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Lewis Moody playing for England in 2006
Lewis Moody playing for England in 2006. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/the Guardian
Lewis Moody playing for England in 2006. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/the Guardian

England rugby player calls for incontinence pad bins in men’s loos

This article is more than 4 months old

Lewis Moody says men like him who have difficulty controlling their bladder or bowel face indignity in public bathrooms

The World Cup-winning England rugby player Lewis Moody has issued a taboo-breaking demand for sanitary disposal bins to become compulsory in male public bathrooms to cater for men with incontinence.

Moody, 44, is one of about 10% of men who have had problems controlling their bladder or bowel, many of whom regularly wear absorbent pads. But unlike women, who can normally access special bins for period and incontinence pads, men often have nowhere to dispose of them, worsening an already uncomfortable experience.

Moody experienced bowel incontinence as a result of ulcerative colitis and for a period kept the condition secret from teammates. He would plan journeys around toilet stops, moved house to be closer to the training ground, and would sometimes have to dash off mid-session.

“As a sportsman, I was used to coping with injuries, but the humiliation of not always being in control was terrible,” he told the Guardian. “Not having places to dispose of incontinence underwear or pads in toilets makes the experience much worse than it needs to be.”

Some incontinent men admit to “packing” tissue in their underwear, while many have carried a used incontinence pad in their bag or coat owing to a lack of disposal facilities, according to a survey conducted for the campaign that Moody is backing. “You’ve wandered around with this sort of timebomb,” said one man. “It’s not savoury.”

Suitable means for the disposal of sanitary dressings must be provided in workplace toilets used by women but there is no such provision for men. More than half a million adults in the UK experience faecal incontinence, according to the NHS.

The “washroom dignity” campaign, launched by Bladder and Bowel UK and Initial Washroom Hygiene, comes amid growing awareness of female urinary incontinence that often follows childbirth. TV adverts for pads for urine now explicitly target women, with one for Always referring to “bulky pee pants”. Nappy adverts have finally started referring to defecation, with one for Pampers promising to prevent “poonami” spillage. But the taboo remains for men.

“You have to plan your journeys in advance, but even then you can’t guarantee you’ll be able to find a toilet that has the right facilities,” Moody said. “It can make you anxious when you’re just trying to live a normal life. We need this to change. This is why we’re calling on the government to make the provision of sanitary waste disposal bins in all public washrooms mandatory.”

Karen Irwin, a specialist nurse at Bladder and Bowel UK, said: “Bladder and bowel problems are a common occurrence but all too often stigmatised and subsequently undiscussed. Many people with incontinence do not seek help due to embarrassment, lack of awareness of treatment options, or consider incontinence to be a normal part of the ageing process.”

Jonathan Hall, 61, an advertising executive from Hampshire who suffers incontinence as a result of treatment for prostate cancer
Jonathan Hall, 61, an advertising executive from Hampshire who suffers incontinence as a result of treatment for prostate cancer.

Jonathan Hall, 61, an advertising executive in Hampshire who has urinary incontinence after prostate cancer treatment, said: “There’s a time when you suddenly realise, perhaps because you’ve been laughing too heavily with somebody, you feel [the pad is] full and you’ve got to change it. When I was first confronted by this, I was walking in a car park. And you go to the loo and you realise there’s nowhere to put this thing. You have to plan your day in a different way.”

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He said part of the reason there were no dedicated bins in men’s bathrooms, despite several million men having bladder and bowel conditions, was the lack of openness. “If you think about the bar room bragging that goes on, the last thing you talk about is the fact that you’re incontinent,” he said. “It’s never been a subject of discussion, as a result of which it has remained under the radar.”

He said women he had discussed it with had said: “When we’ve had children, we can’t go trampolining, there are things we can’t do. Our bladder control is gone. But we have all the facilities in place to make sure we don’t get caught short, which you guys don’t have.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it welcomed the campaign. “We’re providing up to £30m to councils so they can make toilet facilities more accessible, including to help men with particular health needs – and all of these can include sanitary waste bins,” they added.

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