If you are a Westerner who has recently traveled far flung parts of the world or spoken to someone who has, you might have found yourself surprised to learn that not everyone uses toilet paper after using the toilet. Some parts of the world use water instead.
Is there a reason why the West uses toilet paper instead of water? Which of the two is better? If you have been asking yourself these questions, keep on reading to get your answers!
Why Toilet Paper Is Used Instead of Water?
The two primary reasons that parts of the world use toilet paper instead of water are climate and culture. Before technology and economics allowed for more robust water-related infrastructure, colder regions would find difficulty in ensuring a steady stream of liquid, room temperature water, making wiping with paper a more practical alternative. These practices would often become ingrained in those cultures and the cultures derived from them.
It is difficult to predict whether this is likely to change or not, although the National Kitchen and Bath Association has been noting considerable growth in sales over the past few years, indicating a potential increase in bidet upgrades for bathrooms in American households.
Is it Better to Use Water or Toilet Paper?
This is a controversial topic that has seen robust defenses from both sides. Although it is quite expected that a lot of people defend the way of cleaning themselves after using the toilet that they are used to, it is interesting that even academia does not seem able to fully agree on whether using water is better than toilet paper.
A study by the Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, Japan found that habitual use of a toilet with an incorporated bidet, which washes the user with water after they are finished, correlated with higher incidents of hemorrhoids and urologic infections, but that this relationship was not causal, instead existing because people with sensitivities in those areas are more likely to use a bidet.
The Journal of Food Protection had a piece in 2010 that showed that people who worked with food and did not use toilet paper after using the toilet were linked to the spread of diseases in the food they prepared. This was due to the absence of physical barrier between hand and feces combined with hand washing not being completely effective in removing organisms originating from the gastrointestinal tract.
A study published in BMC Public Health in 2004 found that children who wash their anal area after using the toilet instead of using toilet paper had higher rates of intestinal parasitic infections. A more recent study concluded that hands-free bidets eliminate this concern while allowing for washing instead of toilet paper.
Which Countries Use Toilet Paper Instead of Water?
The countries that use toilet paper instead of water the most are those in much of Europe (with the exception of parts of Southern Europe) and East Asia, as well as their cultural descendants across the globe.
The originating countries have climates with very cold winters in common. This meant that before modern plumbing and electricity, it was not easy to have a reliable supply of comfortable water to use for toilet purposes since it could be too cold or worse, frozen.
Toilet paper use has been culturally ingrained in these countries even now when, for example, a Japanese-style bidet toilet is easy and affordable to install and operate in a safe and hygienic way. The same is true for cultural descendants of those countries in areas that have never had to worry about frozen winters, like Australia.
Why Do People Use Water Instead of Toilet Paper?
Like with countries that use toilet paper, a lot of the modern reasoning for using water instead after using the toilet is culturally ingrained. Toilet paper is an industrial good, at one time even called a luxury. For countries that have not historically had an industrial base, there was no reason to begin using it when water was always available at an appropriate temperature for the purpose.
To this day, households from many countries with significantly more humble economies can struggle to purchase a steady supply of toilet paper. This is exacerbated by the fact that because toilet paper does not have a history in a country like that’s culture, most or all toilet paper purchased would have to be imported, creating an unsustainable cost situation.
Why Do Filipinos Use Water Instead of Toilet Paper?
In the Philippines, the custom after using the toilet is to wash the anus using tabo. The tabo is a dipper that is used to get water out of a pail that often sits alongside a toilet. This is used to get water onto the anus so that it can be washed.
The tabo in its modern form is made of plastic, but the instrument is older than the invention of the material, with historic variants having been made of materials like bamboo and coconut.
The development and continued use of the tabo to cleanse oneself with water after using the toilet instead of using toilet paper is for many of the same reasons as those of other countries who do similar. Namely, the Philippines has not had trouble with water temperatures getting too low in the winter, and the country’s industrial base developed a lot later than many others.
We have learned that the main reason any given country uses toilet paper instead of water or vice versa is due to historic use that has been ingrained in the given country’s culture.
These historic uses were brought about primarily by climate, which made the use of water prohibitive in winter months of colder regions, and industrial economics, which made the purchase of toilet paper unsustainable in regions where it was not necessary.
The academia on the topic does not give a clear steer in either direction, with studies largely agreeing both that washing one’s anus by hand increases the spread of disease but using certain types of bidet systems eliminates that.
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