Issues in social nudity

Issues in social nudity
Public nudity: participants in the World Naked Bike Ride

Social nudity is nudity in private and public spaces. It is sometimes controversial for addressing, challenging and exploring a myriad of sometimes taboo subjects, stereotypes and mores relating to the nude appearance of the human body, personal space, human sexuality, gymnophobia, modesty, physical attractiveness, vanity, objectification, exploitation and consent.


Clothing optional

Some nudist resorts, clubs, or beaches have the "undress code" of full nudity at all times (with exceptions, such as cold weather, a woman experiencing menstruation, or certain days or hours for new visitors). Most have that policy only for the swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, hot tub bath, etc., with clothing optional elsewhere.

It is debatable which policy is best. Those advocating full nudity maintain it provides a better sense of equality when everyone is without clothing. First-timers to the resort may be uncomfortable with other clothed people around and feel "naked." Since naturism is most emphatically not a spectator sport, anyone not already nude would be disallowed entry (except the periphery for undressing).

Others feel it is better to welcome everyone whether dressed or nude (subject to rules and requirements). A married couple might have one spouse who is comfortable being fully nude (usually the husband), while the other spouse is not. If a full nudity policy were in place, such a family would have to split up for the day, or find an alternative activity. A few resorts attempt a compromise by being clothing optional for females, but not males.


Participants in social nudity say that the attendees are generally very well-behaved, as well or better than in non-nudist or non-naturist settings. Even though problems are sometimes discussed among naturists, it does not mean they occur frequently.


For privacy reasons, photographing anyone without consent is restricted at many nude venues by law, rule, or custom. Some resorts prohibit cameras altogether, while others require that permission be granted by anyone being photographed.

Appropriate dress

Nudists will wear clothes if the weather or indoor temperature demands it. Naturists generally consider themselves to be accepting people, the general idea being simply to do things nude that one would normally do clothed. However, nudist culture has its own rules of etiquette, though they vary among the groups and sites.

Generally, nude groups accept people of all races, ages, sizes, and shapes, including those with amputations, scars, tattoos or trimmed (or absence of) hair. Recently some "smoothie"[1] organizations have expressed a preference for members to completely shave or remove all pubic hair, as some believe that having pubic hair does not leave that body completely nude. For "smoothies," head, and perhaps facial hair are acceptable. Official mandates are rare, however.

Yet another issue for nudists and naturists alike is genital jewellery. Items such as rings in the penis, labia or nipples are sometimes claimed to be "calling attention to the genitals" (or erogenous zones in the case of nipples) and are therefore sometimes viewed as overtly sexual. It can also be said, though, that the central naturist belief is that there are no "bad" body parts, and if earrings innocuously call attention to ears, it would be unfair to forbid doing the same to genitals.


Many nudists and Naturist clubs consider it essential for reasons of hygiene to sit on a towel whenever sitting on a chair, bench, or any other place where others might sit (unless under water) and they consider it poor etiquette to do otherwise. Some clubs encourage members or guests to bring their own chairs. Likewise, sitting on someone else's towel is considered a breach of etiquette. Similar rules would also apply to clothing-optional bike rides. Often in situations involving shared use of pools or tubs, people are asked to shower first to minimize contamination and prolong the amount of time the water can be used before further maintenance is needed. This practice is also common in non-nudist pools.

Spontaneous erections

While most nudists and naturists condemn any sort of overt sexual activity, the issue of non-sexual spontaneous erections is highly debatable. Generally, this is more of an issue in the United States than in continental Europe.

One person might argue erections are not a problem, and forcing males to cover up goes against their beliefs of the human body not being shameful. (This assumes the subject is not breaching etiquette by trying to attract attention.) However, another person may argue that erections—even if non-sexual—are impolite, and certain groups are likely to be offended (e.g. some females who have experienced past sexual abuse). Complicating the matter, many would-be adult newcomers mistakenly think that having an erection is inevitable. Resorts disallowing erections commonly suggest covering the waist with a towel, laying on one's stomach, or going into the swimming pool (if within the pool fence).[2] Some latitude might be given to younger males according to their age and circumstances because:

  • it occurs the most frequently among this age group
  • others are less likely to take offense or feel threatened
  • forgetfulness due to a lack of maturity—especially in a recreational setting
  • more likely to be engaged in activities where it would be awkward to carry a towel around

Some naturists feel this may be keeping young males away from social nudity (due to embarrassment or overly restrictive rules), while same-aged females would be uncomfortable joining unilaterally. (See also 'Age' under the 'Diversity' section below.) Unfortunately, the topic of non-sexual spontaneous erections is routinely ignored by anthropologists who study traditional cultures, and it is not widely known what rules of etiquette exist on this matter among peoples who have lived nude since antiquity.



