I Can’t Pee Around Other Men


There should be rules stated on the wall.

There should be rules stated on the wall.

Paruresis, or shy bladder syndrome, even afflicts people who aren’t remotely shy, like Zach Rosenberg, who is terrified of the workplace urinal.

I’m looking down. I’m inaudibly—that’s the hope at least—saying “please please please” to myself. Inside I’m crying. I’m also holding my penis.

I’m standing at a urinal in the company bathroom and I can’t pee. I’m next to another man, just as I am every day in this company of 200 people.

I was here first, mind you. No one was around so I bellied-up to the first urinal, next to the wall. The hope is that if someone else comes in, they’ll just use the short urinal and leave a gap between us, though I’m not sure if that’d even help me.

Just as I was ready to urinate, a guy walks in. I don’t know who. My peripheral vision was blurry, and as per standard man rules, no one talks while at the urinal because there’s something about talking to a man while you both hold your penises.

There’s only one thing worse than peeing next to a man for me and that’s the fear of being called-out for not being able to pee next to a man.

I can’t imagine, for the record, how women go to the bathroom together at restaurants and events.

So the other guy finishes, flushes, and that’s when I realize I’ve got to flush too because I was here before him. And simple logic would dictate that I must be done too: If I heard his pee hitting the back of the urinal, then he’d have heard mine. I must be done. So, I’ve got to flush and leave, even though I never peed. There’s only one thing worse than peeing next to a man for me and that’s the fear of being called-out for not being able to pee next to a man.

At my old job, I was outed. I stepped up to a urinal as a coworker was washing his hands. He asked me how I’m doing. I shyly answered and tried to pee. But my coworker noticed I was shying away from conversation and also that there was no noise coming from, well, a satisfying waterfall of urine leaving me.

“Am I making you nervous?” my coworker asks. I can hear the wide-eyed, gaping-mouthed smile behind me as if he’s found out some incredible secret that could ruin me.

“Yes, okay? YES. I can’t do it when people watch me,” I answer.

“Oh my god,” he cuts in, taking another step closer. “This is great! You can’t pee while I’m standing here! Go ahead. Pee. Just go. C’mon.”

My face was getting hot. I could feel my fingers gripping my penis, nearly tearing straight through it.

“THERE, ASSHOLE. Are you happy now,” I proudly asked in my one-of-the-boys voice as my body went into emergency mode and helped me avoid relative disaster. “Want me to save some for you?” I know how to turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak.

I don’t know why I have a problem peeing around other men. I’ve always been shy. I remember when I was young, maybe 8 or 9 years old tops, I had a problem at camp changing into my swimsuit in front of the other 12 boys. I remember it being terrible. Somehow the issue was raised to my counselors (possibly when I declined swimming for days in a row, yet they knew I had a swimming pool at home), and they’d asked if I could just use a bathroom stall. “They’ll make fun of me,” I answered. I knew it for a fact because I’d heard them make fun of another boy for being shy. The counselors allowed me to use another bathroom away from everyone.

Now, I’m an adult. I’ve got a son. I had to potty train him. And thank god he’s a fast learner because I barely let him watch me. When he first showed interest in potty training, I’d let my son watch. “Go, daddy,” my son would demand. I’d concentrate harder, trying to wring my bladder out with my inside muscles. His impatience made me slower.

The times I let him watch, I’d shoo him away the moment I stopped peeing, belting out “show’s over, buddy.” Other times, I’d flat-out not let him watch on the grounds that “he knows by now.” I feel bad. I mean, it’s father-son bonding. It’s no playing catch or teaching him to play poker, but it’s a basic generational male how-to lesson. It’s a rite of passage that I felt uncomfortable passing.

Here, today, my danger zone is radiating with the heat of one thousand suns. I’ve got to go. Bad. But I know it’s now after lunch hour and the bathroom will be a meat market of men fire-hosing all over the place. If I step up to a urinal, I won’t be able to go and will have to pretend that everyone just couldn’t hear my ghost urine. Or, I go into a stall and people see my feet facing toward the toilet and they think “that guy’s got a problem peeing around other men.”

