Communal showers and urinals: The politics of co-ed washrooms

After having spent three hours helping me unpack my belongings into my new room in Molson Hall, my mother entered and immediately left the washroom, upon spotting the young man at the urinal. She refused to go back to the bathroom while there was someone of the opposite sex in there with her.

If those of us living on a co-ed wing followed this same mantra, we’d find ourselves with some serious bladder problems.

For co-ed Rez kids, it is perfectly normal for a girl to enter the washroom while a guy is casually taking a whiz at the urinal or for a guy to enter the washroom while a girl is changing her tampon in one of the stalls. This is what comes with sharing a bathroom with 18 other people of both sexes. But it wasn’t always this normal.

Peeing with friends

Many residents will admit that they were a bit uneasy at the beginning. A resident of Molson Hall, who asked to remain anonymous, remembers his initial discomfort, but says he has now fully adjusted.

“It was awkward. You come from a home where you have your own washroom, where you could shut the door,” he explains. ” Now you’re brushing your teeth and some half-naked guy or girl walks in. It takes time getting used to but you start to get the hang of it… you stop thinking about it.”

This is the common trend among residents; now, it is just part of our normalcy. I expect that when I enter the washroom for whatever occasion, there will be a girl standing there–I almost look forward to it.

Urinal understanding Life within the tiled walls of the unisex washrooms does have its problems, which require setting up some ground rules. The most obvious manifestations of a co-ed washroom are the urinals, and there are rules to the man-toilet. People assume that because guys are out in the open when using it, it’s perfectly okay to start up a conversation with them while they’re peeing. Wrong. Many residents find this to be the first rule of urinary etiquette: No talking to a guy at the urinal.

“If a guy’s at a urinal, make quick eye contact and then look away,” is Rachel Marcuse’s tactic, based on her experiences thus far.

Jordana Kapeluto agrees, adding that the guy sets the tone.

“If a guy talks to you first, then it’s okay to talk to him.”

A guy may feel uncomfortable talking while he pees, since a urinal doesn’t provide the privacy of a stall; he may also have trouble with his ability to pee if someone is standing beside him talking to him.

Some, however, disagree and feel that a man has given up his right to privacy by choosing to use the urinal as opposed to a stall. Regardless, should a man choose to use a stall, there are rules that follow. The female remarks most often heard throughout the building are: Put down the lid and if you pee on the seat, clean it up.

Yet, even in the confines of a stall, awkwardness may still arise for both men and women. Just last week, I was in the bathroom when a girl using one of the stalls asked me if I could turn the tap on because she was having trouble peeing while I was in the room.

Poo problems I certainly remember the first time I sat in a stall in the co-ed washroom, praying no one would enter while I was doing my business, but now I don’t care. One thing you learn from co-ed washrooms is that everyone does it and there’s really nothing embarrassing about it. Most residents have found they’re no longer humiliated if they make a noise in the bathroom. It is important, however, to remember that urinary rules apply here as well. In fact, it is perfectly acceptable to outright ignore someone who is on the john as this will make it less awkward for both of you.

Still, as with all rules, this one is flexible. Victor Feret is one of few residents who finds it “more comfortable” to talk to others while he is in a stall.

“I’m always talking,” he explains. “I have shitting partners.”

Shower shenanigans Across from the toilet area are two stalls and a bathtub shower with a door that locks. I have found the showers to be the most fun place for conversation: I enjoy making shower dates with my floormates, so that there is someone in the next stall keeping me company. It truly enriches the bathing experience.

According to the bathing rule, shower dates and conversations are perfectly acceptable. It should be noted that your shower date should have good vocal abilities and harmonize well with you, especially for shower duets.

In residence, the co-ed showers thus become a social bonding space where floormates can sing together and have fun in the water–think of it as a day at the beach.

However, showering with the opposite sex demands respect and understanding from floormates. A resident of one of the upper residences, who chose to remain anonymous, describes the shower behaviour of her floormates.

“People steal other people’s towels, the shower curtains, pour cold water over the side of the stall while someone’s showering. They make a nice mix with different stuff and pour it over you while you’re showering,” she confides, adding the rule: “Don’t shit in the shower. Don’t laugh. It’s happened.”

Still, besides such pranks, residents have found the showers to be a comfortable and considerate environment. But there are limitations.

Banging and beating

Let’s get straight to the point: Sex or masturbating in the shower or toilet stalls is disrespectful. This rule is pretty self-explanatory, but there is an understanding among residents that it can be broken, as long as no one knows about it.

“If I don’t know about it, I don’t care,” states Ian MacDougall.

The student, who was initially petrified by the idea of having to share a bathroom with 18 strangers, is now more comfortable.

“If people want to have sex in the shower or beat off, all the power to them!” he exclaims. “Doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable.”

Marcuse agrees.

“If you want to do stuff like that in the grimy showers, go ahead,” he states. “Just make sure to clean up after yourself.”

Bathroom banter So what is the advantage of the co-ed washroom? The social aspect: Since there isn’t a common room on each residence floor, the bathroom has become the social hotspot.

“It’s our common room!” announces Stephanie Hodsoll, who shares a washroom with toilet-talker Feret.

In fact, most floormates would never see each other were it not for the washroom. It’s central and there is no getting around using it. So the co-ed washroom, instead of proving to be problematic, as many initially thought it would have, proves to be instrumental to the blooming of co-ed floor friendships.

In general, the rule system is founded on trust, common sense and, primarily, respect. And should you want to experience the phenomenon that has become our everyday life, come on up: We’ll make sure your shower, shit and shave are a sensational experience. Remember to flush and you’ll do just fine.


  1. Jonathan Ringer

    So the country’s top university has been reduced to a sociosexual experiment on frosh. “Hey, let’s have the male students take their penises out in the open while female students are permitted to walk around them.” Guess what classless liberals, it’s not about “getting used to it,” it’s about dignity and standards, and these left wing administrators obviously have none or care nothing.

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