Remember when toilet paper was in short supply in 2020? Besides having major concerns about a worldwide pandemic, you were also scouring store shelves for one-ply and carefully rationing the last few squares of TP you had left.
The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 is something I’m sure we will continue to tell our children and their children about for years to come, but the short supply also inspired many Americans to embrace another alternative: bidets, the power washer for your nether regions.
What is a bidet?
A bidet (pronounced bih-day) is a fancy name for a toilet-like bowl or fixture used to clean the areas you use to urinate and have a bowel movement. By washing away the excrement (frankly, your poop and pee), it reduces your need to use toilet paper.
Today bidets come in many shapes and sizes. You’ve got your standalone bidet that resembles a toilet with a faucet, modern bidets that include a feature within the toilet and a bidet shower with a hose and spray handle to clean yourself. Some bidets include features like a heated seat, an air dryer, night lights and a remote control for added comfort and ease of use. While these fancy tools may seem novel to us in the U.S., using water for private cleanliness is not a new idea, and dates back hundreds of years.
“Bidets started in France in the 17th century and have been a staple in some mainland European countries, as well as in various countries throughout Asia and South America ever since,” Sean Rea, DO, a family medicine specialist at Banner Health Center in Surprise, AZ. “In the U.S., there’s been a slow movement to embracing this hygienic tool, but with TP in short supply, many more Americans have warmed up to the idea.”
Now that you understand what a bidet is and its long history of use, let’s get to the bottom (no pun intended) of its pros and cons and whether it’s worth setting aside your TP and wipes.
Pro #1: Bidets are great for those with limited range of motion
Doing your business is a highly private matter and can be a source of embarrassment for those with mobility issues. Having good hygiene is extremely important, yet often challenging for this population.
“Bidets are extremely useful for the elderly and those with limited mobility, such as those with arthritis, an injury or a neuromuscular condition that limits range of motion and coordination,” Dr. Rea said. “Bidets aid in adequate hygiene and the ability for self-care when that individual may otherwise require the aid of another person. It definitely allows people to maintain some dignity.”
Pro #2: Bidets help reduce irritation and chafing
Whether you are a one and done kind of wiper or require quite a few squares to clean down below, each TP stroke can do a number to your tender skin below, especially as you get older.
Bidets on the other hand are much gentler. “A bidet with a warm water spray can reduce irritation to sensitive areas for those who suffer from hemorrhoids, fissures and other conditions in that region,” Dr. Rea said.
Pro #3: Bidets keep your hands cleaner
Wiping yourself with TP after going to the bathroom doesn’t always manage to clean up traces of fecal matter, or waste particles, and associated bacteria. This can lead to infections and even foul smells.
Washing your privates with water helps remove more fecal bacteria, potentially preventing you from spreading to your hands and then to others.
(Which is a great reminder that we should all wash our hands with warm water and soap after we use the bathroom.)
Pro #4: Bidets are surprisingly economical and environmentally friendly
Did you know it takes 37 gallons of water to make just one roll of toilet paper? Americans also spend hundreds of dollars each year – thousands in a lifetime – on toilet paper. In contrast, a bidet only consumes about a pint of water, uses zero trees and is surprisingly affordable.
“Bidets are becoming far more affordable, especially as bidet attachments become increasingly available that don’t require additional bathroom space or a separate water supply (line) to be run,” Dr. Rea said.
Con #1: Bidets may pose health concern for people with vaginas
Although some benefits are clear, as noted, there are potential downsides, especially if you have a vagina.
“Bidets may mess with the health ecosystem of bacteria called Lactobacillus microflora in your vagina,” Dr. Rea said. “These bacteria work to protect your vagina from harmful bacteria, such as bacterial vaginosis, or those considered high-risk during pregnancy.”
As well, correct usage is important to avoid vaginal or urinary tract infections. The urethra (where your pee comes out) and vagina are closer to the anus, so this makes it easier for germs to transfer from back to front.
It’s important, if you have a vagina, to watch the water pressure and angle of the water. “The stream of water from your bidet should flow front-to-back, just like when you wipe, so you keep fecal matter out of the urethra and vagina.”
Con #2: Bidets can get gross and unsanitary
A bidet can get pretty disgusting, especially if it’s not maintained well. Factors that influence just how clean a bidet are how often it is cleaned, whether it has self-sanitizing nozzles and how much the bidet is shared with others.
“Proper maintenance and cleaning of the equipment and nozzle are vital to prevent bacterial growth in and on the nozzle, which can potentially introduce issues as noted above,” Dr. Rea said.
Bidets may be a great option for those with limited mobility and for those who want to reduce their use of toilet paper.
However, if you have a vagina, make sure you keep the direction of the spray moving away from it to reduce the risk of bacteria and germs from your anus touching your vagina and urethra. As well, make sure the bidet and nozzle are sanitized regularly to reduce the risk of spreading germs.
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