The most common toilet in the world is not ceramic or steel, but a green field or a dirt roadside. The two-thirds of humanity who have no toilet must defecate where they can, with as much modesty as they can engineer. The practice – known as open defecation – can be deadly, especially for women. Imagine getting up at 4am in darkness, trekking to a nearby bush and trying to do your business. Imagine then being hit by a farmer who doesn’t like you toileting in his field, or being raped by someone taking advantage of the dark, which you need to preserve your modesty. Also, suppressing the need to defecate for long periods can cause bowel and bladder infections. It also damages concentration and school attendance: up to 20 percent of schoolgirls in developing countries drop out of school because they don’t have a toilet there.
Gertrude Quayee needs the toilet. She hears none of the lesson in her classroom in Jaytoken, Liberia, because the alarm signals from her bowel won’t let her. But she won’t go, because she knows that toileting can be dangerous. Of the 140 million girls who live in states at war, one in four are raped, often when they go out to relieve themselves. Gertrude knows this, because she grew up during Liberia’s 14-year civil war, which is why she’s a 24-year-old pupil still in primary school. There are other risks: two years ago she was bitten by a snake in the rainforest behind the school as she was squatting to defecate. “I fainted,” she says. “People said the snake had put a bad person in my body.” Country medicine fixed that, but it can’t fix the fact that her school was constructed by a Liberian charity that forgot to install toilets. Consequently, she has trained herself to wait. During her menstrual period, she wears two sanitary pads, two pairs of tights, trousers and a skirt, just in case.
Naturalists call it the monkey position; baseball fans might call it the “catcher.” Whatever its name, the squat is the most favorable and healthy posture for defecation. When you don’t need to defecate, feces are safely stored above a bend in the recto-anal canal. When you do, squatting straightens the canal to a healthy 132 degrees, ensuring that the feces can exit smoothly.
Whoever first sat down on a toilet made a mistake. Sitting to defecate won’t straighten that anal bend properly, hampering the exit route and making you strain. In one study, people who squatted to defecate took 51 seconds to move their bowels, while test subjects who sat on a toilet took 130. Pro-squatters think sitting causes constipation, hemorrhoids and even cancer.