The bidet is a European invention, though both France and Italy commonly try to take credit for the idea. The word bidet is French in origin so this may indeed be where the fixture originated. The bidet was first used simply because bathing was not a daily occurrence. It typically happened about once a week, though some individuals may not have even managed that. This created a very pressing need for individuals to clean their genital area, and thus the bidet was born. The first bidets were little more than basins set in a wooden fixture like a chair so the water could be splashed onto the genitals.
The idea of the bidet has persisted long past the time of weekly bathing for many good reasons. This method of cleaning up after bowel movements is simply believed to be more sanitary. While this can certainly be viewed as a cultural difference, the fact of the matter in very scientific terms is that the bidet is better for personal hygiene. Some cultures rightly see toilet paper as somewhat primitive and definitely dirty. Dry paper is held directly in the hand and used to clean up fecal matter. This isn't quite as efficient as using a clean stream of water.
The bidet applies a focused stream of water to the genital region to clean up after a bowel movement. The bidet can also be used for general personal hygiene. Women have the added option of a feminine wash that is typically used after urination. This feature can also be used for extra cleanliness any time it is needed. Freshening up is important, even in areas that aren't openly discussed. The bidet makes it easy to clean up as needed without taking a full shower several times a day. It is widely accepted in many parts of the world that this is an effective way to wash.
In the United States, people are very unfamiliar with the idea of a bidet for genital cleaning. Some trepidation toward the idea stems from the misguided belief that it will be very uncomfortable to use. While it's true that crouching over a traditional bidet does require some practice, the attachable bidet that's available today makes bidet use quite simple. The nozzle protrudes from under the toilet seat, directs the water at the correct area, and provides a refreshing and gentle cleaning experience. The temperature and pressure is adjustable for dozens of different combinations. Bidet use for beginners has never been easier.