Dear Frances B,
If I sit in one more mystery puddle in a women’s washroom I’m going to lose it! Most bars clean the bowl more often than your Nan, but there are still girls who are afraid to sit down. My bet is that the sloppy hoverers out there are the ones putting us at risk. What are the real risks?
– Not Your Pee Maid
Toilet seats are taken for granted in Canada. In France, you pitch right on the porcelain – ain’t no toilet seat. In Romania, handles are provided and you go in a hole. In Thailand, you coopie over a hole and rinse with a ladle of water from a bucket. Here in Canada, we are politely provided the option of a toilet seat, and what do we do? Squat! Or worse, stand! Thereby ruining the no-balance-necessary option for drunks who prefer to sit, like you and I, dear NYPM.
So can we catch something from a toilet seat, or not? Rumours abound, but facts are scarce. I called the Sexual Health Centre on Merrymeeting Road hoping for a flat out no, but instead was surprised when Jillian, the education coordinator, replied “well, I can’t say it’s impossible… I don’t know of any statistics available!”
During my research, the question of whether or not crabs (pubic lice) can jump from toilet to person became a heated debate among my friends. And again, I couldn’t quite get the damn “No” I was hoping for.
But here’s what I did find out:The chances of catching any sexually transmitted disease from a toilet seat are slim to none, but the possibilities (however slim) include crabs and herpes.
“I mean, I only can’t say a straight-out ‘No’,” says Jillian. “There’s always that very small chance. But I can definitely say it’s very unlikely. To even be exposed to any STI transmitted by fluid exchange, I mean, you’d have to get urine or menstrual blood left on the seat into a cut or – somehow, actually into a person’s vagina or another opening. And if you’re looking at an STI transmitted by skin-to-skin genital contact, like genital herpes for example, again I can’t say it’s impossible, but it’s highly unlikely. You’d have to sit down immediately after another person got up, for a start.”
According to the American Division of Parasitic Diseases, “a common misunderstanding is that an infestation [of crabs] can be spread by sitting on a toilet seat. This isn’t likely, since lice cannot live long away from a human body.” Crabs don’t jump like fleas, they explain, “Also, lice do not have feet designed to walk or hold onto smooth surfaces such as toilet seats.” This is backed up by Columbia University’s Q&A health site “Go Ask Alice!", which adds: “Because toilet seats are not major culprits in spreading disease, paper or plastic covers offer little more than peace of mind.”
My friend recently visited Tokyo, where he found voice-activated public toilets that mechanically stretch out a fresh toilet seat cover for each visitor, as well as spritzing air freshener as you leave. With antibacterial wipes and lotions becoming the norm I worry about our sanity as much as our immune systems. We’re getting a bit obsessed with “sanitizing” our bodies and environments from germs, aren’t we? In my opinion, if you don’t want to take any risk whatsoever, Nan’s rules still work: “Be a sweetie, lift the seatie!” and afterwards, wash your hands with good ol’ regular soap and water.
And please, let those of us who don’t have the thigh power to straddle a pee-soaked seat have the option of somewhere dry to pitch.
– Frances Beatrix
email frances at email@example.com or mail your questions to frances c/o the scope, po box 1044, st. john’s, a1m 5m3.