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Of all the elements of pre-pandemic life I miss, using a public restroom is the strangest. I’ve never once derived joy from sitting on a disconcertingly damp toilet seat or hovering above a tangle of someone else’s waste. And yet, on several occasions over the past few months—including one humiliating afternoon that found me squatting behind a car in the parking lot of a sculpture garden—I’ve found myself longing for these essential amenities of public life. Without private, sanitary spaces to pee outside the home, our worlds dramatically contract.
But even though many public bathrooms have reopened across the country, many of us continue to avoid them. While we’re still figuring out exactly how much the novel coronavirus is able to travel in droplets through the air, we do know that flushed toilets generate full-on plumes of such droplets—droplets that might carry the coronavirus across stall barriers and into the respiratory tracts of other restroom-goers. To poop or deal with menstrual products, it may be worth it to hold out for a dedicated restroom. But urinating is a less demanding endeavor. For people with penises, it’s easy enough to make do behind a bush or a dumpster. For the rest of us, there are STPs.
Stand-to-pee devices have historically appealed to relatively small, specific consumer bases: transgender men, people recovering from certain surgeries, women outdoorsy enough to need frequent forest bathroom breaks but squeamish enough to balk at the idea of squatting against a tree. Today, with public bathrooms on our collective shit list, products that make it easier to pee without a toilet are finding a broader market. The Feminal, a pee-holding canister that looks like a phonograph, and the SaniGirl, a disposable paperboard funnel, have both seen sales spike in recent months.
On a recent road trip, in an effort to find a way to safely enjoy my summer without baring my butt on the side of I-95, I put four other STPs to the test. I limited my search to devices that were reusable and didn’t retain urine; I didn’t want to create unnecessary waste or carry around a bottle full of pee. I also steered away from those that were sculpted to look like genitalia; while there are plenty of STPs designed for trans men, blending in at the urinal trough isn’t my priority. I graded each device on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being downright awful, 5 being pretty great) for its build, ease of use, accuracy of aim, ability to be used while keeping one’s pants on, and cleanliness. I also assessed how insulted I felt by its branding. (As you might have gleaned from the Feminal and SaniGirl, most STPs have terribly punny, gender-essentialist names.) Here’s what I found.
This silky silicone funnel has an extremely flexible, wide top that you hold to your body; the bottom, where the pee comes out, narrows to a harder tip shaped like a coin slot. It feels durable and well-made. As with most silicone objects, it can be a magnet for lint and dust if left out in the open or in a cloth container.
Ease of Use: 2
The GoGirl added a light veneer of panic to my casual outdoor pee. The instructions encouraged me to press the funnel firmly to my body to make a “seal.” But when I tried to do that, it crumpled and folded under the pressure of my hands, making it impossible to effectively maintain the funnel’s shape. A compromised funnel meant I found myself with a bit of pee on my body instead of the grass.
The GoGirl’s flexibility made it almost impossible to confidently control my aim while maintaining a firm seal against my body. “It has a lot of give” is not a thing I want to be able to say of the one thing standing between me and a leg covered in piss.
Pants Compatibility: 1
I had to fully pants myself at the edge of a parking lot at a New Jersey rest stop to get the GoGirl to work, which defeated the purpose of using a device rather than peeing directly on the ground. The GoGirl instructions insist it’s possible to use this device with a single hand, but because the funnel bends so easily, and I was wearing tight jeans, I found that impossible. My stream also did not achieve much of an arc, making it seem better designed for peeing straight down, rather than out and away from the body. I do know one woman who loves this device; she wears a skirt when she intends to use it.
Cleanliness and Storage: 3
Silicone is nonporous, which should give GoGirl users peace of mind; there are no places for bacteria to hide. I couldn’t fully access the inner tip of the funnel to scrub with my fingers, but running some soapy water through it felt sufficient. As for my body—I still needed to use toilet paper after peeing through the funnel, which left me holding two things with pee on them. The funnel is easily folded or scrunched up to be stored away somewhere.
I resented this product’s nonconsensual encouragement, what with the implied you in front of GoGirl. And the hot pink packaging, the word girl, and the cutesy logo (the bathroom signage symbol for woman, crossing her legs) made me feel thoroughly infantilized as I tried to avoid getting urine on my shoes.
The pStyle is a no-nonsense piece of hard plastic. It comes in a rainbow of colors (I’m partial to black with metallic specks) and looks like it’s part shoehorn, part amuse-bouche spoon. In one episode of Antiques Road Trip, auctioneer Philip Serrell likens an olden-times urination device to a gravy boat; this one echoes that tradition.
Ease of Use: 5
This is an extraordinarily simple, dare I say elegant device. Just shove the wide back end into your pants, pee, and point the narrower front end where you want the pee to go. Don’t let your shirt fall into the open top of the device, and you should be all set. GoGirl’s website slanders hard plastic devices as uncomfortable—and yes, if you’re using one of these devices because you’re recovering from some kind of nether-region surgery, you might not like the pressure of the plastic. But if you want to pee standing up without worrying about making a “seal” or holding a device with just the right angle and pressure, the pStyle’s firmer structure will be comforting.
