The bathroom is our most private room in our private homes, devoted to our most private business. And the American bathroom has long contained a stable trinity of fixtures: the toilet, the bath, and the sink. But is there room for another? This week, Nice Try! explores the riddle of why Americans cannot seem to fully embrace the bidet, and how it is wrapped up within the history of the Western bathroom and our modern attitudes toward cleanliness.
Every few years, the bidet winds up in headlines: “Is It Time for Americans to Embrace the Bidet?” a 2020 New York Times story asked. A 2015 story, also in the Gray Lady, proclaimed the electronic bidet “the luxury you won’t want to live without.” The typical framing of this device presents the gadget as a cultural oddity and a foreign marvel to a country that still blushes at conversations about personal hygiene. Arnold Cohen, who invented the washlet in the 1960s, lamented at how impossible it was to market his product. “No one wants to talk about Tushy Washing 101,” he told The Atlantic. However, the tides actually seem to be shifting, due in part to the country’s changing demographics, attitudes about bodies and sexuality, and the pandemic-induced toilet-paper shortage.
Episode six features interviews with journalists Sasha von Oldershausen and Chelsea Wald; Peter Ward, the author of The Clean Body: A Modern History; Miki Agrawal, the founder of Tushy; Bill Streng, the president of corporate strategy at Toto USA; and Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University and author of Psycho-Analysis as History: Negation and Freedom in Freud. Special thanks to Paolo Diego Spadaro, Jonathan Zenti, Zoë Lillian, and Jon Lillian.