I wonder frequently how many other men have this problem. It’s not something you typically bring up in any gatherings anyway. It’s bathroom talk. All I can continue to do is, unfortunately, keep trying to pee next to other people. But if I’m standing next to you at a urinal and you don’t hear so much as a drop falling from me, it’s not the time to pat me on the back and say encouraging things. Just pack up your piece, wash your hands and hit the road so I can go myself and work on filling the tank back up…it’s afternoon coffee time.

About Zach Rosenberg

Zach Rosenberg is a husband and father living in Southern California. He is co-founder of
fatherhood news site 8BitDad.com, and a contributor to HLNtv.com. You can also find him on Twitter @zjrosenberg.


  1. Hesitant Urinator says:

    It may be called Shy Bladder Syndrome, but I don’t think that has anything to do with shyness. Might be more of an evolutionary thing. If I pee, and another male shows up or comes within a striking distance, I might be in danger. My ancestral self is telling me “Hey, be careful, this guy may attack you, now it’s not the time to urinate.”

  2. I have one memory of peeing ok while around other men in a trough when I was a bit sauced in England as a young man. So each time i have trouble peeing I conjure that memory and feeling and it works. Maybe find a felt reference point for when you do feel safe peeing, and bring it to your awareness.

    Peeing is tied into our earliest childhood memories and conceptions. It’s one of the very first things we learn to do consciously. It’s complicated!

  3. Jackson Jones, Sr says:

    Performance is the issue. Men are so competitive that they feel the need to compete whether it is peeing, size, looks, money, social status, or whatever. When one goes into the latrine wondering if he will be able to pee or not then he has already sealed his fate. As far as peeing in public, just whip it out and go, you have what you have and who cares. As far as the “potty training” subject, this is for the one who questioned the act of letting your son watch you pee, he doesn’t have kids. Children learn by mimicking their parents, adults, and other kids. It isn’t perverted as it is a teaching tool and any father knows this. Also, just to inform the ones who doesn’t know, everybody looks just to see how they measure up to their fellow man, it isn’t sexual.

  4. I have the same problem. It’s not a medical condition — it’s called being nervous. There are two sphincters that control pee coming out, one is made of skeletal muscle and can therefore be controlled. The internal sphincter, however, is smooth muscle and controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This means when your body experiences “fight or flight” symptoms, your sphincter closes up and nothing will come out until you calm down (although some people wet themselves when scared, so it may open up for some people).
    I’ve gone through stages of my life when I learn to not worry about it (ie, not get nervous), and the pee comes out fine. But all it takes is one bad episode and I have to start all over again, because the bad episode reinforces my anxiety.

  5. Freyner says:

    you let your son watch you pee??? that’s not potty training or rite of passage, it’s just weird. I don’t know of any other person who does that to their son. Maybe the reason you cannot pee with other men around is that your father made you watch him pee when you were a child?

  6. stanley cu says:

    I have been on medication for years and have to take urine test so there isnt anything in my system. Well I never had a problem until last week when they said I cannot get my meds unless they supervise the tox. I was able to squeeze out just enough but only because she was behind me and ran the water I fear next time she will be watching and I’m afraid I won’t be able to get my medication I’m about to take it as far as to use a catheter I’m not afraid of taking the test I just cannot go in front of someone what should I do? I told the doctor also and he said if I can not go then I have to find another doctor :(I am sick without this medicine and its so annoying I should be able to just go

  7. I am 13 years old and I have this problem. Boys at school Just talk and pee so casually and many times I don’t pee I normally just form think and just go and find times when people rnt there

  8. One time I made the mistake of going into a small, busy bathroom at a courthouse (got called in for jury duty), walked into a stall and left the door open. People were standing behind me, watching and waiting for me to piss. It felt like I was standing there for ages and I heard a guy standing behind me say to another guy, “We’re trying!” Somehow I worked up the courage to just stand there until I pissed. Note to self: close the freakin’ door. Here is another good piss scene from the Taking of Pelham 123. When they’re finally saved at the end, the guy is like, “I can piss!”


  9. I had this for years and it started really affecting a lot of areas of my life. Work got weird, I couldn’t go on long cartrips, and spending a lot of time in public places was really tough.

    If you have shy bladder, you should really check out this book (warning: the web page is pretty much just a marketing page, but the book is solid):


  10. I had that problem until I was in my mid 40’s. Then for whatever reason it just wasn’t a problem anymore. I did math in my head to help me concentrate on peeing. Usually it worked.

