Diving while your body is dehydrated, leads to aching muscles, fatigue and possibly even decompression sickness – it is that serious. So if I am putting fluids into my body they need to come out. This ‘fluids dynamtic’ blog is all about uranie systems, co written by April (Edwards) – check her full artical out at Work Hard, Tri Hard
Ladies First – Fin us of April. . .
In a wetsuit, when you have to pee, the solution is easy… you just go. In a dry suit, not so much. Back in the 90’s there was not a convenient solution for women using dry suits, except for holding it and dehydrating yourself in hopes you could complete a dive without peeing yourself.
Fast forward to 2015 and someone told me: ‘They make pee valves for women.’ I took a ‘never again’ approach to … ‘okay, let’s do this!’ I did a lot of research, had some ‘interesting’ trial and error moments, so I thought I share this with you in hopes that it helps not only educate you on how to use a p-valve, but also helps you decide which path to take.
Why the p-valve?
For those of you asking, what are my options for diving in a dry suit?
- Well… you can just hold it
- Nappies/diapers – the thought of sitting in my own urine does not appeal to me
- Just pee in the suit – which is gross and defeats the whole purpose of the dry suit, right?
When I am diving in a dry suit I intake much less water than I normally would, this is not healthy as it can lead to DCI. Hydration is important when diving repetitive dives and I also have a bit of anxiety as well about having to pee on a dive. I do not know about you, but when I have to pee, it really distracts me on my dives and getting into more technical diving, this was not ideal. I needed a solution that eased my mind and my bladder.
So…enter in the P-valve.
The P-valve (in theory) allows you to dive without a diaper, eliminates bladder discomfort by enabling a person to glue (yes, glue – we will come to that in a minute) an external catheter to their lady parts, hooked into a tube that exits out the dry suit leg using a one-way valve. It is a pretty awesome invention, but it is not quite as simple as ‘plug it in and go’.
Which p-valve/catheter system should I buy?
If you do not have a P-valve installed in your dry suit, you can have one installed at any time by the manufacturer or a local professional. While in theory you can do it yourself, I highly recommend allowing an experienced professional to install the valve itself to avoid leaking.
There are various options for external catheters for ladies on the market today. The one that I found that got the best reviews (and seemed the most logical for me) is the She-P system. The She-P system is made from silicone and each one is made by hand and of fantastic quality.
At the time of purchase the She-P Classic was the one recommended. I bought the whole kit for it, which includes medical grade adhesive, removal wipes and the tubing required to attach it to the P-valve in my dry suit. You can find the classic version here.
I would honestly consider the She-P version 3.0. This will be my next upgrade soon. I explain why down below.
Preparing for the She-P
This is the area that where I had the most questions (and also, where most people ask me how this whole thing works). This article can be a delicate subject (no pun intended!), so let’s talk about the configuration of the She-P itself:
The She-P needs to adhere from the perineum to the front of you, with the tube sticking out the front. Keep this in mind when reading the below in terms of which area to prep.
Whether you are using the She-P Classic or She-P 3.0 the preparation for attachment is the same.
- Remove the hair from your lady parts. I recommend shaving, waxing or laser hair removal. Shaving can cause irritation, if that is the case, look into waxing or laser. You do not want to irritate the skin as you are about to put some glue onto it. How much hair to remove? Think Brazilian, you need to clear the hair from the perineum to the front of your pubic bone. You can attach the device with stubble, but it does not make for a pleasant removal experience, and could potentially cause a leak when in use
- My advice, just go bald down there ladies…. I personally went with laser hair removal years ago and that is paying off tenfold now
- Make sure there are not any moisturizers or oil on your skin. Taking a shower on the morning when you are going to attach the device is recommended. Use a non-oily soap to make sure the glue can adhere to your skin
Attaching the She-P
The first time you attach She-P I recommend that you have someone witness attaching it, it provides a great amount of humor. It was not my first time, but I was still experimenting with my device, and I was with my friend Sandi, she wanted to see how I did it in person. So, in the middle of the car park at Stoney Cove, we attempted to attach the catheter in the middle of December. Not only was it cold out, but we could not stop laughing. Definitely ensure your first attempt is at home and test it in the shower.
To ready the device to be attached, I do honestly recommend a mirror setup below you to see where you are attaching it, else you will end up like me, thinking you glued your butthole. Since there is glue involved, I would highly recommend a pair of gloves to keep your hands from getting glue on them.
- Make sure the device itself is clean, remember where you are attaching it to
- Get out the glue for the device. The She-P kit I purchased comes with Hollister medical spray glue or you can use Urobond. As I am not coordinated enough to use the little brush with the Urobond, I highly recommend the Hollister spray. As you will be spraying the She-P, I recommend placing the catheter on something that can be discarded (paper towel, piece of paper or parchment paper), but be careful not to glue the device to anything.
