Washing Our Hands Of Weird Hygiene Behaviors

Confession: for the past year, I have been washing my hands not just after, but also before I pee.

This seemingly weird behavior originally had a rational basis (a horrible incident involving hot pepper residue), but at this point it's just become a weird tic. Every time I'm about to pee I ask myself, have I touched my feet recently? Have I touched the floor? Have I touched the mail ? (For some reason the mail has always seemed exceptionally filthy to me. An ex of mine once said his hands were probably dirtier than the mail, and I had to immediately put it out of my mind. I could never date a mail carrier.) I wouldn't rub a Wal-Mart circular on my vagina, my thinking goes, so I'd better wash all trace of that circular off my hands before they touch toilet paper that then touches my vagina.

I'm aware that makes me sound kind of insane, and maybe I am, but I'm not an obsessive hand-washer at other times. True, I might be a little more prone to hygiene preoccupations than the average person (which maybe explains why I found Wetlands more liberating and interesting than others did). But I do occasionally eat things off the floor, I will sit on a public toilet without a seat cover, and I certainly never do that thing of opening the restroom door with a paper towel. My theory is that most of us, even if we don't suffer from full-blown OCD, have some weird little cleanliness behaviors we are not totally proud of.

One of my roommates in college wouldn't get into her own bed unless she had thoroughly showered first. Hortense always buys new toilet seats for the bathroom every time she moves, and Katy is "so incredibly paranoid about poison ivy that I wash my legs, feet and hands with dishsoap like every day in the summer." Megan generally doesn't obsess about hygiene, figuring that "daily exposure to a minimal amount of germs keeps my immune system happy," but she does have a system for particularly gross bathrooms: "I kick the seat up with my shoe, pee while squatting, and kick it back down with my shoe." Dodai says, "if a bar bathroom is sketch I try not to touch ANYTHING — don't even wash hands, feeling as though my own urine is sterile but the flush handles/faucet/doorknobs are decidedly not." Sadie is "actually fairly vile" and doesn't worry about any of this shit.

Most of these weird behaviors don't really have a huge impact on our lives. However, I do wonder if living in a culture that pretends perfect hygiene is possible — toilet seat covers, the near-ubiquity of antibacterial soap — leads us to expect a level of cleanliness that's kind of unhealthy. Megan's right — routine exposure to a certain amount of germs is good for (most people's) immune systems, and some people think we might get sick less if we ingested more fecal matter. So whereas it might take me a while to break myself of the double-hand-washing habit (the hot pepper thing really was horrible), it might be smart if we all took a page from Sadie's book and let ourselves get a little more "vile."