On Thursday of last week, a court in Düsseldorf, Germany, ruled in favor of a male rental tenant who was suing to get his $3,490 deposit back after a landlord accused him of ruining the marble floor with his pee splashes. The judge agreed that it was uric acid that had discolored the beautiful marble floor, but remained convinced that the urinator wasn't liable for the damage. The legal takeaway of the suit is that property owners can't force male tenants to pee sitting down.
The DPA, Germany's national news agency, published the statement by the judge in the case, Stefan Hank, and it's kinda hard to relate to if you're not German:
Despite the increasing domestication of men in this area, urinating while standing up is indeed still common practice...Someone who still practices this previously dominant custom is regularly confronted with significant disputes, particularly with female cohabitants. However normally he must not reckon with damage to the marble floor of a bathroom or guest toilet.
In other words, in Germany, peeing while standing up is viewed as an outdated custom that some people still practice, like calling all women "ma'am" or smoking cigarettes indoors. Thus the hilarity of comedy sketches like this one, which is in German, but you'll get the gist:
Desperately in need of context, I asked the CEO of the International Paruresis Association, Dr. Steven Soifer, to help me understand. Soifer, whom I have interviewed before, works to help men get over their pee-shyness problems, and he often goes to Germany, where pissing is a complex issue.
"There are some cultural issues that we simply can't understand, just like there are some cultural issues that Europeans can't understand about us," he said, pointing me to examples not just in Germany but in Sweden and Norway where laws have been proposed that would segregate standing and sitting pee stations rather than dividing bathrooms based on gender. Some of those stories have been misconstrued by conservative bloggers in the US to make it sound like raging feminists are out to cut European men's dicks off if they stand to pee.
But it's not all exaggeration. In 2006, a schoolmistress in Norway who was sick of wiping up piss accidentally stirred up shit when she sent a letter home to parents asking them to teach their boys to pee in the civilized manner, a.k.a. by sitting down. Then there are gadgets that some Europeans put on their toilets to shame Stehpinklers (those who pee standing) into becoming Sitzpinklers (those who sit to pee).
But it isn't just about tidiness. According to Soifer, "Physiologically it is easier to urinate sitting down than standing up," he said. "The muscles work better. They're not as tense, so some men prefer to urinate sitting down rather than stand. In fact, myself, when I get up at night, when I'm half asleep and I've got bad vision, I urinate sitting down."
Some men with pee-shyness, Soifer said, have an easier time peeing seated when they're in public thanks to the privacy of a stall, though he was quick to mention that with "hardcore cases of paruresis, that doesn't work. The fact that there are other people in the restroom shuts the muscles so tight that they can't go."
The news out of Germany is a breath of fresh ammonia-smelling air for men like the Telegraph's Jake Wallis Simons, who wrote a year ago about the decline of proper masculine urination posture, not just in Europe but in Taiwan and Japan, where 30 percent of men sit down to pee. In response to news of men voluntarily sitting down, and a small handful of legal proposals involving unisex public toilets, Wallis wrote, "There are many ways to remove a man's dignity. One of the foremost, however, has got to be forcing him to urinate sitting down." Despite Wallis's one-man outcry, most men's dignity can probably survive an occasional seated bladder evacuation when in public.
The German legal ruling, on the other hand, defended a man's right to pee standing up in his own home, surely a right worth defending. But it doesn't appear that this is a debate poised to cross the Atlantic anytime soon.
"Unisex toilets are more common [in Europe] than they are in the States," said Soifer. "You can imagine how that would go here in the US."
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