The History of the Bidet
By: Menal Elmaliki/ Arab America Contributing Writer
The bidet is often described as a mythical, ethereal bowl that is half toilet half tub. From the usage of just water, to the pony, to the modern day bidet, the concept of hygiene and cleanliness has evolved over time.
The bidet is a modern tool that is used to maintain good hygiene and is growing popular due to the public’s aversion towards using just toilet paper after their date with the stool. You’ll find a bidet in probably every bathroom in the Middle East, both public and private. Muslims are required to cleanse themselves throughly with water after defecation.
It is also commonly used in parts of Asia, like Japan where they have revolutionized the bidet. This ornate seat in the bathroom has become a spectacle of technological advancement and is selling like wildfire on the mass market. The bidet is used in predominantly catholic countries like Spain and Italy where the bidet was made mandatory since 1975. In North America it is virtually unknown and dry wiping reigns supreme.
The bidet comes in many forms and it ranges from an attachment to a handheld hose.
The bidet can be an add-on to your toilet. This form requires no separate plumbing work as it connects to an existing water supply. The add-on can be versatile, offering different water pressure levels. Perhaps even hot and cold features if you wish to indulge yourself. If you wish to further cosset yourself there are the options of seat warming and deodorizing.
Another form of the bidet is a handheld nozzle or hose that requires a separate plumbing system. The hose gives the person on the loo more access or freedom to maneuver the jet of water where its needed. This is commonly used in the Middle East and is called a shattef, شطاف, in Arabic.
The Pony or Wall Bidet
Another form is an entirely separate bowl that is used after the toilet bowl. This design came from the French and they had called it a pony.
There is the simplest form of a bidet which is also the cheapest option. It is called a lota, bodna, or simply a toilet wash jug and it can purchased for less than 10$. You can also use a large cup or watering can, kill two birds with one stone, wash your butt and water the plants.
Though different in variation they all serve the same function, which is to encourage hygiene. It is used after defecation, urination, and sexual intercourse.
History of the Bidet and its Origin
The etiquette of the bathroom has changed throughout the ages. The bidet was introduced into modern society as a way of promoting hygiene. Often considered a modern invention, the bidet is an old invention that has morphed into many forms over the centuries.
The ancient Greeks are said to use pieces of clay or stones to relieve themselves of fecal matter. Apparently, the brits had at once used corn cobs to wipe their bum. The ancient Egyptians are said to have wiped their genitals with perfume.
The bidet comes from the French word “pony,” a person would sit on the washing bin as if it were a pony and wash away any “dirt.”
The bidet was once associated with scandal. In 1936, it was considered a sin in parts of America and Great Britain where it was believed that douching prevented pregnancy. It was stated that “the presence of a bidet is regarded as almost a symbol of sin.” This strays from the early Christian narrative where they would cleanse themselves before worship.
In America, wet wipes were introduced in the early 2000s before bidets. The flushable wipes became a 2.2-billion-dollar industry. Unfortunately, despite being a successful marketing scheme it had caused major damage to the sewage systems. But why waste money on wipes and damage the environment when you can use water for free?
In Japan, the first bidet we know today was made public in 1980 and was manufactured by Toto. It was called the paperless toilet. The modern day- bidet is often accredited with being a Japanese invention, as they offer essentially a smart toilet system with an advanced bidet and luxury options like seat warmers.
In layman’s term, despite the bidet being of French origin and a modern Japanese invention, the concept of using water after using the toilet can be traced back to the 7th century.
Where does the concept originate?
The word hygiene comes the Greek word Hygeia which means the Goddess of health. The first bathhouse can be traced to 19 BC, where Ancient Romans built the first public baths called Therma.
Despite the long history of ancient Babylonians supposedly using soap and Ancient Egyptians bathing regularly with animal and vegetable oils alongside alkaline salts. Yet the concept of bathing or using water after you use the toilet comes from religious traditions where water must be used to cleanse in order to properly worship.
The origin of cleanliness and the use of water after defecation stems from religious toilette etiquette. The usage of water before worship dates to the time of Tertullian (155 AD- 220 AD). Tertullian of Carthage, at the time was a prominent christian writer who was known for his opera omnia of Latin Christian Literature, would wash himself with water before he would enter the house of worship.
Throughout the ages, different methods have been used in the name of hygiene but it was religion itself that had encouraged man to wash himself with water after every urination, defecation and sex.
Like the Christian ruling, there is also the the Islamic ruling on hygiene. Yet it was Islam that had stressed the importance of cleanliness and hygiene after using the toilet. Islam toilet hygiene is strict, if soiled with urination and defecation, one must wash both anal and private before worship and worship is done 5 times a day. Water ritual is also required after menstruation and sexual intercourse. This practice has led to the building of public bathhouses.
By the 8th-13 century, under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate, Baghdad had housed 65,000 bathhouses and had even established a sewage system. Elaborate and sophisticated water supply system was established to supply drinking water and water used for rituals in hammams and mosques. The city of Fustat in Egypt, had developed flush toilets, as each toilet in each floor was connected to the water supply system that had led to underground channels. Now, in most predominately Muslim countries, a shattaf or bidet shower is provided in most toilets.
Bidet verses toilet paper
Why a Bidet?
The bidet has many health benefits as well as environmental benefits. The usage of the bidet ensures that you are clean and dry wiping can leave behind remnants of bacteria and pieces of fecal matter. It prevents conditions like bacterial prostatitis that cause discomfort, itching and can require colorectal surgery. A bidet can also prevent UTIs since toilet paper merely moves shit, it doesn’t remove it entirely.
Dry wiping can cause anal fissures, urinary tract infections, and aggressive wiping can cause hemorrhoids. How aggressive can one be?
Research has shown that Americans per household use about 100 lbs of toilet paper each year. Apparently, America is also responsible for 20 percent of the “world’s bathroom tissue consumption despite being 4 percent of the population.”
Bidets essentially reduce waste and water usage surprisingly as it takes 255,000,000 gallons of water to create 34,00,000 rolls of toilet paper. Bidets not only save water but also trees since about 27,000 trees are cut daily to make toilet paper. Bidet saves you time, energy, and money, as it won’t clog up your toilet racking up plumbing fees to get the pipes unclogged.
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