When traveling internationally it is not uncommon to come upon some bathroom habits that don’t run flush with those in your home country. It is not uncommon to find yourself trying to urinate in bathrooms that are crowded with people who are chatting, reading the paper, yelling into cellphones, with few, if any, barriers for [...]
When traveling internationally it is not uncommon to come upon some bathroom habits that don’t run flush with those in your home country. It is not uncommon to find yourself trying to urinate in bathrooms that are crowded with people who are chatting, reading the paper, yelling into cellphones, with few, if any, barriers for privacy. These circumstances can sometimes lead to a temporary onset of paruresis — which is the scientific word for pee shy, where you have to piss but can’t do it because other people are around. This is something that could creep up on almost any traveler in many situations as they move through the world.
Paruresis results from a traumatic experience involving urination (such an embarrassing restroom incident during childhood) producing a conditioned response. The subconscious is conditioned by the trauma to interpret the presence of others during urination as a threat. This triggers the sympathetic system, a component of the autonomic nervous system, to relax the detrusor urinae muscle (essentially storing the urine instead of expelling it) and to contract the internal and external urethral sphincters, the former of which is under involuntary control. The contraction of the sphincters prevents the flow of urine from leaving the bladder. The arousal of the sympathetic system subsides when the threatening stimulus (i.e. the observer) is removed, and urination can then proceed. –Paruesis definition on Wikipedia
Missing a bathroom break on a long bus journey can make an otherwise enjoyable trip severely uncomfortable. If you can’t urinate when you have have the chance just because other people are around making you nervous you’re going to have a hard time traveling this planet.
This travel tip is more for men than women. It is my impression that the bathroom experience for women is often a little more private than for dudes in most places in the world and I also know that pee-shyness is much less common among females. Though I’m sure that this advice could be of help in some circumstances none the less.
Men pretty much always need to be prepared to whip it out and let it go no matter how many people are hanging around the john. Having to piss in front of other people is a regular demand placed on the males of this world. In countries where foreigners are still curiosities a foreign man in a restroom could easily become an object of intrigue. I cannot count all the times when I’ve pulled up to a public pissing troth in China only to realize that the men to my right and left were angling their heads towards my mid-section, taking a gander at what I’m packing. For more modest men I’m sure the effect could be slightly intimidating.
When I was young I once traveled around the northeast of the USA with a friend who had more than a little difficulty urinating in public urinals. Being a rather insensitive teenager I showed him no mercy and terrorized him each bathroom break the entire trip. This experience really taught me how much of a problem paruresis could be for someone on the road — it could make an otherwise comfortable trip horrible. Urinating in unfamiliar circumstance with unfamiliar, talkative, or noisy people around can sometimes grate on the nerves. It’s a good thing I figured out how to beat pee-shyness long ago.
I’m unsure if this method will work for people with severe and chronic paruresis, but for those who simply get “locked up” from time to time it may help. The tactic is simple: whenever it gets a little crowded or uncomfortable in a bathroom I start counting. I count to myself slowly and steadily, I stabilize my breath, and relax. 1, breath in, 2, breath out, 3 breath in . . . Invariably, before I reach ten the job is done.
Slow counting combined with rhythmic breathing often causes the body to automatically produce a relaxed response. The goal here is to relax the urination muscles that can involuntarily become contracted when nervous. When you’re really concentrating on counting it is difficult to think about anything else — it’s an excellent way to clear your thought patterns. Likewise, slow counting is used for many body control exercises from anger management to pain endurance to religious practice. Buddhists use counting combined with rhythmic breathing to focus the mind, and this is precisely what the locked-up fellow at the public pisser needs to do.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
June 18, 2012, 6:12 pm
Maybe a few visits to old-school ballparks with a trough instead of individual urinals could be a step towards desensitizing. I sympathize with people with that problem – when I was a teenager, I was on a gurney in an ER, stacked up in a busy corridor and I couldn’t use the stupid urine container despite being in pain. It’s not a problem anymore, but man can that be tough!
June 18, 2012, 7:06 pm
Interestingly Japanese women have the Sound Princess. Doesn’t seem like public urinating is easy pee-sy for them either….
June 23, 2012, 3:26 pm
🙂 Just make sure you count out loud while at the urinal, lol
December 17, 2012, 10:37 pm
This article shows how little you know about paruresis. If it was as easy as counting then paruresis wouldn’t be an issue for so many people.
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