Ages ago, humanity was a somewhat isolated race. Travel was an arduous and often even life-threatening undertaking reserved for either the famously brave or ridiculously wealthy. As a result, most cultures kept to themselves, rarely straying beyond the confines of their territories except in cases of absolute necessity.
Times have changed, and the world has become a far more global place. We flit from one country to another without really giving it much thought. With the unfolding of this development, cultures have mixed and mingled, giving rise to an entirely unprecedented acceptance of diversity and adoption of concepts, cuisine and customs from every corner of the Earth. In spite of all this, North America seems to have stopped short in one department.
A Line has Been Drawn
We’ve apparently closed our minds as well as our bathroom doors in the face of the bidet, halting what some consider a natural step in the evolution of mankind. Visitors from other parts of the world find themselves puzzled when entering our restrooms without fair warning. On the other hand, we find ourselves taken aback when roles are reversed.
What is it about the thought of a little bath for our backsides with each trip to the toilet that leaves us recoiling in shock? It there any chance we might be able to make it past this particular wall we’ve built up in our collective psyche? Some say it’s an inevitable element of progress while others continue shaking their heads in something akin to wonder.
What Exactly is a Bidet?
Unless you’ve traveled abroad, you may have never actually seen a bidet; of course, if you’re like most of us, you might’ve seen one and just didn’t recognize it. Many of us who’ve found ourselves face to face with one and realized what we were up against simply sidestepped it. Essentially, they’re small sinks designed to help wash away all the same elements bathroom tissue removes.
Traditionally, bidets are separate fixtures located next to their counterparts in restrooms. After a trip to the potty, you climb astride one, turn on the flow of water much like you would in the sink or bathtub, and let it serve its intended purpose. Afterward, all you need is a few pats to dry yourself, and you’re all clean and fresh.
Early models are said to have originated in France during the 1700’s, having been preceded by wash basins. Some sources say the fixture was named in reference to a sturdy, short-legged horse whereas others believe the moniker comes from an old French term, “bider”, meaning “to trot”. Either way, the name we all know today is derived from the stance required to use the fixture properly in its original form.
Bidets are widely used throughout the world except, of course, in North America where you’ll find them only sporadically. Over the centuries, they’ve branched out quite a bit from their early days. They’re still available as separate entities from the toilet, equipped with hot and cold running water as well as faucets for adjustability, but quite a few additions and improvements have also been implemented across the industry as a whole.
Now, the market is filled with variations, including models you simply attach as you would a new toilet seat and those fully incorporated into toilets with features like adjustable water temperature, adjustable stream strength and position, air drying, deodorizer and more.
Of course, all those hi-tech frills are controlled either by wall-mounted panel or handheld remote. For the most part, once you finish your business, a little wand emerges from underneath the seat in most modern adaptations. It sprays your bottom with a stream of water to clean away the filth, greatly reducing or even eliminating the need for toilet paper. Bidets leave you feeling cleaner and fresher than wads of paper ever could, and they only offer assistance when you prompt them to do so.
Why Don’t We Want These in Our Lives?
Plenty of speculation revolves around the reasons we as a nation are so opposed to bidets. One theory dates back to a couple hundred years after their invention. During World War II, American soldiers stumbled upon them in French brothels. Being their first and only experience with this type of accoutrement, they automatically associated the bidet with immoral behavior. Word spread, turning much of the United States against the idea of such a fixture before we truly understood its purpose.
Along those same lines, some believe the aversion originated a bit closer to the time the bidet came into play. At the time, they were reserved for France’s elite, and England didn’t exactly think highly of French hierarchy and its frivolous ways. In the eyes of many, the bidet was all part of this audaciousness. Though all those breaking away from England to come to America were on a mission to create new lives and foster different ways of thinking, this idea didn’t get lost in the shuffle.
Yet another line of reasoning suggests the reluctance stems from the process once surrounding use of the bidet. In the beginning, the stream of water needed a bit of help to perform its duties. Toilet paper hadn’t yet been invented. Those who weren’t accustomed to using their bare hands in such a procedure got wind of the situation and considered it, well, icky.
They weren’t wrong; after all, fecal matter is teeming with bacteria and viruses, and those were the days when preventing the spread of germs wasn’t as deeply understood as it is today. That being said, in the modern era of adjustable water temperature and stream pressure, manual assistance isn’t really necessary. Though the need no longer exists, the ick factor associated with it isn’t so easy to bury.
Perhaps another rationale lies beneath the surface for many of us making our way through the modern world, one that’s simpler and a bit less driven by social misunderstandings or faded traditions. We live in a time when paper seat covers are supplied in public restrooms to give us a flimsy little flushable barrier between ourselves and all those who’ve been there before. Some of us are even inclined to wipe down our toilet seats at home before sitting down just in case some little something lurks thereon.
Maybe in our bleached, steamed and chemically sanitized states of mind, it all boils down to one simple question: does it splatter? If you turn on the faucet in your kitchen sink and a spoon or upturned cup happens to be in an ill-fated position, what happens? You end up having to dry off the counter, wall, floor and your arms, and you typically end up changing shirts. Could the whole revulsion over the bidet simply revolve around the thought of what’s being washed away ultimately ending up where it shouldn’t?
Less Deeply Rooted Considerations
Aside from all those notions, we’ve also developed a few other anti-bidet arguments. When many of us hear the term, we conjure up mental images of the standalone versions rather than some of the more recently developed seat-mounted options or all-inclusive combo units. Bathroom space is valuable to us, and we’re not willing to give up so much of it to something we find largely unnecessary.
Cost is also a factor. We live under the impression bidets are expensive; at the same time, we have to consider the additional expenses of having an entirely new water line and sewer connection professionally installed. In some cases, incorporation of those independent of the commode would require a complete bathroom remodel.
Dispelling the Common Concerns
Deep down, we’re all informed enough to realize bidets spanned well beyond the walls of French brothels. They weren’t components in immoral or self-centric lifestyles. As far as the splash zone goes, everything stays in the bowl where it belongs, and angling of the wand plays a noteworthy role in keeping the working components free of debris.
Square footage doesn’t necessarily have to be an issue. As mentioned, bidet seats fit right onto an existing loo, and models combining the features of a toilet and bidet take up no more space than your average commode. Most don’t require tapping into your hot water supply as they heat the stream on their own.
Installing a bidet seat isn’t much more difficult than replacing a plain toilet seat with the exception of connecting it to the water feed. Unless you’re completely opposed to fiddling with the plumbing, you probably wouldn’t even need to call in a professional. They do require electricity, but connecting them is a simple matter of plugging them in just like you would your hair dryer.
From the cost perspective, it is what you decide to make of it. Yes, purchasing a traditional bidet and having your bathroom remodeled to make way for it will cost thousands of dollars. Some combo units, or washlets as they’re often called, aren’t all that much cheaper with certain models running upwards of $11,000 or more. You’ll also find less expensive options for around $3,000.
Those designed to replace your toilet seat vary widely in price. Certain higher-end versions rival the cost of washlets. On the other end of the spectrum, options run anywhere from $25 to a few hundred depending on the manufacturer as well as the included features.
Just Where do We Stand on the Tissue Issue?
Based on our widespread aversion to bidets as well as figures from the bathroom tissue industry and environmental reports, we’re devoted to our TP. According to RISI, Americans use about 50 pounds (23 kg) of it each year, on average. That’s not a collective estimate; it’s an individual calculation adding up to about 100 rolls per person per year.
We’re inclined to believe our way is the best way because we’re accustomed to it. Though we’re not necessarily wrong in our inclination to foster the toilet paper industry, we certainly fall into the minority in this department. On last report, only 25 percent of the world shares our level of dedication. The rest rely on other means, primarily bidets.
Living on the Brink of a Transformation
Over the last three centuries or so, bidets have undergone a number of transformations and made their way to countries around the world. During that time, we’ve managed to avoid them for the most part here in North America. Still, many who’ve encountered them abroad have seized the opportunity to take them for a test drive.
Of those, thousands have discovered they offer a number of advantages over our customary TP and decided to bring them into their own homes. They’re part of a growing movement. Some members of the bidet industry go as far as to say sales have surged by double figures annually for the last several years. Whether you’re currently willing to jump on this particular bandwagon or not, those numbers are only going to climb going forward.
