When a girl’s gotta pee while diving in a dry suit, what’s she to do? Until recently, our options were limited. Men have had pee valves in some form for over 130 years. Women, however, especially tech divers, have relied primarily on adult diapers or catheters. Neither solution was altogether satisfactory: wearing diapers resulted in leakage and skin irritation, while catheterization increased the women diver’s chances of infection. As a result, women divers employed practices such as restricted fluid intake and increased sodium intake to try to control urine output.
In 2005, a group of Dutch female divers searched for a new solution. Through much trial and error, the She-P was created. (Note: While researching the She-P for women, I did find a pee valve for women called a SheWee, as well as the OMS system single use Urinary Collection Device. I know nothing about the use or efficacy of these products.)
I had heard about the She-P from a few brave dive buddies of mine. Since I am not a tech diver and my recreational dives last around an hour, I tucked away the information as “something to be explored at a later date.” In regards to urination and diving, I followed the usual remedies for recreational diving…going right before the dive, limiting fluid intake before diving, getting really, really good at holding my pee….and I even aborted several dives early when the urge got too great. Then, at the 2010 Tacoma Dive show, I met Laura James, the North American rep for the She-P. In the main aisle of the event, with people milling about and congregating in our midst, Laura proceeded to give me an intimate and detailed description of the She-P (blush). A month or so later, she was the guest speaker at a dive club meeting. Feeling like “all signs point to YES”, I took the plunge, joining the growing number of women who are part of the “divine secrets of the She-P sisterhood.”
In my ensuing correspondence with Laura, she was quick to point out that there is a steep learning curve to getting the valve system to work properly. She advised that it takes time and effort to master the curve, and, as a result, should not be purchased merely as a “novelty” or “fun idea.” She also conveyed that the device truly does work and is a blessing for those who experience long dives, long dive days, dive classes, etc. Remembering my experience diving dry in the Caymans in the spring of 2010 (see At least six good reasons to dive dry in tropical waters) and being the ONLY woman who hung her butt off the back of the boat to urinate between dives, I realized that it just might be a good idea to have a go with the She-P.
I felt proud, cocky even, once I had made the decision to purchase a She-P. I fancied myself to be a part of an “elite” group of women…women divers who were NOT going to take no for an answer…women who were going to stand up for their right to use pee valves, the same as men had done for years. I set out to purchase my She-P, as well as a Halcyon Streamlined P-Valve.
While waiting for my She-P, I did some research on the kinds of “prep” work I needed to do. First, I knew that I’d need to shave my “nether-region” to accommodate the She-P device. Remembering some truly disastrous experiences in my past, including self-waxing that dried and had to be forcibly picked off bit by bit (ouch!), I wanted to “do it right.” After reading numerous articles, I purchased a good razor, shaving soap, and a lotion that prevents those pesky ingrown hairs. Now I felt ready.
The day had come and I picked up my She-P kit and Halcyon Pee Valve, which features a balanced valve to equalize the pressure difference between the valve system and the ambient water pressure. The She-P kit comes with the She-P device, helpful, instructional videos, surgical adhesive (Adapt Paste, spray or Uro-Bond), surgical tape and adhesive removal pads, all packaged neatly in a small mesh bag. The She-P apparatus is a “soft, silicone device featuring a reservoir with output tube, that has flexible wings designed to adhere to the skin.” Currently, the device comes in blue and is affectionately known as the “blue weenie.” Once in place, the blue weenie connects to the valve hose which connects to the pee valve system. The valve itself is affixed to the drysuit, usually on the inner left front thigh area (see pictures here). (Note: I keep wondering why the hosing goes up and over the underwear, then down to the valve. Doesn’t it make better sense to have the hosing go straight down to the valve with no loop up and over? Something to be explored.)
Here is where the fun began. It’s one thing to do the research on shaving and watch the instructional videos on using the apparatus. It’s also one thing to fancy myself to be a part of this aforementioned “elite” group of women. It’s another thing to use the device. Yes, girls, there IS a learning curve, for some steeper than for others.
My first attempt was done on a warm summer day. I had shaved the day before, watched the tutorial videos a couple of times, affixed adhesive to the blue weenie and my skin, put the She-P firmly in place and tested it in the toilet. No leakage. So far, so good. It did not feel uncomfortable while in place…it was just “THERE.” We drove an hour and a half to get to the dive site. On that day I was diving with four men. All geared up, I quickly went to the porta potty to give the system one more test. From the heat and the long car ride, and because I did not yet know to rely on the adhesive and re-press the latex weenie in place, there was leakage on both sides, streaming down my inner thighs. Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of the men, my first attempt to use the device under water was quickly aborted.
