Many times I have returned home from a night out, walking home or fresh off a long bus ride, jiggling my legs and breathing deeply, only to get to my block where my body senses that sweet release is so, so close and the urge to pee just increases exponentially, whereby I become a 2am creature from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, ambling with my legs spread out as far as possible but also hurrying, hurrying to get to my door, sprint inside and pee while moaning like a ghost going through puberty. But never before as an adult have I actually not made it. Until just recently.
A couple days later, I went out with a couple of my girlfriends and recounted the traumatic incident.
"So right as I got to my block—I just had this intense, intense urge to pee," I said, recounting my recent trauma to a couple friends.
"Oh, god," Emily* knowingly said.
"And before I could even finish unlocking the door, noooope, nope nope, I could not make it. I peed myself!"
I knew that I would have a sympathetic ear in my friend Emily, since she had peed herself a couple months ago after coming home from a bad date, but my friend Britney piped up, “I’ve peed myself too!”
As the three of us laughed at our traitor bladders and shameful pee secrets as we walked down the street and into the bar, Emily said, “It’s just a reality of being an aging woman!”
This—getting so old that you can no longer control your bodily functions— is something most are familiar with. But as a 23 year old woman do I really have to face the realities of “my aging female body” to avoid peeing myself again?
I’m not talking like blackout drunk release of body fluids. These are regular situations, sober and with moderate alcohol consumption, but a lot of my friends have peed themselves.
Peeing yourself is embarrassing—make no mistake. It’s messy, it’s stinky, and it’s generally something that after early childhood we accept is not something that’s going to happen. Sure, many times in my life I have been afraid of peeing myself, but I have always prided myself on being able to hold it in and power through til I reach a bathroom.
When I hang out with my friends we often talk about our bodily woes (in-depth conversations about poop, menstruation, what happens to our stomachs after age 20 when we eat too much junk food), we don’t usually talk about peeing. Peeing yourself, even if it occurs in the privacy of your home, it seems, is on a different level of body grossness than diarrhea, the flu… any of it. It’s something that your body does that is supposed to be under your control, and when that control fails, it feels so much more shameful than any of the other gross, weird, and baffling things that our bodies do.
When one pees with a penis, peeing culture is somewhat different. Because peeing is physically different (there’s no squatting or leaning or awkward spread out positioning involved as it is for those of us without penises), the penis owners I know have a much less stressful attitude about it. If need be, they’ll find an alley. Among my penisless friends, everyone has a close call story, and many of us have an actual “I’m an adult and I peed myself”-story.
I can’t speak on the pee habits of every penisless person around, but for most women I know, the danger of peeing oneself is an actual stressful reality. Culturally, bodily functions in women are supposed to be really private acts, shielded and secret at all costs. Like, why the fuck is “Girls Don’t Poop" a thing? For men, writing in the snow, pee distance contests, lighting farts on fire… these are socially constructed to be "normal" behaviors (although certainly not all men want to participate). But it is a part of our cultural dialogue that men have a much freer reign with their "gross" body functions, while women are to keep them as private as possible.
I’m not about to go tell everyone I know that I recently peed myself, but I am conscious that it’s something that isn’t really that out of the ordinary, but I also do recognize that my reluctance to share is partly dictated by my having grown up in a society that has taught me that as a woman I should control myself as much as possible, and this involuntary failure to do so represents a failure of that tenant.
That being said, I’m definitely making more of an effort to visit bathrooms before I have to travel. And do some kegels before bed.
*names changed to protect our weak bladders and red faces