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A Brief Disquisition on the Existence of Butt-cooties


What with one thing and another, I’ve spent a lot of time in public restrooms. And, having been a scientist in my previous professional incarnation, I can’t help observing things, and drawing statistical inferences. Which is why I am in a position to inform you that roughly half the female population of the US suffer from the twin delusions that 1) butt-cooties exist, and 2) they will, given half a chance, leap several inches from a toilet seat and burrow into the skin of an unsuspecting buttock, resulting in scrofula, assorted STD’s, herpes, and probably leprosy.

I draw these conclusions from the fact that roughly half the time I enter a public restroom cubicle, I observe that the previous user has peed on the seat. Ladies…

I can only guess that at some point in an impressionable youth, these women were told by some female authority figure that One Must Never SIT On A Public Toilet, “because you might catch something.” Firmly indoctrinated with this policy, they do not sit on public toilets. They hover. Ladies, ladies…

Look. The skin of the buttocks is actually pretty germ-free, owing to the fact that we normally keep them covered and don’t (usually) touch other people, animals, etc. with them. Your butt is much cleaner—microbially-speaking—than are your hands.

Various studies of the bacterial content of public restrooms indicate that there are a LOT more germs on the door of said restroom than there are on any toilet seat therein. You acquire millions more microbes by shaking hands with someone than you would if our social system involved mutual butt-rubbing. (To say nothing of the teeming worlds of microorganisms you acquire every time you accept change from the counter-guy at Burger King. How many of you race to the bathroom and scrub your hands after ordering the meal, but before eating it?)

In order actually to catch one of the communicable diseases with which excrement or other bodily fluids are associated, two things would have to occur: 1) the bodily fluid of an infected person would have to be applied to the toilet seat (which would not happen, if said person would sit her bottom on the potty where it belongs and not spray the thing like a hippopotamus), and 2) an uninfected person’s mucous membranes must come in contact with said fluids, within the few seconds that most bacteria and virii can survive outside the human body. You don’t have mucous membranes on your buttocks.

Now, by and large, urine really doesn’t contain all that many bacteria (Male urine contains almost none, owing to the fact that its exit is, um, less impeded by surrounding tissue. A good many alchemical and medical recipes up through the early 19th century require “urine of a newborn male child” as an ingredient—this being the most sterile water available). Feces…well, yes. And I have in fact encountered the Really Nasty evidence that there are not only seat-pee-ers, but also seat-poopers (to say nothing of the occasional person who is so afraid of physically encountering a public toilet that they actually don’t hit it at all, and leave the evidence of their mental derangement on the floor of the facility), but this is fortunately rare.

All right. In periods of heavy traffic, one might possibly encounter a live bacterium or virus present in the urine that some inconsiderate idiot has left on a toilet seat. Not likely, but faintly possible. Are you going to encounter it with your mucous membranes? Not unless your excretory habits are both Highly Athletic and Dang Unusual.

OK. So if the risk of catching a bacterial or viral disease by sitting on a dry toilet seat is negligible, then plainly, the Thing to Fear must be…Butt-cooties!

Traveling as much as I do, I am in a position to collect international data, albeit in an anecdotal and unstandardized manner. On the basis of such casual observation, though, I hypothesize that while butt-cooties presently have a fairly wide global distribution, they probably originated in the United States. Speaking generally, at least fifty percent of all public toilets in US airports, convenience stores, museums, and restaurants indicate evidence of infestation (judging from the aversive techniques employed by the patrons). European toilets have a much lower incidence—perhaps 10-15%.

(Point of etiquette: ought one to meet the eyes of, and/or nod to, a person emerging from a toilet cubicle that one proposes to enter? Common politeness would argue for such cordial acknowledgement—but if the next few seconds reveal that the departing patron was possessed of butt-cooties, this might lead one to think harsh and unchristian thoughts of said person, and surely it’s worse to think unchristian thoughts (WWJD? I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t pee on a public toilet seat, and if He did, He would certainly wipe it off. Ditto the Buddha, and doubtless any other religious figure you care to name) about someone whose face is imprinted in your short-term memory, than of an unknown quantity.)

In fact, we might hypothesize the geographical origin of butt-cooties as having occurred in or near Chicago. On what basis? Well, of all the airports I’ve been in (and I’ve been in a lot of airports, from New Zealand to Saskatchewan), only O’Hare International has public toilets equipped with a sliding cylinder of plastic sheeting that encases the seats; you wave your hand in front of a magic button, and voila! The plastic slides round the seat, and you are presented with a pristine surface on which to park your booty. Such is the prevailing fear of butt-cooties, though, that people pee on these toilet seats, too.

Well, there’s no arguing with psychological aberration, and thus I make no attempt to persuade Those Who See Butt-Cooties away from their convictions. I would, though, urge them—in the most kindly manner—to address the results of their antisocial psychosis, and thus leave them with this classic advice:

“If you sprinkle when you tinkle—

Please be neat, and wipe the seat.”

