U.S. Adolescent and Adult Women's Experiences Accessing and Using Toilets in Schools, Workplaces, and Public Spaces: A Multi-Site Focus Group Study to Inform Future Research in Bladder Health

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Sep 10;16(18):3338. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16183338.


The World Health Organization recognizes access to clean and safe toilets as crucial for public health. This study explored U.S. adolescent and adult cisgender women's lived experiences accessing toilets in schools, workplaces, and public spaces. As part of the Prevention of Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (PLUS) Research Consortium, we conducted 44 focus groups with female participants (n = 360; ages 11-93). Focus groups were stratified by age (11-14, 15-17, 18-25, 26-44, 45-64, 65+) and conducted across 7 geographically diverse U.S. sites from July 2017-April 2018. Using a transdisciplinary approach, we conducted conventional qualitative coding informed by our PLUS conceptual framework and used content analysis processes to identify salient themes. Across settings, toilet access was restricted by "gatekeepers" (i.e., individuals who control access to toilets). In contrast, self-restricting toilet use (deciding not to use the toilet despite biologic need to urinate) was based on internalized norms to prioritize school and job responsibilities over urination. In public spaces, self-restricting use was largely in response to lack of cleanliness. Across the life course, participants perceived gender disparities in the ability to easily access public toilets. Further research is needed to determine if and how these factors impact bladder health across the life course.

Keywords: bladder health; female; focus groups; qualitative research; toilet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bathroom Equipment*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Focus Groups*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health
  • Schools*
  • Urinary Bladder
  • Workplace*
  • Young Adult