Pauline Hanson’s concern about the Australian Tax Office installing squat toilets to cater for its increasingly diverse workforce has prompted debate about the best way to go to the toilet: sitting or squatting.
While nobody is claiming you climb up and plant your feet on a regular toilet seat, there is some evidence to suggest squatting makes it easier to empty your bowels.
The flush toilet was first invented in the late 16th century by Sir John Harington. But it was only during the 19th century that seated toilets became available for mass use. Most of the Western world still sits to defaecate, while squatting is favoured in the developing world.
The process of passing bowel motions or defaecation is a lot more complicated than you might imagine. First, the rectum contracts as it fills up with stools. This causes the smooth muscle of the anal canal to relax.
The puborectalis muscle, which loops around the rectum like a sling, normally pulls the rectum forward to create a tight angle (known as the anorectal angle). During defaecation, the puborectalis muscle will relax and the anorectal angle will widen.
Squatting widens the anorectal angle even more to allow a clearer and straighter passage for stools to pass through the anal canal.
Experiments have been carried out on the differences between squatting and sitting. Israeli researcher Dov Sikirov studied 28 healthy volunteers who were asked to record how long their bowel motions took and how difficult their efforts were.
The volunteers sat on toilets of different heights (42cm and 32cm high) and also squatted over a plastic container. They recorded data for six consecutive bowel motions in each posture.
The average time for passing a bowel motion during squatting was 51 seconds, compared to the average times for the lower and higher toilet seats: 114 and 130 seconds respectively. Participants found defaecation easier while squatting than when seated.
A Japanese study looked at six volunteers who had their rectums filled with contrast solution and were asked to release the fluid from a sitting and squatting position. They were filmed with live radiography from behind a screen.