Dear Prudence

My In-Laws Treat My House Like a Port-a-Potty

Prudie’s column for Oct. 12.

Rubber-gloved hands reach out to clean a toilet.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by HomePixel/iStock/Getty Images Plus and vladans/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

I have what I consider an unusual problem: My in-laws like to use my home as a public bathroom. Some of them even live within a mile of my home! They will leave their house, stop by to briefly “say hi,” then borrow my bathroom. The main complaint is the mess that is left for me to clean up. It is not uncommon to find puddles of urine or smears on the toilet seat. In the last instance, my sister-in-law (who lives a few hours away) stopped by, specifically told me that she was about to “poop on herself,” used my bathroom, and immediately left to attend a family event just a few houses down! Once again, the mess left was disgusting. How on earth do I let these people know that they cannot drop by whenever they want just to “go potty”?! I am beyond horrified to be placed in this situation. My husband is aware of the situation, and while he hates it, he has made no move to address it.

—In-Laws Treat My House Like a Port-a-John

I also consider this an unusual problem, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with this! Leaving open the possibility that your relatives all suffer from various gastric ailments that might make finding a bathroom in a hurry a medical necessity, you still have grounds to blend compassion with firmness and tell them they’ll need to make alternate arrangements. Nothing’s keeping them from cleaning up after themselves, so I think it’s likelier that you’re dealing with thoughtlessness and entitlement (if not an active delight in upsetting and disgusting you). Is your husband willing to go along with you in this? If you’re the only one holding the line, then he gives in when someone stops by when you’re not around, you’re going to find yourself in an even more taxing situation than you were before, so it’s important that he agrees to back you up. If his fear is too great, perhaps you could get him to at least agree to pretend not to be home, so he can continue to avoid conflict without undermining your attempts to get your home back.

The only challenge for you, I think, will be your willingness to say something slightly embarrassing: “I’m so sorry, I can’t offer you the use of my bathroom anymore. We’ve found such a mess after you’ve used it in the past that we’ve had to scrub stains off the toilet and urine off of the floor.” But if you’re willing to do that (and it’s surely less taxing than continuing to clean up after them), you’re home free. I’d advise you to do this before someone shows up at your front door again, because it may feel harder to establish this boundary for the first time with someone claiming emergency. But if anyone shows up after you’ve made yourself clear and tries to pressure you by claiming they’re about to have an accident, then you’re in classic “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” territory. Remind them, “I’m sorry, but we’ve talked about this, and I’ve already made myself clear. There’s a coffee shop about a mile down the road. Best of luck making alternate arrangements in the future.”

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Dear Prudence,

My 19-year-old stepson lives with us and often has his girlfriend spend the night. She is a lovely enough girl, but I have a problem with her attire. She is very well-endowed and never wears a bra when she comes down for breakfast. Beyond the movement issues, she sleeps in my stepson’s thin T-shirts. In the right light, you can see her nipples. My own sons are 10 and 12. This is an issue I need to address. I have had conversations about consent, respect, and sex with my sons. It doesn’t really stop them from staring so hard their eyes are about to fall out at the available boobies at the breakfast table. My stepson and his father do not get along. My husband will not talk to him. I really do not know how to have this conversation with either my stepson or his girlfriend. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but this is ridiculous.
What do I do? Buy her a bathrobe?

—Uncomfortable Breakfast Scene

Learning not to gawk openly at the appearance of others, whether out in public or at the breakfast table, is one of the most important lessons of what used to be known as “good breeding,” or home training, or courtesy, and it’s one of the hallmarks of a truly polite person. Not all children take to this lesson right away, so it’s incumbent upon parents to stress the importance of this rule until it becomes second nature. Children of 10 and 12 have to learn self-control—not to chew with their mouths wide open, not to pick their noses in public, not to stare slack jawed at a woman eating cereal even if she is not wearing a bra. I understand feeling embarrassed by your sons’ behavior, but now’s the right time, and the breakfast table’s the right place, to begin teaching them that respect isn’t just a word you learn in sex ed then throw out the window when a woman in a very thin T-shirt is drinking coffee across from you at 7:30 a.m. If that means correcting your sons in the moment, sending them away from the table until they can learn to control their faces, or having a number of private follow-up conversations where they are deeply embarrassed hearing their mother talk about breasts, then those are the next steps you should take as a parent.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

Recently I had sex with a man who said he had a 10-inch penis. It was, indeed, huge. But when I told my (gay) friend about this guy’s endowment, he told me that specific measurement was statistically very, very unlikely, and that the guy was probably just getting away with it because people have a skewed perspective (mostly because guys lie constantly, making people think smaller sizes are bigger). He said my guy was probably more like 8 or 9 inches, and that is already “huge” by most people’s standards. He said anything over 7 inches is “big,” given that the average penis is more like 5 inches or a little more. Is this … right? How rare is a 10-inch penis? Do all guys lie? Is everyone terrible at spotting actual size when they see it?