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Urination shyness

Some men find it difficult to urinate in the presence of other men. They cannot urinate in a public toilet if anyone else is there. The muscles that control urination tighten up, stopping the flow. This is called ‘parauresis’ (pronounced par-YOU-ree-sis) or ‘bashful bladder syndrome’. According to doctors in the armed forces – who know about servicemen living in open barracks – it is quite common and possibly 1 in 10 men is affected. It can be distressing, because it can limit your activities if you are unable to urinate away from home. And some people worry that others might assume they are gay because they are spending so long at the urinal. One study found that 60% of men with bashful bladder felt ashamed, and most tried to conceal the problem; 25% had not told their partners, 44.4% had not told their families and 58.7% concealed it from their friends (Actas Urológicas Españolas 2007;31:328-37). Hiding the problem can itself be a source of stress, particularly if you are in a close relationship.

What causes ‘bashful bladder’?

There is nothing physically wrong. It does not mean that there is anything amiss with your bladder or urethra. No one knows what causes it, but it seems to be an exaggeration of something that most men experience slightly. Research has shown that when a stranger is nearby, most men take slightly longer to start their urine flow, and pass urine for a shorter length of time.
A doctor writing in the medical journal the Lancet (1999;354:78) has a suggestion about the cause of bashful bladder. He points out that many male mammals mark their territory by urinating to leave their scent. He wonders if modern men with the problem are subconsciously thinking ‘If I urinate in this other male’s presence, I am asserting my supremacy over his territory – am I really ready to challenge this male to a fight’, and this prevents them from urinating. Of course, this is just speculation!

What you can do

  • Try doing a series of mathematical calculations in your head. This activates the cortex of the brain and blocks the inhibiting impulses to the bladder. A report in the Lancet as long ago as 1981 suggested this as an effective remedy.
  • Breathe in deeply and tighten your pelvic muscles, as if you are pulling your anus (back passage) inwards. Then relax and breathe out. Repeat until you start to pass some urine.
  • Check the website of the International Paruresis Association (see Useful contacts) for information about anxiety-reducing techniques and ways of gradually getting used to passing urine when others are nearby.

If it is really affecting your life, you could get help from a behaviour therapist, who would help you with some of these techniques.

Dr Phil Hammond looks at the frustrations of bed-wetting, with a little help from ‘Henry’, in his informative and entertaining video guide on bed-wetting.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Thursday, May 17th 2012


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Comments on this article

Posted by steven on 29/11/2014 at 05:56

i play football with a group of lads every weekend the problem after football we all go for a shower i feel very embarressed as i have a tiny penis it is only two inchs some of the lads are 16 17 years old and they have all got big penies compared to me please give me some advise thank you

Posted by Optional on 06/03/2013 at 11:35

Method that work to cure SHY BLADDER/PARURESIS I found an easy method that will help you find the cure to this annoying problem. This guide was developed by an Ex-paruresis sufferer and lot of people around the world is beating "shy bladder" thanks to him! Take a look at it probably is what are you looking for :)

Posted by Hartman990 on 26/09/2012 at 05:02

Can a purplish color on the lump on the end of my penis be viral or a emergency treated condition????

Posted by tyler sam on 28/08/2011 at 09:02

I have the problem its so sad because I have to wait to pee I don't pee in public at all. When I'm in school I don't use it I wait until I get home. I need I'm to shy to pee in public any tips!!!! :)

Posted by Optional on 30/12/2010 at 02:06

This also happens to me when I see myself in a mirror. It gets very annoying, especially since it's a mirror just next to our toilet. I'll try out the techniques and see if they work. Thanks!

Posted by David on 28/10/2010 at 10:48

I've suffered from this for about the last 10 years...I find that when I go to the pub or a club its at its worse...end up going into a cubicle which in itself cause a negative reaction from other blokes. NO I'M NOT GAY< I DONT HAVE WILLY FRIGHT AND I DONT HAVE A SMALL PENIS!!!! Its shite too cause as soon as the place empties....whoosh out it comes.

Posted by Kwagmyre on 02/10/2010 at 05:22

I'd say that if you were to check into the personalities of those who suffer from this(possibly including the females as well), you'd fine that there is a link between this condition and being unassertive and passive. I've found in my own case, though, that the more confident I've grown, the less I have it. It also helps if I feel there's enough space around me so that I'm not feeling threatened by others being close by.

Posted by Optional on 07/07/2010 at 06:50

Isn't this just normal, to not want to urinate while someone else is present? To me it does to be honest.

Posted by Michael on 16/03/2010 at 06:28

This has been a problem for me for most of my life; at its worst at school with no doors on the toilets or just comunal stand up urinals! these days i just wait for the next free cubicle or use the hadicap one if free. Now i'm 53 i realise that if i want to pee in private then that's what i can do - asuming the toilet designers have provided cubicles. I have worked on building sites and just told people i like to pee in private if waiting for a cubicle. Life is hardest when you are young and more help should be given to those at school so they know that they are not freaks just shy! Parents please do not harrass your kids just let them pee in private.

Posted by Carol on 25/02/2010 at 02:30

It's not just men who suffer from shy bladder syndrome (paruresis). Women are just as likely to develop this type of social anxiety condition. For further information, please visit the following website: Carol Olmert, a former female paruretic Author, "Bathrooms Make Me Nervous"

Posted by Melissa on 21/12/2009 at 09:21

I've had this problem too, as a female. I can't seem to urinate when there's someone in the bathroom with me. How can I get over this?

Posted by Anonymous on 29/09/2009 at 07:30

I'm an Australian living in Japan and I have had this problem really bad. I would really love to be able to pee in peace but the Japanese don't really find it that way. They, like girls, pee in groups of two or three. At first it really wierded me out, but I suppose I just had to get used to it. It's because I looked like a freak because I didn't want to pee with them. I suppose it all has to do with other people's perspective of you. Because you don't have the mental strength to able to pee next to another guy, they kinda look down upon you as not having enough belief in yourself. So just dont think about it, close your eyes, and picture yourself in your own privacy. Although people seeing you with your eyes closed may raise some suspicions, it's better then them thinking your too pansy to be able to pee infront of someone.

Posted by Peter on 05/07/2009 at 09:21

I have had this problem for as long as I can remember and it is a real pain. I do wish architects would bias gents loos differently, giving more pedestal toilets rather than urinals. If it is 1 in 10, which is the usual figure I see quoted, why not save 10% of the male population the problem and let us pee confidently - and it is so much easier behind a closed door. I'm sure that blokes as well as girls would be happy to go off to the loos in pairs or threes if they knew they were not expected to pee while brushing hips with the guy immediately next to him. Whether it is marking teritory or not, it just doesn't work for me. I was so grateful to have three girls, rather than boys, as they continued 'fear' of having to take them to urinals as they grew up and not being able to pee myself would have played on my mind I'm sure.


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