Issues in social nudity

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Urban skinny dipping in India.
Two women of the Zo'é tribe of Pará State, Brazil in the Amazon basin.

Social nudity is the nude appearance of the human body in relatively public settings not restricted by gender. This occurs both in public spaces and on commercial property, such as at a naturist resort. It is sometimes controversial for addressing and exploring a myriad of sometimes taboo subjects, stereotypes, and mores. Although many issues are discussed, it does not necessarily mean that they occur frequently.

Some isolated indigenous nudity still exists in the tropics, though this way of life is highly endangered, as is male nude swimming in public, which used to be very commonplace in Western civilization. Modern European-style naturism began around the turn of the 20th century in British India and Northern Germany, and it was later adopted in America as well.


Nude men at the Woodstock Festival in Poland.

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.[citation needed]

The usage and definition of these terms varies both geographically and historically. In his book, Cinema Au Naturel, author Mark Storey states: "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 gender, wherever the 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".[1]

Clothing optional[edit]

Most nudist resort require full-nudity only for the swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, hot tub bath, with a clothing optional policy elsewhere. Full nudity requirements at free public naturist beaches are not common.[citation needed]

Advocates of full nudity maintain it provides a better sense of equality when everyone is without clothing. First-timers to a resort may be uncomfortable with other clothed people around and feel "naked." Since naturism is not a spectator sport, anyone not already nude would be disallowed entry (except the periphery for undressing).[citation needed]

As the French social psychologist Marc-Alain Descamps wrote (translated): The reciprocal sight of complete nudity defuses the exhibitionistvoyeur relationship.[2]

Other sites welcome everyone whether dressed or nude (subject to other miscellaneous rules and requirements)[3]

Legal concerns[edit]


Many countries or provinces/states within a country have laws which adversely affect naturists. These laws are often intended to address "indecent exposure", but are so broadly written that they criminalize ordinary, non-sexual nudity. Muslim-majority countries may prohibit exposing areas of the body that are not considered indecent in Western culture, although exact details vary substantially.[4]

Public nudity in England and Wales is permitted anywhere provided it is not done with the intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress. [5]

Naturism was specifically excluded from the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (SOA) for England and Wales, under Section 66. Police and the Crown Prosecution Service were not adequately informed, and any report of nudity was then prosecuted under Section 5 of The Public Order Act 1986, which was created to deal with people who joined in riots. The Equalities Act of 2010 afforded Naturists with a protected status and use of the Public Order Act route was defeated in the courts in 2013. British Naturism felt police officers needed to be better informed, and after having discussions with the senior police officer in the College of Policing in April 2018 mutually satisfactory wording was agreed, and the resultant preamble and “decision tree” for dealing with complaints about public nudity has been uploaded to the Police Training manuals. [6]

Some laws specifically target naturism. In the U.S. State of Arkansas, nudism is illegal beyond the immediate family unit, even on private property. It is also a crime to "promote" or "advocate" nudism.[7]


In Islam, the area of the body not meant to be exposed in public is called the awrah.[8][9] Examples include prohibitions on males wearing shorts, and females exposing their head. Precisely which body parts must be covered varies between different schools of Islamic thought.[10]


Street photography at some public mass-nudity events, such as the World Naked Bike Ride above, is the norm.

At some beaches, taking photographs might be restricted. Private nude resorts might prohibit cameras altogether, while others may require permission be granted by anyone being photographed, in addition to management in some cases.[citation needed]

The American Association for Nude Recreation issues a photo release form to allow people to give permission for the publication of photos of themselves or their children.[11]


Most 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 may 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.[citation needed]



Statistics show that more men than women participate in social nudity activities.[12] To address this, some nudist organizations do not allow unaccompanied men, while encouraging unaccompanied women. Some venues ban all single people, and accept only families and male/female couples. Others have quotas for single males.[citation needed]


Many naturist and nudist clubs have few young members.[13] This has been the case for the past few decades, though previously it was not so.[citation needed]

