I’m having dinner with a group of friends in a dark, woodsy back yard in Wellfleet. After a few glasses of wine, I feel the urge to pee. Should I step inside the house and use the nearest bathroom? Or should I simply duck behind a tree?
For me, it’s a no-brainer. There is nothing more unnatural than peeing in a toilet, a task that involves at least half a dozen steps besides the one that matters. There’s lifting up the seat; there’s wiping the rim (and sometimes more than just the rim); there’s flushing, then lowering the seat, then washing up because you’ve touched the seat — by the time you’re done, you’ve used up water, paper, time, and mental energy, and all for what? To avoid admitting that you’d rather heed the call of nature as nature intended?
I’ve often been afraid to admit it, especially to women, who (I imagine) might consider peeing outdoors vulgar. But, as one female friend explained to me, “We’d do it, too, if we could. What some people think of as penis envy is really easy-urination envy.”
I’m not advocating pissing willy-nilly. I limit myself to woods, or heavily landscaped yards, or rural roadsides. My rule: it’s okay if people know what I’m doing as long as they can’t see it being done.
An informal survey of my friends revealed I’m not alone. Peeing under the stars evokes camping trips and frat parties and French pissoirs — the Champs-Élysées meets Lord of the Flies. “Every man wants to piss outdoors,” said Kevin White, a Rhode Island psychologist. One friend admitted that, when he walks his dog each morning, he and the pooch sometimes cross swords — but he would never tell his wife. Another friend admitted to his wife that he sometimes pees off their back porch — and immediately regretted being honest. “Grow up,” she sneered.
But peeing outside may be catching on as a national movement (and not just since Covid made it sensible to stay outdoors). There is a Facebook group that promises the joy of “sunlight and wind” on your penis, and an American Coalition for Peeing Outdoors, which urges men to “throw off the shackles of indoor urination.” I think of them as freedom fighters, whizzing against the tide.
For most of history, outdoors was pretty much the only place men peed. Then came plumbing, which led to standards of decorum, which — like many standards of decorum — seem designed to counter the natural instincts of one sex or the other.
But Mother Nature is rooting for outdoor pissers. The average toilet flush uses three gallons of water. Figure 20 gallons per day per person. (Waterless urinals, a great idea for public buildings, are rarely found in homes.) Multiply that by 160 million American men, and you’ve got a lot of water going down the drain — at a time when, according to researchers, 75 percent of the world’s population could soon face a shortage of drinking water.
Yes, the environmental reasons for peeing outdoors are very real. But I’m also happy to use them as a cover. Call it green, if that will help you get away with yellowing the great outdoors.
Fred Bernstein lives in New York City, where he writes about architecture, law, and other subjects.