10 Scientific Answers To Your Most Embarrassing Questions

Everything you've ever wanted to know... and some stuff you definitely didn't.

embarrassing bodies
Channel 4

The Internet is a godsend for the shy and awkward amongst us.

The human body is cool and all, but it's also squishy and icky and disgusting and we're all told on no uncertain terms that we're not supposed to talk about things like ... uh ... –’’–, and heaven forfend we ever mention something like ... ᶰᶦ––ᶫ‰ˢ.

Nobody likes airing their dirty laundry, apart from those people who volunteer to get their bits smirked at on Embarrassing Bodies in exchange for their 15 minutes of fame, and old uncle Google has done a lot to help.

Just imagine having some kind of horribly distasteful question back in the olden days, what did you do? Ask the boot-faced librarian to point you to the flatulence section?

We now live in a more enlightened age in which we can Google all manner of mortifying questions and concerns from the safety of incognito mode, and still look our co workers in the eye on Monday.

So, let's pull up our big-boy pants and get a bit frank about some of the more unsavoury aspects of our human flesh-mobiles.

10. Why Does Coffee Make You Poop?

poop amy schumer
Comedy Central

Chances are, half of you will have read that heading and known exactly what it means, the other half will have this expression on your face.

But yes, for a section of the population, their morning cup o' Joe gets more than just their brain moving. According to one study, around one third of the participants asked experienced coffee's laxative effects but, so far, we can only make educated guesses as to why.

A study, carried out by S.R. Brown and P.A. Cann (no, really), found that coffee promotes the production of a peptide hormone called gastrin. This increases motor activity in the colon or, in other words, squeezes the poop out.

Interestingly, it appears that it's not actually the caffeine in coffee that is to blame, as decaffeinated coffee has virtually the same effect, but the active ingredient still eludes scientists.

9. Is Holding In Your Pee Bad For You?

Boo Monsters Inc gotta pee
Pixar

It's not exactly comfortable, but could ignoring nature's call actually do you harm?

Yes, but it probably won't, is the answer.

For those of you who like to have their worst nightmares confirmed, the bladder can actually explode. When this happens, the reservoir of urine will usually flood the abdominal cavity and can medical intervention to drain it.

No need to go running off to the bathroom quite yet though, as this usually only happens when the poor, unfortunate patient is physically unable to pee, such as in the case of some cancers or following surgery. The good news is that most people will usually wet themselves before things get to this stage, making it probably the only instance in which peeing your pants is the best possible outcome.

Although your abdomen is unlikely to go pop on long car journeys, it is still not advisable to hold it in too much as this can lead to infection. Not meaning to sound like your mum or anything, but it's always best to "have a try" anyway.

8. What€™'s The Difference Between Normal Sweat And BO?

princess and the frog sweating like a sinner
Walt Disney Pictures

Why is it that some people can emerge from a workout with an odourless glow, and some people end up smelling like they've just spent six months living under a teenage boy's bed?

Well, it's all down to where you're sweating from.

You have two different types of sweat glands, eccrine or apocrine. Eccrine sweat is mostly made up of water, with some electrolytes such as potassium and sodium and a teeny tiny bit of fat. This kind of sweat is produced as part of your body's cooling system, either when you're mid-beast-mode at the gym, or curled up in a toasty blanket fort. This kind of sweat doesn't really smell of all that much and, provided you shower, won't produce body odour.

Apocrine sweat, however, is a different story. Your apocrine sweat glands are located wherever hair is abundant on your body. These glands secrete a mixture of sweat and sebum, loaded up with proteins, lipids and steroids. This secretion is also odourless to begin with but, unfortunately, the bacteria that live on your skin just can't get enough of the stuff. It is contact with these bacteria that produces the familiar BO aroma.

Unfortunately, how much apocrine sweat you produce is largely down to genetics, with the addition of some environmental factors such as weight. Regular washing should be enough to keep it under control for most people, but areas with more hair or more, er, folds, are likely to exacerbate it as the hair traps more dirt, oil and dead skin.

