Some people think men choose to sit down when they pee. But I always knew I was a sit-down pee-er—even when I peed standing up.
In retrospect, the signs were obvious: I binged on video games as a kid, which offer few intermissions for relief; I wore sweat-pants, which make it easy to masturbate but difficult to pee; I was uncircumcised; I played youth soccer (on a no-cut team). My therapist, a Freudian of the old school, says I’m phallic-retentive, and that I must learn to live with this part of myself.
Owing to a happy accident where, at the age of 5, I discovered masturbation, I’d always wait to pee until things were about to get out of hand, so to speak. One moment, I would be face-planted into the bed, with legs folded over themselves; then I’d rush to the bathroom and release my member, until it came gushing forth in a violent torrent. The sprinklings’ scattershot trajectories were chaos theory brought to life. Soon we switched from dial-up to DSL. My pee holds went from manual to automatic.
“When did you choose to pee standing up?” I ask my tormentors.
“Like, 2 or 3?” they say.
But that is not me. I was born this way.
School only encouraged my bladder habits. We were taught to only ask for a hall pass when things were about to boil over. I’d rush towards the bathroom, whip it out in anticipation of the toilet, and miss the moving target.
“Toilets don’t move!” said my physics teacher.
“But I did,” I’d retort. “Everything is relative.”
I write this as I sit on the toilet. I have missed, I see. My stream approached the bowl only tangentially; I must have the yips. I have no sprinkles to chase after, only a coherent mass of liquid that slithers forward like an oil spill. I look down towards the toilet and see only two hairy legs. When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you. When you sit on the abyss, you don’t stare into it. You just reach for the handle and pull it, the leaky plug atop a bottomless pit.
“Why would you pee sitting down?” said my college girlfriend.
“Many reasons,” I said.
“I have something to tell you,” I said.
“What is it?” she responded.
“I pee sitting down.”
“You’re taking the piss!” she exclaimed.
“No I’m not!” I cried. “I was born this way!”
So she said: “Why do you pee sitting down?”
Inquiry exposes a man to himself. Over the next ten minutes, I expressed myself cleanly and concisely. Sometimes, I told her, you just need to get away from it all, so you shut yourself in the stall and take a dump. Correct, she said. Can you tell me more? On the throne, I said, I compose sixty percent of my text messages and clear nearly all my emails; the purging is a part of the creative process. Brilliant! she said. But what if you don’t need to poop? That’s exactly it! I replied. Peeing sitting down is acting without reacting; it is taking a shit without giving a shit.
Sometimes giving something a name helps you recognize what it is and who you are. In fifth grade, we watched sex-ed videos, and a small child asked her father, “Is masturbation OK?” I had never heard that word before, but in that moment I knew it was what I’d been doing since the age of 5.
So it was with sitting down when I peed.
The Germans have a word for it: sitzpinkln. Someone who pees sitting down is a sitzpinkler.
“The antonym is stehpinkler,” said Peter, my interlocutor.
We were on a bus en route to Berlin.
“Incredible,” I said. “You guys have a word for everything.”
Around midnight we got off the Autobahn and cruised to the bus station. I called a cab and the Uber-mensch drove me to my hostel. In the bathroom, I found a sign above the toilet that would become my Tinder profile picture.
I knew I was home. This was the greatest country on Earth.
The arc of history is long, but it bends in my favor. Plato has a famous discussion on sitzpinkln in the Symposium. Frescos at Pompeii exalt the ancient ideals of small penises and sit down pee-ers. Proponents of seated male urination in Germany typically cite its hygienic and health benefits.
For all its honest and real beauty, the graphic misses reality by a few centimeters wide left. When you have a boner, it will sometimes scrunch up against the bowl. The pee fans outward and upward, as I jam harder against the porcelain and think to myself: Is masturbation OK?
Of course it is. But is sitzpinkln OK? Later, I didn’t want to piss on my Tinder fire, so I took out my Kindle and did some research. Urban Dictionary: “In German, the phrase for someone who sits and urinates; a ‘sitzpinkler,’ is equivalent to wimp, wuss or pussy.’”
When I got back to Seattle, I found I could no longer masquerade as a stehpinkler. European experience had triumphed over American innocence; you can never go home.
I had to come out to my friends.
Rob, the sleazy cable salesman, invited me over for a debriefing.
