Are you one of the 60 percent of Americans who say that they won’t sit down to use a public toilet?
One survey out of Canada shows that as much as 30 percent of people would rather hold it than use a public toilet.
But when you gotta go, the alternative is a little move that we ladies like to call “the hover.”
So why the hover, you ask?
Experts at WebMd break down the two main health concerns that we seem to have about the porcelain throne: fecal matter and sexually transmitted infections, commonly referred to as STI’s.
Edit: in an earlier version of this post I used the term “sexually transmitted diseases” until a reader pointed out that the terminology I had used was outdated. Read why the change from “STD” to “STI.”
When it comes to cooties, WebMd experts assure us that most of the organisms that cause sexually transmitted infections can only survive for a short time outside of a host and that it is impossible for these germs to be transmitted from the toilet seat to your urethral or genital tract. Dr. Abigail Salvers is the president of the American Society for Microbiology and she assures that the only way to contract an STI on a toilet seat is to have sex with someone with an STI—on a toilet seat.
If that wasn’t romantic enough, most of the organisms found living on and around the toilet seat are in fact related to fecal matter. This is under the elusive assumption, of course, that ladies are capable of creating fecal matter. And if contracted, fecal-born bacteria such as E. coli, streptocccus, and S. aureus can cause an array of health problems from bloody diarrhea to strep throat. However, doctors say that, barring open wounds, sitting on a toilet seat is actually relatively harmless. This is because bacteria have to come in direct contact with your respiratory or digestive system to be harmful. Your excretory system is, oddly enough, not susceptible to fecal matter. Go figure. It is not until the toilet flushes and feces is propelled into the air that bacteria can be breathed in. Dr. Philip Tierno is the director of clinical microbiology, expert in diagnostic immunology, and all-around germophobe at the NYU Medical Center. He says that the best way to avoid fecal matter is to leave the stall immediately after flushing.
You can run, but you can’t hide.
Even though Tierno says that lower-volume flushes typically project microscopic matter as far as five feet, you have time to escape: “The greatest aerosol dispersal occurs not during the initial moments of the flush, but rather once most of the water has already left the bowl.” And just in case you think you’re outsmarting everyone else, his studies have also reported that in an average sized public restroom, less bacteria is found in the first two stalls than in the rest combined.
It’s time for a little potty training.
If you’re a squatter, I have someone you need to meet. Allow me introduce the CSP, or Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, an organization which represents a massive 45,000 physiotherapists. These guys are pretty pissed; they say that the toilet-hover is not only unnecessary, but also can be harmful to your health. Here’s why you should flush the old habit.
Studies done in the UK explain how your posture changes when you squat, and that this squatting posture is inefficient at completely emptying the bladder of urine. These remnants of urine are a breeding ground for internal bacteria that can cause a very painful urinary tract infection. These studies have hypothesized that a single hover retains as much as 50 cubic centimeters of urine. It only takes 200 cubic centimeters to put you in danger for infection. And Dr. Suzetter Sutherland, Minnesota urologist, explains that when it comes to the bathroom, “…our habits are pretty ingrained. Most people who hover are “chronic hoverers.”
Rest assured, the seat is the least of your worries.
Germs are everywhere. This is one reason why Dr. Charles Gerba co-authored The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu, in which he offers “guerilla tactics to keep yourself healty at home, at work, and in the world.” Gerba has long said that the dirtiest part of the bathroom was not the toilet seat, but the floor. And in order to prove his point, Gerba tested the floors in public restrooms at ABC News. What his study found was about 2 million bacteria per square inch, in comparison to about 400 found on the toilet seat. So I’m guessing he’s also not a fan of the five-second rule. Worse yet, Gerba also found fecal bacteria on about 30 percent of the women’s purses that he tested. So while you were worrying about boogey monsters on the toilet seat, your purse was on the floor, soaking up the fecal bacteria that you get to carry around with you all day.
And we can’t blame it all on the bathroom. As recently as 2008, according to a study done by the American Society for Microbiology, when unaware that they were being observed, only 67% of participants washed their hands after using a public restroom.
TLDR; As our friend Dr. Tierno likes to remind us: “The ten dirtiest things you’re going to find in the bathroom are probably your fingers.”