Reasons for this decline include parents being concerned about the possibility of false accusations or suspicions 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 such incidents are rare among its members, the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) has an attorney on hand to assist. Many private nudist venues require that one or both parents, including absent parents, be consulted regarding the documentation of their minor children. This may also include situations with partial custody, stepchildren, etc.[14]:216


Samoan girls, c. 1902

Organized social nudity usually attracts more people of European ethnic backgrounds. This may be due to it 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 have done little to promote themselves to those of non-European ethnic backgrounds.[14]:307

If someone is from an ethnicity whose recent ancestors had no problem with public nudity (parts of Africa, Asia, pre-European Americas, Australia, and the Pacific Islands), 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.[14]:308

Home nudity between children[edit]

Social nudity without labels or with alternative terminology[edit]

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.[15] 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 ghettos". 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 everyday life.[16] 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.[citation needed]

Other issues[edit]

Non-naturists may get very concerned by issues that naturists do not perceive as problems.


Staring at others is generally discouraged by most nudist and naturist groups, and could result in eviction if someone complains that it made them uncomfortable. In the early days of naturism in the U.S. (1930s-1950s), the rules at many resorts stipulated that when conversing, you must only look at each other face to face.[14]:162

On the other hand, staring has been acceptable at the largely abandoned female beauty contests.[citation needed] In the 1960s and 1970s nudist royalty pageants and "Miss Nude" contests were held by some naturist clubs in the US and Canada. The former were open to men, women and children and were judged on the basis of audience applause, while the latter were typically open to women aged between 18 and 30 and were judged by panels drawn from the local community, businesses and the media as well as minor celebrities.[17][18]

Sexual well-being[edit]

Smith and King pose the following points in their 2009 peer reviewed paper Naturism and Sexuality: Broadening our approach to sexual well-being [19]

  • The relationship between naturism and sexuality is managed through social and spatial segregation. In commercial naturist resorts, eroticism and sexuality is controlled by applying hetero-normative values, and strict rules and policing. In other environments, eroticism is moderated through self-censorship of actions and behavior. This can make the practice of naturism an isolating, repressive, and anxious experience, rather than a liberating and social one.
  • Mainstream naturism relies on discriminatory and dishonest practices to manage sexuality, which limits the diversity of the naturist population, and presents an image and culture that lacks integrity and transparency.
  • Mainstream naturism puts strict limits on sexual feelings leading to physical arousal, and equates sexual exploration to deviancy. This may limit the educative potential of nudity in expanding our experience and understanding of sexual feelings beyond the genitals.
  • Naturist environments can offer unique public spaces to explore sexual feelings and experiences that may be repressed or limited in conventional public spaces and sexual relationships.
  • Mainstream naturism may pathologize (i.e. treat as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy) those who enjoy the eroticism of nudity. An asexual discourse can leave individuals who experience nudity as erotic, to feel uneasy, guilty, defensive, and marginalized within the naturist community. This is similar to the way that popular culture often pathologizes and marginalizes naturists.
  • Mainstream naturism may lead to conscious and unconscious repression of sexual feelings, and behavior that limits the relationship between naturism and nature.
  • Sexual feelings and behavior are often negotiated through unspoken consent based on the "ebb and flow" of feelings and body language. This subtle and non-verbal consent runs counter to government guidelines on clear verbal consent in sexual behavior. It is possible that the fear of not obtaining this kind of "consent" may limit future sexual exploration in naturist environments. It is also possible that frank sexual behavior may sometimes broaden peoples' sexual feelings, and consequently enhance sexual well-being. Currently, this positive relationship between naturism and sexuality remains undiscussed and repressed.
  • Some naturist environments can induce sexual feelings. Nudity in public environments where it is not tolerated was cited several times as a source of people's sexual feelings. Sensory rich environments were also cited as potential trigger for sexual feelings, while personal spaces may legitimize an environment in which nudity can become sexual, without it contradicting the public image of naturism.
  • The present law to combat deviant sexual behavior in a public space is inappropriate for the relationship between nudity and deviancy does not appear in the display of genitals, but in the behavior attached to the nudity. The abuse of nudity to cause "alarm and distress" can only exist in an environment in which nudity is absent from everyday spaces. By legislating against public nudity and sexual behavior, the sexual tension and "shock" value created by being nude in a public space may actually encourage those who wish to use nudity as a form of abusive, exploitative, and harassing behavior.