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119 Responses »

  1. Whoops, sorry it cut off the end of the address. Here it is again:



  2. dear stephm,
    lol and thank you! So it is a saying in the states!! I love it!
    the only things you get taught this way here in Germany is mostly for the guys, saying to be nice and sit down. (well, at least in private restrooms) It was about time to say some open words here.
    “Not unless your excretory habits are both Highly Athletic and Dang Unusual.” That sentense cracked me up! Diana rules if it comes to pointing things out.
    still grinning

  3. It’s nice to know that someone feels the same way. This is definitely a gripe I have myself with women’s public restrooms– especially now that I have a two year old who has to sit on the seat and touch it and everything else in the stall while I stand by grimacing. All it takes is one hover and then the cycle repeats. gahh! We recently visited Zurich, Switzerland and they have the cleanest bathrooms I’ve ever seen, and some of the strangest ones too. Some of these contraptions terrified my daughter and left me completely speechless. Funny topic– thanks for posting!

  4. Hey – great blog! I put toilet paper on the seat, too (even at home), in the face of family jeers. It might not do any good, but the rite assuages my soul. I saw a variation of the closing poem in a gym bathroom several years ago:

    If you sprinkle
    When you tinkle,
    Be a sweetie -
    Wipe the seatie!

  5. Oh I applaud that entry. Amazing that people would actually think that they could get germs from the toilet seat, you would think that after the 80′s and the hysteria AIDS caused, with people thinking you could catch it by using a toilet after someone infected, shaking hands with said infectee or smiling in their general direction, it just baffles me to know people are still as naive as ever. I do put it down to parents teaching their children to “be careful, you don’t know who has been here before and you could get germs from ‘someone dirty’”
    Hopefully your entry along with your actual factual knowledge has opene the eyes of at least a few germaphobes. For those parents out there who are telling their children about all the evil germs, just remember, the germs didn’t kill you, nor will they your children … exposure could actually save them by allowing them to grow a resistance to them.
    That’s my two cents worth!

  6. tLOL – I am definitely a sitter myself; I don’t even understand the toilet seat covers as they have run on news programs like 60 minutes about the germiest (is this a word?) places in a bathroom and the toilet seat is the cleanest. The floor is the worst. So if you do flush with your feet, you are inflicting all kinds of germs on the next person who flushes with her hand.

    I lived in Japan for 2 years, and they rarely have “American” toilets. The facilities are a porcelain trench, so to speak, which you very carefully squat over. It takes a great deal of getting used to, but then, they have no butt-cooties, either.

  7. I work at a University in Halifax, NS. I have never been in a public washroom which can compare to the one here at work. We have a mixed bag when it comes to women here, and maybe that explains the mess. There is always pee on the seat, sometimes poo, sometimes other drippings. I wonder how they who make the mess can walk away and not clean it up? I have often gone to other floors in our building, ones which I know more men work on, and use the ladies lav there. It is always cleaner, with less ladies using it. How can highly educated women working in a university and performing research not know how clean their butt actually is? I guess I will never know. I laugh and laugh every time I read this post…and my husband now knows what butt cooties are…he assures me the men’s washroom looks much worse than the ladies, if that’s any consolation! :)

  8. My dad always tells the story of when he took my nephew (his grandson) into a public restroom at DisneyWorld. He gave “Little John” a mini-lecture on not touching anything in the stall because it’s dirty, etc. etc. As they exited the men’s room, “Little John” was proud to report to Grandpa that he didn’t touch ANYTHING at all in the stall, all the while dragging the palm of his hand along the wall . . . :)

  9. I really like this blog. It made me laugh because I can relate. My best friend has some sort of phobea related to public restrooms, and gags whenever she enters one, (which I could understand if she didn’t also gag in restrooms that had just been cleaned to the point of being sanitized!) And my step-mom is a hoverer. I, on the other hand, share your views and just make sure to check the toilet before I sit on it. It’s really no fun to sit on a wet toilet seat!
    Thanks for putting a smile on my face!

  10. DG -

    I laughed my booty OFF with this one! THANK YOU for saying the thing that apparently many women have been wanting to say. Please tell me you will submit this to some large publicaton as a bit of humor and information. Heck..make it another wee book for little girls growing up and toilet training.

    Take care.

  11. Brilliant Diana!!!
    Definitely agree with gerri that you should do a bullet point version for people to print off and hang up on walls in public toilets!! (and my bathroom for that fact at party times!)
    And what is really terrible at the moment is some British supermarkets now have this weird blue lights in their toilets (i’m told its so drug users can’t see their veins to shoot up..how true this is…i don’t know) and back to my point you can’t see the mess people leave on the seats, due to the poor lighting…have had a few nasty experiences becuase of it I can tell you (well i won’t because that would be gross)
    Everyone should give the seat a quick wipe just in case regardless!
    Have finished ranting now!

  12. Oh! I found this on Jupiter Girl’s blog here and had to post it. Warning…do not have any liquid in your mouth or a glass in your hand when you read this:

    When you have to visit a public bathroom, you usually find a line of women, so you smile politely and take your place. Once it’s your turn, you check for feet under the stall doors. Every stall is occupied.

