Toilet paper—as a relatively modern American institution, and as a personal means of tidying up in the bathroom—does not hold up under scrutiny.
Bidets, which are believed to have to have been invented in France in the 18th century, predate commercial toilet paper by centuries. As they developed along with industrial plumbing, they spread around much of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Whether because of our British ancestry (the bidet never caught on in England, where all things French and/or good have traditionally been rejected), our small bathrooms, or whatever historically determining factor you want to name, though, America awkwardly clings to its disgusting toilet paper.
In doing so, we waste huge amounts of trees (roughly 15 million per year!), water (far more is used to produce and ship toilet paper than is employed by bidets), and energy. We also do ourselves a more visceral disservice. As David Praeger, author of Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product puts it to New York:
Toilet paper is more “a psychological comfort, not a true measure of cleanliness,” Praeger says. It’s a way of keeping our bodies separate from the waste they produce. But “sometimes the paper rips and you’re confronted with your own mortality,” he says, “right on your fingers.”
Even without that horrifying hypothetical, moving ... debris around with a wad of paper will never be as sanitary as washing with water. This is why there are sinks in the bathroom for our hands, and probably why the tides are changing in American bathrooms, at least according to various trend pieces collected by New York about the toilets beloved by the rich and famous. Steph Curry doesn’t wipe, goes their message. Why would you?
Bidets aren’t necessarily luxury items, though! Shitting like the“founder of the luxury jewelry e-commerce” or the world’s best basketball player might be out of reach, but there are affordable bidet attachments for normal toilets. A tiny upside-down shower for your butt isn’t cheap compared to a roll of TP, but it’s an affordable way to feel (and be) cleaner down there, and, perhaps, to strike a blow against historical determinism.