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Other namesBashful bladder, bashful kidneys, stage fright, pee-shyness, shy bladder syndrome
Charles Marville, Urinoir en ardoise à 3 stalles, Chaussée du Maine, ca. 1865.jpg
Outdoor urinal in Paris (1865). Paruresis is a type of phobia in which one is unable to urinate in the presence of others, as in a public toilet.

Paruresis, also known as shy bladder syndrome, is a type of phobia in which a person is unable to urinate in the real or imaginary presence of others, such as in a public restroom. The analogous condition that affects bowel movement is called parcopresis or shy bowel.

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Some people have brief, isolated episodes of urinary difficulty in situations where other people are in close proximity. Paruresis, however, goes beyond simple shyness, embarrassment, fear of exposure, or fear of being judged for not being able to urinate. Other people may find that they are unable to urinate while in moving vehicles, or are fixated on the sounds of their urination in quiet restrooms or residential settings. In severe cases, a person with paruresis can urinate only when alone at home or through the process of catheterization.[1]


One possible cause of paruresis is undergoing a voiding cystourethrography (VCUG) in the past. "Complications that can occur in both sexes include UTI, hematuria, cystitis as well as urinary dysfunction following a catheterization, phobia of urination, nocturia, and stopping urination. In the literature, psychological trauma resulting from VCUG was considered the same as from a violent rape, especially in girls."[citation needed]


It appears that paruresis involves a tightening of the sphincter or bladder neck due to a sympathetic nervous system response. The adrenaline rush that produces the involuntary nervous system response probably has peripheral and central nervous system involvement. The internal urethral sphincter (smooth muscle tissue) or the external urethral sphincter (striated muscle), levator ani (especially the pubococcygeus) muscle area, or some combination of the above, may be involved. It is possible that there is an inhibition of the detrusor command through a reflex pathway as well. The pontine micturition center (Barrington's nucleus) also may be involved, as its inhibition results in relaxation of the detrusor and prevents the relaxation of the internal sphincter.[2]


The condition is catered for in the rules for mandatory urine testing for drugs in UK prisons, and UK Incapacity Benefit tribunals also recognise it. It is listed in the NHS on-line encyclopaedia of conditions and disorders.[3] It is now reported to have been accepted as a valid reason for jury service excusal.[4] From 1 August 2005, the guidance on the rules relating to the testing of those on probation in the UK cites paruresis as a valid reason for inability to produce a sample which is not to be construed as a refusal.[citation needed]

The condition is recognised by the American Urological Association, who include it in their on-line directory of conditions.[5]

Paruresis was described in section 300.23 of the DSM-IV-TR as "performance fears . . . using a public restroom" but it was not mentioned by name.[6] The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) mentions paruresis by name.[7][8]

Kaplan & Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry states, "Persons with social phobias (also called social anxiety disorder) have excessive fears of humiliation or embarrassment in various social settings, such as in speaking in public, urinating in a public rest room (also called shy bladder), and speaking to a date."[9] The Synopsis describes shy bladder as "inability to void in a public bathroom" and notes that relaxation exercises are an application of behavior therapy for dealing with this disorder.[10] Some paruretics experience delayed urination and must wait for their need to void to overcome their anxiety, while others are unable to urinate at all.[11]


In terms of treating the mental aspect of paruresis, such treatment can be achieved by graduated exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. In graduated exposure therapy, the subject has a trusted person stand outside the restroom at first, and once the fear is overcome the observer is brought closer in, until step by step the phobia is vanquished.[12] The International Paruresis Association provides a detailed discussion of this method on its website.[13] In addition to gradual exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is used to change a patient's mental approach to the condition, from one of a person who cannot urinate, to a person who can urinate or is not overly fearful when they can't publicly urinate.[citation needed]


The term paruresis was coined by Williams and Degenhart (1954) in their paper "Paruresis: a survey of a disorder of micturition" in the Journal of General Psychology 51:19-29. They surveyed 1,419 college students and found 14.4% had experienced paruresis, either incidentally or continuously.[14]

Other names[edit]

Paruresis is also known by many colloquial terms, including bashful bladder, bashful kidneys, stage fright, pee-shyness, and shy bladder syndrome.[citation needed]

Society and culture[edit]

Drug testing[edit]

Observed urine tests can be problematic for those with paruresis.

