Some people have brief, isolated episodes of urinary difficulty in situations where other people are in close proximity. Paruresis, however, goes beyond simple shyness, embarrassment, fear of exposure, or fear of being judged for not being able to urinate. Other people may find that they are unable to urinate while in moving vehicles, or are fixated on the sounds of their urination in quiet restrooms or residential settings. In severe cases, a person with paruresis can urinate only when alone at home or through the process of catheterization.
Although most sufferers report that they developed the condition in their teenage years, it can strike at any age. Also, because of the differing levels of severity from one person to another, some people's first experience of the problem is when, for the first time, they "lock up" attempting to produce a sample for a drug test. Many women are unaware that they, too, are subject to paruresis; articles about women and urination emphasize other female urinary dysfunctions, such as urinary incontinence or frequent urination.
Some people cope by deliberately holding in their urine, by refraining from drinking liquids, or locating unoccupied or single-occupancy public bathrooms.
Severe cases of this disorder can have highly restricting effects on a person's life. In moderate to severe cases, overcoming paruresis can be extremely difficult without the help of a psychologist, therapist or support groups. Severe sufferers may not be willing to travel far from their home or be able to form intimate relationships. Others cannot urinate even in their own home if someone else can be heard to be there.
Origin of the term
The term paruresis was coined by Williams and Degenhart (1954) in their paper "Paruresis: a survey of a disorder of micturition" in the Journal of General Psychology 51:19-29. They surveyed 1,419 college students and found 14.4% had experienced paruresis, either incidentally or continuously.
Paruresis is also known by many colloquial terms, including bashful bladder, bashful kidneys, mental cloggery, stage fright, pee fright, urophobia, pee-shyness, problem public pissing (ppp), the slow dribbles, creeping pee-pee, public piss syndrome, shy bladder syndrome.
There is growing recognition of the condition by the UK's National Health Service (NHS) and government. The condition is catered for in the rules for mandatory urine testing for drugs in UK prisons, and UK Incapacity Benefit tribunals also recognise it. It is listed in the NHS on-line encyclopaedia of conditions and disorders. It is now reported to have been accepted as a valid reason for jury service excusal. From 1 August 2005, the guidance on the rules relating to the testing of those on probation in the UK explicitly cites paruresis as a valid reason for inability to produce a sample which is not to be construed as a refusal.
Kaplan & Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry states, "Persons with social phobias (also called social anxiety disorder) have excessive fears of humiliation or embarrassment in various social settings, such as in speaking in public, urinating in a public rest room (also called shy bladder), and speaking to a date." The Synopsis describes shy bladder as "inability to void in a public bathroom" and notes that relaxation exercises are an application of behavior therapy for dealing with this disorder. Some paruretics experience delayed urination and must wait for their need to void to overcome their anxiety, while others are unable to urinate at all.
Context and urine samples
Observed urine tests can be problematic for those with paruresis.
There can be serious difficulties with workplace drug testing where observed urine samples are insisted upon, if the testing regime does not recognise and cater for the condition. In the UK, employees have a general right not to be unfairly dismissed, and so have an arguable defence if this arises, but this is not the case everywhere.
There is growing evidence to suggest that some drug testing authorities find paruresis a nuisance, and some implement "shy bladder procedures" which pay no more than lip service to the condition, and where there is no evidence that they have conducted any real research into the matter. In the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the Code of Federal Regulations provides that "An inmate is presumed to be unwilling if the inmate fails to provide a urine sample within the allotted time period. An inmate may rebut this presumption during the disciplinary process." Although U.S. courts have ruled that failure to treat properly diagnosed paruresis might violate prisoner's constitutional rights, the courts have also "routinely rejected suspicious or unsubstantiated attempts to invoke it in defense of failure to complete drug testing," particularly when there were no medical record or physician testimony to back up the claim of paruresis. The International Paruresis Association stresses the importance of medical documentation of one's condition since "[t]he person who is unable to produce a urine sample is presumed guilty in the absence of any evidence." Some prisons have offered the use of a "dry cell"—i.e., a cell with no toilet facilities, but only a container for the prisoner's waste—as an accommodation to inmates who are hindered by paruresis from providing an observed urine sample.
