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I still remember the shame that rose in me whenever any of my white childhood friends came out of my bathroom asking, “What’s that watering can doing by your toilet?” I’ll never forget the incessant teasing when I revealed the breei’ — pronounced ibreeq by any non-Levantine Arab — was for cleaning one’s butt.
As a first generation Lebanese-American, my childhood was a truly bicultural experience. But school lunches, my religion, my parents’ names — those were decidedly foreign. And apparently so was cleaning my butt after using the restroom.
What my elementary school peers didn’t know was that, maybe, they should’ve been embarrassed. I’ve grown past these childhood experiences enough to say with confidence that it’s Americans who are late to the bidet party.
Muslims all over the world have used their version of the breei’ for centuries. Some call it a lota, others call it a bodna, but the point of it is the same: dry wiping is not enough to clean your butt. Cleanliness — of all parts of the body — is integral to our faith.
So the watering can traveled with Muslims as they moved west, into the homes of the Muslim diaspora.
But it isn’t just Muslims who see the value in a good butt cleaning.
The bidet — pronounced bee-day — originated in France in the 1600s as a middle- and upper-class way to clean one’s derrière. They were so popular that even Marie Antoinette’s prison cell was equipped with a bidet. We can all rest assured that her butt was clean on her way to the guillotine.
These days, the bidet is a plumbing fixture situated next to the toilet with the ability to produce a jet stream of water.
I switched to the more discreet flushable wipes in college, knowing I couldn’t have a watering can in a shared dorm bathroom. Throughout those years, flushable wipes remained a staple in my shared bathrooms — though I usually hid them under the sink.
When I graduated, I moved to France for 8 months. I was relieved when every bathroom I encountered there had a bidet or hose attachment. After France, I lived in Jordan where it was back to the breei’ I knew so well.
After that year abroad, I came back to the U.S. and moved into a studio with a bathroom so small, it could’ve been for ants. I kept using wipes even though I longed to have my very own watering can.
Since then, I have moved into an apartment with a nice, big bathroom. Instead of my own breei’, I have fully embraced the bidet in a way I didn’t even know was possible: with this affordable gadget that attaches to your toilet.
It takes no skill and about 15 minutes to install. A wrench makes the process easier, but I have it on good authority (my cousin) that you can install it with your bare hands.
If price is no issue, there are more advanced attachments available. You can get a bidet attachment that can spout hot or cold water. Or, you can get a bidet seat with adjustable water pressure, temperature, and nozzle positions. That one even comes with an air dryer which eliminates the need for toilet paper completely.
If you’re mesmerized by the fancier versions of the bidet, you’ll be enthralled by the Japanese super toilets. Japan already overwhelmingly uses bidets or enhanced toilet seats with attachments, but the Toto Washlet S350e goes above and beyond. It comes with a heated seat, oscillation options, and temperature adjustment options.
The fact that washing your butt can be so normal in so many other parts of the world makes intentionally choosing toilet paper seem embarrassingly primitive.
In fact, I have quite a few success stories of previous dry wipers converting to the bidet. I am known to provide safe-for-work bidet tutorials during parties at my house and any of my Instagram followers can tell you that I post a lot of bidet content.
I feel serious pride when I get a screenshot from a friend confirming their purchase of a bidet attachment for their toilet. And I’ve yet to receive a complaint from anyone who has made the switch.
Although the majority of the market for bidets exists in the Asia-Pacific (34 percent) and Europe (32 percent), the North American market is increasing by 9 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) per year. I think my efforts have to account for at least 1 percent of that growth, right?
By 2023, 18.3 million bidets will be in use globally, compared to 11.7 million in 2017. That’s what I like to hear.
I do this because I care — both about my friends’ hygiene choices and about the environment. Americans, who make up just 4 percent of the world’s population, account for over 20 percent of global tissue consumption. That should be of serious concern during our current climate crisis because it means millions of trees per year need to be cut down solely to make toilet paper.
I would be remiss not to point out that I do not endorse flushable wipes as a more environmentally friendly alternative to toilet paper. The most disgusting thing I have recently learned is that flushed wipes fuse with food fats in sewers to become “fatbergs” that clog pipes and cost thousands to remove.
Plus, bidets clean you much more effectively than toilet paper alone. I don’t think you need studies to convince you that washing with water is just logically cleaner. It’s why we wash our hands after using the restroom and why we take showers after working out.
This study — albeit small — also showed “a positive effect on toileting” and lower urine bacteria content in nursing home residents who used bidets versus those who didn’t.
Bidets are also a good option for disabled people who might otherwise need assistance using the restroom. Since most toilet attachment bidets function with a simple click of a button, they may be more accessible to people who have trouble using toilet paper or wipes for personal hygiene.
Folks with disabilities who have caregivers may also like this option as a way to increase privacy and autonomy in using the bathroom. Apartment buildings that are accessible — and all newly built buildings should be in my humble opinion — could equip their toilets with bidet attachments to make appliances more inclusive of disabled residents.
Lastly, I leave you with some food for thought. If a bird pooped on your arm or you got dog poop on your shoe, are you seriously telling me (and Hasan Minhaj) that you would just wipe it off with toilet paper? Treat your butthole with the same respect as your arm or your shoe.
Get that bidet, America.
Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine to five. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, Wear Your Voice Mag, and Rantt. Following @SultanReina on Twitter for endless hot takes and photos of her extremely cute cats.