Before my first day of kindergarten, I was under the impression that every toilet came equipped with some sort of adjacent water shooting apparatus. In fact, it wasn’t until that fateful first day that I realized just how savage Americans really are. Because my family immigrated here from Iran — and though I was born in L.A. — I’d never known anything apart from a bathroom with either a separate bowl to wash your butt, or a toilet outfitted with a water hose dedicated to keeping your brown eye free from speckles.
During a recent trip abroad, I noticed that most European cultures also abide by the same bidetiquette. Everywhere from crappy restaurant bathrooms to less crappy hotel toilets came equipped with some sort of bidet feature. Here in America, though? Not so much.
In case you’re unaware, a bidet is a special plumbing fixture or accessory that allows you to use water to wash your genitals, anus and inner butthole after using the bathroom, according to Bidet.org.
Now, you’re probably picturing a porcelain bowl with a faucet that’s usually located next to the toilet, but these days, the modern bidet accessory can be fastened to any toilet seat, turning your mid-century porcelain throne into a cutting-edge butt quick-picker-upper. They’re also better for the environment than paper. “Certainly, the environmental impact is a big one since bidets can reduce toilet paper consumption by 75 percent or more,” reports BidetPlus.com. They are, in every respect then, a superior alternative to TP.
So where did this most vital human invention originate? According to this article by Maria Teresa Hart in The Atlantic, it’s believed that the bidet, which is rooted in the French word “pony,” because you have to straddle that sucker, first appeared in France in the 1600s.
“It was considered a second step to the chamber pot [a bowl kept in a bedroom and used as a toilet], and both items were kept in the bedroom or dressing chamber. Some of the early versions of the bidet look like ornamental ottomans; the basins were inset in wooden furniture with short legs. Often lids made of wood, wicker, or leather topped the seated portion, disguising its function to a degree.”
An article in the New York Times notes that the initial reason why Americans resisted the appeal of a mechanism designed to leave your butt feeling so fresh and clean is for no other reason than because it was French, and therefore, it was associated with the hedonism and sensuality of that country. “During World War II, the bidet suffered another blow when American soldiers encountered it in European brothels, perpetuating the idea that bidets were somehow associated with immorality.”
Additionally, as per the same article in The Atlantic, the bidet was often associated with what, at the time, were viewed as feminine failings like menstruation and unwanted pregnancies. And so, true to American form, they were shunned, despite actually being practical and useful.
Ironically, one of the most successful bidet models was invented in the U.S. in the 1960s by Arnold Cohen. “As Cohen has said, when he first began marketing his model, 99 percent of people in the U.S. had never heard of or seen a bidet, which made sales stateside for [a large American bidet company] slow growing,” reported Mental Floss. “A company […] saw the potential and repackaged Cohen’s concept as a ‘washlet’ in the 1980s.”
The good news for those of you ready to take the next small step for Americans (and one giant leap for American buttholes), is that bidet use is on the rise. The founder of one bidet attachment company, told Fox News in 2017 that they’ve seen a 40 percent increase in sales every quarter. Heidi, a customer service representative at another bidet company, tells me that bidets are becoming more mainstream and popular in the U.S., although she was unable to provide any actual sales figures.
According to Pro Remodeler, many industry experts anticipate wide acceptance of the bidet among aging Americans. “In fact, manufacturers understand that bidets are a product well suited to the elderly and those who lack or have limited mobility,” they report. “This is clearly an important growth market for the bidet industry, as demographers project that by 2050 the population aged 65 and over will more than double from a current figure of 43.1 million to 83.7 million people.”
So whether you’re a senior citizen who’s no longer able to clean your own butt, or you’re like me and you know that no amount of toilet paper is going to get things feeling just so, news that the bidet is coming to America is reason to rejoice.