So, do you ever feel ... not so fresh?
This question is traditionally asked by young women of their mom's on boats in douche ads, but this one is directed at everybody and the answer is probably "Yes."
Whether it's from being hermetically sealed in pantyhose all day, from sweating inside wooly winter wear or dripping with summer heat, feeling no-so-fresh is easier than the acres of body care products in the store would suggest.
And the fact is that most Americans aren't as clean as they imagine themselves to be. We pay catlike attention to grooming, and yet all that Purell-ing sort of fades at the thought that we're walking around with our nether regions shmeared with -- there's no nice way to say it -- poop.
So, how can this be if Americans use about 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper a year?
Well, Newsweek's Smart List reported in August that "... a classic survey showed that half of TP users spend their days with 'fecal contamination' -- anything from 'wasp-colored' stains to 'frank massive feces' -- in their underpants."
AlI can say, with pride in my award-winning writing skills is "Eeeeeeeeeewwwwww!" We use enough deodorizers to ensure that we don't smell remotely organic, and yet we can't even keep our own heinies clean? What's a first-world country to do?
Well, we could get off our questionably groomed butts and try setting them on a bidet, a simple plumbing fixture the sprays the anal and genital areas with water, providing what some consider a far more thorough clean than dry toilet paper on its own. Bidets are common in other parts of the world, but they're far from de riguer in America.
"It's unthinkable for me ... that people go around with, basically, feces smeared all over their butts -- that's the best that toilet paper can do," said William Bruneau, author of The Bidet Book, possibly the only volume on the subject. "Using a bidet, our body is completely washed back there."
Bruneau wanted to put in a classic French bidet when building his house, but building codes wouldn't allow it. "I was crushed," he said. But then, when they were putting in a kitchen sink and a vegetable sprayer he got another idea. "I had them attach a thing to the toilet so I could put a sprayer in there -- and I thought 'This is a great idea!' " He thought of writing a book on the subject of the inexpensive bidet and "found out there are a zillion portable bidets" on the market.
He's right. Google "bidet" and you'll find a bewildering number of sales sites with bidets that come in many varieties, with all kinds of features. The classic French model (the French are credited with introducing them in the 1700s, according to ehow.com) is a stand-alone basin, like a low sink.
Today, there are models that attach easily to an existing toilet, some of which have temperature controls and blow dryers. The Infrastructurist says (in a story called "What Do Americans Have Against Awesome Toilets?") that "a typical Japanese loo" will do all kinds of tasks: spraying front-to-back, performing medical urine tests, providing a nightlight and playing the sounds of "a soothing waterfall or birdsong soundtrack to drown out embarrassing noises."
On a quick trip to Home Depot, I found two models, Blue Bidet and Go Bidet, prominently displayed on endcaps for $99 each and promising easy installation. Even cheaper portable and travel models can be found online for the germaphobe on-the-go or just anyone who wants to take the clean with them.
Bruneau's DIY model, by the way, is still spraying, nine years after installation.
Speaking of clean, let's talk about toilet paper. Of course it has its merits, but if dry paper always worked perfectly well, why would we need the adult wet wipes that are stocked right there in the toilet paper aisle? Because a little extra water can go a long way.
In researching bidets, one thing I found was a Suite 101 article on pruritius ani, a condition characterized by perennial anal itching, for which author Dr. Hanish Babu suggets avoidance of dry toilet paper and washing with a bidet, patting dry with soft TP.
Bruneau cites that for people with hemorrhoids, who are pregnant or have other conditions, bidets can be a great help. The elderly, he says, whot may not have the physical or mental ability to ensure their own cleanliness could be greatly helped by bidets, as could their caregivers. They're also good for rinsing off after sex, an excellent hygienic practice.
So, they're clean. But are they green?
In 2008, Chris Baskind wrote in Eco Tech Daily that the bidet is a greener way to go, but for smaller, more complex reasons than you might guess.
Liz Langley is a freelance writer in Orlando, Fla.