There have been numerous times, spanning my time on this earth, when people have proudly declared how long they've lasted without giving in to the (altogether natural and necessary) urge to poop. There was my friend's big sister who held it in for an entire week at sleep-away camp; there was my college roommate, who put off her hangover shit until she was far away from the boy's apartment where she had spent the night. There have been others.
And each time a person presented the tale of their delayed bowel movement to me, as if it were some kind of digestive badge of honor, I'd be just as shocked as I was the first time. Somehow, I've managed to avoid the kind of poop shame that seems to be so widespread.
I've never engaged in a public restroom stand-off, and I made it four years of college blissfully evacuating in gender-neutral bathrooms, perfectly aware that my crush could be in the next stall. If you invite me to your holiday party this winter, and the need happens to strike, you can bet I'll relieve myself in your powder room. And, were our roles reversed, I would hope you'd do the same.
Houseguests have chased the myth of the sneaky poop for too long. For one thing, if you're gone from the party for more than five minutes, others will either guess that you are pooping, or they haven't even noticed — because who tracks anyone else's bathroom time that closely? For another, the health risks of delaying a bowel movement outweigh the social risks of being found out for voiding with abandon.
A little anatomical refresher might be in order: Your body is designed to let you know when it's time to go. Stretch receptors in the muscles of your anus kick in as your rectum (the end of your colon) fills; your brain receives those signals via nerves, and, in turn, your inner sphincter (the end of your anus) opens, activating that feeling you get right before you go No. 2.
Ignoring these physical cues and voluntarily holding in your stool can lead to chronic constipation and weakened or poorly functioning pelvic floor muscles (which help control your ability to poop in the first place). Occasionally holding it for a brief period of time won't incur any major effects, but it's certainly a bad idea to make withholding your poop into a habit.
Of course, if you're relieving yourself in someone's else's home, it's still important to be a polite pooper. Ideally, you've found a bathroom with a functional lock in a part of the house far away from the action of the party. Replace the toilet paper if necessary and cut down on lingering odor with a courtesy flush.
It should be noted that such germs as E.coli and Clostridium difficile can be spread through the fecal matter that sprays out of a toilet upon flushing, known as the "toilet plume." In other words, your courtesy flush helps you leave no trace, and putting the lid down first lends an added layer of consideration for those who'll come in next.
At this point in December, we're staring down quite a few remaining weeks in the holiday gathering season. If you've been holding in your party poops up until now, let this be your invitation to let them go (literally) for the sake of your health. Now, if you need us, we'll be stocking up on matches and scented candles.