  11. Eirik Rogers says:

    What a great article – thanks! It reminds me of this scene that told me I was not alone with this phobia (fast forward to 3:08):


  12. In general, Zach, I can pee anywhere,regardless (I have a melanoma/pee story I’m saving for a future blogpost) but there was this one time, in college. It was Dime Beer night and I’d spent about a dollar. My bladder was well over capacity. I got in line for the loo, damn near holding my crotch so I wouldn’t drunkenly wet myself. I finally got the front, surrounded by a crush of guys, all either holding their willies to pee, or to NOT pee. And for the first time ever.- nothing. No drip. No flow. No stream. Just a bladder filled to bursting with no sense of relief. I stood there for a few moments. I tried to pee. I tried to NOT pee. I placed Percy back in his pocket and left the bathroom. I was bent nearly double by the time I got to the door. Flushed with failure, I wandered out of the bar. As I headed, aimlessly, down the alley where the bar was located, I saw an alcove. A locked door alcove from the building facing the other way and safe from traffic. Out came Charley and I trained him on the concrete. Relief. For many many many seconds. Flood warnings were issued. Urine raced over shoes. Didn’t care. Ahhh. You’re not alone, Zach.

  13. There are plenty of men who have various problems with urinating. Some have problems to urinate, others urinate by far too much.

    I recommend you to visit a clinic for urology to make sure, that there are no serious medical problems – for example diabetes – causing the bladder not to open as expected. Prostata problems are well-known too – psychologically not all men are the same, some like urinals and don’t care, others feel disturbed.

    About me, It’s about age – I am 60+ and I am so 50/50. Sometimes I feel not comfortable with urinals, sometimes I have no problem at all even with people next to me, sometimes I need some medicine for prostata and for bladder problems, sometimes I see no reason why I should take them.

    Another important influence is temperature difference – like airconditioned rooms during hot summer, or sitting in a warm car during cold winter and getting out of the car to a rather cold restroom etc.
    Also sudden weather change – unexpected strong rain and cold wind – are known to have some influence concerning urinating.

    Again, take it easy but ask for a check in the urology department – betterbe safe than sorry.

  14. Tom Brechlin says:

    Zack, you are not alone by any means. My son-in-law, a fireman, struggles with that problem as well. And through the years I’ve known several other men who struggle with the same issues.

    Working in a residential facility with addicts, one of my job responsibilities is to observe clients, adults and adolescents (must have a second staff with me), while obtaining urine specimens. (AKA a “drop”). On average, in a given week, I will have had to observe as many as 25 to 30 drops. I would say that at least 40% of the clients, adult and adolescent, struggle with the same issues. Whereas the adolescent clients are allowed some privacy staff is outside the bathroom with the door cracked so we can clearly see if he’s replacing the specimen, the men on the other hand, we are required to stand and literally observe their urinating. What’s worse is that if we don’t get a drop, it’s an automatic positive. And with the US Probation, it could mean a violation of probation.

    So, don’t feel badly, you’re by no means alone.

    PS. City of Chicago just approved the renovation of Wrigley Field … now maybe they can get rid of the urinal troughs in the men’s rooms

  15. Just use the stall, Zach! Nobody looks under the stall for the same reason nobody talks at the urinal: because everybody is a little shy in the loo. They don’t want to be known as the guy who talks while peeing. They don’t want to be known as the guy who cops a peek at the next guy’s penis. They don’t want to be known as the guy who stands too far back in a bombastic display of ballistic peeing. And they don’t want to be known as the guy who peeks under stall doors. You keep your eyes on your own mission in the no-talking zone of the men’s room, and you don’t concern yourself with the affairs of other men. Unless they’re having a medical emergency, I suppose.
    If they DO spot your feet facing the wrong way in the stall, they’ll probably just assume you’re cleaning the last guy’s pee off the seat before you sit. Turn around and face the door till they leave if it makes you feel better. They’ll never know it was you.
    And finally, anyone who calls you out on this sort of thing hasn’t just violated the “eyes to yourself” ettiquette, he’s also an asshole.

    • Jameseq says:

      They don’t want to be known as the guy who stands too far back in a bombastic display of ballistic peeing
      lololol, love the term ‘bombastic display of ballllllistic peeing’

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