Modern Mythology: Nasty Toilets
Modern Mythology is a Teen Skepchick feature in which we try to cut through the woo so you can make informed decisions. If you have any questions, contact us here.
When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. Not in a weird way, that’s just were my group of friends would congregate. Actually, now that I write it down, it does seem kind of weird.
Anyway, we may have spent so much time in the bathroom because it took us so long to go to the bathroom. It was common knowledge among us that actually sitting on the public toilet seats put us at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. This left us trying to pee while hovering over the toilet seat, with varying levels of success. We never stopped to think about whether anyone could actually get and STI from toilet seats.
There are three particular STIs commonly associated with the toilet seat myth: syphilis, herpes and gonorrhea. And it turns out that neither syphilis or gonorrhea are passed through toilet seat contact, and its extremely unlikely to contract herpes from a toilet.
Big surprise. If we had thought about it for two seconds we would have realized that a cold toilet seat is not the optimal place for germs to thrive. For an STI to be transmitted from toilet seat to person, it would have to travel from the toilet seat to the urethral or genital tract, or through an open wound or sore. This is very unlikely to happen.
On some level, it seems almost instinctive to fear STIs in a public bathroom. Hundreds of people use those toilets every day! Gross! But gonorrhea and syphilis don’t live outside of the body. Herpes, too, doesn’t live for very long outside the body, but even the risk of infection via toilet is low, it is advised that people wipe down toilet seats.
According to Planned Parenthood, syphilis is spread by contact with syphilis sores, which can occur during vaginal or anal sex, oral sex, and much less commonly, through kissing. Herpes is easily contracted, but not through toilets. Brief skin-to-skin contact can pass herpes along, including touching, kissing, and sexual contact. Gonorrhea, unlike herpes, is not spread through casual contact, but is instead spread by vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Basically, a good rule of thumb for each of these STIs is to not touch an oozing sore. Those suckers are harbor some contagious germs.
So it seems that I spent countless hours in the bathroom, trying not to pee all over the floor for nothing. Or at least, not much. If you want to avoid contracting an STI, your best bet is to either not have sex or use a condom. High school is hard. Toilets should be the least of your worries.
Featured image credit: ElvertBarnes