I’ve never really questioned why men spend so much time on the toilet.
When I was a kid, almost every bathroom I went into had a roll of toilet paper to one side and a stack of magazines on the other. In high school, the resident schismatics would line the stalls of a basement bathroom to talk about girls and spit dip into water bottles. And as an adult, I know better than to question the requisite toilet time of some of my friends: if they need to shower, shave and shit before meeting up for a drink, the third “S” will take at least a half hour.
This phenomenon hasn’t been lost on the rest of the world, specifically the other half of the population. Type “men take too long to poop” into Twitter and you’ll find endless results of wives, girlfriends, sisters and daughters riffing on the same refrain: “What the hell are they doing in there?” It’s pure sitcom fuel (one user bemoaned that her dad calls the family bathroom his “office”), but for many it genuinely is a mystery. Their concern-disgust is justified, too: according to one prominent 2017 study titled the “Hydrodynamics of defecation,” it takes the average person only 12 seconds to do his or her business.
So what are men doing in there? Is a 30-minute restroom sabbatical indicative of serious gastrointestinal traffic? Are aging men just poor poopers? Or are these lengthy sessions — now anchored with iPhones and iPads instead of magazines and newspapers — actually elective? And if so, why?
Believe it or not, men actually report fewer cases of “fecal incontinence” than women. In a study published in Gender Medicine, researchers tested for just about everything: constipation symptoms, bowel habits, dietary habits, use of fiber supplements, water intake and even “frequency of needing to change position to evacuate.” Overall, men were less likely to experience “abnormal bowel habits.” These findings held steady with a study from almost two decades earlier, which stated rather plainly, “Stools at the constipated end of the scale were passed more often by women than men.”
It’s actually anatomical. Women have longer colons, wider pelvises and extra internal organs near the gastrointestinal tract. Men, by contrast, have efficient “rigid abdominal walls.” The longer that it takes to push stool through the colon, the more time bacteria has to gather around that stool. This often leads to bloating, which generally leads to constipation. If there’s a gender with a physiological excuse for needing extra time on the bowl, it isn’t men.
That’s not to say men can’t have a tough time on the toilet. Men eat more red meat than women. Men are two times more likely to binge drink than women. Men also don’t eat fruits, vegetables, nuts or yogurt at the same clip as women. In other words, men are under-indexing on all the stuff that makes for a healthy, diverse gut. These are the sort of dietary decisions that you would expect to keep stool sessions from their preferred “Goldilocks range” (think 10 seconds to one minute). Anything under that describes diarrhea; anything over that constitutes constipation.
There are also genetic factors in play, independent of gender. People who live with irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, Crohn’s disease, diabetes and ulcerative colitis are all accustomed to an extra degree of difficulty each time they squat over the porcelain.
Still, it’s clear that many men, even the “Platonic poopers” — the guys who eat right, who catalyze their digestive systems by exercising every day, who’ve made a point to optimize their “rectal canal angle” by purchasing a Squatty Potty or other footstool, who don’t have to reckon with a genetic condition — are still spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom. Everybody does poop, and everybody, including men, could stand to poop better. But for some men, as I’ve observed for much of my life, the bathroom might resemble something else entirely: a break room.
The most common answer online (on Twitter, in Reddit threads) to that What are they doing? query is “We just need a little time to ourselves.” Back in 2014, a bathroom-appliance company called UK Bathrooms found that 86% of men regularly read on the toilet, compared to just 27% of women. That gap was less extreme in a 2021 poll — 64% of men, 41% of women — but then, the process has been democratized. For years, men would stac Sports Illustrated next to the plunger, or just unabashedly walk in with the day’s newspaper in hand; these days, everyone goes to the bathroom with their phones.
What in the world, you might reasonably ask, is the appeal of reading (or meditating, or playing solitaire, or watching Netflix) on a toilet? Break the whole thing down, situationally. Assuming our pooping protagonist isn’t extremely constipated, he’s done his business within one to five minutes. In fact, he may have been “finished” in 25 seconds. So is he just sitting there, hovering over a pond of you-know-what, watching Bosch?
According to several psychotherapists, toilet time represents a brand of last- resort escapism for men who need to decompress. Beleaguered fathers, overtaxed employees, students taking a break from studying for finals … the need to take a shit is a hall pass, however temporary, from life’s most pressing matters. As long as you’re on the toilet, you can’t be touched. So why not delay for a half hour or so? And it doesn’t even have to be procrastinative; as one long-crapper told Vice, he sees those minutes as a chance to mull things over: “That time on my own can be very productive,” he calls it.
Depending on your gender and appetite for scatological discourse, you may find the concept of a restroom hideaway as either immature or ingenious. But ultimately, it’s difficult not to see the habit as problematic, and a little sad. If men so need time away from spouses, children, roommates or managers — and almost unilaterally do this odd thing to achieve that time — perhaps they’d be better served communicating their need for that time. A quiet room with a locked door is clearly a seductive amenity for many an aging man. Is there really no healthier “safe space” for men to collect their thoughts than astride the office shitter?
If it was a simple matter of hygiene and aesthetic, perhaps the argument would end there. But keep in mind that prolonged periods of time on the toilet have very real consequences. Namely: hemorrhoids. Endless scrolling as your butt stretches across the seat can inflame the veins in your anal canal over time. It can lead to swelling, itchiness and rectal bleeding. Hemorrhoids are common as men get older, but they’re also preventable. One of the biggest triggers to avoid is useless time spent on the toilet.
Still, there is a certain reverence men hold for their craps. One Redditor passionately describes his bathroom as a place for “solitude and reflection.” Another talks about making it as “parlor-like” as possible, and putting in a library shelf, plants and good lighting. He wanted to make sure “his time” had just the right mood. I can empathize with these men. They’re desperate (perhaps subconsciously so, in some cases) to have a little bit of the world to themselves … no matter the smell.
But there simply has to be a better way. When I’m searching for something — momentary distraction, nirvana, etc. — I go outside. I don’t care how hot or cold it is. I go for a walk. It calms me down, clears my head and heightens my creativity. And it’s entirely mine. Think about it: if you try to install a walk into your schedule each day and the network around you — bosses, colleagues, partner — cries foul, well, maybe you’ve learned something important about the network around you. Not to mention, moving your body makes it easier to pass stool.
That way you can be in and out of the bathroom once you return. You know — like you’re supposed to.