I got yer presidential alert right here: A new study finds that one in six men who take a shit at work don’t always wash their hands afterward. It was a British study, so we know that they don’t take shits, they “have a poo” — but of all their crimes, it’s the lack of consistent hand-washing after the pooing that is most troubling. Explain yourselves, poo-petrators.
Okay, to be fair, it’s not clear how bad the problem really is: Like germs, the statistics are all over the place. One study found that 85 percent of adults washed their hands in public restrooms. Yet another, more widely cited statistic is that only 67 percent of people do so. (And to be fair to the Brits, it’s an American problem too.)
But one mainstay in the the hand-washing literature is that men simply wash their hands less than women. One study found that a whopping 69 percent of men don’t. We’ve written previously that less than two thirds of men wash their hands after urinating, too. The question is: Why?
We know why women do it more: We are generally more patient (so we can stand around washing our hands for a few seconds), healthier (because we stand around washing our hands for a few seconds) and make more socially motivated choices (like not walking around with shit hands).
Men have given various reasons for avoiding this basic, critical No. 1 hygiene move that prevents illness and the spread of diseases like the norovirus, hepatitis, staph and strep: there’s no soap around, they say, or the sink is too dirty. Men are also 2.5 more times as likely to believe their hands are clean already, so they don’t need to wash them. It’s not clear where men got the idea that they are magically, inherently less filthy than women when the fundamental opposite is true.
It’s what you might call the “Clean Penis and Ass, Clean Hands” theory. Men claim to “know where their penis has been,” so because, theoretically, it hasn’t been soaking in a bath of E. coli, they don’t need to actually wash their hands after taking a whiz, particularly if they used a urinal and believe they touched nothing.
It reminds me of that George Carlin bit, where he talks about only washing his hands when they’ve literally caught feces:
“I want you to know I don’t automatically wash my hands every time I go to the bathroom, okay?” Carlin says. “Can you deal with that? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. You know when I wash my hands? When I shit on them.”
Maybe this is also related to the trouble men have cleaning their asses — they never learned?
Trouble is, shit and other stuff is everywhere, and not just in the bathroom, which presumably men have some special ability to float into without touching doors or surfaces. It is in the bathroom, to be clear, on the doorknobs (filthy!) and sink handles (also filthy!). But it’s on credit cards and cell phones, in places you might consider your “pre-bathroom” stops, too.
If there’s anything reassuring here, it’s that men should feel bad but not totally alone in their grossness. Some 95 percent of people don’t even wash their hands correctly.
So apparently, this needs to be said: Wash your hands, because regardless of what you did in the bathroom, you’re always touching a bunch of gross shit and also sometimes literal shit before and after your bathroom time. It’s really not that hard. Experts now know that even cold water is just as effective as hot, even if there’s no soap, which is better than nothing until you can get to some soap and water. Especially if you’ve touched actual shit you can see. Or, like, raw meat. And don’t be lazy: Wash for 20 seconds. But even five will do.
Experts also say that rather than washing your hands only for certain activities — you should wash before eating, before prepping food, after taking out garbage, after the bathroom, before sex, after sex, before sleep, in the morning and so on — that you can just do so “any time you feel that they might be dirty.” But that’s sort of the whole problem, isn’t it? If you actually felt dirty, we wouldn’t need to be telling you this, would we?