The Toilet Tractate

The Toilet Tractate is full of entertaining and historical facts about toilets that you can read while on the toilet! Arthur Belefant, a mechanical/electrical engineer, has been hired to design buildings all over the world. Every building must have a toilet or two and so he has studied toilet design in many cultures across the globe. You’ll be fascinated by what he’s learned.

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About Arthur Belefant

Excerpt from The Toilet Tractate by Arthur Belefant


While the campaign to have men lower the toilet seat after each use is continuing, there is another counter-campaign in operation, that is, to teach women to urinate standing up.

The campaign to get women in the U. S. and Western Europe to urinate standing up is not new. In the Muslim culture, women are expected to stand to urinate. This stricture dates to Mohammed’s time and is included with the requirement for men to squat while urinating.

This actually is a pre-Muslim custom in the Middle-East that was reported by Herodotus who wrote in the fifth century B. C., “The women stand up when they make water.” Later, in Richard Burton’s translation of A Thousand Nights and a Night (1865) he says, “In the East women stand on minor occasions,” confirming that it was a Muslim custom at that time.

It also was common during the Middle Ages in Europe if we are to take Ken Follet’s description of a scene in his The Pillars of the Earth as being accurate. He wrote, “’Piss on the Rule of St. Benedict!’ she yelled at the top of her voice. Then she hitched up her skirt, bent her knees and urinated on the open book.” From this we can determine two things. Women commonly urinated in a standing position and that women commonly wore no under garments.

Perhaps this can explain why in the 19th century a toilet seat was devised that automatically raised itself after use.

This is just the opposite of the self-lowering toilet seats being touted today. If, at that time, women commonly urinated standing up, and there is at least one website that advocates such action and proposes to teach women how to use a men’s urinal, such a toilet seat would make sense.

A while ago, our local newspaper ran an article on the recent invention of a woman’s urinal. When they found some interest in the subject, they came to me for an opinion. They interviewed me and reported on my comments as a Professional Engineer. The result was published with my photograph (Florida Today: November 8, 1993).

I felt then, and do now, that in Western society such a device would not be generally acceptable. Women in Western society are trained to sit when they urinate. To stand while they do that is felt to be unnatural. In some other societies it is different, the most notable being the Muslim culture. This chapter will be limited to Western society.

There are good engineering and economic reasons to incorporate women’s urinals in the design of public facilities. Urinals would appear to be more sanitary than the traditional water closet. The woman would not touch the fixture just as a man does not touch the urinal. Restrooms may be kept cleaner as the fixture is smaller than a water closet and thus easier to clean around.

Maintenance costs would be less. As there is no seat, there is no seat to be damaged or destroyed. The water flow rate for a typical modern water closet is 30 gpm (gallons per minute) and 20 gpm for a urinal. The latest requirements for total flow for each flush are 1.6 gallons for a toilet and one gallon for a urinal. Without going into a detailed mathematical calculation, it is obvious that by converting women to urinal usage, a great deal of savings can be made in piping sizes and water usage and sewage requirements.

This is something that both environmentalists and water departments should champion. It is presumed that the urinal, being easier and faster to use, would have a quicker user turnaround time thus requiring fewer units, or enabling shorter lines between acts at the opera.

Regardless of all the good reasons for installing women’s urinals, I do not believe in their general acceptance in the western world and that is primarily because of the “unnatural” position that the woman would be required to assume in using the fixture.