Spontaneous erections[edit]

While most nudists and naturists condemn any sort of overt sexual activity, the issue of non-sexual spontaneous erections is highly debatable. "What if I get an erection?" is the number one question among males who are considering joining social nudity.[20] Unfortunately, this topic is routinely ignored by anthropologists who study traditional cultures, and it is not widely known what rules of etiquette exist among peoples who have lived nude since antiquity.[21]

Non-sexual erections tend to be more problematic with nudists and naturists in the United States than in continental Europe. The world's largest naturist resort at Cap d'Agde in France is well known among the nudist community to be nonchalant about erections.[22] Clubs and resorts disallowing erections commonly suggest covering the waist with a towel, lying on one's stomach, or going into the swimming pool (if within the pool fence).[23]

Males of some indigenous tribes of the Amazon Basin live nude except for a light string worn around the waistline. This is used to conceal the foreskin of the penis from females, which is considered taboo in communal settings. Since the penis is normally held upright just below the navel, erections are much less noticeable.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Storey, Mark (2003). Cinema Au Naturel: A History of Nudist Film. Naturist Education Foundation. p. 11. ISBN 9780974084404.
  2. ^ Vivre Nu: Psychosociologie du Naturisme, Marc-Alain Descamps, Edition Trismégiste, 1987, ISBN 2-86509-026-4
  3. ^ "Faqs". BlueBonnet Resorts Inc.
  4. ^ Martin et al. (2003), Encyclopedia of Islam & the Muslim World, Macmillan Reference, ISBN 978-0028656038
  5. ^ Welch, Andrew. "Policing Naturism - BN engineers a major breakthrough". British Naturism. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  6. ^ "Arkansas Law § 5-68-204 Violates First Amendment Rights".
  7. ^ "Bukhari:6:60:282".
  8. ^ "Sunnan Abu Dawud 32:4091".
  9. ^ Martin et al. (2003), Encyclopedia of Islam & the Muslim World, Macmillan Reference, ISBN 978-0028656038
  10. ^ "Photo Release Form" (PDF). American Association for Nude Recreation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  11. ^ JustLuxe (16 May 2013). "What Really Goes On Inside Nudist Resorts".
  12. ^ Daney, Charles (6 May 1998). "Why Don't More Young Adults Try Social Nudity?". Archived from the original on 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2006-09-13.
  13. ^ a b c d The Nudist Idea, Cec Cinder, Ph.D. c. 1998, Ultraviolet Press
  14. ^ Information from Being and Nakedness "Disorganized nudity" by Charles Daney Archived 2006-04-30 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Daniel Johnson (Spring 2002). "Beyond Safe Havens: Oregon's Terri Sue Webb". Nude & Natural (N). Vol. 21 no. 3. Archived from the original on 26 October 2010.
  16. ^ Gentile, Patrizia; Nicholas, Jane (2013). Contesting Bodies and Nation in Canadian History. Studies in Gender and History. University of Toronto Press. pp. 231–233. ISBN 9781442663169.
  17. ^ "Black Dancer Wins 'Miss Nude World' 1977 Beauty Pageant". Jet. Vol. 57 no. 17. Johnson Publishing Company. 14 July 1977. p. 15. ISSN 0021-5996.
  18. ^ Smith & King 2009.
  19. ^ Author: Jordan Blum; Organization: Young Naturists America (YNA); Date: 23 July 2013[dead link]
  20. ^ An Anthropology of Absence: Materializations of Transcendence and Loss By Mikkel Bille, Frida Hastrup, Tim Flohr Soerensen. Publisher: Springer Science+Business Media
  21. ^ The Naked Truth About Cap d'Agde Author: Ross Velton Publisher: Chris Santilli ISBN 978-0966268348
  22. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". American Association for Nude Recreation. Archived from the original on 4 February 2005.
  23. ^ Justin Rowlatt (5 March 2011). "The minimalist dress code of the Amazon's Awa people". BBC News.


Further reading[edit]

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