Apply TWO layers of glue to the She-P. Spray the first layer of glue onto the outer flaps, avoiding the reservoir. I like to keep the glue towards the outside of the flaps, avoiding the very inner area by the reservoir (remember, this is medical grade glue, you do not want to glue your lips together – or anything else that is down there). See highlighted in red the area I aim to spray with the glue.
Spray coverage on the She-P
- Apply your first layer of glue onto the device, allow to dry for a few minutes (this is a good time to go have a cup of coffee – because you can!). I have heard others doing the first layer the night before, just make sure you do not knock the device, get fluff on it, or some other disaster before the morning – hence why I do mine in the morning
- After about 10 minutes I apply the second layer of glue, allowing that to dry to just where if you touch the glue at the slightest, it is almost thick and sticky. Now, you are ready to adhere it to you. Note: you can use one layer of glue if you are only doing one dive, but I do not find it adheres well enough for me
- This is the fun part… Stand over your mirror or bring a friend. Line up the reservoir under you, meaning, aligned under your urethra (if you do not know where that is, it is where the urine comes out), with the hose pointing forward and press on from the front over the lips, then onto the sides and pressing through to the perineum. I personally have cyclists’ thighs, so I make sure just to have my legs open a bit and ensure the catheter is glued to the sides of my undercarriage. Note: You want to avoid getting glue onto your thighs
- Press the catheter onto you, do not squat or go for a run. Press the device on and keep some pressure on it. If I let go, I find the catheter drops a bit from the weight of it…do not do that. The weight of the tube will pull it down, hold it up so the seal does not break or pull the skin – yes, it is uncomfortable. Ensure the seal is glued on, for myself I find the area by the perineum to be the most difficult. I then don some spandex shorts over top. For me personally, this applies some pressure to the device, holds the tube up and keeps everything in place
- Once the device is in place, I HIGHLY suggest going for a test pee. The first time you do this, get in the tub or shower. Trust me. While standing, do a SLOW pee, like VERY VERY SLOW pee, remember, that little reservoir is catching the urine and going down the tube, which can be a bit of a bottleneck. If you have never peed standing up as a female, it is a very novel experience. I giggled continuously, until I realised it was like a firehose and I peed everywhere. Learn to aim!
- Since I have used the She-P a few times now, I ensure I pee as much as possible before attaching the device. I then pee before my dive in the toilets or before boarding the boat. Finding the right position to pee standing up is difficult. As mentioned, I find the point of attachment to the perineum the point of leaking for me. Others have found the front to be an issue. When I am using a toilet with the She-P attached I find I have to face the toilet when standing, bend at the waist and allow the urine to go down the tube. Think of an awkward squat but facing forwards, pushing the hose towards the toilet bowl. I have tried standing in various positions to pee, and that is what works for me. Since you are not using the device much on dry land this should not be your focus, but I find a test pee a good way of checking for leaks
- There are various ways to ensure the device gets some extra security in place. I personally, use a pair of tight spandex shorts. I also pull the front adapter up towards my belly button as that is how I wear it in my suit (will explain that below). Many people have tried various ways to give the catheter extra security:
- Two thongs – one over each leg, holding the She-P in place on the inner thigh. For me, this did not work, it was too restrictive, but go ahead and give it a shot
- Rubber/latex underwear – Some women swear by this. I searched for rubber/latex underwear, which brings up some interesting results on the internet. I did acquire a pair and when trying them, they were soooo uncomfortable and shifted a bit. I have tossed that idea out, but again, it may work for you
- Nappies/Diapers/sanitary pads – Some women will still wear a nappy/diaper to catch any drippage. I have a severe aversion to this…I woud risk the leak. You can also use a good sanitary pad in your underwear, probably the better option
- Waterproof medical tape – put this in your kit bag. If you find a leak on your trial pee, you can add some tape over the leaking area – see, this is why you want to get rid of all of your hair
I hate to say it, but this is all going to be trial and error. The best part is, you can pee while diving and avoid the discomfort. The downside is that you might not make any friends if they know you have accidentally peed yourself. Try this all out in the shower the first time, and maybe use the pads/diapers on the first few dives until you’re comfortable.
Diving with the She-P
Once I get the She-P catheter attached I am ready to go diving…woohoo!
Above I mentioned that I wear a pair of tight shorts, I take the hose and point it up towards my belly button. The shorts hold it in place and keep everything fairly pressed against the skin. I have tried pointing the catheter in a more downwards position, but I caused a kink in the hose, which caused a little backflow, so just try out what works best for you. I find sitting down with the catheter attached is interesting. . . , driving in a car, sitting on a bench – heck, even walking, I feel a bit like a cowboy. It is okay, it is normal and as the day goes on, you get more comfortable with it.