Statistics show that more men than women participate in social nudity activities. In order to approach to a balanced situation, many of the involved organizations in these activities do not allow unaccompanied men, and might even encourage unaccompanied women. Some venues avoid the accusation of discrimination by banning all single people and accepting only families and male/female couples. Other groups have quotas. Whether that is hypocritical of a subculture which promotes acceptance is a topic often debated. Some organizations argue that they do not discriminate based on gender, but merely require a balance in the numbers of men and women; notwithstanding many of them would consider discriminatory such requirements based on race, origin or any other personal characteristic. The increasing acceptance of homosexuality in western society, up to and including recognition as marriage of a union of two people with the same sex (same-sex marriage) in some places, adds an additional factor in discussing the appropriateness of gender restrictions in social nudity.


Samoan girls, c. 1902

Organized social nudity usually attracts more people of European ethnic backgrounds. This may be due to social nudity becoming a social movement in Europe, before spreading to other parts of the world. Other reasons include the fact that most resorts are located far from the cities, and they have done little to promote themselves to those of non-European ethnic backgrounds.

If someone is from an ethnicity whose recent ancestors had no problem with public nudity (parts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, pre-European Americas and Australia), it might be thought of as being "primitive" by modern standards, and lacking in social status. (i.e. "Only the poorest of the poor would go about without clothing.") This contrasts with the more Western attitude that nudity and sexuality are somehow related, but nonetheless causes them to shy away from social nudity.


It has been noted that in the past few decades many naturist and nudist clubs have a noticeable lack of young members in their ranks.[3] Since young people have often been crucial for social movements (as they have more spare time and fewer commitments), this may be hindering naturism a great deal. However, growing participation in public nudity activities such as clothing-optional bike rides offer hope that younger generations are increasingly becoming interested in at least one aspect of social nudity.

Other reasons include parents being concerned about false accusations of child abuse by those who are unfamiliar with non-sexual nudity. In the United States, Child Protective Services (CPS) may investigate even if no laws have been allegedly broken. Although rare, the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) has an attorney on hand to assist when such incidents occur among members. If they are absent, many private nudist venues require that one or both parents be consulted regarding the documentation of their minor children. This may also include situations with partial custody, stepchildren, etc.[4]

Some naturists feel that youth are essential for the movement to continue, and it will slowly die without them. Also, the non-sexual atmosphere is threatened by their absence, as adults tend to behave better when youth are around. An "adults only" nudist venue virtually implies that it is in fact sexual, no matter what its organizers intended.

Sexual orientation

In the early 1980s, gay men began to carve their own niche within the realm of organized naturism. By the mid-80s, local naturist clubs for gay men had been established in major cities across the United States and Canada, and today over 100 such clubs exist, along with two international organizations that promote gay naturism. The reasons for the emergence of gay naturism as a distinct stratum of the naturist movement may include the discriminatory policies of some landed naturist clubs (specifically, disallowing single men or male couples), fear of encountering homophobia within the naturist realm at large, and a willingness to self-segregate in order to experience naturism more in line with the norms of gay culture (as opposed to the family friendly mode of naturism promoted by many naturist advocates). Gay naturism as a social phenomenon invariably refers to gay male naturism. Lesbian counterparts to gay male naturist clubs and organizations have never emerged. However, some rural lesbian separatist communes practiced clothing-optional living during the seventies and eighties.

Home nudity and children

Labels, associations and terminology

The terms naturism, nudism and social nudity are generally defined as the practice of going nude, especially in a mixed social setting. The terms naturism and nudism generally also mean that the activities are done in non-sexualized, family-friendly contexts.

The usage and definition of these terms varies both geographically and historically.[5][6]

The term nudist is more widely familiar in North America, however naturism is also widely used. A naturist is sometimes defined as an individual who prefers a more natural setting for their nude or clothing-optional activities—such as a beach, a lake, the woods, or the mountains.