FBOP Program Statement 6060.08 states, "Ordinarily, an inmate is expected to provide a urine sample within two hours of the request, but the Captain (or Lieutenant) may extend the time if warranted by specific situations (for example, the inmate has a documented medical or psychological problem, is dehydrated, etc.). Staff may consider supervising indirectly an inmate who claims to be willing but unable to provide a urine sample under direct visual supervision. For example, this might be accomplished by allowing the inmate to provide the sample in a secure, dry room after a thorough search has been made of both the inmate and the room." At least six state prison systems — Florida,Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Tennessee — have modified their drug testing regulations to provide accommodations for prisoners with paruresis.
Per the Handbook of Correctional Mental Health, "No definitive or objective test is available to confirm or refute the presence of paruresis. The absence of prior treatment or the ability to void in some social situations but not in others does not rule it out. Although modalities associated with the treatment of social phobias help some individuals, no universally effective medication or other treatment exists. Coercive interventions, such as forcing fluids while observing a person with paruresis, are ineffective and can cause serious medical complications. Alternatives to observed urine specimen collection for individuals who self-report paruresis include unobserved collections in a dry room, testing of hair specimens, sweat testing with a patch, and blood testing ("Test for Drugs of Abuse" 2002). These alternatives preclude the need for futile attempts to differentiate inmates with true paruresis from those who fabricate complaints."
One method of treating paruresis is by the use of breath holding combined with gradual desensitization. The subject has a trusted person stand outside the restroom at first, and once the fear is overcome the observer is brought closer in, until step by step the phobia is vanquished. The International Paruresis Association provides a detailed discussion of this method on its website.Cognitive therapy is often used as a more readily available alternative, but its effectiveness as a treatment method has not been proven.
In popular culture
The condition has been occasionally portrayed in popular culture, sometimes for comedic effect or parody. Examples of this include:
Throughout the comedy series Scrubs, the central character, Dr. John "J.D." Dorian, suffers paruresis whenever he is in the presence of his mentor's ex-wife, Jordan Sullivan.
In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden is shown to have paruresis in the hotel scene where he is the waiter.
A series 5 episode of the TV show Screenwipe presented by Charlie Brooker uses paruresis as a subject in a parody of 'mission-documentaries' fronted by Konnie Huq. Although the concept of mission-docs is being lampooned, it appears that information about and interviews with sufferers of the condition are genuine.
In the children's TV cartoon Chowder in the episode "The Vacation", the titular character is shown to have severe paruresis when he becomes locked in a bathroom with Mung Daal and Schnitzel while having to urinate, but can't do it because of the lack of privacy. In a comedic scene, Chowder makes the other two turn around, cover their eyes, and even sing out loud to drown out the noises of the urination, but it doesn't work, causing Chowder to then inflate to a huge size with urine. They then all fear that Chowder will "explode" and the other two characters will drown in urine, and the rest of the episode focuses on this fictional crisis.
In the 2011 comedy movie The Change-Up, the protagonists Mitch and Dave, who have switched bodies paranormally after urinating in a fountain and wishing they had each other's lives, have to urinate in the same fountain again to revert to their original bodies. They find the fountain has been moved to the inside of a shopping mall, where they have to expose themselves and do this in full public view with security guards in pursuit. Mitch in Dave's body has trouble urinating claiming to be completely "locked up" because of all the horrified onlookers. Once the two characters resolve their conflicts, Mitch in Dave's body is then released from the paruretic symptoms and they complete the wish to change back. After this, the lights all go out, giving them an escape. (It remains unclear whether the paruresis was associated with Mitch's consciousness or Dave's body.)
In the 2008 comedy Sex Drive, the main character Ian has to urinate into the radiator to fix the car they are traveling in, but is unable to do so. His friend Lance refers to this as "stage fright". Later in the movie when the two get arrested, Ian overcomes this and is able to go freely in the holding cell. Lance praises him for overcoming the phobia.
In the 2006 comedy Clerks 2, Jay is behind the restaurant where he tries to urinate, referring to it as "public piss syndrome". He asks Silent Bob for complete silence where Bob gives him an awkward look and Jay tells him to look away and not look at his penis. Directly after, twice, he gets hit with the door by both Dante and Randal and then again by Becky where it is revealed that Becky is pregnant and Dante has told Randal.
In the 2003 comedy The In-Laws, Jerrey is confronted in a public toilet and claims to have shy bladder.
In the 2005 comedy Waiting..., Calvin's paruresis is depicted as a major problem in his social life. The 2009 sequel, Still Waiting..., shows how once the problem is overcome, Calvin's life changes completely.
