I can count on one penis the number of times I’ve walked into a public restroom, spied a fellow fellow at the urinals, stepped up and whipped out my Magic Johnson and let ‘er rip. It was a nice big bathroom, as I recall, in a spiffy hotel. The urinals were many, clean and shiny white. I was drunk and feeling cocky (as it were), perhaps about some new and enchanting companion awaiting me in the cocktail lounge, perhaps about some compliment I’d received, perhaps about some grand task accomplished or text published. Something was being celebrated. Whatever the cause, I was feeling cocksure – I stepped up to the man-plate and did what men do. This is an everyday occurrence for most men, granted, but for me it was unprecedented.
Other than that time, in any men’s room that is either not empty or risks becoming un-empty while I’m doing my business, I always use a stall. When I enter an unfamiliar bar, I always scope out the men’s room early on to see if I’m gonna have trouble (A loo with no stall and a trough urinal and no door lock can utterly sabotage my evening.) If I enter the bouy’s (as opposed to the gull’s), the bull’s (as opposed to, swear to god, the heifer’s), or the papa’s (as opposed to, of course, the mama’s, at Papa Gino’s) and there’s a crowd and no stall available, and a urinal is free, I mumble something to the effect of, gosh would you look at these filthy paws o’ mine, wash my hands, and leave. As you’ve probably figured out by now, here’s the pith of it (har!): if I try to pee in a urinal in a communal situation, it just won’t flow.
Every now and then I’ve walked into an empty bathroom and thought I’d bravely attempt the pisser. I step up and wait, immediately start to get nervous about someone walking in, at which point I begin my little psychological tricks to distract myself, the most successful of which has always been counting the tiles on the wall. The fear of being interrupted, though, usually stops me from making such an endeavor. If someone were to walk in on me, the pee simply would not come (or would abruptly stop) and I’ll be left standing there, er, standing there, and would again find myself mumbling flushing, zipping up and escaping, even though at that point, I desperately have to go. I leave wondering if the guy knew, if he saw that I just couldn’t do it, or maybe he’d seen me come in the door right before him what must he think of me?! That I was there to jerk off? That I’m some kind of a ________ (insert homophobic or misogynistic term of choice) who can’t pee around other guys? Plus there’s the pain of having stopped mid-piss, and then the struggle of having to wait a reasonable amount of time before offering a “Gosh I’m flowin’ like a fountain tonight," and heading back to the head to give it another go.
Why can’t I go in front of other men? Beats me. I’m not shy about being nude in the locker room, about having someone see my wee-wee, not shy about lots of other naked manly stuff. But when it comes to public peeing, I just can’t do it. I’m sure Malcolm Gladwell or Oliver Sacks could write an entire book about pee-panickers. Clenchers. Clampers. I’m sure some psychologist or clinician has. But for now, let us refer to the ultimate source, Wikipedia:
Paruresis (IPA [paɹ jə ‘ɹi: sɪs]), also known as pee shy, shy kidney, bashful bladder, or shy bladder syndrome is a type of social anxiety disorder, that can affect both men and women, in which the sufferer is unable to urinate in the (real or imaginary) presence of others, such as in a public restroom.
This post comes (or, rather, attempts to go) in response to Dan’s recent post about anxieties that a man might tie to his masculinity, but that may be more genderly-neutral human than masculine in origin. Because, for me, Paruresis (a term which, somehow, by the very sound of it, has reawakened my shame at a condition that I’ve long since learned to accept, even joke about, although I do love that it’s abbreviated as “IPA,” as opposed to it’s opposite, bedwetting, etc., also known as IPFRILI) is largely a urinal issue (a stall makes taking a whiz a piece of cake), I thought it a solely male condition, tied to penises somehow inherently, and that the most comfortable and masculine of men surely would not experience such unwelcome work-stoppage, but perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps there are buckets of women (There are certainly some, Wikipedia says so, it must be true, but perhaps there are nearly as many as IPA ladies as there are gentlemen.) who clench up as well. Now I’m all confused because I’m more comfortable imagining that both sexes suffer this urinary indignity/discomfort equally, but then what does that say about my masculinity? That I can feel more comfortable as a man (and/or as a person) knowing that my organ-related issue is genderless? Dear me.
Dear reader, is this a case of TMI (too much information), another condition from which I suffer horribly? Please advise.