Hypospadias, the “Bathroom Panopticon,” and Men’s Psychological and Social Urinary Practices

  • Stephen Craig Kerry
Part of the International and Cultural Psychology book series (ICUP, volume 4)


Hypospadias is a term that refers to the opening of the urethra along the shaft of the penis/phallus. Research has suggested that 45% of men have some degree of hypospadias and while it is not always considered ‘intersex’ it can influence gender assignment, gender role and gender identity. Moreover, the presence of hypospadias impacts on the medical ‘gaze’ and its decision regarding gender. Additionally it is the medical profession that prescribes non-consensual and sometimes unsuccessful ‘corrective’ surgeries resulting in scarring, leakage and life-long psycho-emotional trauma for infants and children whose bodies do not conform to what is socially acceptable as ‘male’ or ‘female’. This paper investigates current discourses of gender segregated public toilets and accompanying dualistic socio-urinary practices and the role they play in the medical ‘gaze’. Gender segregated public toilets were installed in the nineteenth century amidst the social-cultural context of protecting ‘weak women’ from lascivious men in the work-place; it is argued that little has changed. Although not all intersex individuals nor men and boys with hypospadias would position their gender identities outside the norm they at the very least physically occupy bodies that are not privileged and thus they call into question the architectural and discursive spaces of gender segregated public toilets. Under consideration here is how the medical profession determines the “adequacy” of the penis/phallus with vague references to the “locker room” and “peeing contests”—what this author refers to as the ‘panopticon of the phallus’. While intersex individuals occupy a separate socio-political space to transgendered people this paper employs transgender theory and concepts such as Judith Jack Halberstam’s ‘bathroom problem’ to analyze current debates around gender neutral public toilets and socio-urinary practices: namely, the privilege ascribed to men’s standing position for urination. This paper draws on the psychosocial self-reflections of hypospadiac men and boys as witnessed in their narratives. As a result it is argued that disrupting the architectural and discursive space of gender segregated public toilets may reverberate back onto the medicalisation of intersex and the non-consensual ‘corrective’ hypospadiac surgery.


Sexual Minority Standing Position Public Space Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia Female Genital Mutilation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Creative Arts and HumanitiesCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia

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