Where is our restroom privacy?

We are often concerned about our privacy, passionately defending it at the instance when it may be in jeopardy. However, if you have lived in the U.S. for your entire life then you have likely allowed one area where privacy is severely lacking to become normalized in your life.

Can you recall the last time that you were in a crowded public restroom?

Perhaps you went to see a newly released, highly anticipated movie. The kind of movie you want to see before anyone you see in your day-to-day life begins talking about it, you want an untarnished experience.

You go to the movie theater in your town, and children are only blurs as they run past you to take their chance at the claw machine as you wait patiently to have your ticket checked.

Finally, the attendant at the podium rips your ticket and hands you a stub, you can feel your shoes sticking to the tiled floor as you move past the entryway. Next, you are immersed in the bright neon, bathing you in its powerful glow as you opt for the massive 54-ounce soda to wash down the warm, salty popcorn.

You are prepared for the experience you have been waiting all this time for.

But, once the movie ends, you and everyone else who was tightly packed into the theater feels every ounce of their soda catching up to them and rushes to the nearest restroom—here is where you realize your lack of privacy in a moment you want to remain concealed. From inside the stall, you lock eyes with a person on the other side of the partition, frantically searching for their opportunity to dart into the next available stall.

 This moment of vulnerability has become the butt of many jokes by people who aren’t from the U.S. It has been called out as abnormal, and albeit, creepy. But what can you do? This is the typical design of restroom partitions almost everywhere in the country, including schools, restaurants, and malls.

In addition to the small gap that enables someone to watch someone relieve themselves, foreign travelers have also been concerned about the curiously large amount of space available above and below public restroom partitions.

The flimsy, highly visible design has even been said to be the attributing factor for some people who have developed paruresis. One of those people is Steven Soifer, who became the leading expert on the condition and in 1996 founded the International Paruresis Association (IPA).

IPA aims to provide help to those suffering from the anxiety and stress related to paruresis—but there’s a clear answer to eliminate the worrying associated with using these public restrooms. Privacy and acoustics need to be considered in public restroom design.

I found the solutions that will enable you to easily bring privacy into your building’s restrooms.

Partition privacy strips

Perhaps the easiest way to instantly add a sense of privacy to your building’s restrooms is to implement partition privacy strips. The strips are used to fill in the gaps in the doors and panels.

The privacy strips work by sticking onto the door with a strong self-adhesive strip, making installation quick and easy. The opaque dark color of these privacy strips makes looking into stalls through gaps impossible.

The reason I like this solution is because it can be applied to any existing partition in your building’s restrooms, making it an accessible option for anyone. It also addresses privacy concerns without taking costly measures, such as rethinking the design and partitions currently installed in your restrooms.

Larger partitions

Typically, there is not much thought put into restroom location within a building or its design, and it is instead constructed based on building code alone. It may be time for you to consider how your building’s restrooms can go beyond solely serving their utilitarian purpose.

We simply do not need the blatant reminder that someone is sitting right next to us, in the stall next door, doing their business. Using sturdier partitions that reach higher and lower distances will conceal more of a person’s body inside the stall, giving them an increased sense of privacy.

What I like about this solution is that it provides more than a simple tape-it-up approach. However, it is also more time consuming and might not be a practical option for everyone.

You may need to temporarily close access to a restroom while the upgrades are being completed, which could lead your building’s other restrooms experiencing higher traffic than usual. If you work in a school, university, or any other type of building that could expect to be closed for a long period of time such as a summer break, then it would become easier to complete the changes to the restrooms during that time.

A new concept

Current restroom design has essentially stayed the same over the past 100 years, from when the flimsy toilet partitions were first introduced as a great way to address separate toilet stalls in uneven surfaces. We have become so familiar with the current concept of restroom design, it is what we expect, it is what we know—but what if there is a better way?

Laura Noren, a sociologist and co-editor of the book, Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, designed a plan for a restroom that is non-binary and more private. The design is one larger restroom with floor-to-ceiling partitions, a shelf in the stall for your phone or insulin syringe, and common mirrors in shared spaces.

The common area for waiting in a high-traffic situation eliminates the debate on binary restrooms promoting sexism because they echo the old building codes that required more space for men, which would later allow them to privately network and discuss business without women. It also allows those who have paruresis to use the restroom without anxiety.

Adding more people into one room rather than splitting them up increases safety because there are more eyes on the room. It also increases safety for elderly or young individuals who may need assistance from someone of the opposite gender from them in the restroom.

I like this idea for anyone who is undergoing building renovations, working in a building that is still being constructed, or anyone else who can consider restroom design. Otherwise, this becomes the costliest option for adding privacy to the restrooms in their building—but it can still be fun to consider what the future of restroom design might look like.

The large space under many current restroom partitions allows easier sweeping or mopping the restroom floor and people can quickly identify which stalls are occupied. Is this enough reason to hand over your privacy?

Filling in the space with a partition privacy strip is of course the quickest and most cost-effective way to address the issue, and installation can be completed in a restroom while it remains operational. Alternatively, you can undergo an entire restroom transformation to increase your building’s restroom privacy. Closing the gaps in your restroom partitions is only as costly and difficult as you want it to be.

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