Which Direction Should I Wipe?

You probably don't remember who taught you how to wipe — your parents, most likely — or why you wipe the way you do. All you know is that once you were settled in on one style of wiping that worked, more or less, there was no real reason to change. But is it the right way? Is it the best way? Let's find out.Photos by Sorin Popa/Shutterstock

How it's done now

From what I gather, the two major schools of wiping are front-to-back, with your arm reaching behind you from the side, or back-to-front, with your arm between your legs. There's also another method, where it's not exactly front-to-back/back-to-front, but more of a swirling motion, as if you were cleaning a dirty spot on a window. I've never actually seen this in practice, but to be fair, the number of times I've witnessed any of these methods executed can be counted on one hand. (And I wash that hand afterwards.)

The right way

Dr Curtis Asbury, says that the method of wiping your buttocks depends heavily on what companion equipment you have in the area. If you're a guy, "do whatever feels right. It makes no difference. Heck, you can go side to side if you like!" But on the other hand, the conventional wisdom among women (which apparently isn't so conventional for some) says that front-to-back is the way to go to avoid urinary tract infections. Not so fast ladies!

The thought is that when you wipe from back to front, you are moving fecal material towards the vagina and thus the urethra. Bacteria gets in the urethra, travels up to the bladder, and soon enough you got a UTI brewing. Unfortunately, despite this elegant theory, it simply hasn't proven itself in the scientific literature. According to the evidence in multiple studies, it doesn't matter which way you wipe. That being said, which way would I wipe if I were a woman? You better believe I'm wiping front to back!

Dr Brian Bowes agrees on the direction.

The majority of cases of cystitis or urethritis are from E. coli, the normal flora that lives in your gastrointestinal tract. This helps you digest your food, but if you wipe from back to front you risk smearing it to your urethral meatus (pee hole). Then the bacteria get into a sterile environment [your pee hole]and cause a UTI. This was traditionally taught in medical school to be "Honeymoon cystitis" as many women would get UTIs after their vigorous honeymoon weekend and come back with this normal infection. Maybe we see less of this these days with premarital sex and living together.

As for men..

...most have at least 6 inches (hopefully) between their anus and urethral meatus (opening at the end of their penis). Although some women might contend this, this protects them from urinary tract infections. Therefore anyone with a penis that they pee out of (not to exclude any sexes) is protected from E. coli and may feel free to wipe in whichever way that pleases them (not that it should be pleasurable).

Dr Chris Lowry concurs with the other docs, and says that the studies that have been done in this area are small, and thus, not very reliable. Here are three relevant studies.

One study of wiping after passing urine, showed a small increase in infection when wiping back-to-front.

• However, another study on college age women with UTIs showed that there was no increase.

A final one looking at how frequently women had a second or third UTI also showed no increase.

Dr Asbury says that beyond cleaning up a mess after a mess is made, you should focus on general hygiene, you know, for kicks.

Moisture in the groin can lead to irritation, known as intertrigo, or a yeast infection. Recent attempts at ultra-cleanliness have lead to a trend of using moist wipes rather than dry toilet paper to wipe. The main problem with this is the growing sensitivity to chemicals in the moist wipes. An allergy to these chemicals can cause pain, irritation, and redness which often causes the person to use the wipes more, and thus perpetuating the problem. The main chemical associated with moist wipe allergy is methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI or Kathon CG) although other common allergens in wipes include quaternium-15, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, DMDM hydantoin, and fragrances. Use moist wipes at your own risk, and at the very least, read the label!

Alternatives to wiping

So if there's no reason to use moist chemical wipes, is there anything better than the traditional two-ply? If you guessed bidets, you'd be right, and you've probably used one before. But Dr Lowry points out something interesting about long-term usage that I've never heard before.

Japanese toilets often contain a water jet and blow dryer that cleans the anus for you. Apparently, some Japanese doctors are now claiming to be seeing cases of "Washlet Syndrome", where cleaning that is too effective leads to problems such as weak sphincter muscles, dry skin and anal sores.