Why is the Landscape of Our Bathrooms about to Change?
Let’s begin by looking at the foremost force behind the inevitable evolution. Each of us consumes more than two and a half miles of tissue each year. In short, we’re running out of trees as well as available land to plant new ones. This isn’t a matter of climbing on a soapbox to hug a tree: it’s a cold, hard fact.
According to reports recently released by the scientific journal, Nature, we currently have just over three trillion trees planet-wide. Slightly more than 15 billion are cut down each year. Though we’re replanting them in an effort to offset the impact, saplings take anywhere from 10 to 30 years to grow into adulthood. The numbers don’t quite even out.
Almost half those felled trees are used to supply America with toilet paper, but they’re not the only resource used in manufacturing. Gallons upon gallons of water are used in the process along with an array of chemicals like chlorine, peroxide, sodium hydroxide and even ozone. All the energy used in the creation of toilet paper and the resulting greenhouse emissions are also coming under fire.
Our nation has embarked on a mission to go green. We’ve removed paper from the picture in any number of aspects of our daily lives. Corporations in virtually every sector are being encouraged to reduce the amount of waste they create and often penalized for not making progress in this realm. Many of us are even being charged an extra fee for receiving paper bank statements at this point.
One can’t help but wonder if legal and financial repercussions could potentially transcend into the world of TP production. If they did, the cost would, no doubt, be passed along to those of us who stand fast in our faithfulness to current bathroom rituals. All our major manufacturers have made great efforts to improve their techniques and lessen their load on the environment, but in an industry charged with making paper products, you can only go so far.
Such principles also apply to the sewage treatment sector. Millions of gallons of water and chemicals are needed to render waste paper safe enough to be transferred to landfills without spreading filth and disease. All this is added to the amount required for treating the water itself.
As is the case with the manufacturing industry, facilities are making every effort to reduce their negative impact, but they’re limited in their options and have yet to find a healthy or cost-effective compromise. Treating paper waste costs millions of dollars each year. Should treatment plants fail to comply with regulations, they’re charged millions of dollars in fines. Repeat offenses are grounds for shutdown.
In an era where we’re desperately seeking new ways to conserve, treatment facilities may ultimately be forced to eliminate the lesser of the two evils. Of course, they can’t simply stop sanitizing toilet paper before sending it on to its final destination. Since they’re unable to cut out this step of the process, our nation’s next logical move may be cutting out TP altogether.
Do We Have Other Options?
Yes, there are alternatives. One obvious solution is tissue made from recycled paper, and it’s one some manufacturers have already incorporated into their agendas. Unfortunately, it’s not a much more efficient process than using virgin wood products. Financially speaking, it’s actually more expensive as is the result of this effort currently gracing store shelves. This particular solution doesn’t exactly live up to our expectations of what potty paper should be, either, giving us the sandpaper effect.
Aside from bidets, some are pointing to hemp as the next most beneficial option. Pulp from the plant can be used to create the soft, fluffy TP we demand. Hemp toilet paper can be made without the use of the chemicals necessary for traditional paper; furthermore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes an acre of hemp is capable of producing up to four times more paper than a comparable expanse of trees.
If you’re wondering why this hasn’t become the norm, you’re not alone. Using certain strains of the hemp plant in everything from construction to clothing manufacture is perfectly legal here in the United States. Sadly, legislation prevents us from growing it on American soil, and importing this resource isn’t yet economical. Once again, this would drive up the cost to manufacturers, also boosting the bottom line for us, the consumer.
In a Nutshell
Whether due to deep-seated misconceptions or the simple ick factor, we as a nation apparently aren’t ready to embrace the idea of having bidets in our homes. They’re clean, affordable, effective and far more comfortable and efficient than vehemently attempting to wipe away the byproducts of our own waste with TP, but they’re just not what we’re used to using. Change is difficult and even frightening.
While we may not be quite ready to embrace the notion, we may be forced to accept it in the near future. Certain signs just seem to be pointing in that direction. Should that time come, you’ll find plenty of options to choose from. Who knows; we may even see certain financial incentives put into play to encourage the transition. We’re going paperless in every other aspect of our lives, so why not make our bathrooms part of the evolution?