When I am getting dressed to dive, I have my shorts on, then I wear (sometimes) a thermal layer that goes on as normal. On top of that I wear my under suit. I currently have a Fourth Element Arctic two-piece suit. If you have ever seen a mens under suit when using a P-valve, they have a hole cut for their hose down the leg. I cut along the front of my under suit and had some velcro sewn either side of the crotch. This provides an easy way to attach my She-P to my P-valve.
When I get into my dry suit I take the tube from my p-valve, run it up through the Velcro hole in the front of my under suit, also running that straight up the front of me to the other end of the catheter. I have the quick connector system that came with my She-P kit, I can easily plug the two ends together and voila!
I am routing both tubes up towards my belly button, I create an ‘S’ or ‘C’ bend, in the tubes, without actually causing a kink, I use the shorts to hold the catheter in place and the tube routes down through my under suit. You will need to find the position of the tubing that works best for you. For me, I found that when I’m diving, this is absolute best position, it also means that pesky perineum area doesn’t leak.
I am all plumbed in and ready to go!
Peeing on the actual dive takes practice. I have devised a specific hand signal that I have used with various dive buddies to say, ‘I need to pee’. It usually creates a laugh, a bit of mask flooding, then they awkwardly stare at you when you are trying to pee. Again, you are going to need to practice peeing. Personally, I cannot be swimming and peeing. I have to stop kicking. I usually hang out on a wreck and do my thing, but I usually find a deco/safety stop is the best place. I mean, what else are you going to do? I keep my valve closed my buddy can see me reach for the valve to open it, so I do not even need a hand signal. . . yeah, it is about as subtle as a brick to the face. . . so they know. . . I am peeing. They usually make faces at me and cause again, more laughter.
No matter where you choose to pee with your P-valve, PEE SLOWLY. The urine should exit down the tube and all is good. I would highly suggest having a pee before exiting the water (again, for me it is on a deco stop). I stay plumbed in all day, I am usually okay between dives, but if you find yourself on a long surface interval or stuck in your dry suit, just go stand in a quiet corner, open your valve and pee standing up. All the boys do it!
Removing the She-P
When you are done diving for the day, un-clasp your hose from the P-valve, FLUSH OUT your P-valve asap if you can. Use a bottle with a small nose to flush out the P-valve. I use Milton with water to flush down the tube to my suit (and don’t forget to open your valve on your leg). I then rinse thoroughly with water and blow into the end of the tube with my mouth to get the liquid out.
I use the cap that came with the kit and close off the hose on the catheter after I have taken off my suit for the day. If I have to travel home or somewhere in a car, I just leave my shorts on, and the catheter is still attached. I have removed the catheter in different ways, each with varying levels of success. . .
- Wait until you are near a hot shower and gently peel (be careful to not rip the catheter) it off of you
- Peel back the catheter from your body and remove from wherever you are. I tend to go with this method, but I have had interesting results. One time I peeled it off too fast, my skin felt raw for a couple of days, and I spent the evening with an ice pack on my raw skin. Usually, I just get residual glue
- No matter how I remove the She-P I end of up with glue on it and myself. I use the wipes to get off the excess
- Wash the She-P with warm water and soap, wash the device all over and ensure that you run the soap/water through the hose. Hang the device up to dry, I have a little hook that I hang it from (with the hose pointing down, allowing it to drip dry)
- If you are diving for multiple days in a row, clean the device after each day (and yourself). Travel with whatever cleaning fluids that work and stick to those
- I have never taken off my She-P during a day of diving, I leave it on all day, but I have heard of people taking it off between dives. I would only recommend that if your dives are fairly far apart and you are on a liveaboard. If you can survive with it on all day, that might be the easier option (if you are not doing any other activities for the day)
Diving with a She-P is awesome and a total game changer! As with anything, it all comes down to personal preference and a bit of trial and error.
Do not let your bladder keep you from diving. Good luck and dive deep my friends!
So how do I follow that flow. . .
Guys we have it easy!
What is a P Valve?
First things first, if you do not know exactly what a P-valve is, it is pretty basic. Essentially, it is a tube that has a valve on one end that vents to the outside of your dry suit that allows liquids to pass from the inside of the suit to the outside. Simple enough. The other end is the interesting and intimidating bit. This is the end that connects to you and allows you to urinate – hopefully without making a mess on yourself.
What is a condom catheter?
