Getting to the Bottom of Things

Today, I need to discuss the defecation and urination processes. I stress the word “need” because I really don’t want to. These days, I always carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer for general uses, but particularly so that I can get out of public restrooms; there is the old question about how one gets out of such a place; after washing your hands, you still have to open the door; answer: wash hands, open door, sanitize. Am I starting to sound a little crazy? Read on.

Close the Lid

Public restrooms are particularly bad places, regardless of how clean they appear. In the United States, over the past year, I recall seeing only one toilet that had a lid. Many people have studied the resulting spray from flushed toilets. The first study I heard about was over twenty years ago, but I can’t remember it now, but thankfully Sarah Tan has written a nice online article (probably for a class), Think Before You Flush or Brush; it is a disgusting subject, but she deals with it tastefully (mostly).

For me, this is personal. I don’t like being covered in fecal matter. Even more: I don’t like brushing my teeth with fecal matter. Even the idea of urine on my toothbrush makes me sick. So unless you are into that kind of thing (and I know some of you are), close the lid! And if you are in a public restroom, get fully dressed and flush and run.

Sit Down

An old joke…

Q: Why do dogs lick their balls?
A: Because they can.

Why do men urinate standing up? Because they’re pigs. Even assuming that a man lifts the toilet seat, some fraction of his urine stream will end up on the toilet and the ground around it. Krok7 has done a few calculations on his blog in an article, The Physics Behind Toilet Seat Splatter (in truth, he doesn’t do too good a job–I think he greatly understates the problem, but you get the idea). Yes, I know that urine is not so very disgusting, but it does have an unpleasant oder—especially as time goes on.

One of the comments to this article states that it is not practical to ask guys to sit down while urinating. Why is this? Don’t we sit down when we defecate? Are we so much more busy than woman that we can’t spare that extra 30 seconds in the bathroom. For God’s sake men, just sit down and shut up.


I am not alone in thinking about such matters. The 16th Century French writer Francois Rabelais thought about it a lot too. There is no doubt that he was the Joseph Heller of his day. I’m sure people couldn’t stop laughing while reading any of his five books Gargantua and Pantagruel. And I even find him funny sometimes. But the basis of most of his comedy is repetition. Case in point: Chapter 13 of Book 1.

In this chapter, Gargantua tells his father, Grangousier of the many things he used to clean his anus: 57 all told (really: all told). The satire is not lost on me; Rabelais makes it very clear when Gargantua uses a lawyer’s briefcase to clean his behind; or all the live animals he uses; or women’s clothing: “Once I mopped my scut with the velvet scarf of a damozel. It was pleasurable: the soft material proved voluptuous and gratifying to my hindsight.” [Caveat]

Despite all this hilarity, I do believe Rabelais was serious about the question of how one goes about keeping one’s anus clean. He does not provide a very good answer: the neck of a (I assume live) goose. But then, he did not have the luxury of a bidet. Then again, neither do I.

Howard Stern’s autobiography lists his approach (not surprising): three swipes with toilet paper and you are done. He does not go into details, but I believe he does this because he has learned from experience that making too many swipes will result in skin irritation if not bleeding. Despite the fact that all of this makes me very uncomfortable, I will propose my own solution.

A Clean Wipe

I suggest getting a small Tupperware container filled water as well as a hand sanitizer dispenser. Place them near your toilet. Remove the Tupperware lid. Make a couple of swipes with dry toilet paper. Wet a wad of toilet paper and make another swipe. Finish with one last dry wipe. Sanitize your hands and replace the lid on the Tupperware container. Sans a bidet, this is about the best you can do.

I am sorry about all this, but I do think that Francois would approve.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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