A lack of sanitary bins for men is a wee problem that nobody wants to talk about
Gino Scaffidi has found the lack of sanitary bins in men’s toilets a problem since undergoing prostate surgery. (ABC News: Andrea Mayes)
They’re ubiquitous in women’s toilets — but what happens if you’re a man and you need to use a sanitary bin?
And why would men need sanitary bins anyway?
It turns out an awful lot of men will have reason to use a sanitary bin in their lifetime, usually because of incontinence arising from prostate issues.
The Continence Foundation estimates about one in four Australians suffer incontinence, and if you add in the fact that about one in six men develop prostate cancer, that means you have a good chance of needing to seek out a sanitary bin if you’re a bloke.
Yet many men are finding that’s not so easy.
Facing up to a nappy reality
Builder Gino Scaffidi, 66, was diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier this year and underwent surgery in July.
But he was utterly unprepared for what was to come.
“I felt like I had gone into it completely blindly, it just didn’t sink in about what things were going to be like,” he said.
Those things included being incontinent and having to wear adult nappies or incontinence pants while he recovered from the operation.
“I’ve never changed a nappy in my bloody life and here I am changing my own,” he said.
As he soon discovered, this made going out anywhere problematic.
Lina Scaffidi says she doesn’t want other men to suffer the way her husband Gino has. (ABC News: Andrea Mayes)
“I went to the men’s toilets at the shopping centre, and there was nowhere to dispose of it,” he said.
‘There were no bins in there at all, so I ended up having to wrap it up and hide it behind the cistern for the cleaners to find.
“The first time I tried to go out I ended up turning around and driving home again.”
It has meant Mr Scaffidi has largely avoided going out in the almost four months since his surgery.
Thanks to a rigorous pelvic floor exercise routine devised by his physiotherapist, men’s health specialist Jo Milios, Mr Scaffidi was expected to regain his continence within weeks.
But his wife, Lina, was determined that other men should not have to suffer the embarrassment and social isolation her husband has experienced.
‘It got my blood boiling’
Ms Scaffidi has begun a crusade to get sanitary bins in men’s toilets, including collecting signatories for a petition she planned to send to the Federal Government, seeking public submissions for its National Men’s Health Strategy 2020-2030.
Her campaign has included ringing talkback radio in a (failed) attempt to talk to Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the issue (she was told “you can’t ask the PM that!”).
Her efforts have also included standing outside Bunnings to talk to men about prostate health, and calling shopping centres, local councils, health authorities and anyone else she can think of about the lack of sanitary bins for men.
Ms Scaffidi said her husband’s surgeon had provided little information about what to expect after surgery, and when she asked him about the problem of disposing of nappies and pads, he had told her “you’re a practical person, you’ll think of something”.
Lina Scaffidi has made a range of fabric bags for men to carry incontinence pads and nappies in. (ABC News: Andrea Mayes)
“That really got my blood boiling,” Mrs Scaffidi said.
“I was really shocked because I thought a specialist would have thought about that.
“I thought ‘this is just not good enough. I have a son, I have a son-in-law, I have three grandsons’,” she said.
“What happens if my grandsons are affected down the track?”
Times are slowly changing
Ms Scaffidi’s crusade has already met with some success.
After she contacted Westfield, the company agreed to trial bins in disabled toilets at some of its shopping centres, including Innaloo.
She’s also raised the issue with Perth’s biggest local council, the City of Stirling, which has pledged to look into options.
And she’s begun making discreet fabric bags for men to carry their nappies and pads in, which she hopes to distribute through the Men’s Sheds network.
Jo Milios says prostate issues and incontinence can have a detrimental effect on men’s mental health. (ABC News: Andrea Mayes)
Kevin Skipworth, who is on the board of Men’s Sheds WA, said the issue was one that many men were reluctant to talk about out of embarrassment.
“We don’t know how much of a problem it is, but I certainly know guys who are affected,” he said.
“I think this sort of thing can really play into men’s mental health and wellbeing, and it’s important that we get something done.”
Ms Milios agreed.
“It can really take a mental toll on men,” she said.
“I see a lot of men who are suffering from self-esteem issues after prostate surgery, and not being able to access sanitary bins isn’t helping.”
She said she had successfully treated male patients suffering incontinence up to 20 years after they had prostate surgery using exercise therapy, giving them a significant psychological boost.
Continence Foundation spokeswoman Jodie Harrison said between 10 and 15 per cent of Australian men suffered from incontinence, rising to up to 30 per cent of men over 70.
She said the foundation was very supportive of moves to get sanitary bins in men’s toilets, and some local councils, including Gawler in South Australia, had already begun installing them.
Foundation chief executive Rowan Cockerall said he hoped other councils would do likewise.
“It’s clear that the lack of sanitary disposal bins in men’s toilets is a widespread problem across Australia, but immediate change can happen when communities work together,” he said.