The pStyle is easy to move and adjust, though people who aren’t used to peeing standing up may want to practice their end-of-stream finesse. Keep a wide stance.
Pants Compatibility: 5
All but the tightest of waistbands and smallest of flies can accommodate this device, which is plenty long enough to keep the pee far away from the body.
Cleanliness and Storage: 4
The pStyle’s open polypropylene structure makes it easy to clean with soap and water. You’re still left with a piece of plastic with pee on it when you’re done going, but you can gently move the device forward to “wipe” (more like squeegee?) when you’re done. I didn’t feel like I needed toilet paper. Don’t plan on being discreet with this one—it’s 7.5 inches long, way too big for most pockets.
This is the only device I found without a cutesy, hyperfeminized name and/or logo. I didn’t hate myself for using it!
This device comes in two parts: The first is a funnel with an elongated bottom section that wedges against the body, making the Shewee shape a sort of hybrid between the pStyle and the GoGirl. The second is a flexible plastic tube that affixes to the end of the funnel, increasing the distance between the person and the pee. (This is what makes the Shewee Extreme “Extreme.”) The Shewee is made of hard polypropylene, like the pStyle, but it feels a touch cheaper. A few edges aren’t perfectly rounded, leaving rough plastic seams that don’t feel great against the skin. Still, it’s plenty hardy.
Ease of Use: 3
I didn’t spill while using the Shewee, but I sure felt like I might! The base is very narrow and comes to a rounded point at the end that sits under the groin, making proper positioning somewhat difficult. It also wasn’t clear to me why the part of the funnel that’s supposed to catch the pee—the most important part!—narrows to a point. I spent a good minute wondering if I was supposed to, uh, insert it. I didn’t, and it was uncomfortable, but it got the job done.
The flexible tube was handy, but ultimately it wasn’t long enough, flexible enough, or dripless enough to give the Shewee Extreme an edge over the one-piece plastic products. (The Shewee is also available without the tube, which would make the funnel much shorter and keeping pee off one’s feet that much more difficult.)
Pants Compatibility: 5
No problems here! But if you don’t spring for the Extreme, you’ll have a harder time making it past your pants without the tube extender.
Cleanliness and Storage: 5
I’d originally deducted a point for the tube, which is as hard to scrub as a reusable straw. Then I deducted another point for the inability to “wipe” with the device. (The pointed back end doesn’t readily work as a squeegee.) But I tacked both points back on for the Shewee’s carrying case, the perfect reusable solution to being stuck in public holding a piece of plastic dripping with pee. It’s discreet, watertight, and easily washable in the next available source of running water.
The name made me giggle a little (wee!) but I’m annoyed at the “she,” since a lot of STP users are trans men. Otherwise, not terrible.
Out of the devices I tried, this one’s the luxury model. The Tinkle Belle looks a lot like the pStyle, but with a few extra features. It has a curvier design that fits better against the body, bendable sides that can widen or narrow with a squeeze, tabs on the top for an easier grip, and a flexible tip that allows the device to fold up when not in use. The inside feels rubbery, and the outside is hard plastic.
Ease of Use: 4.5
There’s nothing complicated about shoving this into your pants, but you may want to take a second or two to double-check its position and make sure the flexible tip is fully extended and straight. (Note: That’s one second the sturdier pStyle doesn’t require.)
Pretty straightforward here.
Pants Compatibility: 5
The Tinkle Belle was made for pants! It’s an inch or so longer than the pStyle, giving users a little more wiggle room, so to speak.
Cleanliness and Storage: 4
Like the pStyle, the Tinkle Belle allows for a post-pee squeegee. The device is easy enough to clean, and the foldable tip makes it more compact to store, but the cloth storage bag that comes with it isn’t quite watertight. If there are pee droplets in there, they won’t necessarily stay put—and then you need to wash the pee bag.
I didn’t get any pee on my pants while using the Tinkle Belle, but I almost got vomit on my shirt when I uttered its name aloud. The ladylike logo looks like it was adapted from the Skimm—same teal color, same slim legs and above-the-knee skirt. I’m not even going to start on what it means that, apparently, women feel so defeminized by the act of peeing standing up or interacting with their own body fluids (hello, Diva Cup!) that they have to paint their products pink or use a childish euphemism for their piss. I’ll instead point out that it’s completely nonsensical to illustrate a device made for peeing with your pants on with a logo of a woman in a skirt.
Overall, the Tinkle Belle and the pStyle were the clear winners. They were surprisingly easy to use and effective—so much so that I’m going to keep using them interchangeably once I find the right size of watertight container to store them in when I’m on the go. If I ever buy one for a friend, it’ll be the pStyle: simplicity and nongendered branding win for me.
The main question I had when I began this project was whether an STP’s ability to improve upon the conditions of an outdoor pee would be great enough to outweigh its introduction of a pee-covered object to the equation. The benefits of the Tinkle Belle and the pStyle easily exceeded that threshold. Peeing in a parking lot will never feel dignified, but at least now I’ll get to keep my pants on.