What’s the deal with urinals in women’s restrooms?

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Dear Cecil: Lately I’ve been running into urinals in women’s restrooms. I have tried using them in pants and skirts, but the only way I can figure they would work is if the woman were naked or not wearing any underwear. Who invented the infernal contraptions, how are they intended to work, and why are they cropping up more and more? K.L., Baltimore

Cecil replies:

Actually, they’re not cropping up more and more — you’re just frequenting a broader variety of public restrooms. Most major American manufacturers discontinued women’s urinals for various reasons decades ago. They were introduced into this country from Europe in the early 30s (along with the bidet, which is still being made), and were intended as a convenience for women who did not want their delicate flesh coming into contact with yukky public toilet seats. They came in both floor- and wall-mounted models, in the latter manifestation looking very much like men’s urinals, and could be used either with stalls or lined up like their male counterparts. Basically the urinals featured a protruding narrow bowl that the user was expected to straddle while facing the wall, having first lowered her panties and hiked up her skirt, whereupon she could do her thing. I’m not getting a good picture in my mind of how this was supposed to work, and frankly I don’t think I want to. Women apparently had the same problem, because the popularity of the fixtures declined significantly in the 60s, resulting in their ultimate demise. One problem may have been that women’s underwear manufacturers never managed to come up with an equivalent to the male underpant, which is (well, was) laden with useful apertures that facilitate the use of urinals. Another likely factor was the increasing popularity of women’s pants, which made using a urinal something of a trial. You still see the fixtures around once in a while, since proprietors of public lavatories are loath to discard serviceable equipment, but they are gradually being replaced by the ordinary flush toilet.

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.