You’ve probably seen the headlines: novel coronavirus panic has people lining their homes with every bit of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and canned food they can acquire.
People have shared pictures of empty grocery store shelves that have only seemed to further fuel the toilet paper panic, despite assurances from retailers that Canada will not run out and despite some stores cracking down on how many rolls people can buy in one go.
But here’s the thing: you don’t actually need to wipe your butt with toilet paper. And if the reported spike in sales for companies like Brondell, Hygiene for Health and Tushy are any indication, more people are wising up to the alternatives.
After all, as one popular writer, Indi Samarajiva, wrote last year:
“We all have butts and they all need to be washed.”
Toilet paper wasn’t always the go-to for people needing to wipe their bums clean.
In December 2012, the BMJ medical journal did a deep dive on classical era toilet hygiene that Scientific American picked up on for its appropriately titled “all the ways we’ve wiped” issue the following spring.
What are some of the ways people have wiped?
Well, that largely depends on where you’re from and what your customs were, wrote the study’s lead author Philippe Charlier, an anthropologist and forensic medicine researcher.
Some options include: “water… leaves, grass, stones, corn cobs, animal furs, sticks, snow, seashells, and, lastly, hands.”
There’s also the Greco-Roman way: fixing a sponge to a stick, cleaning your butt, and then putting the sponge into a bucket of vinegar or saltwater.
In fact, talk of toilet paper in the Western world didn’t appear until the 16th century, at which point satirist François Rabelais rather presciently noted that toilet paper doesn’t seem to work all that well.
And yet, five centuries later, we still use so much of it.
In fact, a study from the Natural Resources Defense Council last year found that Americans use roughly three rolls of toilet paper every week — one-fifth of the world’s consumption. Most of that comes from the logging of old-growth trees in Canada.
That’s just one downside. Using paper to wipe your bottom isn’t exactly… clean.
As Indi Samarajiva wrote, if you poop, “you can’t just wipe it until the paper looks clean. If you got poop on any other surface you wouldn’t just wipe it off, you’d wash it. Your butt deserves the same dignity.”
But no, with toilet paper, we just wipe until it looks clean — a tendency that can lead to what’s sometimes referred to as polished anus syndrome, but is medically known as Pruritis ani, Latin for “itchy anus.”
Relief, according to multiple studies summarized by the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, tends to be quite immediate after the poop is cleaned from the area around your anus. In other words, the lingering poop is the reason you’re so itchy.
If you want to beat the itch, the British Association of Dermatologists recommends ditching the toilet paper.
Not only are cotton wool balls moistened with warm water a little gentler on your bum, the association says, they’re also “more effective in cleaning fissures and skin creases.”
If you accidentally leave little bits of toilet paper in said fissures and creases, it will only up the irritation factor, the dermatologists say. The best bet is to thoroughly rinse your butt “after you have opened your bowels.”
Still, Canadians have been pretty resistant to toilet paper alternatives.
As Adrian Lee wrote in The Globe and Mail, “Here we are, continuing to swipe at our dirtiest parts with our pathogen-transmitting hands – protected only by a few measly scraps of pulp – merely because of the tyranny of convention.”
But just in case COVID-19 panic, barren shelves and belated roll rationing has spurred you to alternatives, here are a few options for a clean, itch-free anus:
- Bidets — The traditional bidet is a basin that sits next to your toilet that you can sit on to wash your genitalia. There are also bidet attachments that can be connected to your toilet so that at the turn of a knob you can spray yourself clean while still sitting on the toilet. Bidets are quite common outside of North America.
- The bum gun — The bum gun is pretty similar to the bidet, except it’s hand-held and more common in Southeast Asia. It’s a nozzle next to the toilet that you use to spray yourself clean with water.
- The lota — The lota is a small pot with a large spout (think teapot or watering can) that’s used by many Muslim people. “Islam teaches that the condition of the body affects the condition of the spirit, so it’s essential to be clean at all times—especially before offering prayers — which is why lots of Muslims use lotas,” explained Javaria Akbar for Vice.
As a bonus, you could consider swapping out your toilet along with the toilet paper. Instead, you could opt for the Toto Washlet C100, a high-tech toilet favoured in Japan. It combines a bidet with button controls that will flush for you, adjust the temperature of the seat, and take care of any unsightly scents.
It is, as Thomas Ambrosini wrote for Wisecrack, a “porcelain epiphany.”
The new coronavirus was first identified in Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and spread rapidly. While the outbreak has begun to level off in China, it seems the virus has found a foothold in a number of countries around the world, and it continues to spread.
Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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