Every so often when I tell someone what I do (writing about digestive disease) I get some curious responses, usually with a barely restrained sneer. “Wow, is there really a need for that?” “How could that be something that you need to keep writing about?” “Is that something that people are interested in?”
And my answers are: yes, yes, and yes.
My standard response is this: “If you have a digestive problem, you are going to be very glad that there is someone available to you who has studied the digestive system, and can help you.”
What if we lived in a world where no one studied butts? Or boobs? Or balls? And if you have a problem with one of those things and you went to the doctor and they had nothing to offer you. “Oh, I’m sorry you’ve got blood in your stools, but frankly we just find that distasteful, so we’ve never studied it. Good luck!” I daresay there are parts of the world where this is probably true.
Going to the bathroom, having sex, and having babies are basic to being human. It’s what we do, and so far it seems to me that not talking about those things has lead to a whole lot of misery. So maybe we should just try something different, like actually having a discussion about these topics and working through the issues.
What really gets me worked up is that we put up with all manner of distasteful things in our culture, things that are truly upsetting like sexism, racism, ageism. We glorify people who serve no function except to look pretty and make us feel awful about ourselves. It’s perfectly acceptable for those people to show off their body parts in a sexual way, but talk about those same parts in respect to health and it somehow becomes taboo.
I had a babysitter who told my daughter not to sing a song about going to the bathroom. “We don’t sing about that,” she said. Well, in my house, yes we certainly do sing about that. If my kids want to make up a song about toilets and sing it, they are welcome to do so. They shouldn’t be ashamed or upset about a perfectly natural function, that everybody does. EVERYBODY DOES.
I realize I may be desensitized — I can talk about bowel movements over dinner. I’m not saying it has to be dinner conversation, but it certainly is a conversation that we can have in other places. And online, it’s just natural that these things are a topic of discussion. You might be nervous to ask your doctor about something, but you might be willing to look it up on the Internet in the privacy of your office. And what you find might lead you to consulting your doctor, or maybe not, depending on what you find. But you are educating yourself, and that is what is important here.
If we don’t talk about our problems, they’ll never get better. This I know for a fact.