About a year ago, a guy I dated for only a few months popped the question: “Where is all my toilet paper going?” Annoyed by the prospect of having to explain to a 37-year-old man why women wipe after they pee, I answered, “I’ve been eating it.”
In retrospect, the most infuriating part of his inquiry was that I didn’t really know why women wipe after they pee either. My only defense: Much like the underwear stains from drip-drying, the answer isn’t all that tidy. “There’s no real data on wiping that I’m aware of, but women are at higher risk for UTIs because of a shorter urethral length; so wiping may be protective,” explains Rena Malik, a urologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “But I’d guess that it’s more for hygiene and comfort.”
Given that shorter urethral length, bacteria can travel faster to the female bladder and other parts of the urinary tract, resulting in those aforementioned UTIs. The female urethral opening is also closer to the anus than in men, making cross-contamination much easier, which is why girls are always instructed to wipe from front to back. Still, if pooping is out of the picture, Malik notes, “I think drip-drying would cause UTIs only if a woman didn’t dry completely.”
Not that there isn’t a bias against the women who do drip-dry. Quora user L Desmond Robins appears to get downright emotional about the vitriol directed at those who eschew toilet paper after peeing. “It really saddens me to see some of the answers to this question, which seem to indicate some very ingrained and unfortunate misconceptions and attitudes. There is nothing wrong with drip-drying,” Robins writes. “Many women actually prefer to let their underwear absorb the excess because it’s nicer on their delicate tissues than wiping with paper or tissue.” (Meanwhile, redditor agentfantabulous points out that drip-drying may be more common among pregnant women, who tend to leak urine anyways, and pee more often throughout the day.)
Interestingly, despite the Reddit thread above originally being posted on r/AskWomen, it quickly turned into a conversation praising men who wipe after they pee, who are also known as “dabbers.” The reason why some men don’t wipe after they pee and others do really comes down to hygienic preference, though men can totally get UTIs, too. “I don’t think wiping in men would change the risk for UTIs in men, but UTIs in men are complicated and require further investigation,” Malik says.
Other experts, however, argue that all of this is much more about cultural norms than hygiene or health. “Some men dab with toilet paper to make sure they have a clean penis before putting it back in. But most won’t out of a cultural sense of manliness,“ Anand Bhatt, a master of surgery at Certaire Health. “This, of course, only really works for men under the age of 40.”
When men get to their 40s, the “post-void dribble,” otherwise known as drops of pee, becomes harder to control. That’s because the prostate tends to enlarge with age, making it more difficult for men to sufficiently empty their bladder. Drip-drying, then, can start to feel a bit closer to peeing your pants. “Once a man hits a certain age, the post-void dribble prevents them from being able to just rely on ‘the shake’ to get all the urine out,” Bhatt says.
One way men can ensure that they’re fully emptying their bladders and urethras before putting their dribbly penises back into their pants is sitting down to pee. A review of studies on the subject published in 2014 found that when males with enlarged prostates did so, they significantly reduced the “post-void residual volume” left behind. Urologists believe sitting down helps men utilize their abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to sufficiently push out urine, so whether they shake or dab, extra surprise pee is less of an issue.
There is, of course, another cultural norm from another part of the world that could solve this question/debate once and for all, no matter if you wipe or not after urinating (and no matter if you identify as a man or woman) — the humble bidet. “Although wiping has been known to cause some women vaginal irritation, drip-drying isn’t quite hygienic either,” Bhatt explains. “And so, cultures with bidets and air dryers on the toilets have an advantage over those that rely on toilet paper.”
Until us Americans fully embrace the bidet, though, for anyone who’s endured the excruciating pain of a UTI, it’s worth all the toilet paper in the world to reduce the risk. So keep that in mind next time you complain about your girlfriend decimating your stash.