It wasn’t too long ago when American bathrooms were filled with dog-eared paperbacks and back issues of magazines — all the reading material you could need while you did your business.
These days, however, paper reading material in the john is probably pretty scarce. A 2015 survey from wireless carrier Verizon shows that 9 out of 10 people bring their smartphone with them to the bathroom.
Just think, how many times have you brought your phone into the bathroom? Daily? Multiple times per day?
While it may be fun to kill time scrolling Instagram or checking email while pooping, using your smartphone on the toilet has some real dirty consequences for your health.
Excess pressure on your anus and extra bacteria on yourself
All that sitting and scrolling is actually pretty bad for your butt, too, it turns out.
Prolonged sitting, which can happen if you get very absorbed in your smartphone, can up your risk of hemorrhoids. There’s no concrete research yet (although a clinical trial is in the works), but still, experts are concerned.
Colorectal surgeon Dr. Karen Zaghiyan explains: “It’s not the actual act of using a smartphone that is the problem. Rather, sitting on the toilet [whether you are reading or just sitting there] for a prolonged period of time can definitely lead to hemorrhoid problems.”
The key takeaway here is sitting on the toilet for a prolonged period of time. Do it too long – and strain too much – and that may “cause the hemorrhoids to engorge with blood, causing symptoms such as pain, swelling or bleeding,” according to Dr. Zaghiyan.
Dr. Zaghiyan notes, “Hemorrhoids are a collection of veins inside and outside the anus. Everyone has hemorrhoids. We are born with them.”
Another big risk of using your smartphone on the john is that you may contaminate it with fecal bacteria.
A 2017 study of high school students’ cell phones revealed that phones can also harbor E.coli and other microbial nasties. In fact, a British industry research study found the average smartphone screen is even dirtier than a toilet seat. Yuck.
And while you may be a stickler about cleanliness in your home, you never know what the level of sanitation is like in public bathrooms — especially in places where multiple people spend a lot of time, like offices or other workplaces.
Smartphone contamination may be correlated to a lack of handwashing skills, hypothesizes Dr. Marcos Del Rosario, a urologist at Clinic CERACOM in Campeche, Mexico: “Grown adults still don’t know how to wash their hands. I see it all the time in public bathrooms.”
So, how should you poo?
Want to avoid butt pain and bacterial grossness? Be a bit more mindful about your bathroom time.
First, you should really only be sitting on the toilet for as long as you have an actual urge, says Dr. Zaghiyan: “If a bowel movement is not produced after a couple minutes on the john, don’t force it. Instead, get up and go do something else. When you have the urge to go again, you may return to the toilet.”
You should spend anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes pooping — anything longer can indicate an issue with constipation. Avoid sitting and straining for long periods of time. If you get distracted, try setting a timer so you’ll know when to get up and move on if nothing has moved, so to speak.
Sat too long? Consider investing in a bidet to clean your bottom after going (or straining). Warm, pressurized water from the bidet can help bring relief to your anal muscles.
Of course, you should also wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, not just after a bowel movement.
Need a refresher on hand hygiene? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s directions for handwashing are thorough. A key point: Spend at least 20 seconds scrubbing all parts of your hands.
And if you absolutely must use your smartphone in the bathroom, make sure you close the toilet seat after you flush, says Dr. Del Rosario.
“With every flush, fecal particles are flying into the air and landing on your phone and body parts, including toothbrush [if you're in your home bathroom],” he notes.
He adds that it’s also important to clean your phone — not just your hands — every day, with something like Lysol or Clorox wipes.
Carrie Murphy is a freelance health and wellness writer and certified birth doula in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work has appeared in or on ELLE, Women’s Health, Glamour, Parents, and other outlets.