinking some guy would like me to smell like that.
    Anyway great post. Totally a subject that could be talked about for hours, days, years!!

  2. First off, one of my favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes, “Honest sweat has no odor.” (second only to his best quote of all, “Beware of any enterprise that requires new clothes”.

    Secondly, rest assured that, if I ever DO feel a need to suppress a fart, I’ll certainly “let it rip”. (And you’ll be the first to know!)

  3. Dear Onion Tears,

    Yes, the saying that “men sweat, and women glow” is time specific. Long before you were born, ladies did not engage in physical exertion other vacuuming the hell out of their homes in dresses, pearls, and heels (all the while tweaking on legally obtained “diet” pills). We call those times the 50s when glamor reigned and ladies were constrained by social mores, lack of economic opportunity, and every fetishist’s dream — girdles, garter belts, stockings, pointy bras, gloves, etc. Think Zsa Zsa Gabor — whom I’m sure never wore deodorant — only the finest French perfume.

  4. oniontears Says:

    whoops I’m embarrassed. I meant to say I was concentrating on Not doing these bodily functions…haha oh well…still a good laugh.

  5. I don’t think that people should be ashamed of their bodily functions, and I do think that it is completely unrealistic to assume that women shouldn’t sweat, fart, burp, or have regular bowel movements. But I do think that the kind of male bonding over these things is a little strange. I have noticed younger women not caring about farting or burping as much, so perhaps as the sexes have become more equal in the younger generations, the whole prim and proper thing is being thrown out the window.

  6. Star girl Says:

    One day i think that i am gonna pop cos i always hold in my farts when i am around people. So now i think i am gonna do what nature intended and i am gonna let my farts rip.

  7. ellocogringo Says:

    Hi xxxicana
    I have been interested in why people do weird things. Like why women fake orgasims. on many things their behavior is irrational. there’s a lot of strange behavior regarding our south ends. What might be a hilarious joke in america, by be responded to with “That was an odd thing for her to do” by an englishman. in general, americans are prudish, compared to europeans, while singaporeans are downright priggish.

    you mentioned the ’50’s i grew up in the fifties and social behaviour has become intensified. IE it’s easier to be “good” or “bad” now then then. Speaking of farts, humans can’t fart in their sleep (usually) that’s why they call it morning thunder and the commode was called a “thunder bucket”

    You mentioned you’re an anthropoligist. I’ve done a lot of traveling and have seen a lot of things that scare me. women are dramatically relinquishing their power which puzzles me. gender synergy is fading which I feel is important for civilization. here’s a couple of links from the maylene muse. click on “the man who isn’t there” on the bottom of cucoldry. women used to be such magical creatures, full of insight with a unique perspective. They are losing their “connectness” to the detriment of civilization.

    in anthropological terms, it’s about sex, it’s all about sex, it’s always all about sex. tha’s what civilization is, the regulation of sex. without this regulation civilization is impossible. IE start shopping for burkas.
    http://keytoann.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/cucoldry/
    http://keytoann.wordpress.com/category/the-feminine-god/
    star girl has been given a gift, share it with the world. there’s more room outside than there is inside.
    May the farts be with you
    el Loco Gringo

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