Fact or Fiction: A Fear of Pooping Publicly

I would hazard a guess that you have heard of arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders. I would also estimate that many people are not aware of a number of phobias generated from your gastrointestinal tract and stool. There is the fear of stool itself, the fear of having painful bowel movements, and the fear of going to the bathroom in public places or away from your "home base" toilet. This last phobia has a name -- it is called parcopresis or voluntary stool retention. Although it is more typical to children with unfounded fears (a monster is in the toilet bowl), adults can experience this phobia as well.

Not typically discussed in public, parcopresis is considered a psychological condition in the absence of any physical factors -- such as not being able to use a public restroom due to low toilet seats or a lack of hand rails. Theories about parcopresis state that the feeling of embarrassment or shame over having to move the bowels overpowers the need to go. It can be especially distressing to someone who suffers a chronic bowel problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

The degrees of this phobia can range from a mild avoidance of public restrooms -- if possible -- to a more advanced fear where you may be arranging your vacation days around bowel habits.

What's the Harm?

Being unable to move your bowels in a public place could cause physical and mental discomfort in the long run. Many adults can wait up to a week or longer between bowel movements if needed, until returning home to the solitude of a personal bathroom.

One of the side effects of resisting your body's urge to have a bowel movement is constipation and bowel irregularity. For optimal bowel health, it is best to move your bowels when you "feel the urge". That urge comes from your rectum signaling that it is full and ready to empty. 

When you continue to withhold your bowel movements and ignore the urge to defecate you store the stool in your rectum, or the distal portion of your colon.

Everyone has probably held their bowels intentionally at least once while waiting for a bathroom. Isolated episodes of withholding stool won't hurt you. Consistently ignoring the urge to defecate and allowing yourself to become constipated habitually can, over time, stretch the colon, weakening both nerves and musculature in this area. Eventually, there is the possibility that you will no longer feel the urge to defecate, which can lead to an ongoing cycle of constipation. 

Bowel Retraining

Along with therapy to assist in overcoming the phobia itself, your doctor might suggest a regimen of bowel retraining to break the cycle of constipation and improve bowel function. Your doctor might suggest a specific laxative to assist in keeping your stools moist and soft. Also consider increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat daily, as their natural fiber content can help regulate bowel activity. 

Try sitting on the toilet 30 minutes after a meal. It is purported that during this time, your bowels are activated by eating and the chances of moving your bowels is increased.

You might also keep a small footstool close to the toilet -- keeping your feet slightly elevated helps your bowels evacuate more easily and can decrease the amount of straining or discomfort caused by firm stools. Do not strain or sit for extended periods of time. Try again later if you cannot move your bowels within five minutes of sitting. 


KidsHealth. (n.d.). Encopresis and It's Causes. Nemours. Accessed online April 20, 2015.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (n.d.). Treatment for Constipation. Accessed online April 20, 2015.

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