Issues in social nudity

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

Social nudity describes the nude appearance of the human body in relatively public settings not restricted by gender. This occurs on both public space, and also commercial property, such as 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.


Participants in social nudity are generally well-behaved, as well or better than in non-nudist or non-naturist settings. Naturists consider themselves to be accepting people. The general idea is to simply do things nude that one would otherwise do clothed. Nudist culture has its own rules of etiquette, though this varies among groups and sites.


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

In democratic countries where street photography or filming cannot be restricted in public areas due to freedom of speech legal protections, photographers are free to take photos of nude swimmers in public nude beaches. However, some beaches may have an organization that limits photography.

Policies vary, though private nude resorts might prohibit cameras altogether, while others may require that permission be granted by anyone being photographed, in addition to management in some cases.[1] Due to the proliferation of cell phones with camera capabilities, these may be restricted as well (including voice and text messaging).

Appropriate adornment[edit]

Nudists may wear clothes if the weather or indoor temperature demands it. This occurs more often in temperate and arctic zones, than warmer tropical climates.

A contentious adornment 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. However, it could also be said that it follows from the central naturist belief that there are no "bad" body parts. Therefore, if the attention called to ears by earrings is innocuous, it is inconsistent to consider comparable treatment of genitals objectionable.


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.

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. 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.[2] Therefore, with little historical or cross-cultural information available, there is a broad range of opinions on this subject. Even those who mostly agree with each other may still have some differences on the finer points.

For example, 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, including wandering around.) 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 this is inevitable. "What if I get an erection?" is the number one question among males who are considering joining social nudity.[3]

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).[4] 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
  • they are more engaged in activities where it would be awkward to carry a towel
  • forgetfulness due to a lack of maturity—especially in a recreational setting
  • parents and peer group can deal with the issue themselves without involving management

Some feel overly restrictive rules or embarrassment may be keeping young males away from social nudity, while similar-aged females would be uncomfortable participating unilaterally. (See also 'Age' under the 'Diversity' section below.) 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 to be nonchalant about erections.[5]

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.[6]

Clothing optional[edit]

Some nudist resorts and clubs 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 a clothing optional policy elsewhere. Full nudity requirements at free public naturist beaches are not common except in France and Brazil.

It is debatable which policy is better. 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). As the French social psychologist Marc-Alain Descamps wrote (translated): The reciprocal visual sight of complete nudity defuses the exhibitionistvoyeur relationship.[7] In addition, though it may seem counter-intuitive to the general public, obligatory naturist resorts are far less likely to have their accreditation revoked due to provocative behavior than clothing-optional resorts.

Others, however, feel it is better to welcome everyone whether dressed or nude (subject to other miscellaneous rules and requirements). Some people have issues with body shame—especially the areas commonly covered by a bathing suit while in a mixed-gender nudist setting. A married couple might have one spouse who is comfortable being fully nude, but 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 allowing females to wear minimal clothing, but not males.[8]

The phrase "not clothing optional" can mean the exact opposite depending on its context. At a nudist resort, it means all clothing is prohibited; at a textile resort, it means nudity is prohibited.

Legal concerns[edit]

Many countries or provinces/states within a country have laws which adversely affect naturists. Oftentimes, these laws are 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. In Islam, the area of the body not meant to be exposed in public is called the awrah.[9][10] Examples include prohibitions on males wearing shorts, and females exposing their head. (These are not universal among Muslims.)

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" (i.e. express a favorable opinion about) nudism—see[11]


One of the greatest challenges of organized naturism is increasing the participation of several demographic categories, especially in families, females, young adults, inner-city dwellers, and people of non-European ethnic backgrounds.

Body and hair acceptance[edit]

People with shaved pubic hair pictured at the World Naked Bike Ride in Toronto, 2013

Generally, nudist groups accept people of all races, ages, sizes, and shapes, including those with amputations, scars, tattoos or trimmed (or absence of) pubic hair. Recently some "smoothie"[12] organizations have expressed a preference for members to completely shave or remove all pubic hair, as some profess to believe that having pubic hair does not leave that body completely nude, although head and possibly facial hair are judged acceptable if not too long. Official mandates are rare, however.


Statistics show that more men than women participate in social nudity activities. In order to approach to a balanced situation, some 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 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 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, 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.


Nude men at the Woodstock Festival in Poland.

It has been noted that for the past few decades many naturist and nudist clubs have a noticeable lack of young members in their ranks, though previously this was not the case.[13] 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 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]

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[edit]

In the early 1980s, gay people began to carve their own niche within the realm of organized naturism. By the mid-80s, local naturist clubs for gay people 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).

Home nudity between children[edit]

Main article: Nudity § Children

Labels, associations and terminology[edit]

Further information: Naturism § 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.[15][16]

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[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.[17] 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.[18] 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[edit]

Beauty contests[edit]

Beauty contests have been criticised for reinforcing the idea that girls and women should be valued primarily for their physical appearance.[19][20][21] This is an especially sensitive issue for naturists as being contrary to the naturist philosophy of body-acceptance of all body types, and that women are not there to be looked at. Beauty contests are no longer as common as they were in the 1950s and 1960s in mainstream naturist venues.

Lingerie parties[edit]

Naturist-sponsored "lingerie parties" have been criticised as being inconsistent with the non-sexualized, family friendly environments/contexts that naturism seeks to create. 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ An Anthropology of Absence: Materializations of Transcendence and Loss By Mikkel Bille, Frida Hastrup, Tim Flohr Soerensen. Publisher: Springer Science+Business Media
  3. ^ Author: Jordan Blum; Organization: Young Naturists America (YNA); Date: 23 July 2013
  4. ^
  5. ^ The Naked Truth About Cap d'Agde Author: Ross Velton Publisher: Chris Santilli ISBN 978-0966268348
  6. ^ The minimalist dress code of the Amazon's Awa people
  7. ^ Vivre Nu: Psychosociologie du Naturisme, Marc-Alain Descamps, Edition Trismégiste, 1987, ISBN 2-86509-026-4
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Bukhari:6:60:282". 
  10. ^ "Sunnan Abu Dawud 32:4091". 
  11. ^ "Arkansas Law § 5-68-204 Violates First Amendment Rights". 
  12. ^ Euro Naturist - smooth naturists & nudists - Smoothies
  13. ^ Daney, Charles. "Why Don't More Young Adults Try Social Nudity?". Archived from the original on 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2006-09-13. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ 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."
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Information from Being and Nakedness "Disorganized nudity" by Charles Daney
  18. ^ Nude & Natural (N), Beyond Safe Havens: Oregon's Terri Sue Webb, By Daniel Johnson Issue 21.3, Spring 2002 [2].
  19. ^ "Beauty and body image in the media". Media Awareness Network. Archived from the original on 18 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
  20. ^ "Reigning Miss Universe Suspected of Having Cosmetic Surgery". Archived from the original on 26 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  21. ^ "Plastic Surgery: Bollywood, Miss Universe, and the Indian Girl Next Door" (PDF). Gujarati Magazine (Sandesh). Retrieved 2010-08-23. 

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