We’ve all been there: You encounter a less-than-clean bathroom at a bar, the gym, or when you just can’t hold it anymore and are forced to dash into the nearest Starbucks. No matter how bad you have to go, there’s no way in hell that you’re going to sit on that filthy seat.
Your next move, of course, is the hover, the squat, the crouch. Whatever you call it, you know it: You lower your bottom over the toilet seat without actually making skin contact with that cesspool. You do your business and get out of there stat–presumably healthier for it.
But apparently the public bathroom squat isn’t actually all that great for you—and you may want to stop doing it entirely.
“When you don’t completely sit down, your muscles are not completely relaxed,” says Carol Figuers, PT, EdD, professor and director of student affairs in the doctor of physical therapy division at Duke University School of Medicine. Figuers works with athletes and new moms to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles and educates physical therapy students on pelvic health. “In order for the bladder to completely empty, the pelvic floor muscles have to be let go.”
As you squat over the seat, she says, your pelvic floor muscles are probably still 30% or 40% tensed. “When you stand back up, you’ll still have a little bit of urine left in there because the muscles didn’t completely relax,” she explains. With pee left inside your bladder, you risk an accidental leak if you jump, cough, laugh, or sneeze. Plus, that “old” urine you’re carrying around can irritate the inside of the bladder, adds Figuers, making you feel like you’ve gotta go more often or more urgently than you really do.
“Nobody wants to sit on a nasty toilet,” Figuers concedes. So she recommends making a “nice nest of toilet paper to sit on” or using one of those handy paper seat covers if the gross bathroom in question is kind enough to provide. However, you probably don’t even need to do that, as it is extremely unlikely you'll catch anything from a toilet seat. Just wipe the thing down and take a seat.
If you find yourself in a pinch without a seat cover or enough toilet paper for your “nest,” or you're just in too much of a rush for all that fussing, it’s probably fine to hover once in a while, Figuers says. “But don’t make it a habit.”
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter