Have you ever wondered why some toilet seats have the middle bit cut out?

It is one of life’s many mysteries and it came up during a family conversation on the weekend. My Dad’s theory was it was to accommodate men’s manly bits when they sat down. Another family member suggested it was designed to stop men peeing on the seat. As far as I knew the u shaped seats can only be found in some public toilets. None of us could agree on the purpose for their unique design so I challenged Miss Whaleoil to do some research and get back to me.

I don’t know about you but I think those seats are disgusting. I hate using them. Perhaps it is because I associate them with dirty public toilets. It is also because I don’t want to risk touching the porcelain bowl as with that cutout, accidentally touching the bowl is a real risk.

Theories for their existence found on the internet include:

  1. Perhaps men are less careful in public toilets
  2. The U-shaped seat might stay cleaner if the seat isn’t raised.
  3. Perhaps people are afraid of catching STDs from public toilet seats.
  4. Maybe U-shaped seats are somehow easier to clean.
  5. Perhaps U-shaped seats use less material and so are cheaper to make and to clean.

Research results:

Even Wikipedia is sending mixed signals. In the online encyclopedia’s tome on toilet seats, the subsection on open front toilet seats also mulls various theories, e.g., that the U-shaped seat is ergonomically better. (How exactly? It’s not clear, nor is there any explanation why the same logic wouldn’t apply to home seats.) The next section states point blank that the reason for the U-shaped seat is to reduce “spatter” and make cleaning easier.


There’s a difference between a public toilet and the one in your house, and it’s not the smell: their seats are shaped differently. Almost all public restrooms have what are called open front toilet seats, which are shaped like the letter u and have an opening at the front. Most private bathrooms, by contrast, have oval or round toilet seats that wrap all the way around the toilet. Why the gap?

The two-prong, open-front seat is required by the plumbing codes adopted by most public authorities in the U.S….

The requirement was first included in the American Standard National Plumbing Code in 1955…

The New Zealand plumbing code must have followed suit judging by many of our public toilets although it doesn’t appear to be consistently applied so it must not be compulsory in New Zealand.

This is largely a matter of hygiene. No matter what kind of junk you’re packing, u-shaped seats give you a little breathing room to avoid touching the seat with your genitals, and provide one less place for urine to splash.Open-front toilet seats are largely designed to make it easier for women to wipe, according to Lynne Simnick, the senior vice president of code development at the IAPMO. The opening is designed to “allow women to wipe the perineal area after using the toilet without contacting the seat,” she says. So basically, open toilet seats are designed for front-wipers. (Clearly the ladies in question have not been lectured on how to prevent UTIs.)

U-shaped seats are also cheaper, since they use less material. And they’re less likely to be stolen, according to Roger Barry, the managing director of Healthmatic, a UK-based company that designs and manages public restrooms. Though I question why anyone would want to steal a public toilet seat, he says that theft is a major problem. “The appearance of u-shaped seats is something that has dampened in the UK,” he reports, mostly because public toilets are no longer fitted with toilet seats at all to combat stealing.

Indeed, we should be grateful to have any toilet seats at all in public washrooms.


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