Why Women Avoid Public Restrooms

Using public restrooms can be a little (or a lot) awkward. When we’re out and about its sometimes unavoidable that we “gotta go”. What makes it so uncomfortable, particularly for women? Researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Kansas studied just this.

From no toilet paper or soap to filthy toilet seats and trying to squat while holding their breath, women revealed their deepest concerns and anxieties in the restroom. Let’s discuss what they found!

The study titled “Why Do Women Not Use the Bathroom? Women’s Attitudes and Beliefs on Using Public Restrooms” explores women’s attitudes towards using restrooms at work, school and in public. Through anonymous surveys of women, researchers discovered the real truth of the thoughts, tricks, and issues around the restroom.

Nearly 8,000 Women Reveal Thoughts on Public Restroom Use

How do women perceive using public restrooms? While every individual is different, there are common themes amongst women. Over 7,500 women were asked if they tried to avoid using public restrooms at work or in public, and why they do so.

  • 98% of women limit public restroom use
  • 68% of women limit restroom use at work

To Go or Not to Go: Making Restroom Decisions

It’s not just the need to go that determines if women use public restrooms. Women consider many factors before using the restroom, from cleanliness to privacy. The decision to wait or to go depends upon her level of urgency, personal concerns and situational influences. For example, people may avoid using the restroom if the restroom is too far away or if it’s crowded and they feel embarrassed. The chart below dives deeper into how women navigate bathrooms.

Women consider these factors in their restroom decisions:

  • Restroom type (single-stall, multi-stall)
  • Cleanliness (unclean, smelly, littered, dirty seats)
  • Psychological factors (anxiety, embarrassment, disgust, fear)
  • Perceived accessibility (mobility, distance)
  • Restrictions (having to ask for permission or a key)
  • Privacy factors (noise, human interactions)
  • Biological concerns (bladder or digestive issues)
  • Alternative actions (behaviors or actions to make things more comfortable)
  • Urgency (how bad one needs to go)

In Her Own Words: Quotes from Women Surveyed

The study produced very interesting feedback from participants who left their own comments. Here’s what the women had to say about using public restrooms:

  • “It is as if people have no idea how to function in a public restroom. It is truly disgusting what one comes across. Seats are covered in [urine], toilets have not been flushed, paper towel is all over the grounds, and pads have not been wrapped. It is disgusting. Far more often than not, I prefer to hold it.”
  • “There is only 1 women’s restroom (single-person) where I work. I am the only female out of 30 employees where I work, so the men use it frequently, especially for going #2. I refrain from using it because the bathroom is not near my desk, and it is usually occupied or smells bad.”
  • “Since I live in an urban area many restaurants use keys, which is disgusting. I do not want to handle it, then walk back and eat food.”
  • “Only one toilet for a bunch of people: I am sometimes embarrassed to use it–people usually know who is in the bathroom.”
  • “It is really close to desks, and I am afraid people will hear me or judge how long I am taking”.
  • “No privacy: I am afraid others may hear me doing my business and be offended.”
  • “I do not like the idea of touching something that has been touches by other bottoms. It feels gross. Plus, splash back from the bowl feels like I could be getting their urine on mind. Plus, the space in the front between the two sides of the toilet seat is usually disgusting, and sometimes, my underwear touches it.”
  • “During class, it is discouraged to leave the classroom.”
  • “I can usually only go during my breaks and must ask my supervisor for permission if not during a break, which is embarrassing.”

More Quotes from Women

  • “The stalls are small and I have to put my bags on the dirty ground. During winter, if there is no hook in the stall, I will be peeing with my hat, scarf and coat on.”
  • “The room is small, cramped, and poorly laid out.”
  • “Most stores have restrooms in the back of the store. I have trouble walking long distances, and if I need to go to the bathroom, I sometimes do not make it back there without a leak.”
  • “There is no family restroom and my 7-year-old son does not want to go in the women’s restroom, and I do not feel comfortable letting him use the men’s room alone.”
  • “Smells awful and sanitary waste disposal containers hadn’t been emptied for the last 6 months.”
  • “It is embarrassing that I am embarrassed to make the sound and embarrassing that I am embarrassed to NOT make the sound. I like when restrooms have fairly loud music playing in them to mitigate this dumb fear/habit of mine.”

Learn More

To read the full article, click here.

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