This story is part of a series on how we clean—from organizing your house to arranging your photos.
As you read this, there is poop in your butt. I don’t mean whatever’s cooking in your colon. I mean you missed a spot, right there, near the exit, at the perianal surface: residual stool. Not a shit-ton, if you’re average. About 0.14 grams, the CDC estimates—enough to stain the inside of your undies or, multiplied by a neighborhood’s worth of sticky fourth graders, to put the poo in public pool. It may cause rectal sores. It may reveal itself, sniff sniff, during the act of love. It seems to bother only the barest minimum of the American poopulace, most of whom carry this shame with, if not pride, then a certain itchy indifference.
It’s not as if you neglect hygiene. You have standards. You shower. (Americans shower more than the Japanese.) You swab your ears and scrub your nails and maybe even sip colon-cleansing pomegranate tea while doing diaphragmatic belly breaths on your upcycled yoga mat. Then you assume the throne and declare victory after a few hasty wipes, standards pissed away. Why? Do you believe the job is truly done? That your technique is so comprehensive no stubborn fecal lumplet could possibly remain behind? No. You convince yourself you’re clean, flush and go, resume your day: an act of collective pretending as nasty as it is difficult to explain.
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For the solution has always been there, loved and uncontroversially utilized by much of the world. It is a splash of that frightening universal solvent, water, channeled through an apparatus its French inventors, some 300-plus years ago, began calling a bidet.
A curiosity both culturally and etymologically—the word literally means horse—the bidet has trotted through history with stately pomp, straddled by European royalty and STD-conscious courtesans alike. It didn’t work so well prophylactically, either as disease prevention or as a method of birth control, another early application. Some suspect puritanical Americans fear it for this reason: Having encountered the alien technology in brothels abroad during World War II, soldiers came home with the idea of bidet-as-deviant-sex-object.
Plausible enough, as is the related theory that anything French is automatically un-American, but that was generations ago. Explanations for the bidet’s failure to penetrate the American market, especially since it’s been embraced by poopers in countries as far apart as Latin America and the Middle East, become less satisfying the further we get from the mid-century. Even the mass adoption in the ’80s by the Japanese, from whom American boy-men have imported entire cultural identities, caused barely a ripple across the Pacific. “The butt,” as Miki Agrawal puts it, speaking of the American posterior in particular, “is the final frontier.”
Agrawal is the founder and chief creative officer of Tushy, a startup that makes cheap bidets you can affix to your toilet seat. (For that reason, it’s technically a bidet attachment. Others would call the Tushy a washlet. Splitting ass-hairs, really. Anything that washes your bum with water, whether an add-on nozzle or a full-service supertoilet complete with seat warmer and deodorizer, can comfortably be called a bidet.) In conversation, Agrawal, who also cofounded the period-resistant underwear company Thinx, holds nothing back. She’s as disturbed as any global citizen that “the most dirty part of your body gets smeared around with paper.” For her, it’s personal. Because of a hyperthyroid condition, Agrawal used to poop up to eight times a day. “A lot of poop,” she says. “I wasn’t even eating that much, but so much poop was coming out of me.” Which meant so much wiping. Which led to rawness and itchiness and anal fissures. Which caused psychic distress and more poops.
Then, for their first Valentine’s Day together in 2014, Agrawal’s husband bought her a Chinese-made bidet. “Crappy” and not particularly aesthetic, an embarrassment when she had guests over, it nonetheless changed everything. “It was vitally important to my healing,” she says. “I got to not stress every time I went to the bathroom.” Tushy was founded a year later, promising, as Agrawal variously calls it, “the Model T of bidets” and “an iPhone next to your toilet.” It sits atop your existing john, a sleek control panel to the right and a nozzle hanging at the back of the bowl, just outside the average pooping radius.
Four years later, Tushy remains a small company. Though it’s profitable, it only has 11 employees, and bidets remain mostly ignored in American society. That’s due in part, Agrawal believes, to masculine insecurity. “There’s something going into my butt!” she cries, reading the mind of the straight American male. “No, it’s not going into your butt. It’s a precise shower onto your butt.”
I’ve had a Tushy for nine months now. Like Agrawal, I’m a bad pooper, plagued by chronic, undiagnosable gut trauma. (Genetics, maybe. I have uncles with diverticulosis and cousins who poop Agrawal amounts. “It runs,” as my mother once joked, “in the family.”) Nothing really helped, not elimination diets or testing or supplements or teas or acupuncture or squatting. Until my Tushy. When Agrawal says it changed her life, I don’t hear overstatement; I hear freedom. It’s a cost-unprohibitive $69 for the standard model and $99 if you want an extra hookup for hot water, which isn’t necessary. I, who don’t know a lug wrench from a spare tire, installed the device myself. No electrical outlet required, just some redirecting of pumps. The first time I tested the pressure knob, a stream of water slammed into my wall. I squealed. These days, that only happens if the water gets too hot (see: unnecessary) and I leap up—a small risk for the daily reward of 0.0 grams of residual stool on my perianal surface. My stomach still hurts sometimes, but I no longer dread my mornings. Instead, I make a cup of coffee, sip until the pangs are unbearable, and then I fire away. My useless gastroenterologist tells me this is perfectly healthy behavior. She says many of her patients, who also swear by bidets, pre-caffeinate the same way. “The end,” as my brother once joked, “justifies the beans.”
Re: Agrawal’s assurances to straight men that nothing goes up their butts, a concern shared by a not insignificant number of American women, I’ll say this: That’s not always true. I’ve perfected a technique whereby, a couple times a week, while the stream of water is showering my nethers, I begin sucking some of it up, more and more, storing it in the rectum, a kind of reverse bong hit for my anal lung, until there’s enough in there to forcibly exhale in a waterfall of health and gratitude. The asshole can hold many secrets: suppositories, butt plugs, balloons full of heroin. Mine contains absolutely, positively nothing—a secret I’m comfortable sharing today.
Bidets will reach America. Agrawal predicts, with the self-serving fervor of a toiletry-space disruptor, that every home will have one in the next five to 10 years. For all that is holey, I hope she’s right. “Gay is in,” she says, by way of supporting evidence. “All of my heterosexual guy friends are fluid now. The gender nonconformity thing is helping products that have a weird sexual bias.” From the comfort of your toilet, you too can be a revolutionary.