Some drug testing authorities find paruresis a nuisance, and some implement "shy bladder procedures" which pay no more than lip service to the condition, and where there is no evidence that they have conducted any real research into the matter. In the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the Code of Federal Regulations provides that "An inmate is presumed to be unwilling if the inmate fails to provide a urine sample within the allotted time period. An inmate may rebut this presumption during the disciplinary process."[15] Although U.S. courts have ruled that failure to treat properly diagnosed paruresis might violate prisoner's constitutional rights, the courts have also "routinely rejected suspicious or unsubstantiated attempts to invoke it in defense of failure to complete drug testing,"[16] particularly when there were no medical record or physician testimony to back up the claim of paruresis.[17]

The International Paruresis Association stresses the importance of medical documentation of one's condition since "[t]he person who is unable to produce a urine sample is presumed guilty in the absence of any evidence."[18] Some prisons have offered the use of a "dry cell"—i.e., a cell with no toilet facilities, but only a container for the prisoner's waste—as an accommodation to inmates who are hindered by paruresis from providing an observed urine sample.[19]

FBOP Program Statement 6060.08 states, "Ordinarily, an inmate is expected to provide a urine sample within two hours of the request, but the Captain (or Lieutenant) may extend the time if warranted by specific situations (for example, the inmate has a documented medical or psychological problem, is dehydrated, etc.). Staff may consider supervising indirectly an inmate who claims to be willing but unable to provide a urine sample under direct visual supervision. For example, this might be accomplished by allowing the inmate to provide the sample in a secure, dry room after a thorough search has been made of both the inmate and the room."[20] At least six state prison systems—Florida,[21] Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New York[22] and Tennessee[23]—have modified their drug testing regulations to provide accommodations for prisoners with paruresis.[24]

Per the Handbook of Correctional Mental Health, "No definitive or objective test is available to confirm or refute the presence of paruresis. The absence of prior treatment or the ability to void in some social situations but not in others does not rule it out. Although modalities associated with the treatment of social phobias help some individuals, no universally effective medication or other treatment exists. Coercive interventions, such as forcing fluids while observing a person with paruresis, are ineffective and can cause serious medical complications. Alternatives to observed urine specimen collection for individuals who self-report paruresis include unobserved collections in a dry room, testing of hair specimens, sweat testing with a patch, and blood testing ('Test for Drugs of Abuse' 2002). These alternatives preclude the need for futile attempts to differentiate inmates with true paruresis from those who fabricate complaints."[25]

Popular culture[edit]

The condition has been occasionally portrayed in popular culture, sometimes for comedic effect or parody. Examples of this include:

