Have you ever taken the time to study the toilet seat in a public bathroom? Even if you've only given a passing glance, you've probably wondered why public toilet seats are U-shaped (especially since the one in your house is a closed oval). Even the weirdest toilets on earth have this seat shape. It turns out there are lots of good reasons and theories to explain why public toilet seats are shaped like a U - it's cheaper, more hygienic, and maybe even more comfortable than the rounded model you have in your bathroom at home.
Just as there are smart explanations for why toilet stalls come up short, there are plenty of excellent answers to the question, "Why are public toilet seats shaped like that?"
Although you've probably never heard of it, there's an organization called the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials that writes the codes most states adopt as their public restroom laws. Since 1955, the American Standard National Plumbing Code (as written by the IAPMO) has called for U-shaped toilet seats in public restrooms in the US.
Why? Because the open-front design apparently offers a whole host of hygiene benefits.
There's a running theory that some men aren't as careful with their aim at public toilets as they are at their private ones. The U-shaped toilet seat provides a partial solution for this potential misfiring. Thanks to their open-front design, they reduce the chance of urine backsplash at the front of the toilet seat.
And really, regardless of gender, who doesn't like less chance of backsplash?
It really doesn't matter who you are or what you bring to the toilet - if you're a toilet sitter, the U-shaped seat reduces the chances of your privates touching a place where someone else's privates recently rested. It provides a nice, breezy, hygienic gap to avoid the chance of this happening.
And even though it's basically a paranoid myth that you can catch things from toilet seats, a little extra precaution never hurts.
According to Lynne Simnick, a senior vice president at IAPMO, the biggest reason that international code requires the U-shaped toilet seat is to make female wiping more hygienic. That big, open gap at the front helps people avoid contact with the seat.
Specifically, it's meant to allow women "to wipe the perineal area" after using the toilet without their hands touching it.