The first western-style flushing toilet was invented back in the 16th century by an Englishman named John Harrington. A few centuries later, Thomas Crapper—who we now think of as the father of the modern poop chute—would improve on that original design, patenting a number of modern sanitation fixtures that would go on to define the modern bathroom.
Today, most Americans think about the toilet the same way they think of tissue paper or coat hangers: it's a fundamental, satisfactory part of life. Sure, going to the bathroom isn't exactly glamorous, but why should it be? Recently, though, a number of ambitious young people are trying to come up with newer, cooler ways to poop.
"They say necessity is the mother of invention, and my mother was constipated," Bobby Edwards, designer of the Squatty Potty, told me.
Edwards's mother suffered from constipation her whole adult life. "When a therapist suggested she try a stool to help her get into a squatting position to get relief, it worked," he told me. But "the stool posture wasn't very close to a natural squat. She also hated the bulkiness of it and was constantly tripping over the stool in the bathroom."
So Edwards took matters into his own hands and built what he considered to be a convenient, tasteful piece of furniture that he says allows the user to create a natural squat. It can also be tucked under the toilet when not in use. And thus, the Squatty Potty, which you've probably seen being marketed by a rainbow-pooping unicorn, was born.
The squat toilet is not actually a revolutionary idea. For centuries, countries like China and India have defied the traditional western toilet design in favor of a modest ceramic slit on the bathroom floor. If you're American and have ever travelled east without a thorough briefing, you may have found yourself utterly baffled the first time you walked into a public bathroom to do your business. You spend a few minutes feeling utterly pranked, before taking a deep breath and getting medieval. Belt buckle around your feet, ass hovering above the ground in a 75 percent twerk, and excavating your bowels the same way our distant ancestors did in tributaries and shamefully dug holes all over the world.
Maybe the perks of a little more leverage while defecating seem dubious, but there's real science behind the benefits of a healthy squat. Deep in your colon you'll find a natural, flexible kink called the "anorectal angle," which primarily functions as a stopgap for continence. Without it, we'd be constantly shitting our pants. You only partially relax your anorectal angle if you sit on the toilet, but it's fully relaxed if you squat. This allows for the "complete and total" abandonment of feces when you poop.
That might not seem like much, but consider a 2003 Israeli study, where subjects recorded their bowel movements on a number of different toilet designs. The researchers found that "the time needed for sensation of satisfactory bowel emptying and the degree of subjectively assessed straining in the squatting position were reduced sharply in all volunteers compared with both sitting positions." In other words, if efficiency is your game, squatting does a way better job of emptying your bowels than anything else.
Squatty Potty is without a doubt, the biggest name in ergonomic toilet accessory design, but it's not the only one of its kind: There's the Squat 'n' Go, the Welles Step, and a line of ergonomic toilet stools made by a company called easyGopro, just to name a few.
And then there's Miki Agrawal, a French-Canadian entrepreneur who's been fashioning unmentionables for her entire public career. She first made headlines with THINX, a line of luxury period-proof underwear. Her latest product, the TUSHY, is a bidet attachment for western toilets that cleans your butt with a spray of warm water. The TUSHY website comes with a lifestyle blog, called "The Posterior," and product taglines like, "finally, you'll dry your butt like you dry your eyes after a Beyoncé concert."
The bidet, like the squat toilet, is also an old invention. It's been around since at least the 17th century and is ubiquitous in many parts of the world. But Agrawal's goal is to reimagine the bidet, which many Americans still view as a European curiosity.
"We're the only brand that's positioned as a lifestyle upgrade," Monica Pereira, the CEO of Tushy, told me. "With TUSHY, I always had a hard time thinking about wiping my butt with a piece of paper and just sitting on that all day. It's an inefficient way of cleaning ourselves."
"There's a real opportunity to talk about these things that people don't want to talk about, and the best way to do that is through innovation," said Agrawal.
And while there's nothing revolutionary about either a squat toilet or a bidet, Edwards and Agrawal's goal seems to be about more than just introducing a new era of bathroom accessories—it's also about a new era of bathroom discourse.
"Other products out there are promoting very practical benefits, but they feel more like a medical device or a very clinical thing," said Pereira. "We understand our target market, we understand our customers, and we're unafraid to say, 'Yes this is something you can giggle at,' and that's OK. We can all giggle together and then we can all enjoy this beautiful product."
Follow Luke Winkie on Twitter.