Dear Science

Why Do I Always Have to Shit at the Library?

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Dear Science,

This may sound like a sarcastic or "trying to be funny" question, but I am honestly curious why there are certain locations that seem to trigger a bowel movement quicker than others. Examples for me include the housewares department at the Broadway QFC, the Value Village men's clothing department, the public library, and just about any bookstore. Not only do these places create a kind of enigmatic laxative, but the feeling to poo is intensified and feels more immediate. (I've heard thinking of sex can help alieviate this feeling.) And considering the difficulty that can be encountered attempting to convince store management, etc., to allow you to use their facilities, this can be quite a frightening event. There have been a couple of times where I have literally had to leave my basket in the store, run across the street to my apartment, then return to finish my shopping. I have had a couple of really close calls with this scenario.

Please advise,

Bothered Bowels

Let's meet Pavlov! Continuing our tour of crazy Russian scientists, we now come to the gent who figured out how to make dogs salivate on command. Give food to a dog, and she'll start to salivate. Ring a bell each time you give her food and she'll associate bell ringing with food and salivation. After a while, ring the bell without the food, and the dog will salivate anyway— classical conditioning. You've probably done the same thing to yourself, except with shitting and shopping.

So, how did you get conditioned? The Broadway QFC, the Value Village, the public library, and a bookstore don't seem to have much in common. Do you go at the same time of day as you tend to poop? Is it the musty smell of old books? Perhaps cheap fluorescent lighting is the key? Any are the possible start of the chain—linking pooping, some trigger, and these various locations. (This is why thinking about sex every time you have to shit out of the house is a profoundly bad idea.)

How do you make this go away? More shit-free trips. After enough times of hearing the bell without getting food, Pavlov's dogs eventually stopped salivating at its sound. So go to the library, to Value Village, to QFC, to the bookstore. If you have to shit, go and shit. But then go back to the place a couple (poop-free) times again that day. Yes, the store clerks will look at you funnily. It's better than begging for a toilet, right? With enough trips without the event, your mind will unlink the place and the toilet.

Provisionally Yours,


Thanks to KF for her expert advice on conditioning, shit, and the library.

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