Yum.

7. Why Do We Like The Smell Of Our Own Farts?

Oh don't act all coy, you know you do it too.

Scientists have actually confirmed in double blind studies that people really do prefer their own brew, but why should that be?

No, it's not that your farts just smell better than everyone else's, it's all to do with the way your body processes threats. Your disgust response is basically your first line of defence against infection and disease.

Generally speaking, bad smells = biohazard and farts are no different as they can contain poop particles containing bacteria that cause tonsillitis, impetigo and flesh-eating disease. This isn't much of a problem for us knicker-wearing modern folk, but back in the old days when we were all running around in the nip, a fart could pose a serious threat.

The reason that you don't find your own farts as disgusting as other people's is because they're a part of you. The bacteria in your gut are unique to you and will produce a signature scent - you're more inclined to like your own odours because they are more familiar to you. Similarly, you'll be more tolerant of your own body odour and mothers are more tolerant of their offsprings' many excretions to allow them to care for them properly. ASAPScience discuss this important issue in more detail here.

So breathe deep, friend, that's your own personal brand right there.

6. Why Can€™'t Some Guys Grow Beards?

Whether or not we have reached peak-beard yet, beards are traditionally a symbol of virile masculinity.

This is understandably distressing for the many men who find themselves unable to produce a convincing crop of facial fur.

Beard growth begins in adolescence and doesn't finish maturing until the early to mid-twenties, so there might still be hope for you young'uns out there. The face-fun begins as levels of testosterone skyrocket during puberty, causing the fine hair on a boy's face to grow thicker and darker.

It's is not necessarily a case of high or low testosterone levels, beard and non-beard growers have been found to have similar levels of testosterone, but it seems to be down to how sensitive you are to testosterone.

This is a bit of a double-edged sword, however, as high sensitivity to testosterone - whilst it may produce a magnificent beard - can also lead to male pattern baldness.

The lord giveth, the lord taketh away.

5. What Causes Dandruff? (Clue: It's Alive)

People point the finger at all kinds of things as the cause of dandruff. Stress, diet, washing your hair too much, not washing your hair enough but, whilst some of these can exacerbate that little flurry of shoulder snow, none of them actually causes it. In slightly stomach-churning news, it turns out that dandruff is actually caused by a fungus that lives on your scalp. This fungus, known as Malassezia globosa, is similar to yeast, but lives on the scalp because it just can't get enough of your oily hair.

M. globosa uses enzymes to feed off the sebum secreted by your skin, but this process produces a substance called oleic acid, which some people are sensitive to. This will cause certain people's immune systems to kick into overdrive, ramping up the skin-shedding to max levels. So, whilst everyone has the fungus, only some people will suffer from dandruff.

So, what can you do? Well, pollution is thought to make it worse, so a hat or a headscarf might do the trick, but sunlight is also thought to combat it, so take it off when the sun comes out. Most anti-dandruff shampoos will simply wash the dandruff out of your hair by exfoliating the scalp, but it won't tackle the root of the problem. If your dandruff is making you particularly miserable, then the best thing to do is to use an antifungal shampoo and exterminate the blighters.

Shampoos containing ketoconazole should do the trick, although M. globosa can develop a resistance, so use it sparingly. In the long term, those lovely people over at Head and Shoulders have actually managed to sequence the DNA of the fungus in the hope that it will lead to a once-and-for-all treatment for dandruff.

4. What Is Morning Wood?

Morning Wood Gif
Universal

It's generally always been thought that your morning glory is caused by the need to pee. It is thought that this is the body's way of safeguarding against wetting the bed, as an erection will inhibit your ability to pee (even if you can get the angles right).

This, however, is probably not the full story. For a start, you don't generally get pee-boners at any other time of day, even if you've been desperately trying to hold it til the end of the class/journey/match.

According to one study by the Society for Endocrinology, morning wood could well be the penile equivalent of your chap twiddling it's thumbs. Normally, throughout the day, your brain is always keeping the little guy in check, to ensure he doesn't go rogue. However, when you enter REM sleep at night, the noradrenergic cells responsible for inhibiting erections are switched off, leaving the penis to do its own thang.

