Why do men take so long to poop? The answer is complicated.

Jeans and underwear pushed down around a man’s calves and ankles as he sits on the toilet.
Why do men take so long to poop? An investigation. (Getty Creative)

Dear Body Works and Quirks,

My husband spends so much time on the toilet. I don’t get it! Why can’t he get in and out, like I do? He’s not the only man I know who seems to take forever to poop. So what gives?

— Always Waiting for the Bathroom

There are plenty of sitcom jokes about men taking entirely too long in the bathroom, and it’s not just a myth: Men apparently really do spend more time on the toilet than women do, according to a survey from a U.K. bathroom retailer. Yes, some of that time is likely spent pooping, but with the average bowel movement taking only 12 seconds and experts saying that five minutes should be the maximum — and most people evacuating their bowels only once or twice a dayit’s clear that men aren’t just on the toilet doing their business. So what’s going on? Here’s what to know.

Are men more constipated than women?

This would be an easy explanation, but experts say no. “I think anyone who knows a man knows it’s true that men do spend longer in the toilet or on the toilet than women do, but in reality are much less likely to have bowel issues and chronic constipation than women are,” Dr. Kyle Staller, gastroenterologist and director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Yahoo Life.

Women are the ones who may struggle with pooping because of fluctuating hormones, with constipation more likely to occur during pregnancy, before getting their period and after menopause. And yet, they don’t have the reputation of sitting on the toilet for hours.

What biological reasons might be at play here?

If men in general aren’t struggling to go, why are they spending so much time on the toilet? There could be a biological explanation, Madison Simons, a gastrointestinal psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells Yahoo Life — the fact that men are more likely to feel relaxed while on the toilet than women are.

First, you need to know about the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the fight-or-flight response, and the counter to that, which is the relaxation-inducing parasympathetic nervous system. In order to digest food, your body must be in that parasympathetic state. Men are more easily able to switch between sympathetic and parasympathetic states, while women don’t have that “binary switch” and will stay in that state of sympathetic arousal for a longer time, until they feel fatigued.

What does this have to do with pooping? Well, it’s possible, according to Simons, that for men, the parasympathetic relaxation switch may be getting activated, with their bodies pulling them out of sympathetic arousal and “encouraging a rest and digest function.” Essentially, men may spend more time on the toilet because, as they’re digesting food, they’re just chilling — and they may be “spending time in that relaxation state before they go back into their life again.”

Other explanations as to why men are sitting on the toilet for so long

While formal research studies haven’t been done on this, surveys may offer a clue as to what men are really doing in the bathroom — because it’s definitely not one long pooping session. For one thing, men are more likely to read while on the toilet, according to a German survey by the Asso­ci­a­tion for Con­sumer Research. They’re also more likely to scroll on their phones, per a 2017 survey from the University of Oxford and the University of Canberra.

Then there’s the fact that women are far more likely than men to experience the social stigma of going No. 2 around others, with Staller noting that it’s typically more acceptable for men to own the fact that they have bowel movements. Women may want to get in and out, whereas men don’t necessarily care about lingering in the restroom.

“I hear this from my women patients every day — they might be embarrassed to talk about bowel movements, or to even acknowledge that they’re having a bowel movement,” Staller says. “Sometimes, going to the bathroom is more of a secretive event and something that’s not meant to be acknowledged. For men, there tends to be a bit more of an embracing and acknowledging that the bathroom is a time for them. I do think there’s a socialization component there as well.”

Then, there’s the last angle, which may be equal parts infuriating and relatable: Men may see the bathroom as a true escape — a place where there are no responsibilities or expectations. “You’re not going to be asked to make food for the kids or to solve a problem at work if you are sitting in the bathroom,” says Simons. “There’s this sense of safety that comes with that — you’re totally aware in the present moment that there’s only one job that you’re accomplishing.”