Hey Woody!

I’ve got a problem I’m too embarrassed to ask anyone about. Whenever I go out, especially to the bars, I can’t seem to pee if there’s anyone next to me, even if my bladder is about to explode.  Sometimes I can do it if I go into a stall and shut the door but when you’re waiting in line and the stall is occupied, it’s not always possible. The worst is waiting in line, wondering if I’ll be able to pee when I get to the urinal. If the place has one of those troughs where everyone pees into a vat, forget it, I won’t even try.

My problem has gotten so bad I refuse to go out to the bars (or really any place where there’s going to be lots of people and long lines in the bathroom). I want to go out and party and get laid but I’m too scared of the humiliation I put myself through. Woody, what can I do? How do I get over this?

— Pee Shy

Dear Pee:

I know that was a tough letter to write. About as tough to read, if you suffer from being “pee-shy” like I do.

You and I are not alone. About 7% of the public, or 17 million people suffer from being pee shy, which is a diagnosable condition technically known as “Avoidant Paruresis.” It can severely impair people’s lives (some sufferers have literally landed in the ER where they had to be catheterized to “void” their urine).

Shrinks classify it as a type of social anxiety disorder. When fear sets in you get an adrenaline rush and your body automatically shuts down the internal sphincter muscle. It’s a protection mechanism. When you’re running for your life, the last thing you want to do is stop and urinate. With a shy bladder the fear, anxiety and adrenal response spiral until no matter how hard you try, you just can’t go.

Some shrinks have tried “disinhibiting” medicine like tranquilizers or anti-depressants but to no real success. You can always go with the gold standard in lowering inhibitions— alcohol. Basically, you drink till you’re so whacked you don’t care if the Backstreet Boys are in the bathroom with you, you’re gonna p-ss like a racehorse.

But as you know, I don’t ever offer alcohol as a problem solver. Seriously, desensitization techniques are the best way to move the waters within. It works like this: You gradually introduce the feared stimuli until they lose their power to paralyze your body.

Anyway, you do this first with visualization, then in real life. This is how I overcame it. With relaxation, distraction and visualization techniques I short-circuited the panic, allowing me a great degree of bathroom freedom. Though I have to be honest and say that my shy bladder hasn’t gone away completely.

I never sought professional help, mostly because I was too ashamed. Don’t let shame stop you like it did me. Start by going to paruresis.com. They register more than 42,000 visitors a month in their discussion site. There are all kinds of helpful links.