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New research finds bladder health is a social process

Jeni Hebert-Beirne photo.

SPH’s Jeni Hebert-Beirne, PhD, associate professor of community health sciences, led small discussion groups with 360 women and girls of all ages from around the country to learn more about their experiences with bladder health. Hebert-Beirne and co-researchers found behavior around going to the bathroom is a highly social process that is affected by observing the bathroom habits of others or by having one’s own behavior observed.

Bathroom habits included:

  • Posture on the toilet
  • Length, frequency and timing of trips to the bathroom
  • Which bathrooms one uses or avoids
  • Feelings about going to the bathroom
  • How long one “holds it” before going t the bathroom
  • Avoiding water to limit trips to the bathroom
  • Social reasons to go to the bathroom

Hebert-Beirne and fellow researchers outline their findings about social behavior:

What’s so social about going to the bathroom?

By social, we mean a process that involves other people.

Like when you take other people with you to pee?

Not exactly, though that is a part of it. We mean watching how others use the bathroom, whether we realize it or not.

But I don’t watch people pee!?

You don’t have to directly observe to notice. Discussion group participants talked about direct and indirect ways of learning to use the bathroom, including normal and abnormal ways to use the bathroom.

And other people watch me pee, too?

Sort of! Participants reported how their bathroom habits were often observed and controlled by authority figures at all ages.

At all ages? Are you sure? What kind of authority figures?

Unfortunately so. Teens reported how teachers restricted bathroom use in school, but adults also reported how work pressures or bosses would do the same.

Wow, that sounds really difficult.

Absolutely. Many participants reported feeling embarrassed, self-conscious or even avoiding the bathroom because of this.

So what does all this mean?

Bladder health is important for all ages. Symptoms may show later in life, but bladder problems can start early.

If bathroom habits are social, then people can learn healthy behaviors the same way they learned their current behaviors. Once our research team has more information on healthy and unhealthy habits, we hope to share this information.

Read the study

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