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      Why More Men Are Sitting Down to Pee Why More Men Are Sitting Down to Pee
      Photo via Flickr user digitonin

      Why More Men Are Sitting Down to Pee

      April 14, 2015

      Last January, a court in Düsseldorf, Germany ruled that men have the right to pee standing up. The relevant case was a minor property dispute about whether a landlord should be able to keep his renter's security deposit over piss stains on his marble bathroom floor. But the fact that the landlord appeared to view his tenant's standing urination as a barbaric habit, and the fact that the judge referred to the now-protected position as a formerly dominant custom was telling.

      Over the past decade, Germany and a number of other countries have increasingly moved toward a culture of reclining relief. Debates have raged over the merits of the practice, with arguments made on everything from feminist to public health grounds. Yet for all the bombast and backlash around this massive transition, the origins of the modern movement and the prior history of standing male urination remain fairly opaque to almost everyone.

      We do know that, as far back as 2004, at least one German company was producing something called the " WC Ghost," a toilet clip-on that vocally admonished men for raising the toilet seat and encouraged them to sit. That year, the Ghost started to show up in international grocery store chains as well. By 2006, a story popped up in Norway, in which a primary school teacher requested that parents start training their children to pee in a civilized, seated manner. Thereafter, the practice grew more common in Germany and the Nordic countries, with similar movements cropping up in France and the Netherlands as well. The European phenomenon reached perhaps its highest visibility in 2012 when the Left Party in Sormland, Sweden tried to require that male city council members sit rather than stand while using the toilets in municipal buildings.

      Yet this wasn't just a European trend. In 2007, a poll of married couples in Japan found that 49 percent of wedded men peed sitting down, up from 15 percent in 1999. In 2012, Taiwanese officials began promoting the practice as well. And even in America, the practice has gained a little (yet highly visible) traction with rumors that stars like Ryan Gosling now sit as well.

      Many have tried to justify the shift as a logical health measure, saying it's better for men's prostates (and hence our sex lives) and more natural for our musculature. A robust body of scientific literature seems to say that's all bunk, though, save for men with enlarged prostates.

      According to Dr. Stephen Soifer, Chair of the University of Maryland's School of Social Work and an expert on paruresis (shy bladder syndrome) who spends a lot of time observing bathroom design and habits, the great unifying factor of the movement (which he thinks really hit critical mass about six years ago) is the issue of cleanliness and men's messy splash backs.

      "The [European] origin really is in Germany," explains Soifer. "The women's movement there was trying to get men to sit down when they tinkled because they claim men were soiling the toilet seats."

      (Although the complaint makes sense anecdotally, Soifer, for his part, doesn't actually think this is a well-founded claim. He points to research out of the UK in the 1980s showing that 96 percent of women hover over public toilet seats when letting loose, creating some mess as well.)

      Over the past decade, a number of countries have increasingly moved toward a culture of reclining relief.

      As for the origins of the practice outside of Europe, in places like Japan and Taiwan, Soifer thinks it likely has something to do with the regional prominence of toilet associations.

      "Those countries, and Singapore and South Korea in particular," he explains, "have very active toilet associations. ( We have one [in the US], but it's very dormant.) They've become advocacy organizations on a broad range of issues related to public toilet [hygiene—like splash back]."

      Yet it's not as if men have suddenly become much messier in the bathroom, leaving the origin of this seated urination movement now as opposed to at any other time somewhat mysterious. But Soifer has some ideas about why it popped up when it did in Europe and Asia.

      "It was the right moment," he says. "I think that the women's movement [and in Asia perhaps toilet associations] had much more important things to focus on for a long time... I can't tell you exactly who and when, but it was one of these issues where, when the time was right, people jumped on the bandwagon."


      Photo via Wikimedia Commons user Jim

      Based on the recent and global phenomenon of the cleanliness-based seated male urination trend, it's easy to suspect that this practice, as a cultural norm rather than a personal quirk, is wholly new. But there have always been cultures that promoted seated male urination (or where sitting toilets don't exist, squatting male urination). The most prominent of these being Islam, in which some interpret the hadith, guidelines for life based on the deeds and sayings of the prophet and his companions, as encouraging (but not requiring) men to squat and pee so as to avoid contact with unclean urine. Yet the Islamic promotion is hardly mandatory, universal throughout the highly diverse Muslim world, or the basis for the spread of the practice into new cultures in the wider world today. It's just proof that societies, like individuals, have always been a little irregular and idiosyncratic in their ideals and practices on male piss.

      But where the convenience of whipping it out by a tree is paramount, standing urination will probably continue to reign.

      "There are so many variations, culturally speaking," says Soifer, reflecting upon how much of our bathroom norms are based on what is practical for people when and where they live.

      "In the Victorian culture," he continues, "women would actually urinate while walking. Because of the kind of garb they wore... They couldn't take those things off, so you would actually relieve yourself while on a walk."

      In some Islamic communities, the facilities are available and the impetus to be ritually and pragmatically clean is high enough that men choose to squat to pee. In the West and parts of Asia, it seems, we're now so tired of the smell of uric acid and the sight of piss stains and free of other more serious concerns that we can shift our focus toward sitting down to take a leak. But where the convenience of whipping it out by a tree is paramount, standing urination will probably continue to reign, just because it's simple and easy for the average dude on the go.

      Follow Mark on Twitter.

      Topics: culture, pee, urine, life, sitting down, standing up, toilet, toilet seat, yellow snow, mark hay

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