October 30, 2015

Urinal partitions a sign of cocooning?

The post below on the disappearance of public showering in cocooning times got me thinking about where else we've seen a major change in awkwardness about uncovering our shame in public spaces. Other than bathing, the only other bathroom activity that we do in front of others is taking a wiz.

Unlike showering, where guys now wait until they get back home, we can't always hold it in when we need to go. So unlike the unused showers, public urinals are still in use. But it has become more common for them to have partitions between them so that no one else will see your shame.

I don't remember those at all from when I was a kid, and they do seem familiar at least from the last 15 years. I tried to find out more precisely when they started becoming common, but couldn't tell from Googling. Maybe a visit to Lexis-Nexis would turn up some industry reports about these newfangled urinal dividers. Someone else can look that up, though.

I also couldn't tell how common they may or may not have been during the previous cocooning period of the Midcentury. Some pictures of bathrooms built back then show partitions, and others don't. Even when they're there, some look original and others look like recent remodels.

That being said, I'm still going to call urinal dividers as a cocooning-era sign of anxiety about showing your shame among in-group members who would've been trusted in more outgoing times. In socially withdrawn times, more and more guys act like Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe in a public bathroom.

These dividers are not only installed in highly diverse places where everyone is a stranger, but in those where folks know each other and come from similar backgrounds.

Believe it or not, there is an entire blog dedicated to the current state of bathrooms at Brigham Young University, in the heart of homogeneous white Mormon land. (You never know what data sources are only a few exits down the information super-highway...) And judging from these pictures, their typical bathrooms have partitions between the urinals. Somehow I doubt they were in place back in the '70s and '80s.

In outgoing times, which required greater interpersonal trust, nobody thought twice about draining the snake around others. In a cocooning climate, when people are more suspicious of one another, they're much less likely to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to uncover their shame around strangers.


  1. It's probably not just cocooning. We should also consider the normalization of homosexuality.

    In 1980, I don't think I knew homosexuality existed. In 1985, I knew it existed but assumed it was very rare, and nobody I knew could be a homo. By 1990, I realized it wasn't that rare, but I assumed the taboo was still strong enough that gay guys in public would do everything they could not to betray their gayness.

    Today, when I have the misfortune of having to share a row of urinals, I start estimating the probability that the guy will wordlessly kneel down and try to suck my cock.

  2. Here's something that'll blow your (youngish) minds. In 1961, when I was in pre-school/day care in San Francisco, there was a communal bathroom with three toilets, out n the open, no partitions. The kids, both sexes, lined up to use the toilets while facing the person currently using it. Even at age 4, I couldn't believe it - being made to take a dump in front of an audience. I never had any problem with public showering or even those communal urination tubs some schools had for boys in the '60's, but I think this was really over the top. Who knows, maybe the proprietors ended up joining the Manson family or something.

  3. If I was in the lavatory industry I would want to sell partitions. I would want to tell a school that this expense was standard. It seems like easy money and if I was the consumer would I really argue for a reduced cost and no partitions. I am not arguing against your main point but I can see a business angle to it. Have a partition, it is more sanitary and reduces the possibility of some weird lawsuit. Now, specifically asking for no partition would seem queer at this point.

  4. In my youth, I went to a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston. This was in the late 80s.

    Fenway's a really old stadium; it was built in 1912. I'll bet it didn't have indoor plumbing for decades. So I'll bet the bathroom setup we ran into was from the 1950s or 1960s.

    Anyway, when me and my dad went to the bathroom, not only were there NOT any partitions to urinals, there weren't ANY urinals at all. Instead, there was a giant bathtub-like thing that the men just stood next to and peed into. In full view of everyone. And NO ONE had a problem with it.

    And no one was doing anything juvenile or gross, like trying to splash or spray people---even though I'm sure most of the adults were buzzed on ballpark beer. It was quite polite, though filthy.

    Perhaps the move to partitions is due to modern autistic tendencies of not being able to know what is socially acceptable in a bathroom (staring, splashing, spraying, etc.) and this is designed to guide the autistics.

  5. "Instead, there was a giant bathtub-like thing that the men just stood next to and peed into. In full view of everyone. And NO ONE had a problem with it."

    When I first encountered one of these at my local minor league baseball stadium — indeed men stood not only beside but *across from* you with everything in full view, since it was in the middle of the restroom instead of being against the wall — I nearly suffered a heart attack. My dad showed me the strategy of unzipping the moment you're inside the restroom so that by the time you reach the trough you're already exposed, lessening the anxiety of unzipping while you stand there. No big deal really. If you're concerned about getting the flow going or maintaining a steady urine stream while under pressure, then just wait until your bladder is full enough to fully refill two 40-oz bottles and you'll have no problems. Instant autism cure.

  6. Coors Field in Denver CO still has unpartitioned urinals and the attitude of "I just drank three beers, I gotta piss" still prevails. Also, during the summer when I went to the batting cage at the baseball fields I grew up playing on in the mid to late 90's the trusty old metal piss trough was still there. I'd place the blame squarely on non-athletes who spread their lack of body confidence to all communities at large. On a relevant side note, there is also the Jewish practice of Mikveh bathing to remove spiritual impurities.Glancing at another wang is considered impure and spiritually corrupting according to fundamentalist rabbi's. So, there's that.


  7. Another sign of cocooning reaching its zenith: the house party has all but disappeared:


    To be honest, I used to throw a bunch of house parties in the early 2000s at my apartment in NYC, but nobody throws them anymore. I feel it's too much effort to get everyone to come to your place, that only half of the people would show up.


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