    Finally, a door opens and you dash in, nearly knocking down the woman leaving the stall.

    You get in to find the door won’t latch. It doesn’t matter, the wait has been so long you are about to wet your pants! The dispenser for the modern ‘seat covers’ (invented by someone’s Mom, no doubt) is handy, but empty. You would hang your purse on the door hook, if there was one, but there isn’t – so you carefully, but quickly drape it around your neck, (Mom would turn over in her grave if you put it on the FLOOR!), yank down your drawer’s, and assume ‘ The Stance.’

    In this position your aging, toneless thigh muscles begin to shake. You’d love to sit down, but you certainly hadn’t taken time to wipe the seat or lay toilet paper on it, so you hold ‘The Stance.’

    To take your mind off your trembling thighs, you reach for what you discover to be the empty toilet paper dispenser. In your mind, you can hear your mother’s voice saying, “Honey, if you had tried to clean the seat, you would have known there was no toilet paper!” And your thighs continue shake and quiver even more.

    You remember the tiny tissue that you blew your nose on yesterday – the one that’s still in your purse. (Oh yeah, the purse around your neck, that now, you have to hold up trying not to strangle yourself at the same time). That would have to do. You crumple it in the puffiest way possible. It’s still smaller than your thumbnail .

    Someone pushes your door open because the latch doesn’t work. The door hits your purse, which is hanging around your neck in front of your chest, and you and your purse topples backward against the tank of the toilet. “Occupied!” you scream, as you reach for the door, dropping your precious, tiny, crumpled tissue in a puddle on the floor, then losing your footing altogether you slide down directly onto the TOILET SEAT. It is wet of course. You bolt up, knowing all too well that it’s too late. Your bare bottom has made contact with every imaginable and unimaginable germ and life form on the uncovered seat because YOU never laid down toilet paper -
    not that there was any, even if you had taken time to try. You know that
    your mother would be utterly appalled if she knew, because, you’re certain
    her bare bottom never touched a public toilet seat because, frankly, dear, “You just don’t KNOW what kind of diseases you could get.”

    By this time, the automatic sensor on the back of the toilet is so confused that it flushes, propelling a stream of water like a fire hose against the inside of the bowl that sprays a fine mist of water that covers your butt and runs down your legs and into your shoes. The flush somehow sucks everything down with such force that you grab onto the empty toilet paper dispenser for fear of being sucked down too.

    At this point, you give up. You’re soaked by the spewing water and the wet toilet seat. You’re exhausted. You try to wipe with a wax coated gum wrapper you found in your pocket and then slink out inconspicuously to the sinks.

    You can’t figure out how to operate the faucets with the automatic sensors, so you wipe your hands with spit, the all purpose liquid, and a dry paper towel and walk past the line of women still waiting.

    You are no longer able to smile politely to them, and you no longer try. A kind soul at the very end of the line points out a piece of toilet paper trailing from your shoe. (Where was that when you NEEDED it??) You yank the paper from your shoe, plunk it in the woman’s open hand and tell her warmly, “Here, you just might need this.”

    As you exit, you spot your hubby, who has long since entered, used, and left the men’s restroom. Annoyed, he asks, “What took you so long, and why is your purse hanging around your neck?”

  13. Brava! Brava! This needs to be published in every newspaper in America. You can’t get cooties from the toilet seat! Siddown! :D

  14. When we moved into our new office three years ago, I was weirdly excited about the novelty of toilets that flushed themselves, thanks to the strategically placed electric eye. The novelty wore off rather quickly.

    It took a few frustrating days of pulling out the tissue thin toilet liner, billowing it out like a miniature parachute, placing it gingerly on the seat and then stealthily moving to align myself into proper position, before watching, usually from the most undignified position imaginable, my “protection” sucked away by a premature flush.

    I now wipe the seat of any remnants of the prior occupant and get down to business immediately. Not only do I save time, I’ve actually succeeded in reducing my blood pressure.

    A win – win if there ever was one. [g]

  15. :D
    I love that bathroom sign. First spotted it in an employee bathroom.

  16. I know I’m joining this discussion a bit late in the game having just discovered this extremely poignant and timely discourse on the Butt-Cootie. I thought the ensuing hilarity might result in an embarrassing and unseemly incident of Peeing-in-one’s-Pants. Butt cooties abound in Houston as well as in the afore documented Chicago. This is also one of my pet peeves. Nothing worse than to be unexpectedly “christened” in a public bathroom with something a little less pure (but certainly almost as sterile as) holy water.

  17. … and a third: “pallet” (great for slumber parties).

  18. this is hysterical!

    i am in total agreement with you on this one…i give a similar speech at burning man each year, as the fear of public toilets seem to be actually more intense if the public toilets in question are portable =)

  19. Butt cooties!! LMAO! Thanks for the good laugh. I needed it!

  20. That is the most hilarious rant I think I have ever read. Thanks for the laugh.


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