Toilet etiquette and relationship secrets

Image by the genius Stuart F Taylor

Once I stayed in a hotel so ‘intimate’ that if your lover was lying in bed, you could technically look them in the eye while you had your morning shit. Upon arrival in this hell-hole, I realised there wasn’t a loud enough megaphone in the world to adequately amplify the force of my ‘Fuck no!’, but luckily for me my partner is understanding, and equally reluctant for me to see his dump face. We established a toilet etiquette system, so neither of us would be forced to see things we would never be able to unsee.

It’s hard to describe the room layout, but essentially the main problem with the bathroom was the the doorhandle consisted of a simple hole in the only-very-slightly-frosted glass door. You place your fingers in the hole to slide the door across to open it. But no matter how thoroughly and carefully you slide the door closed, you’re still left with the problem that there’s a hole right in the middle of the door.

Rather than stare at each other through this gaping abyss of horror, in the morning we took it in turns to pop outside the hotel for a cigarette and a coffee, then as one person came back upstairs to take their turn, the other would leave the room so as not to hear any startling noises.

Bathroom intimacy

I think there are two types of couple in the world: those who are comfortable shitting in front of each other, and those for whom the very idea fills them with horror. I’m not going to tell you that one of these types of couple is better at intimacy than the other: it’s just a personal preference. You might love each other enough that an open door policy is the most loving form of bathroom etiquette, whereas I think if someone loves me enough they should let me keep the damn door closed.

It’s not a general squeamishness about bodily fluids. I am happy – even delighted – to gobble my loved-one’s jizz. I just draw the line at being in the same room while they defecate. But a recent conversation with a friend led me to wonder: just how standard is it for long-term couples to do this?

Toilet etiquette: open or closed?

It’s definitely surprised me before to find that other couples don’t seem bothered about the toilet etiquette thing. I’ve watched episodes of Grand Designs where their bespoke house comes inexplicably underequipped in the bathroom wall department. Smiling architects and their partners show Kevin McCloud into their master suite, where he comments on the space and light and how ‘open’ the whole thing is, somehow forgetting to grab them by the lapels and scream “BUT YOU’RE BASICALLY SHITTING IN THE BEDROOM!”

Not just because of the smell, it’s the sound too.From a piss-play perspective, the sound of someone pissing can occasionally be incredibly horny. If I hear him go for a massive, long, and copious wee then the act itself is full of promise. Other way around, though? I am not listening at the bathroom door and thinking nice things about his cock.

Let’s ignore for a second the noise of splattering the morning after six pints and a curry, and consider instead: anal sex. Those of you who’ve been jizzed in will know that – particularly if there have been satisfying quantities of it – afterwards it’s kind of handy to pop to the bathroom and rid yourself of what’s there. The leftovers. The jizz-and-lube-and-whatever-else-got-dislodged. Santorum, as I believe it’s called now.

It’s par for the course, of course, and my partner understands that sometimes we have messy fucks that require a bit of clean-up. I’m just not sure I want him to hear each squirty detail.

Toilet etiquette and other secrets

The question of whether or not to close the bathroom door isn’t just a fun excuse to cram toilet-humour into a blog post: it’s also a neat – if unpleasant – metaphor for privacy in a more general sense.

While I’m a bit surprised by the toilet thing, I’m even more surprised by couples who tell me they have ‘no secrets.’

“Oh, we tell each other everything,” they say, explaining that they have reached a stage of intimacy where all their secrets are shared. Their worst thoughts and their cruellest deeds are locked in Pandora’s box, but they’ve got matching sets of keys to access it.

Really!? While I appreciate the sentiment – that two people can fully trust and love and understand each other – I think secrets are often really bloody important. The mundane, day-to-day desire to shout ‘PUT YOUR FUCKING SOCKS AWAY’ is often best kept locked up tight in your chest. More intense things, too: does my partner really need to know the sordid detail my mind wanders into when I see a hot dude on the train? Does he need to see me cry each and every time I give in to misery, or would the sheer weight and frequency of my tears exhaust and terrify him?

There’s no right answer to these questions: sometimes being fully open in a given situation is absolutely the right thing to do. Other times it’ll be a massive mistake. Intimacy, I think, is about more than just exposing everything and then expecting your partner to accept it with a cheery grin: sometimes it’s about judging when to keep things private.

Everyone’s got different limits to what they do and don’t want to share – but I don’t think anyone shares everything.I don’t think I’d be a better lover just by ripping the bathroom door off it’s hinges and talking about my latest hypothetical affair – I believe every good relationship should always have some secrets. Some privacy. Whether it’s just in your own head, or in a few select thoughts that you only share with friends or family.

For me intimacy is about recognising which secrets I should keep, as well as which ones to spill.

Knowing when to keep the bloody door shut.


  • Mrs Fever says:

    At its core, intimacy is – in my experience – about trust. We trust different people in different ways with different (sometimes shitty) details of our lives, and that trust is often developed through shared experience. The more that trust is reinforced through positive results from new shared experiences, the deeper the intimacy in that/those particular facets. Which is why I share very different kinds of intimacy with my mother versus my colleague versus my spouse.

