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OFFBEAT

A bladder way to pee

Saturday, December 10, 2016 - 05:50

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The 1918 patent application of Edyth Lacy’s “Sanitary Protector”.

HARK, fellow women, for equality is here - thanks to female urination devices (FUDs), we can now pee standing up, too. I get that this isn't the most genteel of topics to broach, but as that Singaporean saying goes: good things must share. And believe me, this thing really must share.

I met my first FUD in 2010, at Beerfest Asia. I was queueing up to use a portable potty, when a lady approached to ask if I'd like to kill three birds with one stone: get into a quicker line, try something new, and donate to a shelter for the disadvantaged. It sounded like a dream come true. I had already been dreading - and psyching myself up for - how dirty the makeshift toilet would be; plus the line had been interminably long. So naturally, I said "yes", and asked what I needed to do.

With a flourish, the volunteer brandished what looked like a paper plane, sans wings - a funnel-shaped instrument made of thick cardboard, with a waxy inner surface. I was told that this was the P-Mate - a disposable FUD that allows women to pee standing up. If I just paid a suggested donation of S$2 for it - with the proceeds going to Bright Hill Evergreen Home - I could switch to a shorter line reserved for P-Mate users, and try the device for myself.

Always up for an offbeat adventure, I took the plunge. (In case you haven't mentally computed how such a device would work: you cup the larger opening against your groin and urinate as usual. The liquid then flows out the tapered end, allowing you to bask in the glory of being able to pee like a man - anytime, anywhere.) I'm not exaggerating when I say I emerged from that cubicle a brand new person. It was the most fuss-free toilet experience I had ever had - and all because of a bit of cardboard. Talk about innovation.

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The intriguing thing, however, is that FUDs aren't new. As far as I can tell, the first disposable FUD was patented as far back as 1922, by an enterprising New Yorker named Edyth Lacy. She said of her conical invention: "It is accordingly unnecessary for the user to sit upon the closet seat; and the urine is led off without danger of soiling the clothes of the user or the closet."

(Clearly, she was way ahead of her time: consider that when she filed her patent application in 1918, American women did not yet have the right to vote. That came only two years later, in 1920.)

The "Sanity Protector", as Ms Lacy named it, was groundbreaking. To this day, most FUDs on the market are more-or-less based on her original concept; at least 18 other patents spanning 1947 to 2012 have cited her invention. According to my last count, there are around 24 kinds of FUDs today, marketed under different brands. Half of them are disposable ones much like Ms Lacy's, and the other half are reusable and made out of silicone or plastic.

For years now, I've been the proud owner of a reusable FUD, (aptly) called the Whiz. Its creation was sort of a happy accident - the UK-based team had been making an in vitro diagnostic medical device to capture a mid-stream urine sample for pathology examination, when it realised this could be modified to help women relieve themselves while standing up. They soon developed an FUD made of medical-grade elastomer - the same kind of plastic often used in gloves and knife handles - and made it pliable, hydrophobic, and anti-bacterial. This means the device can be rinsed and flicked dry after use, and stored in one's pocket on the go.

While it was originally sold as a medical tool for those unable to use a regular toilet - for instance, post-surgery patients or those in wheelchairs - the Whiz is now marketed to all kinds of women: travellers on long road trips; active women who hike/climb/ski/sail/etc in the wilderness, who'd much prefer that their nether regions remain unbitten by insects; those who attend music festivals and loathe urine- and vomit-spattered portable toilets; women who are simply tired of facing unsanitary public restrooms. . . The list goes on.

I, for one, can attest to the Whiz's efficacy. On my recent trip to Finland and Iceland, I found myself reaching for the tool every time I went to the loo - not just when I was hiking in a remote area with no restroom for miles. In fact, over my entire two-week trip, I never once sat down on a public toilet bowl. In video game parlance: achievement unlocked.

So yes, perhaps today's column is extremely unladylike. But that's only because its subject matter - that is, standing up to wee - was never possible for women before. But the peeing playing field has now been levelled, and I am forever grateful.

  • This isn't a sponsored piece; the writer paid for her Whiz years ago. She remains adamant that it is one of the best purchases she has ever made in her life.
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