He wasn't able to find any English-language studies on the subject, and wasn't able to locate any Japanese ones either (he's more familiar with medicine than he is with the Japanese language). But, in my own anecdotal opinion, a cleansing spurt of water before following up with traditional toilet paper gets things incredibly clean. And it's refreshing.

If you're a DIY-er, you might be wondering what other things you can wipe with. Dr Asbury points to this man, who experimented on himself with such items as "dried corncob, rocks, newspaper, leaves and vinegar on a sponge. Whilst his experimental methods leave much to be desired, it's an entertaining read!"

Alternatives to traditional toilets

Pulling back one level from wiping, Dr Lowry points out that squat toilets — the type you see in some Asian countries, might be healthier. But this could be also attributed to a high-fibre diet, rather than the method of evacuation. But unless you're currently remodelling your house, or really have an issue with haemorrhoids, it's unlikely that you will swap out your current waste depository with a squatter.

Acknowledgements and what I've learned

Tremendous thanks to our three doctors, from which I have learned four very important things. First, that I've been wiping correctly. Second, that I should be glad I am male (for the purposes of wiping). Third, I should really finish installing my bidet so I don't have to use so much toilet paper, but also make sure that when I do, I still keep up on my sphincter muscle exercises. Four, that the term urinary meatus means pee hole.

Dr Brian N. Bowes is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, lives in Sicily, fathered five children and works for the Navy. He's also an avid Lifehacker reader, barista and motorcyclist.

Dr Chris Lowry is the director of MedRevise.co.uk, and thus, uses words like loo instead of toilet. You can follow him on Twitter at @bigonroad, and visit his blog at allaboutchris.org/blog.

Dr Curtis Ashbury, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and you can follow him on Twitter at @casbury, or email him at [email protected]

Do it right is a section where we explore common activities that we all think we're doing correctly, but might not be. And if you know someone who insists that they're doing something right, feel free to pass this along to show them what the experts say.


Comments

    Dude. You know it would be ok to just put up a post titled "well, I'm all out of ideas". I'd be cool with that

    When I was in Namibia with the UN (Army)we found that a lot of the participating African nations use their bare left hand and actually squatted on the toilet seat, and some actually squatted in the shower recess....!! Needless to say we were not impressed!! Personally I like the front to back method, cos I don't like my pubes all matted up... :}

      Which is why they only eat food with their right hand.

        One of the really creepy things is that rumor had it that they use their bare hand for it!!

    This has been studied extensively:

    http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/rabela.htm

    Forget all this toilet paper nonsense, front to back with... a goose's neck.

    "But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains."

    I think old Francois might have been the guy who inspired 4chan...

      I'm still waiting for the arse cleaner from "Demolition Man" to be invented.... :}

        You don't know how to use the three seashells?

        Me too but just because I've been wondering how the hell its supposed to work for the last 15 years.

    I do a back to front then a front to back.

    There's nothing like one's first trip to a country that doesn't use toilet paper and you're presented with a hose - with absolutely no idea of how to use it. Using the hotel computer & internet (conveniently located in the very busy lobby where everyone seems to be watching what you're doing - or maybe it was just my paranoia), googling to try and find instructions for exactly how to use this contraption (thankfully *before* I actually needed it).

    I'm a back to front-er. I find it's easier and I feel like I get things cleaner that way.

    I've never understood the warning against it - I don't keep going until I hit other areas!

    And no mention of the infamous 'hyper-wipe'...?

    I once shared a house with 3x Canadians and they could go through a 12 pack in a few days. I questioned it and was regaled with a story that one of them would wind paper around the wiping hand to the wrist then use a fistful (or more) of scrunched up paper for the wipe. It very quickly turned into a byo house.
    I often wondered how someone like Melvin Udall, Jack Nicholson's character in "As Good As It Gets" would approach this task. Given that he used multiple bars of antibacterial soap under scalding water just to wash his hands, the mind boggles.
    TMI? Far!

    It is Dr Ashbury or Dr Asbury......?

    The real question that should be answered is..... Scrunch or fold?

    Oh dear lord. Being female I never assumed it was done any other way. Any comparative studies on the proportion of women who get UTIs and the proportion of men who wipe back to front? Dudes, for the comfort of the lady/s in your life… front to back. Front to back!

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