If you have ever traveled abroad, you may have seen something that resembles a toilet in the bathroom. That toilet-like device is called a bidet and has been used for hundreds of years. The bidet is essentially step two after going number two on the toilet — it sprays a gentle stream of water to help clean your behind. No need to vigorously wipe your tush with harsh toilet paper.
While they’re everywhere in Europe, bidets are nowhere near as common in the United States, even though they can be healthier, gentler and better for the environment than toilet paper.
So why don’t more Americans use them?
According to one historical theory, our cultural aversion for bidets may have traveled to the U.S. from England. Bidets were first invented in the early 1700s in France. Since the British disliked the French, the same anti-bidet sentiment was passed on to the British colonies. Then fast-forward a few hundred years to World War II, when American soldiers first saw bidets in French brothels and associated them with immorality. Bidets simply did not have a good reputation with Americans.
However, our distaste with bidets might have some serious health consequences. Not only are bidets considered more hygienic than toilet paper, they can get your backside cleaner; prevent urinary tract infections; help with hemorrhoids and even help seniors who may have trouble reaching their behind to wipe. They are especially helpful for postpartum mothers who need something a bit more gentle after giving birth.
“Since we’re not using them, we use things like wet wipes and toilet paper. It’s common for people to see a physician for discomfort in the anal area because essential oils have been wiped clean,” Alan Kamrava, M.D., a California-based colorectal and general surgeon, told SELF. “People who use bidets are much less likely to have issues with rashes and discomfort and irritation.”
Another potential reason why bidets have never caught on in America is cost. But one startup named TUSHY hopes to change that.
Unlike a traditional bidet, which is usually a bulky and expensive stand-alone device, TUSHY’s bidet is a simple toilet attachment. Starting at $69, it’s quite affordable, too.
“Our product actually fits neatly under the toilet seat so that the spray nozzle is lowered inconspicuously at the back of the bowl, we have a simple console that extends to the side and lets you control the water pressure, and even the water temperature with certain models for a custom clean,” TUSHY CEO Monica Pereira explained to Bustle. “The result is with a very simple fixture you feel clean, healthy and pampered after just a few seconds. We really think this is a practical luxury that is accessible to everyone.”
One thing to consider when choosing between a bidet and toilet paper is the environmental impact. The average American uses about 50 pounds of toilet paper a year — that’s roughly 2.8 miles worth of toilet paper. It takes about 37 gallons of water to produce a single roll of toilet paper, TUSHY’s Pereira explains. Bidets, on average, use much less water. America’s addiction to toilet paper also cuts down about 15 million trees every year.
Widespread use of bidets will not completely eliminate the use of toilet paper — most people still use some to pat their bottoms dry after using a bidet. But it could potentially cut those numbers significantly.
So, America, it may be time to rethink our potty protocol — the environment and our health might greatly benefit.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.