You'll be unsurprised to learn that all a penis really wants to do is stand to attention.

This usually happens multiple times a night, but you only notice the one you wake up with. Combine this with the fact that most people wake up needing to pee, and that the erection will usually go down in the time it takes for you to go to the bathroom, and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's just 'cos you're all full of wee.

Either that, or it's just due to that dream you were having. You know the one I mean. That dream.

3. Can Plucking A Hairy Mole Give You Skin Cancer?

People are often wary of moles. Understandably so, as it's normal to be wary of something that can suddenly kill you for no reason.

However, this means that all kinds of scare stories and old wives' tales have arisen around them, one of which is that you should never pluck a hair from a mole, lest it turns on you like a jealous dragon guarding its treasure, and gives you skin cancer.

Fortunately, this is probably not true. Most medical professionals will tell you that you can pretty much do what you want with your moles - pluck them, shave them, join them all together with a full-body dot-to-dot tattoo - they won't magically transform into a melanoma.

Chances are, this myth is a classic example of confirmation bias. Because moles often seem to turn on their owners for no good reason, people will scrabble around for some kind of causal relationship between their actions and the melanoma, making the link with plucking where there isn't one.

Moles will turn malignant if there is a change to their cells, which plucking won't cause, but something like sunburn will. So, if you're going to do anything to your moles, put suncream on them.

2. Why Are Nipples A Different Colour?

Most people know by now why men have nipples, the internet has had that one covered for a while, but why exactly are they such a funny colour?

It was thought for a long time that the darker colour was to make it easier for a baby to find it for milk-extraction purposes, but this theory was largely guesswork and has a couple of bus-sized holes in it, chief of which being that babies' eyesight is so bad that they probably can't even see a nipple three inches from their nose. Also, no other animal does this and bottle fed babies do not appear to struggle with finding the bottle teat.

Anyway, the darker colour of your nipples and areola is all down to your hormones. During puberty, the flood of oestrogen and testosterone causes the body to produce more melanin (the pigment that gives you everything from your hair colour to your freckles).

This is also why the penis and labia darken during puberty, and it is even why many fair-haired children grow up to be brunettes.

The likelihood is that this is just another one of those things that signals to any potential mates that you're up for a little bit of procreation. The darkening of the skin would be a clear signal that the individual is reaching sexual maturity and is capable of having lots of sex and babies. This is, after all, what it's all about, evolutionarily speaking.

As a general rule, when there's a strong genetic trait involved, it's probably got something to do with bonking.

1. What Is Squirting?

Fun Fact: Female ejaculation is banned from all UK porn.

Whilst there is a fair amount of confusion as to why this particular act was banned, with many people viewing it as an attack on female pleasure, the official reason for the ban is all to do with what "squirting" actually is.

It's peeing, guys. Peeing.

"Water sports" (the act of urinating on one another for sexual gratification) are also banned from British porn, and squirting falls well within this category.

There has been much debate as to what is actually happening when some women release a torrent of fluid at the point of climax, so some plucky scientists took it upon themselves to investigate this mysterious substance and set up a sexy, sexy experiment.

Women were asked to provide a urine sample and then completely empty their bladders before chasing that orgasm. A pelvic scan confirmed that the bladder was indeed empty at the beginning of the experiment.

A second scan was then performed just before the point of orgasm (because there are no two words in the English language sexier than "pelvic scan") and, hey presto, the bladder was magically full once more. At the moment of climax, the squirted liquid was collected and the pelvis scanned again. The bladder was once more bare and the liquid was found to be, you guessed it, pee.

The thing is, there is actually a much closer female equivalent to ejaculate, a milky white fluid produced by the Skene glands. Seeing as this doesn't seem to fall under the "watersports" bracket, then it's probably still allowed in porn.

That said, it's a bit less exciting that the urinal pyrotechnics of talented squirters, so it may not catch on.

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