    But as to the potty portion of your post:

    I spent my teenage years in a 10-person household that had ONE bathroom. An open-door policy is the only way it worked. So I let go of my “ack!” reactions fast, and I never got them back. Now, my starting point in adult relationships where bathroom etiquette is concerned is open-door.

    My kitchen etiquette, on the other hand…

    Key words: MY kitchen

    Let’s just say you’d better keep me away from the knives if you’re going to be all up in my kitchen space while I’m trying to cook. THAT, I don’t share well. AT ALL.

  • Loo-bomber says:

    I’ve only ever had a poo in my girlfriends vicinity once and we never ever talk about it. It was at University, she was in the shower and I had really bad diarrhoea. I managed to break the door lock (and part of the cheap door) in my rush to get to the loo where my girlfriend could only cower behind a measly shower curtain and try not to hear the sounds or smell the smells I was the unfortunate owner of. We’re a doors closed kind of couple, but she’s fine having a wee if I need to brush my teeth and vice versa.

  • techreader says:

    “I think there are two types of couple in the world: those who are comfortable shitting in front of each other, and those for whom the very idea fills them with horror. ”

    Um…. No. There are two types of PEOPLE. If EITHER person is “filled with horror”, then the bathroom door should be closed. If BOTH people (or, in the case of poly relationships, ALL of the people) are “comfortable”, then the state of the bathroom door is irrelevant.

    I don’t much care, personally. My wife, on the other hand, is one of those “filled with horror” people, with the complicating fact that she is also somewhat claustrophobic. She leaves the bathroom door open as long as I’m not in the bedroom – but if I need to go into the bedroom, she pushes the door closed. Since I know that this makes her uncomfortable (from being closed in) I try not to need anything from the bedroom while she’s on the commode.

  • Zoë says:

    My partner and I have been together for ages, and we agree that the bathroom door stays closed regardless of what’s going on inside. If, say, one of us needs the nail clippers and the other is having a shower, the nail-clipper-needer knocks and asks before coming in.

    And yet we’re not especially secretive with each other. We share everything that’s even remotely important and lots that isn’t. Yes, I bite my tongue sometimes, and I’m sure he does too. But I don’t really consider “Put your fucking socks away”, or the sentiment behind it, to be a “secret” as such. It is an issue of manners, boundaries and being considerate to each other.

  • VictorianPornbot says:

    I’m a hiker and have very little time for niceties – plus, like others, I grew up (and now live) in a house with just the one bathroom. I don’t care too much if someone who has been physically intimate with sees me piss or shit – provided they don’t get weird about it. Your embarrassment will embarrass me, of course, but if I’ve had my tongue up your arse then seriously? THIS is what bothers you?

    It’s just a bodily function. Nothing to get embarrassed or excited about.

    My partner, on the other hand, dislikes it immensely. So, as in all things, we compromise. He shuts the door, I don’t – but I do pull it to. Shower curtains are wonderful things if one of us needs the loo when the other is in the bath, and I pretend not to notice if – mid conversation, he is suddenly engrossed in a book. Bless him.

    As to the “no secrets” thing, I think it’s more “no secrets that matter” rather than “full disclosure of every passing thought.” It’s to keep the air clear, to make sure nothing festers – that you don’t hide anything, rather than that you reveal everything. So, your partner would know that you often fantasise about people who aren’t them rather than, “Here is exactly what I want to do to that person over there.”

    Or, in a non-horny way, “what bothering you?” and answering, “well, honestly, that you never do the fucking dishes,” rather than “oh, nothing, mwah.”

    Just my interpretation, though.

  • kjsisco says:

    Funny, my wife and I think nothing of our bathroom time. I personally see it as bonding.

  • Em says:

    My partner and I have just got to the stage where we will pee in the same room as each other. As long as we’re facing the other way. It came about as 95% of the time when one of us is showering, the other will either be in the room (or in the shower as well). Might as well make the most of the time I’m sat talking to him whilst he’s behind the shower screen.

    This ignores the copious amounts of time he’s gone for a pee /on me/ which is sexy so doesn’t count.

  • Elphaba says:

    I can honestly say I’ve never taken a piss or a shit in front of a partner. There *have* been situations (cramped hotel rooms, strange architectural choices) where little has been left to the imagination but even then it’s been a case of ignoring the ‘plops’ and never directly referencing the situation.

    I’m fine with my partner shitting in close proximity, but I am not fine with being *seen* shitting myself. I am not squeamish (“What’s for breakfast?” “Your jizz, that’s what’s for breakfast. Lose the shorts”) but in this instance – no. Just no.

  • Emma says:

    My bf and I travelled to India last Xmas and stayed in a hut in the desert where I inadvertently drank well water… The peaceful calm of the desert at night was interrupted with my stomach noises and by the early morning I was doubled over with excruciating cramps. The only toilet was behind a chiffon curtain BEHIND THE BED! Argh! We hadnt been together long so toilet etiquette hadnt really come up. I couldn’t take it any more and ran to the toilet simultaneously shouting at him to GET OUT OF THE HUT! He proceeded to tell me he didn’t really care about me shitting in front of him and I shouted I cared very much and so we had our first shouty row whilst my arse erupted.
    I’d love to go back and create more romantic memories haha!!

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