Bathroom Justice!

Ok, I’ve blogged enough about politics and religion. It’s time for a really controversial issue…

If a bathroom is shared among male(s) and female(s), should the toilet seat always be put down, or should it stay where it was after its last use?

(Let’s assume this is a private bathroom; so the issue is one of practicality, rather than presentability. Even if it isn’t, it’s easy enough to change the policy when entertaining.)

The first question that comes to my mind when considering which policy is best is “Which policy requires people to adjust the seat position the most?

Let’s call one policy AD (Always Down) and the other candidate policy CWN (Change When Needed). There are other potential candidates, but I think these are the main interesting ones.

Even without going through the gory details of the math, I think you can see that the answer is that AD requires more seat adjustments.

In AD, all of the seat adjustments are driven by a male urinating. Whenever this happens the seat must be raised before use, and lowered afterwards. So the number of seat adjustments in a day is twice the number of male urinations in a day (let’s call M1 the event and m1 the average number of M1 events in a day); so we have 2m1.

At first, I suspected that CWN would be better unless the ratio of females to males rose above a certain point, and then AD would be better. But, that turns out not to be the case.

In CWN, the worst case is also 2m1 (two adjustments for each M1, but at different times). But, if there are ever consecutive M1 events, we save two adjustments (one after the earlier M1 and another before the later one) In most cases, I think CWN will yield a number significantly below 2m1, but as we change the scenario (e.g. by adding females to the environment) to increase the frequency of non-M1 events (F1, F2, M2), consecutive M1s will become less and less frequent and we approach 2m1 as a worst case limit.

Note also that the answer to another interesting question: “On whom does the burden of adjusting the seat fall under each policy?” is that under AD the entire burden falls on the male(s), and under CWN at least half of the burden falls on the male(s) (because it will always be a male who raises the seat, and it will sometimes be a male who lowers it), and some falls on the females.

So, it seems that CWN is superior to AD with respect to both seat-adjustment effort, and a more equitable sharing of the seat-adjustment burden. AD imposes the entire burden on the males, and the burden is higher than what CWN divides between the genders.

OK” I can hear some women saying, “But the issue isn’t just seat-adjustment effort. It’s also the effort to remember to check the seat before using the toilet. How does that compare?

I’m glad you asked.

Under AD, the remembering burden is also proportional to 2m1 (the male(s) remember to check and raise (sounds like poker!) the seat before M1 and remember to lower it after M1). Once again, the entire remembering burden falls on the males. Females can just sit down with confidence.

Under CWN, everyone has to check before each use, but nobody has to remember to make an adjustment afterwards. So for males the number of checks is m1+m2 and for females it’s f1+f2. Since I think it’s fair to assume that m1>m2, this is better for the males than 2m1. And, the burden is similar for the females (compared to males) assuming that they use the toilet approximately the same number of times throughout the day. Admittedly, under CWN, the total number of rememberings will be more than under AD if 2m1<(m1 + m2 + f1 + f2), which will probably happen whenever there are more females than males, but the burden will be shared and it will be better for each person under CWN than for the average male under AD.

So, in conclusion, it seems clear to me that CWN is superior, in terms of both efficiency and burden-equity, to AD.

So, ladies, will you do the reasonable thing and agree to a CWN policy?

Or, will you stubbornly insist on AD?

UPDATE: Glen Whitman applies some Coasean analysis to the problem…

40 thoughts on “Bathroom Justice!

  1. In the time it took you to write this, you could have put the seat down six months’ worth of time. What about people just being nice to each other? Women don’t know how best to position the seat for others’ benefit- could be either way. Men do.


  2. You missed the most reasonable and efficient solution. Men can sit to pee. No changing needed, problem solved. Less spatter too…


  3. JSB,

    I did consider that.

    For the seat-adjustment calculation, 2m1 is the worst-case limit for CWN even if there are 1 million women and one man (shudder!). In that case, there will never be consecutive M1 events, so each will cause two adjustments (male raising, next user, probably female, lowering). But, since there will always be a possiblity of consecutive M1 events with even 1 male and many females, the actual number will be a bit lower under CWN than the guaranteed 2m1 under AD.

    For the remembering-burden calculation, I acknowledged that, under CWN, the total remembering will go up as the ratio of women to men increases, but the average remembering per person will be less under CWN than AD (and it won’t all fall on men).


  4. To Alice: Gil is not just solving his own bathroom problems here, many others (his many readers!) are involved as well so his time is well spent.

