I love bidets. And I know — as an American — that makes me an outlier, because they're just that not common in the United States. But my travels around the world have introduced to me a range of bidets, from funky ones that are older than I am in Argentina (medium recommended) to high-tech butt soothers in basically every public bathroom in Japan (highly recommended). Now that I’ve been living full-time back in the United States for almost three years, however, I’ve had to go back to that good old two-ply. And I have to say: It’s just not the same.
I miss that extra-clean feel a bidet brings, and don't even get me started on the environmental waste of toilet paper. But while I personally love a good butt spray, I started to wonder: Are there any real benefits to bidets? Or is it just something I'm used to?
Some studies say that bidets are good for people with urogenital and anal problems. Some say they collect bacteria. Others say they don’t, or at least not enough to be a problem. The only consensus about whether or not bidets are good for you, health-wise, seems to be that there really isn’t a consensus.
Because there’s no definitive “yes it’s good for you” or “no it’s not,” I'm going to have to rely on opinions. (Which, like buttholes, everyone has.) Dr. Sherry A. Ross, MD, women’s health expert and author of she-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., is pro-bidet.
“I have always been a fan of the bidet, especially for a number of bathroom challenges,” Dr. Sherry tells Bustle. “Bidet cleaning can be helpful for people who have vulva and vaginal sensitivities to toilet paper, for an extra clean feeling before having any sexual intimacy with no time to shower, or after a bowel movement — especially a messy one.”
Other times people with vaginas might find bidets to be preferable to toilet paper are after intercourse, when the vulva is engorged and sensitive, or during menstruation. Unlike douching, which "washes" the inside of the vaginal canal with chemicals, bidets squirt only warm water and only clean the vulva, making them a much safer option than a vaginal douche for people looking for that extra-clean feeling.
Obviously I am only one person but, in my experience, while the butt-cleaning and drying parts of a bidet are great, the vulva-cleaning part could be improved. I have a Coway Bidetmega 200, which was sent to me by the brand, and while I absolutely adore the heated toilet seat, the butt washer, and the butt dryer, I find that the dryer doesn’t really dry my vulva and I end up having to use toilet paper anyway. Aside from my personal preference, there is some research that suggests that using a bidet after peeing might increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis (BV). The studies haven’t yet been able to establish a firm causal link, however — and BV is one of the most common infections in people with vulvas. So do with that what you will.
When we’re talking about butt cleaning, however, it’s a whole other ball game. While a bidet can’t remove all the bacteria from your butthole — it’s not a sterilization tool, nor would you want it to be — they’re super effective at removing any solid waste. One group who benefit especially from using bidets is people with mobility issues. For folks who can’t reach their genitals or anus to clean up after using the bathroom, a bidet can be a way to maintain independence and privacy. They’re so useful, in fact, that UK researchers developed a portable bidet specifically for people with mobility problems in 1996.
Then there are the environmental considerations. Americans love our toilet paper. In fact, we use more of it than any other country in the world: We go through 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper per year, resulting in the pulping of 15 million trees, according to Scientific American. But toilet paper, like all paper, comes from trees. The Natural Resources Defense Council calls the use of virgin wood the “forest-to-toilet pipeline” and encourages people to use toilet paper that comes from recycled sources instead.
Or, you know, you could get a bidet. And while washing your butt with theoretically drinkable water isn’t awesome for the planet either, the amount of water that goes into producing toilet water is much more than the amount of water the bidet uses, Scientific American reported. And don’t even get me started on wet wipes, which are even more wasteful because they don’t biodegrade — and contribute to the creation of massive fatbergs in our sewer systems. They're basically just like, bidet wannabes.
Writing this hasn't changed my mind about bidets. I still love them and will continue to use mine every morning, the heated seat keeping my buns warm through the foggy, rainy San Francisco winter. And while I personally think every American should join me in the TP to bidet switch, I'm not here to tell you what to do. But I can tell you one thing: Your butthole will almost certainly feel better with a bidet.
Kiuchi, et al. (2017) Bidet toilet use and incidence of hemorrhoids or urogenital infections: A one-year follow-up web survey. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5345955/
Katsuse, et al. (2017) Public health and healthcare-associated risk of electric, warm-water bidet toilets. Journal of Hospital Infection. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28756169
Iyo, et al. (2018) Microorganism levels in spray from warm-water bidet toilet seats: factors affecting total viable and heterotrophic plate counts, and examination of the fluctuations and origins of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Journal of Water Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29952324
Burkitt, et al. (1996) The development of the Port-a-Bidet: a portable bidet for people with minimal hand function. Medical Engineering & Physics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8843407
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the Natural Resources Defense Council. This story has been updated with the correct name.