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This episode was inspired by some great conversations I’ve had recently about going to the bathroom and specifically North Carolina’s legislation about public accommodations. I wanted to investigate for myself where bathroom culture started, to consider the historical context and intent of potty politics.

I learned so much: the quantity of toilet paper I consume, the practices of other countries, and where bathrooms go their reputation for sites of sex crimes (men have sex with men when homosexuality was illegal). These lessons in particular aren’t in the episode but I mention them because they, like everything I did include, afforded me the knowledge to sexplain that our genitals truly have nothing to do with going to the bathroom except that they carry the urine we expel in them, or as I say in the video that we wipe front to back.

My hope is that you continue to research and study bathroom history and politics, that you have curious conversations about the legislation in various states. My hope is that you go to the bathroom where you feel most comfortable and anyone sharing the facility is glad you’re there because they judge your presence on how clean you leave your stalls, not on whether or not they can see your balls.

So many amazing resources educated me on this topic. There about two dozen total! The ones I’ve linked to below are accessible online and awesome for learning more:

Sexplanations bathroom signs:

Dr. Doe:
Lately, there's been a lot of talk about going to the bathroom. How we should do it, if it's safe, and what it does or doesn't have to do with our genitals.

-- Intro Cut Scene --

Usually when I go to the bathroom it's because an organ in my body needs to expel something out of a hole in my body. There are other reasons, like: to socialize, wash my hands, clean a stain off my clothes, check myself out in the mirror to get seaweed out of my braces, but mostly the holes need to direct byproducts of my human functioning into this bowl shape... or this one.

I squat, expel, then push a button or handle and an incredible plumbing system designed over time by all these other humans carries my excretions to a water treatment facility. Before all this, going to the bathroom was what public health experts call "open defecation" - like my dogs: no shame, no privacy, no need for it.

Then came the advent of ceramics. Pots and the like made by heating clay until it hardens. Because they could hold liquid, our ancestors were like "oh my goodness! I am going to poop in this!" I'm sure you can imagine the convenience of no longer having to be in the cold, or rain, outside with predators, or in the darkness. To have a pot stored under your bed and "Gardez L'eau!" just toss the contents out the window to the street below.

According to Julie Horan in her toilet history book, when a man and woman walk down the street, "it was polite for him to get hit with the contents of the chamber pot and spare the woman." The chamber pot created all sorts of new social customs. Renting out potties for parties, molding or painting people they dislike in them to piss and shit on, expecting slaves or servants to empty the waste of the wealthy, but locking up the excrement of the wealthy royals, so that thieves couldn't steal their prestigious poop.

Speaking of the royals, for more than four hundred years, there was an honorable position in the court of the English King called "The Groom of the Stool", who got to wipe the King's ass and, in these intimate moments, be his advisor and confidante. The position wasn't humiliating, but there was certainly an element of seclusion to the task. In fact, urinating and defecating became private/hush-hush, across all classes. For example, there were chamber pots that read "Keep me clean and use me well, and what I see I will not tell." And there was a human bathroom - a man, who'd walk around with a chamber pot and for a token, set it down, and create a tent with his cloak for private use. See no poop, hear no pooping, speaking nothing of poop.

Growing up, I learned the unsaid practice of looking under the stalls and listening for others to leave the bathroom before flatulating or defecating, and if it was a matter of unloading emergency, I'd flush the toilet to hide the sounds. Even though they're some of the most universal sounds in the world!

This is a photo of the toilet I, Doctor Doe, used foe a month while living in a zoo in Mexico. The owner of the zoo asked me to write instructions on the outside for how to use it properly, but since I don't speak Spanish, and most of their visitors don't speak English, I went with a simple image instead. Urine goes in the front hole, and feces in the back hole. Pads, tampons, etc, go into the container nearby. No designation of race, gender, or sex, like these other signs from our history or worldwide that mandate who uses the bathroom rather than how they're used.

Like the US Uniform Plumbing Code 413.3 which states "separate toilet facilities shall be provided for each sex." According to Harvard professor Jeannie Suk, "The growth of women's presence in public life led to the desire to protect them from the crude dangers of the male world." There was this attitude that women weren't fit for the occupations of civil life, and so if we're going to let them into factories, offices, libraries, department stores, banks and on trains, then we need for them to have designated areas and entrances.

This is where we get to present day bathroom politics. In some places, stick figure with a skirt means safe space and bathroom for women. In other places it means "toilet for a person with a vagina or female designation on their birth certificate." David Cohen explains in his paper "the Stubborn Persistence of Sex Segregation" that politically, "...'sex' refers to apparent biological distinctions, whereas 'gender' refers to the attributes society generally associates with biologically different sexes."

So if a bathroom is sex-segregated, Buck Angel, who has a vulva and a vagina is expected to use the stick figure with the skirt bathroom. But if a bathroom is gender segregated then Buck Angel is expected to use the stick figure with the pants bathroom. Other places, like here in Missoula, Montana female, male, intersex, feminine, masculine, gender non-conforming, queer etc can choose any public stall, trough, or urinal and use the bathroom in peace.

I'll read part of the ordinance to you. "The city finds that discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodations and housing is a serious threat to the health, safety, and general welfare of the community. Discrimination is a threat to our community. So Buck! The bathrooms are down the hall by the elevator, use whichever you'd like.

California has taken this a step further by actually changing many of their bathroom signs to a triangle in a circle that means (wait for it) ... "bathroom." I would have gone with the rounded "swoop-swoop" shape of a butt that we used in the 1700's to mark toilets, but triangles are simple and inclusive too. We've made Sexplanations versions of both for you to print off and hang on your own stalls. Before you go do that though, let's address some of the biggest concerns with freely accessible toilets.

Number 1: Cooties.

This is the idea that one group is cleaner and more pure than another. Like the ideology of "racial taint" that black people are going to dirty white people if they share toilets. This is racism. Or thinking boys or girls have cooties, that's sexism. Reject both!

2. "People are going to see my genitals!"

This is no different with this sign or this one. If there are people around and you're naked, then they may see your genitals. But why are we trying to maintain Victorian ideals of genital mystery anyway? That you'll have to wait until our wedding night to learn where my urine comes from. If you're not intentionally flashing someone, or disrespecting boundaries, then there should be no shame or sense of loss.

and 3. There's this fear that penises and vaginas in the same bathroom will lead to sexual assaults.

If I go into a bathroom, and someone else - of any sex, gender, genitalia, etc, comes into the bathroom to go to the bathroom, then no sexual assault happens.

If I go into a bathroom and someone else of any sex, gender, genitalia etc, comes into the bathroom to sexually assault me, then it isn't because the sign gave them permission! These signs and these toilets ultimately mean one thing "this is a place for relief." 

How we go to the bathroom will continue to change with time and place. The only thing our sexual health and genitals have to do with it is that we wipe them front to back. Stay Curious.

-- Outtakes --

According aaaaa. according.... nope nope. mmm mmm.


There were chamber pots that read "keep me clean and use me well and what I see I will not tell, and shut up truck cause I'm trying to do this!"