Due to long cultural conditioning westerners find this thought itself revolting, abhorrent and disgusting that we do it by putting our hand there. Also imagine washing your behinds with ice cold water (the anal sphincter muscles are very sensitive which quickly signals pain) and what to do when even water has frozen! Try putting crushed ice in your underwear down there and you will immediately get your answer- no words needed, experiential . Before the invention of indoor water heating system water was really cold in most or all of the snow falling countries even during summers.
So wiping with paper instead of putting cold water on one’s asshole is a practice definitely related to the cold weather in all the European countries. North Europe is cold for a greater part of the year and water is cold even during summers. This practice is rather old and before 20th century hot water or any water on tap was a luxury enjoyed by royals only. Yet the royals used tissues of fine chiffon silk to wipe their behinds.
Still it is not so all over. Countries in South Europe (with somewhat warm summer) like Italy or Spain do wash with water using bidets. They are able to have the best of both the world use water for cleaning without having to put their hand there.
I grew up in an Indian household, and my parents were taught to use water. They will always tell me (and I will always believe them) that water makes you cleaner than any little squares of paper will. But the fact of the matter is weather in India is well suited for luke-warm water all year round. Also most of the Indian family are too poor to afford toilet paper (it costs a fortune in India), which would be like wiping oneself with money, so paper isn’t really an option.
History of Toilet Paper:
Toilet paper was in use, dating back to the 6th century AD, in early medieval China, a nation which invented paper in 105CE. Even during early 14th century, a huge quantity of toilet paper used to be produced for use in the Emperor’s court. The commoners used to defecate in the rivers.
In Roman times, they used what was called a ‘gompf stick’ – a sponge on the end of a stick, which was kept in a container, containing salt water, in the privy. All those who used the toilet would share the gompf. The wealthy Romans would use wool and scented water. Ancient Greeks are said to have used stones called ‘pessoi’ and pieces of clay.
The toilet paper is a Chinese invention dating back to the 13th century. Very upper class Chinese people used paper whilst others used cloth, hemp or wool.
Before the invention of the modern toilet papers, the English Lords used to use paper from inexpensive books to wipe down after using the toilet. The French Royalty are said to have used lace.
The colonial Americans used rags, newspaper and corncobs (yes, and they were sometimes reused); and in the coastal areas, they used mussel shells. When they became available, the Americans also used the absorbent sheets from the Sears Roebuck company’s catalog, the Farmer’s Almanac and the telephone directories.
In medieval Europe, toilets were simple buckets or ‘chamberpots’. The rich would have a small room called ‘garderobe’ which was basically a wooden plank with a hole in it. They would use hay, grass, straw and scrapers/gompf sticks to wipe. The wealthy French would use lace, wool, hemp and bidet. The French writer Francois Rabelais (1483-1553) wrote extensively in his book ‘Gargantua’, about his experiments to find the ideal material to wipe his bottom. Some of his ideas were very strange.
Countries in Middle East and other Islamic nations have traditionally used water and the left hand to wash. The Islam religion has laid down a set of practices to follow when going to the toilet and prayers to say afterwards. This code is called the Qadaa’ al-Haajah. The only country in the western world or rather Europe that still uses water (bidet) to wash after defecating is Spain where the Muslim ruled for just under a 1000 years (722 AD – 1492 AD).
For centuries, in South and South-East Asian countries, including India, people have used water to wash themselves using the left hand. In the 10,000 year-old ancient Hindu scripture called ‘Manusmriti’, a section that was supposed to have been written sometime between 1500BC-500AD gives detailed instructions about the proper times and places for urination and defecation, as well as the purifying rituals that follow. One must definitely wash both hands well after the act. In Muslim and Hindu cultures, the right hand is exclusively used for eating.