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How Do I Tell My Significant Other They Stink?

A gentleman’s guide to opening up that extremely awkward hygiene convo

In the vast and ever-expanding catalogue of “serious talks” you might have with your significant other, letting them know that they reek is probably at the top of the “where do I even start” list. For example, there’s one redditor who complains that her significant other is unaware that he has dingleberries hanging from his butthole because he doesn’t know how to clean his own ass, and that he then carries these with him into his bed, thereby staining the sheets with his literal shit. (Did I say one? There’s more than one.)

“My boyfriend and I have recently entered a relationship. He is truly a wonderful person and I have no complaints except this… Last week, I stayed over at his house for a few days. In his pile of clothing I noticed that his underwear had a bunch of poop stains, and over the next few days I started noticing this more. On my last day, there was a stain on the sheets and he didn’t appear to think much of it,” writes this redditor who later admits that this is “seriously gross” but is unsure of how to talk to her boyfriend about his fecal issues without embarrassing him.

In her defense, talking about hygiene in general, and especially with the person you’re in love with, is a thorny issue. No one wants to be told they have bad breath, let alone be told that they’re always carrying around some extra fecal cargo. So how best to approach this potentially nuclear relationship issue?

Do Your Research

In this way, talking about your significant other’s bad breath with them is sort of like a final exam or a job interview, in that you should approach the subject with some potential facts that you can lean on. For example, according to WikiHow, you should learn about possible health problems that may be causing the hygiene issues, such as (to quote WikiHow verbatim):

  • Depression can cause anxiety, a sense of helplessness and deep sadness that may interfere with a sufferer’s ability or desire to maintain good hygiene.
  • Certain illnesses of and damage to the brain or nervous system may affect a sufferer’s physical ability to care for him or herself, and so add to a lack of good hygiene.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse can cause confusion, fatigue, memory loss and lack of attention, which may all contribute to less attention to personal hygiene.

Basically, it’s going to sound less hostile if you point the finger at the potential underlying health condition causing your significant other’s bad breath, rather than telling them that every time they open their mouth, you’re on the verge of tears.

Keep the Conversation Specific

Never use your significant other’s stinky armpits as a way to discuss their general self-awareness. “Once again, don’t say it’s been going on forever, is causing you huge grief or that everyone else has talked about it,” reports Psychology Today. “Since it’s the first time you’ve brought it up, treat it as something that has only recently become an issue.” To that end, per the same WIkiHow article, it may help you to deal with your own concerns prior to confronting your partner about them. “If you mentally prepare yourself by focusing on the goal and eliminating any extra emotions, you’ll feel more confident in the conversation,” they report.

If/When Possible, Try To Give Hints

It may not work, but it’s always better to reinforce good behavior than to criticize bad behavior. At least according to Dr. Ruth, who admits that hygiene often falls into “taboo category.” “One way to get your point across in a positive manner is to convince your partner to take a shower or bath with you,” she writes for TIME. “Then rather than having to say something negative, you can make a positive statement such as ‘I love it when you smell so clean.’ Of course your partner might not take the hint, but it’s worth a try, especially as the entire experience might prove very arousing to both of you.”

Some Things You May Have to Accept

You may have noticed that, while discussing smelly body parts, we’ve neglected specifically speaking about your significant other’s vagina. That’s because, first of all, it’s not really your place to say anything about that — if you have a problem with the scent, nine times out of 10, it’s you that has the problem, not her. There’s very little you can do about the way the vagina smells in general: There is no such thing as Garnier for the vagina. In fact, unlike your dick, washing the vagina is likely going to make things worse. “The NHS advises avoiding perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics as they can affect the natural PH balance of the vagina,” reports the Independent.

However, if you’ve just recently noticed a more unpleasant aroma, it may be worth broaching the subject — but only because it could be a potential health issue. “It goes without saying that if you notice any unusual or smelly discharges, get it checked,” reports the same Independent article. “There may be health implications for both partners, particularly where oral or penetrative sex is concerned.”

For that reason, be careful about how you talk about it and which words you use. “While every word carries a bit of a stigma, words like ‘stink’ or ‘offend’ certainly won’t work,” reports Psychology Today. “Similarly, don’t go for politically correct or cute language such as ‘hygiene impaired.’ This isn’t a laughing matter.”

So again, do your research and tread lightly: These conversations about hygiene are rampant with boobie (and armpit, mouth, butt and the rest) traps.