  • In the 2005 comedy Waiting..., a nerdy character with paruresis is one of many bathroom jokes.[26]
  • In 2015, the International Paruresis Association protested a DirecTV ad starring Rob Lowe that portrayed a paruretic as goofy, wearing a fanny pack, and having his hair parted in the middle.[27]
  • In the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory the character Penny is revealed to suffer from bladder shyness.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paruresis – shy bladder syndrome – Better Health Channel Archived 2 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Soifer, Steven; Nicaise, Greg; Chancellor, Michael; Gordon, David (2009). "Paruresis or Shy Bladder Syndrome: An Unknown Urologic Malady?". Urological Nursing. 29 (2): 87–94. PMID 19507406.
  3. ^ "NHSDirect Site - reference to paruresis". Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  4. ^ "Projects". UKPT - United Kingdom Paruresis Trust - Shy Bladder Syndrome Support. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  5. ^ American Urological Association - Paruresis Archived 28 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "300.23, Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th (Text Revised) ed.). American Psychiatric Association. 2000. pp. 453.
  7. ^ Antonio Prunas (July–August 2013). "La sindrome della vescica timida". Rivista di Psichiatria. 48 (4): 345–53. doi:10.1708/1319.14632. PMID 24056834.
  8. ^ "300.23, Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association. 2013. pp. 203. Some individuals fear and avoid urinating in public restrooms when other individuals are present (i.e., paruresis, or 'shy bladder syndrome'.)
  9. ^ Benjamin J. Sadock; Harold I. Kaplan; Virginia A. Sadock. "16.3 Specific Phobia and Social Phobia". Kaplan & Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry. p. 597.
  10. ^ Benjamin J. Sadock; Harold I. Kaplan; Virginia A. Sadock. "35.8 Behavior Therapy. Table 35.8-2: Some Common Clinical Applications of Behavior Therapy". Kaplan & Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry. p. 957.
  11. ^ Marshall, John R. (1994). "The Drama of Social Phobia". Social Phobia: From Shyness to Stage Fright. Perseus Books. pp. 32. ISBN 978-0465078967. Nurses and others who work in medical offices have long been aware that some individuals are unable to produce urine samples. This phenomenon, sometimes called "bashful bladder," paruresis, is the inability to urinate in public restrooms.
  12. ^ Weil, Monroe (May 2001). "A treatment for paruresis or shy bladder syndrome". The Behavior Therapist. New York, NY: Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy. 24 (5): 108. PsycINFO record 2002-13573-001.
  13. ^ "Breath-Hold Technique - International Paruresis Association (IPA)". International Paruresis Association (IPA).
  14. ^ Williams, Griffith W.; Degenhardt, Elizabeth T. (1 July 1954). "Paruresis: A Survey of a Disorder of Micturition". The Journal of General Psychology. 51 (1): 19–29. doi:10.1080/00221309.1954.9920203. ISSN 0022-1309.
  15. ^ Code of Federal Regulations, Title 28: Judicial Administration, Part 550—Drug Programs, Subpart D—Urine Surveillance, § 550.31 Procedures
  16. ^ Medard v. Doherty, 2007 NY Slip Op 32130 - NY: Supreme Court, New York 2007
  17. ^ In the matter of Becker v. Goord, 13 AD 3d 947 - NY: Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 3rd Dept. 2004
  18. ^ "FAQ - International Paruresis Association (IPA)". International Paruresis Association (IPA).
  19. ^ Meeks v. Tennessee Department of Correction, Tenn: Court of Appeals, Nashville 2008
  20. ^ Federal Bureau of Prisons (24 November 1999). "Urine Surveillance and Narcotic Identification" (PDF).
  21. ^ Florida Department of Corrections Procedure 602.010, mentioned in footnote 12 of Pate v. Peel, 256 F.Supp.2d 1326 (N.D. Florida, Panama City Division) ("DOC's Procedure 602.010, Bashful Bladder Procedure, which outlines the steps to be taken to obtain a urine specimen from an inmate who claims that he suffers from BBS.").
  22. ^ "Procedure for Inmates Claiming to be Unable to Urinate in Presence of Others: The following procedures shall be employed when the watch commander reasonably believes that the inmate is unable to provide a urine specimen due to an alleged inability to urinate in the presence of others (shy bladder). Reasonable belief is based upon the following criteria, including, but not limited to: Medical or mental health records supporting the inmate's claim (to be evaluated by health services or OMH staff), prior disciplinary and/or computerized urinalysis testing data indicating a history of urinalysis testing violations, if applicable, and the inmate's behavior and demeanor at the time of request for the urine sample . . . . Staff shall not witness the inmate urinate into the specimen container." "7 NYCRR 1020.4(e)". New York Department of Correctional Services.
  23. ^ "There may be extenuating medical (e.g., dehydration, kidney problems, medication, etc.) and psychological (e.g., social phobias) conditions that may preclude the giving of a sample. In such cases, the inmate must provide written evidence from the health care staff indicating such a condition. The Warden shall, in extreme cases, authorize the use of an alternative drug testing method for those inmates who have a documented medical condition that would prohibit the use of urinalysis testing. Approval of the commissioner or his designee is required prior to the use of any alternate drug testing method or instrument." Tennessee Department of Correction (1 June 2011). "Policy #506.21(VI)(B)(9), Inmate Drug/Alcohol Testing and Sanctions" (PDF).
  24. ^ Soifer, Steven (2001). "Evolving Legal Ramifications". Shy Bladder Syndrome. New Harbinger. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-57224-227-2.
  25. ^ Scott, Charles L. (15 October 2009). Handbook of Correctional Mental Health (2nd ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing. ISBN 978-1585623891.
  26. ^ Holden, Stephen (7 October 2005), "Film in review; Waiting", New York Times, retrieved 9 June 2020
  27. ^ "Shy bladder group protests DirecTV ad starring Rob Lowe". Retrieved 19 January 2016.

External links[edit]