• Gretchen experiences some 'me time' in this week's You're The Worst. (SBS On Demand)Source: SBS On Demand
This week's episode of 'You're The Worst' got us thinking about bidets - why are they a thing and why don't we use them?
Dan Barrett

17 Jan 2019 - 3:14 PM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2019 - 4:15 PM

Toilet time is the most private and personal experience we have. If you're old enough to be reading this article, chances are you're old enough to be set in your ways as far as your personal toilet habits are concerned. Anything that conflicts with what you know to be a fundamental part of your toilet experience is always going to be met with a sense of unease.

Which is in part why so many of us are amused and a little bit hesitant when it comes to the idea of using a bidet. They make all the sense in the world - the bidet shooting a stream of water at our private bits to wash them after we relieve ourselves. But, like in the US and UK, bidets aren't commonly used here in Australia. We've never developed a culture of using them, instead opting for multi-ply toilet paper instead.

On this week's episode of You're The Worst (streaming now at SBS On Demand), Gretchen claims an executive office at work, which comes with its own private bathroom complete with bidet. The bidet is foreign to her and confronting. In typical You're The Worst fashion, Gretchen takes things too far and really embraces all the benefits of the bidet.

One doesn't often see toilets being used on television - let alone bidets. It got us thinking about bidets - particularly, what is the deal with them? And why is it that they never really took off here? Important questions we needed answers to.

Bidet origins

The name comes from the French word for 'cob', which is a strong, short-legged horse. It's a name that hints at the idea that to use a bidet, a person should straddle it like one would a horse. Bidets were also initially used by the aristocracy after a horse-ride.

The bidet is thought to have been the invention of Christophe des Rosiers, who in 1700 installed one in the bathroom of Madame De Prie, the then wife of the French Prime Minister. While this saw more bidets installed across France, it was only when they were introduced to Italy that bidets started to become more popular. Queen of Napoli Maria Carolina d’Asburgo-Lorena sought to have one installed in every bathroom in the Royal Palace of Caserta. These Italian bidets were not ceramic, but rather were metal basins housed inside a larger wooden structure. 

Why didn't bidets take off elsewhere?

Professor Harvey Molotch, author of the book 'Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers and Many Other Things Come to Be as They Are', suggests that the bidets were initially rejected by the English, who believed that the French imported products were tainted with the hedonism and sensuality of France. 

It's an attitude that likely carried over to those living in the US and Australia. The idea of bidets being associated with a sinful lifestyle was further entrenched in the mindset of US soldiers who again encountered bidets during World War II when visiting European brothels.

But, they are popular in Japan

The TOTO Washlet has become hugely popular in Japan since its introduction in the early 1980s. It is believed that a combination of TV advertising by TOTO (a brand that has become as synonymous with bidets as Band-Aids are locally for plastic medicinal strips), a strong cultural appreciation for cleanliness, and a then-emerging rise in disposable incomes. Today, it is believed that over 70% of Japanese homes have a Washlet unit. 

These are often high-tech devices that, in addition to offering a variety of water pressure strengths, will also offer electronic seat warmers, different water temperatures, music, and more. 

In 2017, the Japanese Washlet reached a major turning point with manufacturers coming together with a consensus on which icons to use. For travelers to Japan, there was considerable confusion on how to use the toilets without a unified set of icons that users could understand. 

Representatives from the nine companies that comprise of the Japan's Sanitary Equipment Industry Association banded together ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to develop the unified icons. There are now eight symbols that are used for the various common functions of the high-tech toilets: raise the lid, raise the seat, large flush, small flush, rear and front bidet, dry, and stop.

How to use a bidet

This video from WikiHow is actually rather educational. Also, be advised: it's not unsafe for work, but it is a video about people cleaning themselves...

For a more creative use of a bidet, be sure to check out the latest episode of You're The Worst, streaming now at SBS On Demand:

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