    Funny that you would appeal to “concern for others” and then advocate the solution that is an advantage to women.

    To Dawn: It’s not reasonable and certainly not efficient for men to sit to pee!

    To JSB: Good point about the numbers of each involved


  5. Alice,

    As JSB mentioned, how can a man know whether the next user will be a man or a woman?

    And I really have a problem with the anti-intellectual attitude that seems to say: “Don’t spend time trying to figure out what makes sense, just do it my way!”

    What about you just being nice (and making a smaller concession than you expect from others)?


  6. Dawn,

    Don’t you think asking men to change the way they pee is asking more of them than asking women to look before they sit?

    And, as others have indicated, the additional clothing adjustments exceed the seat adjustment savings.

    As for spatter, I agree that men should clean up after themselves. I suspect most men would rather agree to do that than switch to sitting.


  7. Gil,

    I’ll take your word for it that you calculated for population differences. To be honest, your formula made my head hurt so I just “got the gist of it”. ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. wow, it really works! I tried various number combinations, and you’re right, Gil. It doesn’t matter how many women there are; since men will have to lift and lower every time for the AD (2 moves), there is no greater energy if a man has to raise and then the next woman has to lower (2 moves). Neat. (I needed a break from work… I’m putting my boss’s speech onto PowerPoint and I ran into what I found to be a humorous comment: “post-mortem planning requires pre-mortem planning”. Like if he left out that statement everyone would think that our firm can reanimate people to take care of their estates).


  9. One thing I should probably have mentioned is that my conclusion is based on the assumption that men and women are basically equal in terms of the effect of the burden of checking and changing the seat position.

    If, for some reason, the burden for females is greater than for males then that extra burden might justify a policy to accommodate them.

    However, most women I know strongly deny that women have any such inferiority.


  10. JSB, women standing to pee is actually quite difficult and takes great care, so just looking to see where the seat is before sitting actually is *easier* ๐Ÿ™‚


  11. Ivan,

    I agree that the most hygienic policy is to lower the lid before flushing.

    But, I was interested in settling the common factual dispute over how the policies most commonly advocated by males vs. females (CWN, AD) affect the quantity and distribution of burden.

    Burden-wise, I think the lid-closing policy is more of a burden on everyone (the lid, and possibly the seat, must be raised and lowered each time by everyone). However, the burden is distributed equally between males and females, and the policy may have sufficient benefits to justify it for many.


  12. Closing the lid is also a useful habit to have when there are toddling, exploring babies around. Gives parents a chance to clean the toilet bowl before the toddler splashes in it…

    Gil, you don’t like my sink pee idea either? Aren’t sinks usually just the right height for a standing pee-er? And you can just wash the sink out while washing your hands off, easy-peasy. What’s so gross about that?


  13. Yes, closed lids can be safer.

    As for peeing in the sink, I’m not on board with that.

    I haven’t done any testing, but I suspect that the typical counter is too high for many guys, certainly for children (and you wouldn’t want them to try arcing it in).

    Also, I suspect that many sinks are set back from the edge of the counter enough that some guys (not me, of course!) might have trouble reaching the sink when the flow dwindles; which could get messy.

    I think I read somewhere that urine is pretty clean, germ-wise, so I guess it’s not so much of a hygiene issue as it is something most people still think is gross to have near places where you put your hands, brush your teeth, etc.

    Also, some bathrooms have a separate area for the toilet, with its own door, so guys who want privacy would have to monopolize the whole bathroom when they had to “use the sink”.


  14. A friend of mine’s parent’s house had urinals in the bathrooms. I wonder why people don’t do that more.


  15. My significant other and I had this discussion many years ago.

    The basis of the complaint that I heard was that CWN policy placed an undue burden on women who were always required to check the seat status before using the facilities. My initial position was that men had learned to always check the polarity of the seat when sitting, and it would be beneficial for women to pick up the same habit. The counter-argument was that the cost of the seat being up in the dark was a cold, uncomfortable, and possibly wet experience for someone in hurry.

    The “hover” case was news to me at the time and seemed to make the crucial difference in the argument. I was informed that many women apparently find toilet seats disgusting or, at best, unreliably clean, and so they don’t actually sit. This exacerbates the problem, because hoverers get the seat at least as wet as M1 events.

    This completely undercut a previous argument about undue burdens of verifying polarity. It turns out that women *always* have to check the seat anyway (at least outside of the home) because of the prevalence of hoverers. Some women apparently find it easier to hover over a toilet sans seat, so seats in women’s rooms are often up, too.

