Sex segregation in public restrooms

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Sex segregation in public restrooms is the concept of having separate bathroom facilities for male and female individuals.

Obsolete historical reasons[edit]

Segregation at one time had a purpose, a purpose that some might currently consider obsolete. At one time in the Western world, during the Victorian eraWikipedia and prior, only male bathrooms existed in public because of the attitude that public spaces were considered largely the domain of men. It was considered improper for women to use public facilities, as at the time, the proper domain for women was the private realm of the home, in accordance with separate spheres ideology.[1] The rise of the suffragette movement in the late 1800s increased both visibility of women in public spaces as well as the number of women in employment. However, the "separate spheres" paradigm was not completely abandoned, and this led to all sorts of separate spaces for women being created within the public space (including such examples as separate "reading rooms" in libraries and women-only parlor spaces in stores and hotels). The paradigm of separate bathrooms were largely shaped by this thought process; this paradigm was also influenced by Victorian values that stressed the importance of privacy and modesty.[2][3] Some scholars who have studied the history of bathrooms argue that an additional factor was the notion that women purportedly needed extra protection (particularly in the workplace), due to the notion of women being the "weaker" sex.[3]

Over time, women have increasingly gained more rights, and most of the Victorian era sex-separated spaces have fallen by the wayside. Bathrooms remain one of the few public spaces that has not integrated, perhaps due to anxiety and shame related to the cultural disgust attached to excretion, and the vulnerability some feel in going to the bathroom.[2]


For sex segregation[edit]

  1. Transgender people should use the bathroom corresponding to their assigned at birth sex be able to use whichever bathroom they want to, and/or additional unisex/non-binary bathrooms should be provided.
  2. Unisex-only bathrooms are an extreme solution to reduce the harassment of transgender people. It is not a problem of bathrooms, but transphobia.
  3. Reforming bathroom design standards is a better solution for toilet equality. Historical inequality in bathroom design does not mean that going forward, sex-segregated bathrooms cannot be designed to give women equal treatment.
  4. In some cultures, it is acceptable for a woman to use a men's bathroom when there is a line for the women's bathroom.
  5. To prevent harassment and rape, particularly from men towards women.[note 1]
  6. The need for safe spaces.
  7. People, especially women, may avoid unisex toilets, leading to discomfort and wasted funds.
  8. Loss of urinals, which take up less floor space, conserve water, reduce spillage, and increase pee-poo efficiency.
  9. Have you been inside a men's bathroom? They are fucking disgusting fun. It is a feat of engineering that the volume of flowing urine on the floors doesn't cause erosion.
  10. Potential for discomfort and awkwardness.
  11. Bullying in schools, especially regarding menstrual hygiene.
  12. If restrooms were integrated, men would have to wait in long lines too.
  13. Tradition and morality.
  14. What about public changing rooms?
  15. The increasingly common availability of family or disabled restrooms can resolve many of the anti-segregation issues below by giving an option to use a non-segregated restroom if needed without forcing those that desire sex segregation into non-segregated restrooms.

Against sex segregation[edit]

  1. Separate restrooms introduce harassment towards transgender people because it brings contradictions and ambiguity to traditional, binary gender beliefs.[5]
  2. Separate bathrooms introduce unequal treatment towards male and female bathrooms. Cisgender women spend longer and need to use the bathroom more frequently for various reasons, including to tend to their periods.[6]
  3. It would potentially be cheaper in the future to build one large restroom instead of two smaller ones, as plumbing only needs to be run to one location. For existing restrooms, opening them up to both sexes can improve the overall efficacy by allowing individuals to go to whichever location is closest and/or move to a less occupied restroom if the existing one is full.
  4. Existing hesitation with restroom use is mostly cultural, as demonstrated by the numerous cultures, present and in the past, that wouldn't have minded shared restrooms. After an adjustment period, people would get used to the new arrangement and many of the issues listed as arguments for sex segregation, such as embarrassment, would likely fade away as it becomes the new norm.
  5. It's not clear how sex segregation can be enforced. Should people have to show ID or genitals to gain entry to a restroom? Some forms of enforcement would particularly affect women, especially the many women with short hair who wear jeans/pants who might be accused of being men intruding on women's spaces or be forced to prove their gender, and might find it hard to use the facilities.
  6. It makes life easier for guardians of opposite sex individuals. Already very young children are generally allowed to enter whatever restroom is appropriate to their guardian, but eventually a child will reach a point where they are old enough to be expected, or want, to use 'their' restroom, and this point may be before the point that a guardian is entirely comfortable allowing the child to be unsupervised in restrooms. There are also individuals, both child and adult, who may need aid in the restrooms due to special needs that face similar issues if the person helping them is the opposite sex. If restrooms aren't segregated, then there is no need to separate a guardian or aid from the child/person that may need their help.

Bathroom Panic[edit]

Bathroom panic has a long history. In the mid-1970s, the conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly mobilized against the Equal Rights Amendment, using the argument that it would lead to unisex toilets, which would be dangerous for women.[7] Even back then, Judy Carter pointed out that unisex bathrooms had existed for centuries, especially on public transport, with few to no 'privacy' issues.

As a general rule, the main people harassed in bathrooms have been trans people[8] and cis women who are butch,[9] androgynous,[10] or even just have short hair.[11]

This is even though right-wing groups have admitted the bathroom issue is 'largely contrived'.[12]

See Also[edit]


  1. Although it could be argued that men have also harassed men in men's rooms. E.g., gay cruising in men's rooms, particularly back when homosexuality was illegal in most Western countries.[4]