The answer to the question “I can’t pee in public toilets or restrooms, why?” may well be found in the condition we call Paruresis. Whilst Paruresis or Shy Blader Syndrome is actually very common it’s not a well known disorder at all. You’ve probably never even heard of it! It’s not a topic that’s often discussed or written about (hence my website). And so, if you’re struggling to make yourself pee when others are around or there’s a chance of being disturbed, you may not even know that you’re actually suffering from this condition.
The purpose of this article is threefold. To:
- Discuss typical symptoms which you may be able to relate to.
- Put you’re mind at rest in the fact that you’re not alone.
- Introduce treatment options.
In short … if you’re concerned and asking the question “why can’t I pee in public toilets or restrooms?” this article is written for you.
Shy Bladder IS A Real Condition
First of all, to anyone who’s concerned about the symptoms of finding it difficult to pee in public toilets or restrooms you can rest assured this IS a real condition and is a lot more common that you may think.
Shy Bladder Syndrome is a common name for the condition officially named as Paruresis. The official name was first used by Williams and Degenhart who recognised the condition way back in1954. It goes under various other common names too … bashful bladder, pee shyness etc. You can read learn some of the different names for Paruresis here >>>.
Paruresis has been officially classified as a social phobia and a form social anxiety disorder. As such it’s not a physical problem – instead the physical symptoms of not being able to “start a flow” are a result of a mental anxiety disorder. You can read more about Shy Baladder Social Phobia here >>>.
It’s important to add at this point that the symptoms can be a result of other physical condtions so, as ever, we strongly suggest that you discuss with a medical professional. See our feature on Difficulty Starting Urination here >>>
There’s been various research studies carried out which suggest the condition to be very common. Whilst you may think it’s only happening to you – it’s not! You may not believe it when we tell you that it’s estimated to affect around 7% of the worlds population right now. It’s also estimated that about 12% of the population will experience it at some stage in their lives!
Help – I Can’t Pee In Public Toilets Or Restrooms – Why?
The condition affects both men and women but tends to affect men the most. This is pretty obvious when you think about the fact that for men, the act of going for a pee in a public toilet or restroom is a much more open situation than for a woman who generally has a more private space.
It also has varying degrees of severity and, left unchecked, the condition of shy bladder will usually worsen over time. Let’s look at some typical symptoms which you may be able to relate to:
Example 1 – Men:
You need a pee and go into a public toilet. It’s empty and so you select a urinal. Before you start a flow someone else walks in and stands next to you. You have this feeling of pressure, you feel you’re being scrutinised and nothing comes out. There you just stand there feeling embarrassed until the other person has finished and leaves. You are then alone and can start to pee. But you still feel like you’re being talked about – you’ve taken much longer in there than your companions would expect and they’re talking about you. This instance remains in the back of your mind next time you need to go!
The reality is actually completely different – you’re not being judged, there is no pressure and no-one notices or cares how long you’ve been in there. These thoughts are irrational.
Example 2 – Men
You need a pee and you enter an empty public restroom. You select a urinal and get ready to pee. Nothing comes out and you feel under pressure to go before anyone else comes in. Come on, come on … quick, start before anyone come in. Eventually you feel the relief of starting a flow and someone else coming in and standing next to you doesn’t stop you.
Had they come in before you started you know you would have had the result of example 1 so the issue is still there.
Example 3 Men
You enter the public restroom aware of previous issues. It’s empty but you select an end urinal to give yourself maximum privacy. You may even stand at an angle to prevent people looking at you (irrational thoughts again – as if they were going to!). Someone comes in a stands a couple of urinals away but, after a slight delay, you’re able to go.
Clearly you’re aware of an anxiety even though you started to pee after a short delay.
Example 4 – Men
You enter the restroom and it’s busy and there’s a queue. Whilst you may need to go, many others do too as there may be a time constraint (interval at a concert etc) which causes the rush. You have no choice but to stand in line and go to the next urinal that comes available. There’s people to the left and right of you. They finish, leave and are replaced by the next. You just stand there unable to pee. The embarrassment builds and you know you’re not going to be able to go so you pretend you’ve been, wash your hands and leave like everyone else.
You still need to go though but now you return to your companions knowing that you cant go again without some sort of other realistic excuse or they’ll know all about your problem and laugh at you.
Example 5 – Men
You go into the toilet – it’s busy and you know you won’t be able to go. So, instead of standing in the main queue you wait in line for a cubicle where you’ll get the privacy you want. Eventually one becomes available and you go without trouble.
The irrational thoughts still thing everyone’s watching you and wonderng why you’re taking so long or why you want a cubicle.
Example 6 – Men
You enter the restroom – it’s empty, it’s a quiet venue and so the chances of someone else coming in are low. You still select a cubicle wher you know you’re completely guaranteed privacy and go without problem.
The problem is still in your mind though and you’re hoping for an empty restroom when you’ve finished or others will be judging you and asking why you used a cubicle just to go for a pee.
So far all the examples relate to men but the condition does affect women too:
Example 1 – Women
You enter the restroom and there’s a long queue for a limited number of cubicles. There’s a time pressure that builds. Eventually enter to cubicle thinking that the queue are watching and timing you. You feel you’re expected out within a certain time. But you can’t start a flow and think “come on, come on … start” but the presure has a negative effect to the point that you feel you have to give up and pretend you’ve been and leave within the “expected” time scale.
Example 2 – Women
You enter a cubicle in an empty bathroom but then hear someone else enter to ajoining cubicle. Whilst they’re not watching they’re judging be listening or even smelling. You can’t start a flow for fear of being heard or believing that they will smell your urine and judge you accordingly.
You can read more about the The Different Effects Of Shy Bladder In Women And Men here >>>.
There are many, many more examples but you get the idea and may be able to relate to one or two of the above. You can also see how the condition can evolve and develop over time. Each negative experience being compounded until you get to the stage of avoiding certain social activities because of your Shy Bladder Syndrome.
Can’t Pee In Public – It’s All In The Mind!
As we said earlier, Shy Bladder Syndrome is officially classified as a form of Social Phobia or Anxiety and given the medical name of Paruresis.
In very simple terms this basically means that the mind has become mis-programmed to react to being faced with having to pee when in the real or imaginary presence of others by basically clamping down the inner sphincter muscle which controls the flow of urine. This stops the flow of pee.
There’s always a trigger for this condition – some event or thing which planted the seed in the mind in the first place. It’s often difficult to establish just what and when this was though. It could date back to be school bullying, abuse or a specific embarassing event in a public toilet for example.
Being an anxiety means that there is nothing physically wrong. Your body is able to pee in the normal manner but your mind is controlling this function.
My Suggested Treatment Options
When it comes to treatment, it’s simply a matter of re-programming the mind. Setting it back to the way it was before the trigger that started the snowball effect of the shy bladder Paruresis. I say “simply” … sometimes it’s not that easy of course! But you can check out our section on Shy Bladder Cures That Work.
Because of the percieved “stigma” many sufferers look to go the discrete self-help treatment route. And why not? If you feel most comfortable with this type of treatment and if it works then go for it!
This is the route I took too. And here a couple of programs that really helped me: