Monday, December 8, 2008

The trouble with toilets

Functional; not convenient

Toilets are functional things. I believe them to be a rather significant advancement in the infrastructure of civilization and utilize them daily, usually multiple times. Outhouses were little more than holes in the ground with a box around them for privacy; a toilet is something else entirely. They're plumbed. And they're conveniently indoors. I'm grateful for both.

I'm somewhat perplexed by the approach many people have towards them. While comfortable with our own toilets and even those belonging to our friends -- presuming our friends have acceptable hygienic practices -- we're somewhat averse to those used by the public. Eagerly we use restrooms in hotels and even offices where access to them is limited even if only momentarily; if we can quantify the number of people who have used the toilet before us, we feel better about using it now.

As a child I remember being taught to wipe the seat prior to use with toilet paper and if it looked unsanitary I was to put down a layer of toilet paper over the seat. Some public toilets even provide disposable seat covers in dispensers above the toilet, thus saving on valuable toilet paper and prep time.

Sleek, sexy, and dirtier than a toilet

For years I was told how disgusting and disease ridden these cesspool spillways are. Then I read an article that pointed out the average cell phone, dollar bill, or keyboard has more dangerous germs and bacteria than the average toilet seat. Similarly, there are very few butt-born illnesses. We get sick from things getting our eyes, our nose, or open wounds; very few illnesses are contracted by simply coming in contact with our skin. If you have gaping wounds and lesions on your butt then that could cause problems, sure, but that's a unique situation.

We're behind on toilet tech

I can only imagine it's general gossip and hearsay that leads to people being afraid of toilet seats. Even knowing the facts I still am not totally comfortable with them. As my friend Mark said in Vegas, "the only thing worse than a cold toilet seat is a warm one" -- and he wasn't referring to the seat-warming, bidet-using, techno-toilets of Japan. Unlike a couch where I'll fight to steal someone's pre-heated spot, toilets are rather uncomfortable when still warm from a previous occupant. Yes, I'm fully aware that others have sat there and done their business, but that doesn't mean I need to be reminded of how recently that action took place. Let me have my ignorant bliss and imagine it occurred long ago in a cleaner, more hygienic age.

I hope this has been informative to you. I also hope you've disinfected your keyboard and cell phone (or will do so immediately upon finishing). I did.


--jeff * said...

1. i had to click on the link for "butt-born illnesses" just to find out where that led.

2. where did the inspiration for this post come from?

3. i suppose i should try to stop licking my cell phone.

Tim said...

I posted this because at work I used a stall and the seat was still warm and so it set off this train of thought.

And yes, stop licking your cell phone.

colmert said...

Yes, people, especially women, are afraid to sit on a toilet seat for fear of contamination. Some "hover" or squat, neither of which is physically good for the bladder or results in complete emptying.

Here's the results of one study:

I've just written a book on some of the issues that women (and men) face when using bathrooms. It's called "Bathrooms Make Me Nervous" - you can read more at