It is the mix of a confom and a catheter – essentially a condom, that you glue on to you. Yes, you do glue it to yoiurself; the condom is produced with a strong medical adhesive on the inside. When you roll it on, pretty much just like you would a condom, you are securely gluing it in place – this is extremely important, as you do NOT want the condom catheter to come off prematurely! The “tip” of the condom is left open so it can be mated with the “tube” of the P-valve. When you pee, everything (hopefully) travels straight into the tube, and out of your dry suit.
As you will quickly realise, there are a lot of options out there. Many different manufacturers, varieties, and yes of course, sizes. The “wideband” varieties are equipped with adhesive from almost the tip, all the way down. The “freedom” styles have a much narrower band of adhesive – more adhesive means a better hold. . . it also means more difficult to remove, more on that later. You may want to consider the material the catheter is made out of. Some are latex, and some are silicone. If you have latex allergies, the decision is pretty obvious. It really comes down to personal preference.
What size condom catheter do I need?
Many catheter manufacturers produce a “sizing guide”, which is essentially a chart you hold up to your penis and see how you measure up. This is the time to be realistic – nobody cares what size catheter you order, you want it to be snug, but the goal is not to strangle yourself. You also want to consider the temperature and whether shrinkage may be a factor.
Like any new piece of dive gear, the excitement builds when your first box of catheters shows up on your doorstep. It is a good idea to go ahead and give things a try and get sorted out well before your first attempt to use your P valve on a real dive. These first dry runs are intimidating, uncomfortable, and can be downright terrifying and painful, but very entertaining for anyone around you.
There is a bit of trial and error here, but here are a few “tips” that I have found useful:
- Manscape – This is an extremely important step. You do not need to go overboard, but cleaning up the area around the base will help you avoid trapping hairs in the catheter adhesive. This will not affect the functionality of the catheter, but will make removal much less painful. Also, a trapped hair may get tugged during your dive, this is a painful surprise and usually happens at the worst possible moment.
- Do not be afraid – When you first take a close look at the catheter, you will quickly notice how strong the glue is. Remember what job that adhesive has, it is an important one and it is got to be strong. Do not be afraid of it, it is there to help you. Being timid here will only result in a misplaced and incorrectly installed catheter, which does you no good and will need to be removed and replaced.
- Get right in there – Having too much “extra” space at the tip of catheter will increase the likely hood of it pinching or kinking and restricting the flow of urine. This is bad, painful, and often results in a “blow off”. Once you are all the way in up top, grasp your tip nice and tight and roll the catheter down just like a condom. Once it is rolled all the way down, give it a good squeeze to set the glue in place.
- Be smooth – Wrinkles, creases, and air bubbles can cause discomfort and problems, try to get the catheter on as smooth and straight as possible. This takes some practice, so do not stress out too much. As long as you do not glue the hole shut, you should be fine.
- LEAVE IT! – Once it is on, you have to leave it for a while. Remember that super strong glue that is in there? It bonds to your skin immediately, and that bond is strongest the moment it is applied. If you try to remove the catheter right away, it will not be a pleasant experience, and you may take some skin with it. After a couple of hours, your skin’s natural oils will begin to break down the glue and it will be easier to remove.
- Just like a Band-Aid – When it comes time to remove the catheter, there’s no gentle way to do it. Grip it and rip it, quick like a Band-Aid. It’s intimidating, I know, but there’s only one way that thing is going to come off. There’s no magic solution, but you will find various techniques that may help make removal more comfortable. Some people find that a hot shower and soap helps loosen the glue up a bit. There are several medical adhesive removal products on the market, and I have heard of people using baby oil as well, but most of these work best to remove the excess glue from your skin once the catheter has been removed.
Make sure it is comfortable
Once you have the installation down, the rest is pretty easy. Make sure the tubing for the P-valve is routed so it will not kink or get pinched by any equipment. Up vs. down, right or left, does not really matter as long as you are comfortable. If you have the type of valve that is unbalanced, be sure to “prime” the valve before you begin your descent. Remember what happens to air spaces when you descend? Remember that little air space in the tip of your catheter? Yup, fill it with urine before you head down to avoid a “squeeze” . If your P-valve is a balanced model, you do not need to worry about priming, as the balanced valve will equalize the pressure inside the tubing.
Cleaning the P Valve
It is extremely important to properly clean your P-valve after each day of diving. Failure to do so can result in serious urinary tract infections that can ruin your month. There are a lot of options out there for sterilizing the plumbing, isopropyl alcohol and Steremine are good options, but anything that will sterilize the tubing will work just fine.
While all of this may sound intimidating, you will sort it all out after just a couple of dives (the learning curve is steep here). Once you have it all dialed in, your P-valve will be your new favorite piece of gear, I promise.