Long Lines at the Bathroom Make Life Harder for People With Endometriosis
Last updated: April 2022
If you’ve found yourself waiting in a line to use the bathroom, you’re not alone. In 1987, a man and his wife parted ways to use the restroom after they’d attended a concert.
He hadn’t had to wait to relieve himself, so he began to wonder if some sort of plumbing issue was to blame for his wife’s delay. But when his wife finally emerged from the restroom, she explained that these long waits were normal.
That man was Arthur Torres, a California state senator. After Torres realized that women were consistently waiting much longer than men to use the bathroom, he introduced the Restroom Equity Act.1
Ten years later, some U.S. cities and states have adopted their own potty parity policies. But these long waits remain a big problem.
People with endometriosis need consistent access to the bathroom. However, women statistically wait 34 times longer than men to use the toilet.2
These long lines aren’t just inconvenient – they can have real consequences on hygiene and careers.
Why do women have to wait?
Men sit on the toilet longer than women. According to Vincent Ho, a gastroenterologist, men spend 14 minutes a day on the porcelain throne while women spend around 8 minutes.2
So if men spend more time on the toilet than women do, why do women have to wait longer to use the bathroom?
There are several reasons why women’s bathrooms have longer lines. Women’s bathrooms tend to have more diaper changing stations than do men’s bathrooms, so mothers often accompany their children to the toilet.
Some women may take longer to get undressed than men, especially if they are wearing rompers, tight-fitting clothing, or multiple layers of clothing.
A primary obstacle is bathroom architecture. In an Insider article, reporters compared how long men and women spent in the bathroom.3
The two restrooms shared a similar layout, so they both had about the same number of toilets.
Men waited about 11 seconds. Women waited 6 minutes.
Why is there this bathroom disparity? Urinals take less space than stalls.
Even if two bathrooms are built of the same size, the men’s restroom can serve more people at once.
Hygiene implications of waiting in the bathroom line
Crowded bathrooms can deliver a sucker punch to a woman’s confidence as she worries about odors or stains leaking through her clothing as she waits for the toilet. But holding your #1 or #2 isn’t just embarrassing. It can be dangerous.
Doctors suggest that, over time, waiting to use the bathroom can weaken your bladder or lead to a urinary tract infection.
When you’re on your period, these potential complications can become more concerning. Menstruating people often need more time in the bathroom to cope with period poops, cleaning up blood, and inserting a clean tampon or menstrual cup.
When we have to wait in long lines to use the restroom, we may have to spend more time wearing a soiled pad or damp underwear. These bloody garments can cultivate candida.
If we have to consistently stand in long lines, we may be at higher risk of developing yeast infections or skin chafing.
What are some of the professional implications?
When I go to the bathroom during my period, I feel like I’m racing against time. I feel like I’m internally counting down how many minutes I have before my heavy flow stains my pants.
But on the job, this stopwatch was also literal.
“Come on, pick up,” I murmured as I heard the dial tone on my work phone. I hung up and then tried to call my supervisor’s number again. Before employees took a bathroom break, they were instructed to call their supervisor and receive permission to leave their desks.
As I crossed my fingers for the supervisor to answer, I felt the cramps and discomfort that signaled my period had come early. Finally, the supervisor answered.
“Hi, this is Laken. Can I please take a bathroom break?”
“Yes, but you’re the only person working today. Try to be back in five minutes.”
The restroom had one stall. It was occupied.
By the time I replaced my underwear, inserted my menstrual cup, cleaned myself, and returned to my work desk, I had spent around 15 minutes on my bathroom break. Due to my employer’s policy, I had to log that time as an unpaid break.
Fortunately, my workplace changed its strict bathroom policies, but many people struggle to care for their hygiene when they have limited time during their workday.
If people have to pay for their bathroom break, this disparity is particularly difficult to swallow when women statistically earn only $0.84 to a man’s dollar.
Changes that can make restrooms more accessible to those with endometriosis
Women and our allies, like Arthur Torres, are imagining a better future for bathrooms. There are several ways that restrooms can be a safer place for women with endometriosis.
First, employers can reconsider their timed bathroom break policies. Even if men and women have the same amount of time to take their break, this time is unfairly stacked against women if they have to wait for the toilet.
If employers must impose time limits, they may consider giving menstruating people more time to use the restroom. This additional time would also benefit people with IBS or other stomach conditions.
Second, architects and designers can construct women’s bathrooms that have more stalls.
Third, we can reconsider our gendered stereotypes about the bathroom. Countless television shows and movies portray women loitering in the bathroom, gossiping, and touching up their makeup.
I’ve spent several nights out making friends with other drunk girls in a nightclub bathroom; trust me, I know that a public restroom can be a sacred space for women to bond.
But this stereotype feeds the misconception that women take so long to use the bathroom because they choose to, not because they are forced to wait in long lines.
Collectively, we can finally address the systemic obstacles that make restrooms inaccessible for so many.
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