Five Ways Life Was Different Before Basic Hygiene
If someone asked you what humanity’s best invention was, you might have some high-minded ideas about the wheel or photography or pizza rolls, but you could go way longer without all of those things than indoor plumbing. You’d be an emotional and physical mess without reliable access to the facilities and tools to wash your body, clean your teeth and send your waste on a little adventure.
That said, plenty of people throughout history have made do. Sure, life was a little different, but that’s the price you pay for living in The Past.
Modesty Was Impossible
Contrary to what lazy actors in historical theme parks might suggest, most people in most cultures for most of history bathed regularly. They just didn’t have private little rooms to do it in. Of course, in Ancient Greece and Rome, public bathing was the standard, but it continued on and off right up through today as a cultural practice. Even after the rich retreated to their tubs, the less fortunate still had to get their wash on in the local swimming hole. Just you and everyone else in town, hanging out naked. Admittedly, you can get a lot of blackmail information and prevent some serious romantic mistakes this way, but that would go for you, too.
The industrial age didn’t kill the way-too-friendly bath, either, at least not immediately. Without an easier way to heat water, it had to be boiled on the stove in a process you bet your ass your mom was not gonna do multiple times, which meant everyone in the family taking turns in the same bath water in a tub in the kitchen. Sometimes, the tub was passed around in a soapy carousel between multiple families, which had to lead to a lot of HOA drama. If you think it’s annoying when a neighbor borrows your ladder and takes their sweet time returning it, imagine if they had your only means of defunking.
Underwear Was Really Important
Keep in mind, we did say most of history. In colonial Europe, peeking its head out on the other side of the Black Death, the concept of cleanliness got all turned around. Bathing was frowned upon because it opened the pores, which was believed to be how disease got in. Instead, people relied on their underwear, another idea they got totally backwards. They looked at their skid marks and decided the underwear was keeping them clean by drawing the filth out of them like some kind of wearable poop leech.
Underwear’s perceived role in cleanliness was so important that it took on all kinds of weird symbolic meaning. We’re talking undies that cover a lot more than just the butt, so you wanted it peeking out from your sleeves and your collar so everyone could see how clean it was and hence how clean your soul was. Of course, not even Danny Tanner’s panties were spotless, so this meant vigilant laundry practices were required to maintain the illusion of the first incarnation of the exposed thong trend.
Dental Hygiene Was Metal As Hell
When Ke$ha brushed her teeth with a bottle of Jack, she wasn’t just being resourceful — she was keeping an ancient practice alive. We’ve known alcohol is a great antiseptic since about five minutes after we discovered it, probably when we drunkenly spilled it onto an open battle wound, and your drinkin’ booze was, in fact, the same as your rubbin’ booze. As far back as Pliny the Elder, experts recommended wine and beer as mouthwash, though anyone who’s ever fallen asleep after a bender without brushing their teeth can attest to its violent ineffectiveness.
Likewise, we’ve always used something to clean our teeth, but it was vastly less pleasant than even the stiffest Dollar Store toothbrush, usually rough sticks and burnt herbs. By colonial America, though, we had reliable access to a much wider array of abrasive powders that would just so happen to be right at home in some heavy metal lyrics. We’re talking crushed animal bones and gunpowder. By comparison, your dental hygiene routine is some real sissy shit. At least you can pretend to squeeze the life out of the toothpaste tube.
The Pessoi, Ancient Greece’s Ultimate ‘Fuck You’
Throughout human history, we’ve used all kinds of things to wipe our asses. Corn cobs, pine cones, a sponge on a stick, a random handful of leaves that we prayed weren’t poison ivy — pretty much whatever was around. In that respect, the pessoi — a shard of ceramics that had been sanded down and smoothed over — sounds downright soothing. Was it kind of weird to walk around with your own personal shit scraper? Maybe. But the pessoi served another purpose as well: adding insult to injury to those you’d run out of town.
See, a pessoi could be made from any old dropped bowl, but they were often made from ostraca, ceramic chips that Ancient Greeks wrote people’s names on to vote to expel them from the community. It’s the origin of the word “ostracize.” If you voted particularly hard, you might keep your ostraca as a sentimental ass-wiper. Honestly, we should bring this back. Normalize carrying a roll of toilet paper with “James Corden” printed on it.
Oral Sex Was a No-Go
Every generation thinks they invented sex, but people have been getting down in the manner of every category on Pornhub since the beginning of time, with a few exceptions. Remember the Black Death? When everyone stopped bathing? Not a whole lot of oral sex going on then. Normally, we’d make fun of someone who refused to take the southern route because it smells weird, but in this case, that was a completely reasonable objection. Those people were letting their drawers clean them.
By the time it was once again safe to go clam diving or knob slobbing, cultural taboos against the act had taken root. We’re still a long way from convincing every straight man that cunnilingus isn’t gross and emasculating, and we’ve got the Plague to thank. Man, is there anything it can’t ruin?