To Sit or Not to Sit
The following is an article from the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research.
(Image credit: Flickr user Eric Rice)
A Physician’s Reasons Why Men Should Stand
by John Gamel
Professor of Ophthalmology
University of Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Western Europe is abuzz with the latest flare-up in the war between the sexes, and for the moment, the women seem to be winning. If outrage continues to mount, it will soon be not just uncool and politically incorrect for a man to urinate while standing up, but out and out ILLEGAL. Yes, the liberated women of France and Germany and Holland have vowed to put their men down—on the toilet. They carry placards showing a huge red X scrawled across a man standing to urinate. They shout: “Laissez tomber votre
pantalon, et asseyez vous! (Drop your trousers and sit)!” “Behalte deine Tropfen fuer dich (Keep your drips to yourself)!” “Toch niet weer een vieze plas op MIJN badkamer vloer (Not another filthy puddle on MY bathroom floor)!”
Their motives, or so they insist, have nothing to do with penis envy and everything to do with hygiene. On the face of it, their argument seems to hold water. No one enjoys stepping in a puddle of urine. Given the distance between the toilet bowl and the penis of an upright man (approximately 24 inches, depending on anatomic variations), and
factoring in the width of the bowl itself (approximately 12 inches), it becomes clear that only the sharpest aim can hit the target every time. In such a precarious setting, even a moment’s loss of focus will scatter errant drops on the floor. On the other hand, if every man sits to urinate, the bathroom floors of Europe will remain pristine. Or so goes the logic of the women.
The author’s toilet
Forgive me, ladies, but I beg to differ. Before joining the fray, let me establish my credentials: during my life, I have urinated approximately 118,000 times (five times a day for 65 years) and on countless occasions have watched other males urinate in public restrooms. (I am not a voyeur, of course; all of these glimpses were caught from corner of my eye, with no intention to invade the privacy of others.) Furthermore, during medical school, I spent four years studying the human body. Combining my knowledge from these sources, I must warn the mothers and wives and cohabitées of Europe that their efforts to sustain the purity of their bathroom floors will surely come to naught, defeated by the anatomy and physiology of the male genitourinary tract.
The first fact to be faced: most of the stray “sprinkles” that so enrage European women occur not during the act of urination itself, but immediately afterward, during a ritual men learn as part of their potty training. By “ritual” I refer to the various maneuvers required to discharge the urine remaining in the urethra (the muscular tube that delivers urine to the tip of the penis) once the bladder is empty. Nor is the act merely symbolic or recreational. A man who tucks away his penis without performing these maneuvers will dribble half an ounce of urine into his underwear, causing an embarrassing stain in the crotch of his trousers, or an even more embarrassing streak down his trouser leg. To avoid this debacle, every sentient male, after every urination, carefully squeezes or “milks” his member to assure that no stray drops remain within the urethra.
Unfortunately, some men pursue this goal with excessive vigor, indulging in what can only be described as “shaking off the last drop.” It is precisely these movements—and not the free-falling stream itself—that deposit most of the unwanted urine on lavatory floors throughout the world. (And sometimes, given a sufficiently vigorous shake, on the walls, or even on the ceiling.)
Let me interrupt my argument for a moment to address the mortified gasps from some female readers. I know your “drying off” ritual is far more civilized than the one described above, but this difference derives only in part from the inherent uncouthness of men.
We must also consider anatomy: the female urethra spans only a miniscule length in comparison to that of the male, and as a result, it harbors only a tiny dollop of urine. The male ritual seems barbaric to women because they need only daub themselves with a tissue to remove the few drops remaining on the external genitalia. Granted, their method is more aesthetic, but it’s not our fault that a discrete little wipe doesn’t serve our needs. We can’t help it.
To reiterate my point, men scatter urine not so much during the actual urination as during the “shaking off” that follows. As a result, forcing men to sit while emptying their bladders will serve little purpose, since no man wants to shake himself off while remaining seated on the toilet. To do so he must run the risk—a great risk indeed for the famously well-endowed men of Western Europe—that his instrument will bash against the toilet seat, or dip into a bowl teeming with coliform bacteria. Because of this reasonable and compelling reluctance, all the obedient men who sit to void their bladders will inevitably defeat the purpose of sitting by rising to scatter their offensive droplets on the floor.