Within the naturist and nudist movements, many people prefer to adopt only one label or the other. Others do not bother or like adopting labels. In the traditional view, the nudist in the U.S. is a person who seeks out organized social settings for the practice of the nudist philosophy. This often takes the form of membership in a landed or non-landed nudist club, with a well-defined system of conduct and social structure. It is believed to be a predictable environment which offers the participants the safety that comes with facilities for secluded, lawful nudity (without the threat of legal action or observation by outsiders seeking to view them for prurient purposes). However, others avoid "organized" naturism and nudism, and are content with clothing-optional public beaches, home naturism, etc.

Some political contention exists between the traditional nudist and the naturist within the national organizations that represent clothing optional recreation for lobbying purposes. Traditional nudists seek to maintain the status quo while the naturists push for expansion of beaches and other outdoor facilities and their designation as clothing optional. It has been said that naturists tend to be more supportive of public nudity than do nudists, who generally focus more on landed and non-landed clubs. On the one hand in America there appears to be more support for mass-nudity, as in the photography/art of Spencer Tunick, and in Europe there are extended naked walks by individuals and small groups of like-minded people.

Social nudity without labels or with alternative terminology

Many people casually enjoy social nudity without adhering to any term and without associating with any traditional naturist, nudist or FKK organization or any other groups or movements.[7] That is common, for example on nude beaches and other forms of public nudity, such as seen at cultural events like Burning Man or clothing-optional bike rides.

Several activists, such as Vincent Bethell, claim that associations to promote naturism or nudism are unnecessary, leading only to "nudity in tolerated ghettoes". Activist Daniel Johnson believes that labels and affiliations overly complicate a relatively simple phenomenon, alienate others from a fear of over-commitment or undesirable stereotypes, and thus get in the way of integrating nudity into everday life.[8] Naturists and nudists counter that associating with established terms and philosophies such as nudism and naturism makes it easier to understand a common set of principles and values.

Controversial activities

Beauty pageants

Naturist/nudist beauty pageants are no longer as common as they were in the 1950s and 1960s in mainstream naturist/nudist venues, as some claim they counter the body-acceptance message that many believe in, that says all body types should be equally accepted. Also, the idea of a beauty contest appears to endorse the idea that women are there to be looked at.

Lingerie parties

Some naturist/nudist venues sponsor "lingerie parties", which many in the movement frown upon. They feel that this kind of activity strays outside of the non-sexualized, family friendly environments/contexts they wish to maintain. It is noteworthy here that although nudity is regarded as non-sexual, certain forms of clothing are seen as sexualized, and wearing this clothing in public is thought to make the occasion a sexual one.


Massage or group touch activities, even when done in non-sexualized contexts, make some feel uncomfortable because they are inherently sensual and involve physical contact that some are not accustomed to. Nevertheless, a massage Special Interest Group has been part of The Naturist Society since its earliest days and remains fairly popular.

Nudity in public



  1. ^ Euro Naturist - smooth naturists & nudists - Smoothies
  2. ^
  3. ^ Daney, Charles. "Why Don't More Young Adults Try Social Nudity?". Archived from the original on 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2006-09-13. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ In his book, Cinema Au Naturel (Introduction on page 11), author Mark Storey states notes "two related terms that we will continually run across are nudist and naturist. Although the meanings of the two terms are virtually identical, they often have different connotations for those who prefer one to the other. In America people who believe that it is physically, socially, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually healthy to go about fully nude individually and in groups of mixed sex whever weather permits and others are not offended generally refer to themselves as "nudists". In Europe such people more often than not refer to themselves as "naturists."
  6. ^ Presently, Mark Storey is authoring an article detailing historical use of the terms naturism and nudism and how they differ between different cultures, countries, and time periods in history. In a telephone interview by Daniel Johnson on 15 April 2006 with Storey he stated that "a draft of the piece was posted on the "References" page of The Naturist Society web site [1] for a few weeks". At the time of its former release in October 2004 it was titled Naturism, Nudism, or Nameless? A History of Terms He is planning on publishing a revised article as soon as additional information and errors are corrected.
  7. ^ Information from Being and Nakedness "Disorganized nudity" by Charles Daney
  8. ^ Nude & Natural (N), Beyond Safe Havens: Oregon's Terri Sue Webb, By Daniel Johnson Issue 21.3, Spring 2002 [2].

Further reading

External links

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