Health, Paruresis, Pee Shy Syndrome, Public Rest Rooms

Paruresis = “Pee Shy”

Paruresis.  That’s the scientific term for what is popularly called “pee-shy” syndrome — finding it difficult or impossible to start a urine stream in the presence, or perceived presence, of others.

In a severe case, a person can urinate only at home or through a procedure known as catheterization.


Look at two photos above.  One was taken, by me, in a men’s rest room at the Honolulu Convention Center, where Margie and I were attending an event.  As one who has been “pee shy” almost all of my life,  I give it a failing grade.  In fact I could detect other men, like me, going into stalls for privacy.

I took the other photo at a small men’s rest room at our church.  It is pee-shy friendly, with a generous “modesty” panel provided between urinals.

I have been pee-shy as far back as I can remember.  It may have started when my mother scolded me once for peeing in the bushes behind our home.  Sensitive little boys don’t like to be scolded!  And they often suffer from a sense of shame and embarrassment.

At school, starting early on, I would go into a stall whenever possible.  I sensed a few other boys were doing the same.

During my long career as a journalist, I decided at one point to see if I could get help.  I learned of a nonprofit called the International Paruresis Association, and I signed up for one of IPA’s workshops, held near Los Angeles International Airport.

About a dozen men attended, along with one woman.  We were paired up to go into hotel rooms to “practice,”  moving varying distances to find comfort zones.  (Margie paired with the woman.)  It really helped!  Today, my anxiety level is low to moderate.  Travel always provides the biggest challenge.

The issue gained national attention a few years ago with a commercial for Direct TV  “I can’t go with other people in the room,” says “Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe,” the nerdy, Jerry Lewis/Nutty Professor-like cable TV client as he stands in front of a public urinal.  In the background suave, satellite subscriber Rob Lowe looks on judgmentally.

IPA called for the ad to be immediately pulled, and it was.

Bottom line:  If you are pee shy, know that you’re not alone.  And as best you can, relax — literally.