Is it asking too much of culpable females to not pee on the seats of public toilets?
You know who you are, and I have remained silent too long. I recently decided I’d had enough. My husband and I had driven from our rural home in northern Minnesota to the Twin Cities for a rare urban date. We had tickets for Mahler’s 4th Symphony at Orchestra Hall and we went to Barrio, a great tequila and small plates bistro, beforehand. I was in a euphoric mood—a night on the town! I went to the women’s room. My guard was down. I sat on a pee-splashed seat.
I gave way to an outburst. When I exited my stall, three young women were walking in. I said, “Someone peed on the toilet seat!” The young women looked at me with horror. I could interpret their expression in one of two ways. Either they shared my disgust or they themselves are among the guilty. I will never know of course. I washed my hands and stormed out of the bathroom back to my husband, a scrumptious little plate of pork-belly tacos, and a well executed margarita. Bravo to the bartender and the cooks in the kitchen. I regained my composure.
I try to make a habit of inspecting toilet seats in public places before using them but sometimes I am distracted or I mistakenly think to myself, “This is an upscale place. Surely the clientele knows better.” Not.
As long as I can remember, I have randomly encountered pee-splattered toilet seats all across America and in all manner of public restrooms. I can say from much experience this is not a socioeconomic issue. This I believe is an irrational germ-phobia issue. Perhaps the most disheartening place I’ve had to deal with the problem was in the employees-only bathroom of a world-renowned healthcare institution where my highly educated female coworkers, who of all people should have understood germ theory and disease transmission, regularly peed on the toilet seats.
I have long thought about getting little stickers printed up that say PLEASE DON’T PEE ON THE TOILET SEAT to post in toilet stalls. I have wondered countless times if the woman before me must pee on the toilet seat why can’t she wipe up her mess before exiting the stall? Why should she foist the proof of her germ phobia on the next user? It is hard for me to fathom such rudeness. I fume more because the perpetrator is never outed for her imbecility and bad manners.
Why are so many women so fearful of sitting on a toilet seat in a publicly shared bathroom? Have they ever heard of any illness or epidemic contracted and spread via buttock skin? Do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ever issue warnings about butt-borne disease? If you think about it, female buttocks are frequently bathed, rarely disrobed, and well protected from airborne germs. I venture to say our buttocks are cleaner than our hands. People who sneeze and cough in public and do not cover their mouths—or, equally gross, cover their mouths with their hands and then touch everything and everyone around them—constitute a well-known public-health problem. Speaking of the hazards of germ-laden hands, a 2015 article in The Cut (“Everything We Know about Human Bathroom Behavior,” by Clint Rainey https://www.thecut.com/2015/05/science-of-us-guide-to-bathroom-behavior.html) brings up the prevalence of people who use their cell phones while going to the bathroom. Yikes! Rainey quotes a 2011 BBC News article about a British study that examined 400 cell phones and hands and found that 16 percent of phones and 16 percent of hands were contaminated with Escherichia coli, bacteria found in the human gut. It should be noted that most strains of E. coli are harmless (https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/general/index.html) and E. coli is often used in studies simply as a marker for the presence of fecal matter. Nevertheless, this is the take-away: In public restrooms—indeed, in the world at large—it is our hands, not our butts, that spread around germs. Toilet-seat-splashers should really be more concerned about whom they shake hands with and what surfaces and objects they touch.
My indignation is nothing new. Swirling endlessly in the whirlpools of Internet search engines are numerous essays like mine—and not a lot of current objective data on the subject. Although my observations are anecdotal, I see no signs the problem is abating, which indicates to me that my fellow indignant essayists and I are not changing any behaviors. We are merely venting. I take it as a positive sign that public restroom pee splashing, while disgusting, is really inconsequential in the realm of public health research. There are vastly more important topics to be focusing research on—like flu pandemics and the overprescribing of antibiotics. I don’t need scientists to spend their precious time and resources trying to determine the percentage of women in the population who pee on public toilet seats. For me, one woman is too many.
Although out-of-date and with a small sample size, a research article that is still often cited in essays about the behavior of females in public restrooms is a 1991 study entitled “Crouching over the toilet seat: prevalence among British gynaecological outpatients and its effect on micturation” (K. H. Moore, et al., BJOG June 1991). The researchers asked 528 women who had come to a general gynecological clinic to complete an anonymous questionnaire about their public restroom habits. The results showed that 85 percent usually crouched over the toilet when using a public restroom, 12 percent applied paper to the seat, and 2 percent sat directly on public toilet seats. Journalists writing for popular audiences about this subject hone in on the lopsided numbers of crouchers (85%!) versus sitters (2%!). What I found more interesting about the study was the clinical significance of the findings. The researchers found that crouching over a toilet seat reduces average urine flow rate by 21 percent and increases residual urine volume by 149 percent. Again I emphasize the small sample size, but based on these findings crouching to pee is incredibly inefficient and incomplete. Women who crouch would do their bladders a favor by sitting down to pee.