Like many millennials, Curtis got his first mobile phone when he entered his freshman year of high school. He was 15 years old, and his first phone went with him everywhere. Still, conscious of school rules and eager not to look antisocial, he’d wait to take the device out of his pocket until he was in the bathroom. There, safe at the urinal, he’d reply to texts and see to other notifications.
Fifteen years later, Curtis hasn’t changed. “A restroom break just always seemed like a convenient time to check a one-handed device, from my first phone through my current one,” he tells me. “It’s an easy break from my desk, the table or other places where checking your phone is impolite. So why not take the opportunity?”
It seems, however, that people tend to frame Curtis’ question a little differently. What’s up with all these guys standing at the urinal, phone in hand, texting while they pee… and hovering there, peen out, for a while after? Why would anyone risk the splashback? Are you so addicted to it you can’t spare a minute without looking at that screen, that black box, that little coffin we’re all living in, man?
Perhaps people wouldn’t be so quick to judge if they knew Curtis checks his phone at the urinal because he takes care to be more present in the company of others. But are there any other reasons guys live on the edge, absentmindedly dangling their $1,000 tech above a bucket of pee?
It’s Just Good Etiquette
“Browsing on your phone while sitting on the toilet is so common that elbow spots on thighs are a meme,” Curtis concludes. “There’s no reason not to check at the urinal, too. I can’t speak for other guys, but I’m not packing a high-pressure fire hose that requires both hands and a proper stance to aim.”
Brandt, a 26-year-old in Denver, brings his phone to the urinal for similar reasons. “If I’m somewhere in public where it would be rude to be on my phone, I figure the restroom” is a safe zone, he says. “That’s when I’ll check email for work, or see if there’s anything important I need to do.”
Ultimately, your phone is a lot more interesting than the blank wall in front of you. Who wants to stare straight ahead, looking at nothing, like a dead-eyed zombie? And anyway, Curtis concludes, “the real monsters in this situation are the guys who carry on a phone conversation while using the restroom.”
It Takes Your Mind off Stress
Beyond a gentlemanly adherence to social phone etiquette, many men scroll through their phone while standing at a urinal to alleviate anxiety. Some have a shy bladder, which can be uncomfortable and even detrimental to their health.
When you’re pee shy, whatever works, works.
“I’ve always had this thing where I find it hard to pee in packed restrooms and I have to take my mind off of other people and distract myself,” says James, a 20-year-old in Ohio. “I’ve had times where I have to pee really badly but my body just can’t seem to let it out… [so] I find looking at Reddit on my phone helps distract me.” It doesn’t matter what he looks at — it does the job and lets him flow in peace. “I’ll just go through the popular section of Reddit and see what’s going on in the world. That’s basically the only reason I use my phone at the urinal.”
But this technique creates a double-edged sword. “While I’m distracting myself, I’m also attracting attention to myself,” he says. “I’ve never been called out, but I have had people peek over and look at what I’m doing on my phone, which makes matters worse.”
James has tried other methods of subverting his anxiety, like “reading the random info about the urinals that are on pipes,” or trying to imagine the lyrics to a song he has stuck in his head. But nothing quite works like the phone.
Before having a smartphone, Eric, a 29-year-old in Washington, had such bad anxiety about the urinal that he’d wait for a stall to open up. “I’d just try and stare straight ahead if I had to use the urinal, but I’d still get anxiety. Kinda lame, I know.”
But that changed when he took his first trip to the bathroom with a smartphone. “I’ve been a phone-at-urinal guy ever since,” he says. “I’m looking to zone out and pee, and I don’t really message people. It would feel a little weird texting my friend and his wife with my peen in my other hand. Now I’m wondering if I’ve ever been texted like that…”
Eric doesn’t think all the urinal-phone scorn is warranted. “Some of us need something to distract us so we can relax enough to get things flowing,” he tells me.
“And if you’re offended by my having my phone out at the urinal for the duration of my productive use of said appliance, you’re already breaking rule one of the urinal, which is: Mind your own business.”