A spray wash for your nether region, bidets are a popular way worldwide to keep said regions tidy. So why has this popular bathroom fixture not caught on in the United States? Old prejudices, (surprisingly new) habit and comfort-level, apparently. (Note: Toilet paper wasn’t commonly used in the United States until the 20th century)
to have originated in France, the first bidets were simply a bowl of water over which, after relieving herself, a person would squat and then use a hand to splash and wipe away any messes that remained.
Eventually, a short narrow stool with a bowl inset
was developed that could be sat astride for easier cleaning. As a person who is mounted on this contraption resembles one sitting on the small, stout pony, a “bidet” in French, the name was soon adopted for the bathroom fixture.
des Rosiers is credited with inventing the bidet, although the first written record of one appears in a 1710 account of the Marquis d’Argenson, who noted that he had an audience with one Mademoiselle de Prie “as she sat astride her bidet.”
In 1750, an upward sprayer powered by a hand-pump was added, and thus, bidet á seringue, (bidet with syringe) was born.
The modern bidet that resembles a toilet was
developed in the 19th century, and the very popular bidet seat came about in the 1960s, with one of the most popular invented by an American, Arnold Cohen.
In the 1980s, the modern seat was improved with the creation of the “washlet.” Using
remote-controlled wands that spout water jets and finish with a warm-air dryer, the washlet is hugely popular, particularly in Japan.
So why don’t Americans use this? After all, if fecal matter got on just about anywhere else on your body,
you wouldn’t just wipe it off with toilet paper and call it good. Why should your derrière be any different?
Although there is no definitive answer why Americans eschew a bidet, there are a few theories.
One points to the historical
disdain that 18th century Britons had for the French aristocracy and its decadent and hedonistic lifestyle. As the early American colonists were heavily influenced by their British heritage, it is thought this sentiment came with them to America, too.
Another theory notes that during World War II, the first (and often only) experience many Americans had with a bidet was when soldiers saw them in French brothels, which “perpetuat[ed] the idea that bidets were somehow associated with immorality.”
A third theory, perhaps most plausible, looks to the classical process of bidet-ing. Unlike the use of a paper shield between hand and butt, traditionally
with the bidet, the bare hand is used to splash, wipe and generally clean both the junk and the trunk. As Americans traditionally have been extremely conservative about such things (the first toilet flushing didn’t even show up in cinema until 1960 in
the film, Psycho, partially because of this), it is thought this may have influenced the rejection of the bidet as indoor plumbing became more and more common. The continued rejection today is then, perhaps, more about habit and tradition.
Also because of this habit, bidets aren’t generally installed standard in American homes. Add in the extra expense of putting one in, and many who aren’t nearly so prudish today simply stick with what they’re used to, namely toilet