Psychology in the bathroom: why we go the way we do

Going to the WC is a strange thing. Urinals are in communal spaces. Toilets are behind closed doors. Sometimes we go to the bathroom in groups (here’s looking at you, ladies). Some find the most secluded toilet possible before going about their business. Truth is, while we all hear the same ‘call of nature’, when it comes to going, we have some very different behaviours – especially between men and women. Let’s discuss:

Picking the right toilet

We make conscious and subconscious decisions every day. These decisions are not always logical and sometimes we can’t actually say why one choice is better than another. Picking the toilet stall is the same kind of decision.

According to research, men are more likely to pick the toilet straight ahead of the door, while women prefer going to the one either on the left or right. Men generally use the toilet that’s closest to the door, whereas women specifically choose the cubicles farther away.

Why? It could be because men simply value convenience, while women are more likely to seek privacy. Time seems to be a factor for a man, while women don’t have a time limit on their visit, so please don’t rush her (hence the notorious long lines for the ladies!).

Meet me in the toilet

For women, we all know that a trip to the toilet has more purpose than purely relieving oneself. It’s a space to speak privately to friends, check appearances and some see it – however weirdly – as a selfie opportunity.

The hand washing station becomes a territorial battle for the mirror. The winner stands strong, unaffected by bumping hips and undeterred by the irritated chorus of “excuse me” while she goes about expertly reapplying her makeup.

Men, on the other hand, don’t see the toilet as a social experience. If a man meets a friend in the toilet, they acknowledge their presence and that’s where it ends. They are in the bathroom for one reason, and one reason only. Nods and murmurs only please.

In the open or behind closed doors

As we know, men use urinals which are in an open space. However, as open as they usually are, there’s still an expected etiquette:

Rule 1: Don’t use the urinal directly next to someone if there’s another free.

Rule 2: Don’t stare or make eye contact with another urinator while doing your business. Rule 3: Keep conversation to a minimum, and only if absolutely necessary.

We’ve all heard the myths of women farting only unicorn dust and rainbows. And to keep up this illusion, women go to great lengths to seek out privacy, hence the necessity of a locked door. Even though using the loo is completely natural, societal pressure makes many women feel humiliated and self-conscious about noises and smells (unlike their male counterparts who are more likely to confidently release gas with a chuckle). In 2019, we think everyone should be equally comfortable with natural bodily functions.

Gender neutral – the way to go?

We laugh at our differences, but the gendered toilet in reality is not a joke. In fact, it has been at the subject of a lot of debate recently. It’s a controversial space for those trying to redefine the toilet’s gender restrictions and outdated thinking around gender norms.

Progressive schools, workplaces and public spaces have introduced the “gender-neutral” toilet to promote inclusivity and keep up with the times, yet many are standing against it. The public toilet can be a source of anxiety and fear, especially for people who don’t feel they fit the standard gender identities. Food for thought.

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