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How Likely Is It That I’ll Get Herpes from a Toilet Seat?

About as likely as that toilet seat will get you pregnant

Look, nobody likes sitting on a public toilet seat. The only good places to dump are home and work — everywhere else is horrible. You don’t want to sit on a toilet in an airport and feel it still warm from a stranger’s butt cheeks, or have to poop in a bar and spend three minutes wiping the seat down before trying to press your breakfast out as silently as possible so nobody hears your shame. It’s all terrible. Home, work, nowhere else. Need a shit in a railway station? You’ve made a mistake and will have an awful day.

But even worse than makin’ poo in a public toilet? Makin’ poo in a public toilet and catching herpes off the seat. Nightmarish.

Luckily, it isn’t going to happen. The CDC’s genital herpes fact sheet specifies, “You will not get herpes from toilet seats, bedding or swimming pools, or from touching objects around you such as silverware, soap or towels.”

There are other diseases you can get from seemingly-clean toilet seats, though. Hepatitis A, salmonella poisoning, streptococcus, staphylococcus, E.coli, shigella and polio can all be contracted this way, but very rarely, and not via your butt. You can end up getting these maladies if someone with them uses the toilet before you and gets bacteria from their colon on the toilet seat, either through clumsiness or the flush spraying everything everywhere. Then, you would need to either touch the toilet seat with an open wound or put your hands in your mouth — after pawing at the seat — without washing them. Wash your damn hands. Not that you’re gonna listen: In a 2009 study cited by the CDC, only 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women washed their hands after using a public toilet. 

In fact, every study ever done on handwashing after the toilet gets the same result: Men don’t do it enough. A 2010 study for the American Cleaning Institute combining telephone interviews and bathroom-based observations in railways stations, museums and sports stadiums found men to consistently wash less than women. In 2014, the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest speculated whether using a urinal rather than a cubicle factored into it, as men perceived urinals to be less dirty than an enclosed toilet full of poops (not their words). Along those lines, a 2018 Ipsos poll found men rated handwashing as substantially less important than women. And a 2019 paper concluded men consistently knew less about why they should be washing effectively, and how to do so.

Anyway, you aren’t going to get herpes from a toilet seat, and if you wash your hands after relieving your bowels, you won’t get anything else from the seat either. (Which, again, we’re generally terrible at: In 2019, a paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology calculated only a quarter of the world’s dumps were followed by proper hand-washing with soap.) So rest easy. As unpleasant as it may be, realistically, the worst-case scenario from sitting on a public toilet seat is ending up with an ass covered in some other motherfucker’s piss.

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