June 14, 2001 — -- There are two weeks a year when no one will bother you, two weeks a year when you're alone with your thoughts. Those are the two weeks a year you spend in the bathroom.
The average American spends about an hour a day in the commode, according to a survey by the National Association for Continence. What does that mean if you add up your loo time over the course of a year? It's scary.
If you're a typical American with a typical job with typical benefits, you're spending as much time in the bathroom as you are on vacation — 14 days. Is it time to renegotiate your benefits package?
At that rate, if you reach the ripe old age of 80, you will have spent nearly three full years in the bathroom.
But maybe that's not such a bad thing. In an increasingly complicated, demanding world, the bathroom represents one of the last bastions of unfettered solitude. The warm, misty embrace of a morning shower may just as well be listed in the Constitution as an inalienable right.
Still, bathroom time is something we exclude from polite conversation. And that's just what the National Association for Continence was after when it surveyed more than 1,000 people between the ages of 30 and 70. It wanted to get people talking.
"It's a tragedy. People just won't tell their doctors when they have a problem with incontinence. They're so hesitant to say anything related to the bathroom," says NAC spokeswoman Kim Kelly-Bishop.
"More than 17 million Americans suffer from overactive bladders — it's more common that diabetes — but so many people are never treated because they won't talk about it."
And so thanks to the NAC, we now know more about how people spend those hours in their porcelain temples. Some trends: 33 percent of Americans admit they retreat to the bathroom to talk on the phone. Better than half say that's where they do their reading. And 47 percent say it's where they contemplate the future.
Of course, men will want to know what women want from a toilet — the battleground for many lovers. No surprises here: They want the seat down, the sink clean, the toilet flushed and the door closed.
The seat up/seat down controversy regularly causes a fuss, according to 45 percent of the ladies surveyed (and 33 percent of the gents).
Furthermore, getting in one another's way and not getting enough privacy annoys women almost as frequently as an unflushed toilet — about a third say that's an issue.
Read It and Wipe
Certainly, using the bathroom as a sanctuary rather than for its traditional purposes is not a new idea. The folks who publish The Old Farmer's Almanac still embrace the annual's history as a commode companion. Notice the hole punched through the spine. That dates back to a time when the magazine would hang on a hook in outhouses.
About 100 years ago, toilet paper didn't exist. Folks resorted to old newspapers and catalogues for, er, hygiene. That just might explain how the tradition of bathroom reading started.
"The two most popular places to hang the Farmer's Almanac are in the toilet and in the bathroom," says Almanac spokeswoman Ginger Vaughn.
"We considered getting rid of the hole — it's expensive to put there — but folks just like it. It's a tradition."
If you've ever worried whether it's sanitary to read on the toilet, you're not the only one. About two years ago, University of Arizona microbiologist Chuck Gerba looked into the subject and found bathrooms can be notorious breeding grounds for bacteria. But you are more likely to be contaminated by E. coli or fecal matter when you touch the faucet handles in the sink than when reading Scientific American or even Playboy.
"The paper in books and magazines are a poor medium for germs to multiply," Gerba told The Wolf Files.
June actually ushers in National Bathroom Reading Week. If you thought such a holiday was cooked up by somebody just to sell books, you're absolutely right.
Jack Kreismer, president of Red-Letter Press in Saddle River, N.J., and author of Bathroom Almanacs, started the celebration 13 years ago. And while he says Bathroom Reading Week might be good for business, he insisted, "I practice what I preach."
Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.