In the comedy series The Big Bang Theory, season 4, episode 22, Penny is shown experiencing bladder shyness, while Amy attempts to indulge in toilet conversation. Amy begins to talk about the subject of bladder shyness but Penny stops her, asking her to be quiet. She eventually gives up, planning on "trying again later".
In episode 14 of the first season of Friends, Chandler pesters Joey, while the latter tries to urinate. Joey begs Chandler to cease the disturbance, claiming that he needs to concentrate in order to urinate. In another episode, Monica is stung on the foot by a jellyfish, and Joey is unable to urinate on it to soothe the pain, so Chandler comes to the rescue.
In a 2006 comic strip Dilbert, the namesake of the strip is required to give a urine sample at work and he says that he is unable due to "shy bladder".
In Neil Strauss' book The Game a pick-up artist under the alias "Extramask" confides in Strauss about his inability to urinate in public. Later, he overcomes the phobia by regaining confidence in his ability to urinate.
^"300.23, Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association. 2013. p. 203. "Some individuals fear and avoid urinating in public restrooms when other individuals are present (i.e., paruresis, or 'shy bladder syndrome'.)"
^Benjamin J. Sadock, Harold I. Kaplan, Virginia A. Sadock. "16.3 Specific Phobia and Social Phobia". Kaplan & Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry. p. 597.
^Benjamin J. Sadock, Harold I. Kaplan, Virginia A. Sadock. "35.8 Behavior Therapy. Table 35.8-2: Some Common Clinical Applications of Behavior Therapy". Kaplan & Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry. p. 957.
^Marshall, John R. (1994). "The Drama of Social Phobia". Social Phobia: From Shyness to Stage Fright. Perseus Books. p. 32. ISBN978-0465078967. "Nurses and others who work in medical offices have long been aware that some individuals are unable to produce urine samples. This phenomenon, sometimes called "bashful bladder," paruresis, is the inability to urinate in public restrooms."
^Code of Federal Regulations, Title 28: Judicial Administration, Part 550—Drug Programs, Subpart D—Urine Surveillance, § 550.31 Procedures
^Medard v. Doherty, 2007 NY Slip Op 32130 - NY: Supreme Court, New York 2007
^In the matter of Becker v. Goord, 13 AD 3d 947 - NY: Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 3rd Dept. 2004
^Florida Department of Corrections Procedure 602.010, mentioned in footnote 12 of Pate v. Peel, 256 F.Supp.2d 1326 (N.D. Florida, Panama City Division) (“DOC's Procedure 602.010, Bashful Bladder Procedure, which outlines the steps to be taken to obtain a urine specimen from an inmate who claims that he suffers from BBS.”).
^"Procedure for Inmates Claiming to be Unable to Urinate in Presence of Others: The following procedures shall be employed when the watch commander reasonably believes that the inmate is unable to provide a urine specimen due to an alleged inability to urinate in the presence of others (shy bladder). Reasonable belief is based upon the following criteria, including, but not limited to: Medical or mental health records supporting the inmate's claim (to be evaluated by health services or OMH staff), prior disciplinary and/or computerized urinalysis testing data indicating a history of urinalysis testing violations, if applicable, and the inmate's behavior and demeanor at the time of request for the urine sample . . . . Staff shall not witness the inmate urinate into the specimen container." "7 NYCRR 1020.4(e)". New York Department of Correctional Services.
^"There may be extenuating medical (e.g., dehydration, kidney problems, medication, etc.) and psychological (e.g., social phobias) conditions that may preclude the giving of a sample. In such cases, the inmate must provide written evidence from the health care staff indicating such a condition. The Warden shall, in extreme cases, authorize the use of an alternative drug testing method for those inmates who have a documented medical condition that would prohibit the use of urinalysis testing. Approval of the commissioner or his designee is required prior to the use of any alternate drug testing method or instrument." Tennessee Department of Correction (June 1, 2011). "Policy #506.21(VI)(B)(9), Inmate Drug/Alcohol Testing and Sanctions".
^Soifer, Steven (2001). "Evolving Legal Ramifications". Shy Bladder Syndrome. New Harbinger. p. 98. ISBN1-57224-227-2.
^Scott, Charles L. (15 October 2009). Handbook of Correctional Mental Health (2nd ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing. ISBN978-1585623891.
^Weil, Monroe (May 2001). "A treatment for paruresis or shy bladder syndrome". The Behavior Therapist (New York, NY: Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy) 24 (5): 108. Lay summary.PsycINFO record 2002-13573-001.