Many of use find our best relief when reading while relieving ourselves. The impact on our personal health is something we never think about. Rest assured, science comes to the rescue.
Ron Shaoul and his team investigated the bathroom reading habits of Israeli adults.
Abstract Although toilet reading (TR) is a common habit, the effect of TR on bowel movements is neglected in the medical literature. Our hypothesis was that TR provides a distraction and acts as an unconscious relaxation technique and allows an easier defecation process. The aim of this study was to assess how common is TR and to map the reading/playing toilet habits in the Israeli adult population. In addition, we aimed to explore a possible connection between TR and the nature of bowel habits in general and constipation and haemorrhoids in particular. Five hundred adults who represent the diverse demographic backgrounds have been asked to fill an anonymous short questionnaire. The subjects were questioned regarding their demographic details, their TR and playing habits, their bowel habits, whether they suffer from haemorrhoids and whether they use some sort of faecal softener. We found that TR is common and involves 52.7% of the population. Males, younger age, secular population, higher education level and white collar workers compose the TR profile. Although toilet readers spent significantly more time in the toilets, no differences were noted for the type or frequency of stools. Nevertheless, the TR group considered themselves to be less constipated (8.0%vs 13.7%) and had more haemorrhoids (23.6%vs 18.2%). These differences, however, were not significant. Toilet reading is a common and benign habit. It is involved with a longer time spent in the toilet. It seems to be more for fun and not necessarily to solve or due to medical problems.
So, it won’t impact being impacted or explode your haemorrhoids. Nothing to worry about on that front. So, on to the next question. Are faecal germs spread by reading material? This subject is most often covered by those looking to ban books, but it might be an important question in human hygiene.
Val Curtis, director of the Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is a self-confessed toilet reader. There is, she says, a theoretical risk. To be blunt, bugs in your poo can get on your hands, be transferred to your reading material, and on to the hands of some other unfortunate. That risk is quite slim though. As Curtis says, “we don’t need to get anal about it”.
“The important thing is to wash your hands with soap after using the loo to get the bugs off,” Curtis says. This way, even if you flicked through a shit-smeared copy of the Metro left on the toilet floor at Reading station, washing your hands before leaving should keep you quite safe. Of course, if you ran your hands over the most soiled pages, picked your nose and rubbed your fingers in your eyes, you might well get an infection. For the determined, there is always a way.
Microbes don’t fare too well on absorbent surfaces, and might survive only minutes on newspaper. But plastic book covers and those shiny, smooth surfaces of Kindles, iPhones and iPads are more accommodating, and it’s likely bugs can live on those for hours. A recent study by Curtis suggests that in Britain one in six mobile phones is contaminated with faecal matter, largely because people fail to wash their hands after going to the toilet.
The Guardian article then moves from the mundane to the sublime. Some great minds have recommended bathrooms as the ideal place for contemplative reading.
The anonymous author of The Life of St Gregory couldn’t help but notice that the toilet of the middle ages, high up in a castle turret, offered the perfect solitude for “uninterrupted reading”; Lord Chesterfield too saluted the benefits, recounting the tale of a man who used his time wisely in the “necessary house” to work his way through Horace. This was but the beginning.
No writer owned the arena of toilet reading more than Henry Miller. He read truly great books on the lavatory, and maintained that some, Ulysses for instance, could not be fully appreciated elsewhere. The environment was one that enriched substantial works – extracted their flavour, as he put it – while lesser books and magazines suffered.
In the end, it doesn’t matter where you read. It just matters that you read.