So what EXACTLY does a bidet do?
As Drew, a 34-year-old bidet enthusiast and Brooklyn resident, puts it, "It's a shower for your butt." Back when they were invented in 18th-century France, bidets looked kind of like a bench with a bowl of water in the middle. After using a chamber pot or whatever else people crapped in back then, users would straddle the bench like they were riding a horse ("bidet" also means "pony" in French) and wash their crotches using their hands. Though bidets are pretty common in many parts of the world, they never caught on in the US -- possibly because Americans are prudes who hate touching themselves, even in the name of hygiene.
Are bidets actually more hygienic than toilet paper alone?
Dr. R. Mark Ellerkmann, director of urogynecology at the Weinberg Center for Women's Health and Medicine, says, "[Bidets] might get genitalia, especially the anus, cleaner than using toilet paper alone… certainly any fecal contamination can lead to vaginal bacterial infections and urinary tract infections."
It seems logical that a good, thorough scrub-down at a bidet decreases the amount of poop left clinging to a butt, and potentially the number of infections as well. Surprisingly, there's not a ton of research around bidets and infectious diseases, other than a small (but positive!) nursing-home study, which shows bidet use "improved resident comfort."
Let's talk more about this "comfort"
Once you go bidet, you don't go back. Drew says he feels "super annoyed" when he has to poop in a bidet-free bathroom. "If I travel or anything, I'll bring wipes, but now even that feels like a step backward," Drew says. "People still think it's weird, but I'm like, 'Come poop at my apartment, you'll see.' I've installed three more for friends, so now I have options."
Drew's bidet is a simple model that sits under the seat, connected to the toilet's water supply. His cost less than $100. Luxury bidets -- or "cleansing seats" and "intelligent toilets" in industry parlance -- go for $2,000 to $7,000, says Shane Allis, director of sanitary-product marketing for Kohler.
"You have a heated seat, a deodorizing function with a fan that pulls air through a charcoal filter to clean it and eliminate odors, front and rear cleansing where you can control the water temperature, pressure and direction of the spray, ambient lighting that serves as a nightlight, automatic flushing and lid-raising, and speakers that link with your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can play music," Allis says. "Compared to toilet paper, this is a more luxurious experience, where you are pampering yourself to an extent."
Drew's bidet doesn't warm his bottom or the stream of water, but that's fine with him. "I'm perfectly satisfied with the cold water. It's refreshing," Drew says. "Plus, I've heard the hot water feels like somebody is peeing up your butt."