After chatting with Laura, I took her tips to heart. Before my next dive, I purchased the two recommended thongs, one Bali “butt shaper” to hold everything in place, some Poise pads (via the MAIL, mind you!), and kept pressing and pressing and PRESSING the device in place. I even found ways to discreetly press the apparatus in place while diving, appearing to look intently at a fish or critter. I used it underwater with abandon, finding that I had to go a LOT since I knew I could. After the dive, I found that I was dry, dry, dry. Voila! I felt success! On my next two or three dives, however, I found that I had leakage. Not much, mind you, but enough to warrant washing all my undergarments after the dive. Enough to claim, with resolve, “there’s gotta be a way to prevent leakage!”
Ladies, here is where a bit of advice should be taken to heart – while learning how to use the She-P, keep your sense of humor and reach out to those who have gone before. While there may be shame with incontinence, while learning to use the She-P I found laughter kept the experience light. What else could I do? I was doing this for research! Determined to experience my earlier success I logged on to the Scuba Board site and participated in the discussions. The women on the forum kept tossing about what worked and what did not work. I tried various configurations of thong and Poise pad. I kept the mantra alive: “Laura said she does not leak…Laura said she does not leak.” I finally discovered a system that has worked for me successfully on my last few dives. So far, so good.
In closing I would like to convey that, while it has taken trial, effort, and a bit more laundry soap than I would have liked to sort out the use of the device, I am surprised to discover how much more enjoyable this device has made my weekly dives. Even though I only dive recreationally concurrently, I no longer have to abort a dive because I have to pee. I find that I can relax on long dive days, knowing that I can pee both topside and below using the blue weenie. Plus, it’s fun to “even out the playing field” with men, by being able to employ the use of pee valves below the surface and by being able to just unzip and pee topside. Is the She-P for every woman who uses a dry suit? Probably not. But for those who take the time to master it, it can be well worth the time and effort.
Here’s a few tips I have learned along the way:
- Find a qualified person to do your valve install. I used Ron of HoodsportNDive after my first valve was installed incorrectly.
- Be prepared to face a fair amount of kidding, ribbing and plain ol’ disbelief from your male counterparts.
- Disinfect, disinfect, disinfect between dives. I had been using the dive forum recommended vinegar to flush out my valve and She-P, as well as soaking my She-P in a hydrogen peroxide solution. After one long dive day I awoke the next day with a UTI. Not fun. Since then, I have employed the use of Hibiclens Antimicrobial and Antiseptic Skin Cleanser Liquid and alcohol wipes. Laura’s recommendation: “I flush my Pee valve with a bunch of water and then Alcohol (full strength) and rinse the whole She-P (including reservoir) with a slug of alcohol (and then dry it) before use. Hydrogen peroxide alone is not a good bug killer, same with vinegar, you actually have to mix the two to get a good kill rate, and also it has to sit in contact with the surface for a number of minutes. Rubbing alcohol on the other hand has an extremely high kill rate very very quickly.“ Additionally, in another post she adds “I alternate between alcohol/hydrogen peroxide/hibicleans, a betadine solution, and the super bug killer that I use on my CCR counterlungs (relyON or virkon) depending on what is nearest when its time to disassemble. “ Since alcohol is a drying agent, though, I think interchanging it with the Hibiclens..as in I use alcohol sometimes, Hibiclen sometimes…is a decent solution.
- The little reservoir in the She-P retains a bit of urine while diving, which kind of sloshes about and results in the feeling that you are wet. While a bit uncomfortable to me to feel liquid sloshing against my nether parts, I am getting used to the feeling and also pleased that, despite the FEELING of being wet, the reality is that all my undergarments are dry.
- Once topside, don’t forget the little reservoir and its holding capacity. I have, on several occasions, dropped my drawers, the hose fell and urine spilled all over my pants and shoes. Hold the hose upright or put the little plug in place which comes with the valve prior to taking down your pants.
- While the recommended configuration for use of the She-P is: blue weenie against the skin, one thong on either side, Poise pad, then underwear, then undergarment, I use a different configuration. I put the blue weenie in place, THEN a Poise pad, then the thongs, etc. It just feels more secure to me knowing that if I do leak, the pad will catch the leaks, not the thongs. That’s just me. You will find your own way.
- Again, don’t forget your sense of humor and don’t be shy about talking to other women about their experiences.
- Lastly, have fun and don’t fret over your mistakes. Remember – your experiences today will help women divers of tomorrow.