Toilet Seats

Menstuff® has compiled information on the issue of Toilet Seats and Disease.


Related issues: Toilets, The Joy of Pissing!

The Toilet Seat is Fine Where I Left It: Confessions of a Sensitive Man

As embarrassing as this may seem, I feel a strong need to confess my recent ignorance on what appears on the surface to be a somewhat silly issue: "toilet seats." Actually, it was in the last semester of my formal doctoral coursework when I lost my naiveté on this issue. To my surprise, however, I have since learned that other men I have spoken with were also as ignorant about toilet seats as I was. The confusion came over a common criticism of men which implies that "sensitive men put the toilet seat down when they're done."

Knowing that I am a sensitive man and one wanting to spread my consideration in the world, I generally complied with this request. My embarrassment comes from never asking, until my recent enlightenment, why leaving the seat up was considered to be so "insensitive." I had made the erroneous assumption that not only the seat but the lid were both referred to in the "toilet-seat-down-test of sensitivity." I reasoned that closing the lid was what a truly civilized person would do when finished; not unsimilar to the etiquette of placing the napkin in one's lap when dining. Simple etiquette here: napkin in lap when dining and toilet lid down when flushing.

Unfortunately, this was so simple that despite my hearing repeatedly of the criticism of men's noncompliance with bathroom etiquette in magazines, social situations and television programs, I never questioned nor observed whether or not women also put the lid down when they finished in the bathroom.

Then, for some strange reason, this topic surfaced one day in a psychology doctoral class I was taking. A female peer had repeated the cliched criticism and somehow I found the curiosity and courage to ask, "Why does the toilet seat need to be down in the first place?" Her answer quite frankly shocked me. "Well, it's because it's a very nasty thing for a woman to sit down on the toilet only to fall in because some man forgot to put the seat down."

This took me by complete surprise and at first I thought her comment was a joke. I soon learned otherwise as the other women in the course were quick to confirm the topic's seriousness for me. Once I realized their sincerity, I queried, "Don't you realize that men have the same experience; that I, as a male have fallen in too? So, why blame men?"

Their response was simple: "Men stand and women sit, so only women fall in, and it's because men leave the seat up." At that moment I raised a point that apparently the women in the room had never considered. I acknowledged that while urination did allow for different toilet positions for men and women (Editor: until now - see.), the biological function typically referred to as "Number 2," necessitated the same position for both men and women. I therefore pointed out that "while women only sit, men sit and oftentimes stand." In fact, I conveyed, that some men (though I doubted if Gallop has ever taken a poll to approximate the numbers) sat when they urinated, just like women.

I then explained that for these reasons, I too have found myself drying toilet water off my rear end for trying to sit on a toilet with the seat in the up position. The difference was that it never occurred to me to blame a whole gender for the splash which I alone was responsible. Instead, I would direct my anger at myself for being in so much of a hurry and unobservant not to check if the toilet seat was up or down.

Shortly after this conversation with my woman colleague, I pondered why do so many women criticize men for leaving the seat up? It seemed to me that a truly independent adult functioning woman would want to protect herself from such mishaps by checking the seat herself rather than to expect a man to do this for her. After all, it seems men have been doing this for as long as there have been hinged toilet seats in our culture. I reasoned that toilet seat checking is a part of self-sufficient adult behavior.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps many women never really realize that men also sit on toilets. At least, perhaps they do not understand that men, for the very same reasons as women, have learned to check toilet seats for themselves. I mean really, this topic is rarely addressed in conversation beyond this criticism. I was 28 years old before I learned the "real" social reasoning behind many women's criticism of men's toilet seat behavior.

What I do appreciate from this event in my life is that whatever the reasons are that men get criticized for their bathroom etiquette, I am not going to feel guilty nor "fall in the trap" of behaving in a way that stereotypically protects women. In fact, it is more sensitive for us to allow both men and women respect and dignity by not implying that they need our protective crusading of toilet seat inspections. Now, I do not go out of my way to leave the toilet seat up, but my response to women to this criticism it: "The toilet seat is fine where I left it. As a self-sufficient person, I'm sure you'll know what to do."

Source: John G. Macchietto, Ph.D, © 1986

Toilet Seats & Disease

I'm always hearing that you can't catch a particular infection from a toilet seat. Are there any diseases you CAN catch from a toilet seat? Or have we all been too paranoid about the porcelain god?

Harold Oster

Dr. Oster is an infectious disease specialist at Scripps Clinic Medical Group in San Diego, California.

Toilet seats are not common vectors (transmission channels) of infections. If you use the toilet seat in the usual manner, it is very unlikely that you will become infected with any disease-causing microbe. Specifically, there is no evidence that HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or the viruses responsible for hepatitis B or C (chronic forms of liver inflammation) can be spread in this manner.

There are some organisms that conceivably could be acquired by contact with toilet seats, such as the strep (streptococcus) and staph (staphylococcus) bacteria that we routinely carry on our skin. It is possible that you could become colonized with a specific organism (become a carrier) after sharing a toilet seat with someone carrying that organism. But I think that the risk of such transmission is very small, and I personally do not worry too much about it.

Some infections are commonly spread in restrooms in areas other than the toilet. The classic source for bathroom infections is the reusable towel roller -- the device that holds a length of cloth toweling that you pull down for drying your hands. Other people end up using the same area to dry their hands, aiding in the potential spread of infections. Towel rollers can spread several different viruses and have been linked to outbreaks of conjunctivitis (also called pinkeye), inflammation of the membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and the front of the eye. It is also possible that touching contaminated doorknobs and faucets can spread these sorts of infections, as well as the viruses that cause colds.

by Harold Oster

Bathrooms might seem the logical place for the spread of diseases that may be transmitted through fecal matter, particularly some viruses that cause gastrointestinal illnesses. However, the Norwalk viruses, the most common viral causes of gastroenteritis in adults, are much more often spread by contamination of food and water. When food handlers do not wash their hands after using the toilet and then return to their jobs, they may transmit such viruses through the food they prepare. It's possible, too, that if you touched a faucet or other surface soon after they did, transmission could occur. (Most bacteria that cause gastroenteritis require a large load of bacteria to cause infection, making it less likely they would be transmitted by touching surfaces.)

There is no way to know how frequently such infections are spread in bathrooms, but it probably is rare enough to justify continued use of public toilets. I do want to make clear that we should still use some common sense in public restrooms. But I would not become too concerned if there were a small lapse in the usual hygiene.

by Harold Oster


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The American Medical Association reports that after touching a toilet seat just one time, it takes at least five consecutive hand washings to get rid of most of the germs and bacteria. It is possible to catch a cold or influenza from touching a toilet seat.


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