    Our resolution was to have a policy of closing the lid, and always verifying polarity, and forgiving transgressors who occasionally forget to put the seat or the lid down. I felt like I won the argument, but the end result was that everyone bears the maximum expense anyway. It’s the safest course.


  16. “Safest course” … pah!

    If you can’t reach agreement on the toilet seat issue, don’t just grin and bear it: go to war. An opening tactic I warmly recommend is to cover the toilet bowl with food wrap (cling film) and then put the seat down (to disguise the trap).

    This sort of escalation will prove highly effective in bringing your co-habitant back to the negotiating table.


  17. Also, keeping the lid down keeps the dogs from drinking from the toilet and the cats from playing in it.

    Gil, your mathematical figurin’s describe one part the truth of the matter, but by no means do they define the entire picture.


  18. Well, I do agree Gil should probably figure in the burden equity of falling into the toilet more often with the CWN policy, none with the AD policy.

    In the last twenty years I’ve forgotten once while sitting and once while standing, both involved heavy drinking though, I kept the burden on the lower side, if I recall, jumping up quickly and cleaning the seat respectively.

    I think Gil is close though, at least, with the math.


  19. I was just trying to determine the truth of the matters that seemed quantifiable, and are often disputed.

    I agree that differences in distress and in ease of adapting to other policies should definitely be weighed in the decisions, but they are much more difficult to quantify.

    I’m not really against solutions that involve accommodating parties that have more intense preferences or difficulty adapting to arrangements that are otherwise more efficient. I just prefer that it’s understood that that’s what is in fact occurring, rather than pretending that it’s something else.


  20. Also, keeping the lid closed helps to stop things falling into the toilet and clogging the lines- like off the back of the toilet or off one of those over-the-john racks…

    of course it’s difficult to quantify many factors in making decisions, humans are complex and unique, that’s what keeps it interesting! ๐Ÿ™‚

    happy cwn! keep the plunger handy ๐Ÿ˜‰


  21. After reading everything presented, one thing that has always come to my mind and that I didn’t see represented here is the actual function going on. I believe that the pee function is all that is accounted for in the math.

    I vote for the AD method since women have to do both excretions in a sitting (hovering) position. Men can choose which position to pee in and must sit for the other. So there is the aspect that you’ve got 2 bodily functions per gender. Three of the functions are done sitting – Fpee; Fbm; and Mbm. Mpee CAN be done in either position. And from observing the males in my life, most of them, at home anyway, choose to sit to pee.


  22. Diane,

    All functions were considered, but male peeing is the only function (among the conventional practices) that causes seat-position-changing.

    All functions CAN be done standing or hovering with the seat up, too. So, what? That doesn’t mean that there’s no cost to changing your preferred practice.

    As noted earlier, it’s NOT more efficient (when considering clothing adjustments) for men to set while peeing. But, I agree that some may actually learn to prefer it (maybe it gives them a chance to relax, or read, or something).

    I don’t know what happens in the homes of the males in your life, but have you considered the possibility that they have accepted that adapting to sitting is the lesser of the evils, when compared to the repercussions of forgetting to comply with the (less-efficient) demands of a female in their home (to lower the seat after peeing)? You might be happy with this situation, but it sounds like a problem to me.


  23. men who don’t wish to clean up after themselves each time they miss the target [the sign over the toilet: “stand closer, it’s shorter than you think”] might prefer to sit when peeing in the facitilites that they share with other family members of any gender. It is conceivable that this could be a common preference- prefered by everyone involved- and a solution to a problem.

    I wonder what the equations would look like for working out how to handle the sharing of a sonic toothbrush apparatus? Does everyone leave the handle without a toothbrush head on it, so that the next person only has to attach and detach his own? Or is the effort the same, in detaching someone else’s brush head and attaching one’s own and leaving it there for the next person to change? And then there is the issue of putting on the brush head for any members of the family who might want to use it but don’t want to do the attaching themselves. Hmmmm, just like the members of the family who might not want to adjust toilet seats for anyone else’s liking either…

    There does seem to be an intangible bit to common preference finding that can’t be included in mere efficiency ratings. The way toilet seat adjustment gets worked out amongst college roomates sharing a flat is likely to be different than the way it gets worked out between people who have close intimate relationships, with the bit about loving and being willing to go the extra mile has something to do with that. Or is the extra mile always coercive?


  24. I don’t think going the extra mile is always coercive.

    It depends on what the person going the extra mile thinks about it. Does he think he’s doing what he prefers, given the preferences and capabilities of others of good will; or does he think he’s forced to accept the lesser of two evils because others refuse to be reasonable?