The author’s sink
But all is not lost. Eons ago, a hydraulic genius designed the perfect instrument for receiving urine from the male organ with a minimum of mess and bother. I speak here of the lowly urinal, the gleaming porcelain icon that adorns public toilets throughout the western world. For those female readers who have never visited a men’s restroom, let me describe this icon: its bowl is broad as a toilet bowl but sits much higher from the floor, at just the right level to encourage a direct hit from a majority of the men who stand before it. Better yet, the urinal comes with a backsplash to catch any misguided drops, while the push of a button flushes all its surfaces with a cleansing gush of water. Voila! What more could a man or woman ask?
Any nation that bans urinals will pay for this folly with an increase in floor-soiling when millions of men stand up to shake off their drops over a toilet located two feet below their penis. Let us remember that the toilet was designed for defecation rather than urination, and, as noted above, it serves the latter purpose rather poorly, while for the urinal, the very opposite is true.
Unfortunately, urinals give no help on the family front, since few of them are installed in private homes. But we must not lose hope: the solution is at hand. In fact, every home already contains the solution, and it rests only a few feet from the toilet itself. Let us consider the sink, a porcelain instrument whose opening spans a greater width than the toilet, and whose height above the floor brings it much closer to the average male instrument. The young and short-legged among us must stand on our toes or use a stool, but this is a small price to pay for urine-free floors. By my calculation, considering only the physics of hydraulic trajectory, urine aimed at a sink by a man of normal height is 8.5 times less likely to go astray than when aimed at a toilet. Furthermore, this logic applies equally to both urination and to the drip-dispersing ritual that follows.
Yes, I can hear the howls of protest. Urine in the sink? Yuck! Indeed, our culture is replete with disparaging references— ”piss on it,” “filthy as piss,” “I don’t give a piss”—but rest assured that such prejudice is for the most part misguided. Which is to say, urine has long suffered a bum rap. To quote Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary:
Urine: liquid to semisolid matter that is produced in the kidney and discharged through the urinary organs, that is typically (as in normal man) a clear transparent amber-colored slightly acid fluid which is essentially a watery solution of end products (as urea, uric acid, and creatinine) of protein metabolism, inorganic salts, and complex pigments, and that constitutes the major true excretion of the vertebrate body.
What Merriam-Webster leaves out is the most important fact of all: urine from a normal male is also sterile, completely free of bacterial contamination. In fact, as any soldier trained in desert warfare will attest, this warm, salty liquid serves as an excellent wound cleanser, provided contamination is avoided by delivering the stream directly from its source. In my paean to urine, however, I will not go so far as to advocate its consumption. Though the habit is unlikely to cause serious harm, those “alternative” practitioners who insist it will cure a variety of ills can offer not one jot of scientific evidence to support this idiocy.
Despite urine’s innocuous nature, when contaminated it provokes an aesthetic and hygienic disaster by offering an excellent growth medium for bacteria. After an hour or two in a warm environment, these organisms produce breakdown products that stink to high heaven. This problem is easily avoided, however, by the simple expedient of washing away the urine soon after it is voided.
So at last we have the solution to our excretory dilemma. First, encourage men to continue using the urinals in public toilets, while at home insist they both urinate and squeeze their last dribbles into the sink rather than into the toilet, then rinse the sink with a generous splash of water. To facilitate this, the wise hostess will keep a plastic cup
nearby. Let me close my argument by noting that this procedure offers a spectacular bonus: even the most efficient modern toilet consumes more than a gallon of water with each flush, while a sink can be rinsed with only a few ounces. Thus if every man on earth pursues this excellent regimen, we will save billions of gallons of water every day, thereby preserving the environment for future generations.
This article is republished with permission from the May-June 2010 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!
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