Three people are each standing alone. One looks ashamed, one looks sad, and one has an 'x' across her mouth.

What Makes People Afraid to Talk About IBS?

Living with IBS is more than just gas. Every person who lives with it knows that no two people living with IBS are alike. Some people steer clear of most fruits and vegetables, while others still get by on smaller portions. The resounding similarity between us all is the discomfort we feel when it comes to talking to others about our condition.

We asked the advocates, “What do you believe makes people feel so uncomfortable or afraid to be vulnerable and talk about their IBS?” Here is what was shared.

Shame

“I think shame is a big issue for anyone dealing with a digestive disorder. Discussing bathroom woes is embarrassing. The urgency of IBS symptoms sometimes demands a brief explanation, and many people do not understand the severity of IBS and equate it with occasional digestive troubles.”

The truth is taboo

“The truth is talking about sh*t is still taboo, esp. if it's from women as it's not considered ladylike or feminine. It's viewed as something impolite or rude to even acknowledge exists once you reach adulthood. The other issue is stigma. I think people can sometimes get squeamish or put off by mentioning digestive issues, and in general, are reluctant to talk about health and body matters in general.”

“Talking about IBS still feels taboo, because talking about poop and gas is taboo. This is especially true for women, which is unfortunate since we are so often affected. It also seems particularly true for those of us women with IBS-D because diarrhea is definitely not “ladylike”. (Or maybe this is just the Southern girl in me talking! It’s hard to beat upbringing.)”

“Many of us were raised to believe that personal health is a taboo subject – especially when encompassing one’s bowels. Menstruation, medicine, diagnoses... were all off the table. We’ve had to re-educate ourselves to acknowledge the fact that we have every right to discuss such topics. It’s a process but it’s a necessary journey.”

Isolation

“There's such a feeling of isolation – a fear no one else will understand or take you seriously when you talk about something they take for granted: regular bowel movements and a life without abdominal pain. What if they laugh at you? Who wants to take that risk.”

Stigma

“The idea that it's psychological, not legit, ‘all in your head.’”

“There is a stigma that surrounds the idea of the human digestive system, and that is that it is dirty and should not be discussed. There is no easy way to talk about IBS in a conversation because of this issue. In my personal experience, I notice that I do not mention it because I do not want to make other people uncomfortable around me.”

“I believe that talking about IBS is difficult because the symptoms can be very embarrassing. It’s unusual to talk about bathroom trips and digestion in daily conversations, so it can be hard to discuss an illness related to that. For example, I never had an issue discussing my headaches because unlike IBS, these can’t be considered gross or embarrassing.”

We want to thank our advocates for sharing these deeply personal experiences with us. We know it isn't easy, but you're in good company here. – Samantha, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

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