    And, I don’t even think it requires a loving, intimate, relationship to be willing to go the extra mile for others. All it takes is a desire to help when it seems to make sense, and doesn’t seem to involve being unfairly burdened, etc.


  25. This entire conversation makes me laugh out loud.

    One good reason NOT to pee in a sink is the water trap that keeps sewer gas out. Even if you let the water run for a while, it’s hard to stop the ammonia smell from building up.

    A reason against men sitting as a standard. . . it’s kinda hard for fat men to pee sitting down. In the case of a small toilet it can be physically impossible. Furthermore, more sitting means more stress on the toilet which means it will wear out quicker and need to be replaced sooner.

    Next up, I’m reminded that it’s not always in the long term benefit to save people effort. Not checking the toilet seat, or any tool/device really, before using it is a bad habit to get into which increases the risk of accidents. Thus, by eliminating the need to check in general, you can actually raise the risk of accidents.

    On a somewhat embarrassing note, I find most of my “pee” accidents are at the end, not the beginning, of a urination session, when the stream ends and the last few drops actually move in the opposite direction for some reason. Short of holding a little tissue paper underneath, I haven’t found a way to stop those drops from hitting the floor. It’s not always carelessness, sometimes it’s just clumsiness.


  26. Yes, it’s a very funny conversation.

    But, I think it’s also interesting because many people get very emotional about it. It seems that I’ve touched a nerve. One obvious reason is that it’s very intimate, personal, tied up with child development trauma, perhaps…

    Also, I think that it approaches an area of potential difference in male/female behavior which can get touchy. For some reason, some females can’t or won’t easily adapt to always checking before they use the toilet; and men have a difficult time understanding why this should be an issue. It just makes sense to us to look first, and adjust it if necessary.

    The female “horror” stories I’ve heard have all been about falling in during the night. Perhaps women are more likely to attempt to use the bathroom and return to bed without waking up as much as men do. Maybe it’s related to dealing with sleep interruptions when nursing, or something. I really don’t know.

    What I do know, is that many people are very sensitive about this and argue about it strongly until one side gives in.

    Perhaps it would be better to just let the issue be; but my inclination is always to try examining problems rather than ignoring them.

    I’m crazy that way.


  27. One more big bathroom problem and you’ll have them all covered! (toilet paper position: roll from the top? from the bottom? doesn’t matter?)


  28. I think Gil already addressed this issue, and I’ll bet he will tell us where! ๐Ÿ™‚ These days I am weighing in with let the toilet paper fall wherever the person who is willing to replace it wants!

    Gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever had an emotional discussion about toilet seat position- any adjustments we’ve agreed on in the household have had to do with practicality and sensibility related to not wanting the animals in the toilet and weariness at plunging and snaking the plumbing apparatus.

    But I think you are right, Gil, that childhood trauma issues around toilets and related issues can manifest in some interesting ways.

    And, beware the Ides of March.


  29. Yeah, I think I have a slight preference for the paper coming over the front (yes, Sue, I think I mentioned this in the comments to the original toilet paper post). I think this way it’s easier to use, and the paper doesn’t have to touch the wall.

    But, I agree with Sue that it’s fine to just live with however the person who replaced it chooses to orient it.

    Uh oh. Sue’s right. The Ides of March is upon us!


  30. Well, I’d suggest to both of you that if you add up all the time wasted spinning the toilet paper to see which way it is going because it’s never the same way, you’ll have plenty of extra time to mess around with the toilet seat!


  31. I doubt it, Stephen. But, what’s your solution?

    I think there was an episode of Maude in which she complained that the paper coming out over the top was offensive for some reason. Seems silly to me.


  32. My solution: When you’re sitting there with nothing to do switch the paper to the most common, sensible position, coming off the top. When you put it on, spend the two extra seconds to see which way is up and put it on coming off the top.

    Not only is it easier to not have to figure out which way it’s going every time you use it, it’s easier for standers to get the paper when it’s coming off the top. Coming off the top is more sanitary too, keeping the paper and peoples’ hands from rubbing on the wall.

    I can’t think of any reason for coming off the top to be worse.


  33. I don’t think so.

    I think that the urinals do the most to eliminate the need for seat adjustments in men’s public restrooms (keeping out men does the most in women’s public restrooms, I guess).

    If all of the urinal spots are taken and I use a toilet to urinate, I still lift the seat.



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