“How was Europe?” he said.
“Better than I ever imagined,” I said, excusing myself. “I have to go pee.”
“Use Tim’s bathroom,” said Rob.
Five minutes later Tim knocked on the door.
“Awfully quiet in there,” said Tim. “Are you peeing sitting down?”
Fear and urine shot up my urethra.
“Absolutely not,” I said, before rethinking my approach. It was time to tell them the truth.
“I pee sitting down,” I said.
“I know,” said Rob.
“No!” I insisted. “I pee sitting down.”
“We know!” said Rob.
“I’ve known since we saw you wearing sweat-pants,” said Tim.
We all laughed.
Later in the evening; everyone is piss-drunk.
“Did you get laid in Europe?” said Brendan, the cosplay photographer.
“Sure,” I said.
“What does that mean?” said Rob.
“Did you get pegged?” said Brendan.
“You’re just projecting,” I said.
Brendan fell silent.
“Is it true, Brendan?” said Rob.
“Yeah, I’ve been pegged before,” said Brendan.
“That’s kind of gay,” said Tim, who is gay.
“How is it gay?” said Brendan. “It was by a woman. Getting pegged is less unmanly than peeing sitting down.”
“It is, isn’t it!” said Tim, pricking up his ears.
“Ranjan,” Brendan said to the software engineer, “CML has a question for you.”
“What’s up?” said Ranjan.
“Is it less manly to pee sitting down or get pegged by a woman?” I said.
“Pee sitting down,” said Ranjan, “no question.”
“But you’re a virgin,” I protested.
“I have to agree with Ranjan,” said Brendan’s girlfriend.
I swigged my lemon spritzer and set my sights on the TV. The NBA finals were on. It was game 3. The Golden State Warriors were showering the court with deep threes, but the balls kept bouncing off the basket. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are called themselves the “Splash Brothers,” but their inaccuracy let Cleveland wipe the floor with them. LeBron James dribbled up the court and, in isolation, aimed and let loose a midrange jumper. It went in and out, but the center was there to help; his put-back, at point-blank range, was good. Timeout, Golden State. Young men with circular mops stormed the court. The TV cut to commercials.
Nightfall at the tiki bar.
A babe in Daisy Dukes and a crop top sashayed by. I thought of what I might say to her. I’d been working on a comedic monologue all my life, but somehow the subject matter seemed inappropriate. My shame was growing and retracting into my chest—like a dog! I had to get away from it all. I had to pee.
I swung open the bathroom door. There was Adam. Of course he was peeing standing up. I can stand strangers, but friends put me on the hot seat. I shut myself in the stall, and took a seat. Now was a great time to check Tinder. No new matches? How absurd. Was it because of my picture? Was it because my profile said, “Were you aware sixty percent of all Tinder messages are sent from public-bathroom stalls?” My potential matches must have thought I wanted them to pee sitting down. But, really, I just wanted someone with a different outlook. Plato says to find true harmony, you must find your opposite.
My dating life had stalled, and I’d closed the door on it. I flushed the toilet and stood up. There was another douchebag at the urinal. It was Greg.
“Enjoy your sit-down pee?” he said, laughing wildly and spraying nowhere. How did he do that?!
I washed my hands of germs and the affair and pushed out the door. Ranjan was in the way. I met his eyes. He laughed. I had to get a handle on myself. I reached down and remembered there were girls outside.
Back at the bar, I ordered some pisswasser.
“How was your sit-down pee?” said Rob.
“Great,” I said. “It’s making me miss Germany. In that country, sitzpinkler control the parliament and are considered as manly as kilt-wearers.”
“You’re lying,” he said. “Just think about it. There’s no way for a man who pees sitting down to be manly.”
I was over at Rob’s again.
“What’s up, CML,” said Andrew, another roommate. “I heard that you pee sitting down.”
“I stand proudly for a man’s right to sit,” I said.
In came Austin, yet another roommate. “What’s up, dudes,” he said.
Austin is a bro—nothing more, nothing less. As such, he is a pure and brainless reflection of cultural norms, my Platonic opposite. I knew he would give me what I wanted.
“Austin,” I said, “I have a question for you.”
“OK,” he said, baffled I would say such a thing.
“Which is less manly, getting pegged by a woman or peeing sitting down?”
“Pegging,” answered Austin, making his way to the bathroom—standing up.
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]