Naturism is not a radical new idea. The philosophy is thousands of years old. In ancient cultures as diverse as the Japanese, Roman, Hawaiian, and Greek, non-sexual social nudism was common. Skinny-dipping, or swimming without suits, was also common in many parts of the United States until the early 20th century.
Among those who practice this way of life, the consensus of opinion says just doing housework alone in the nude, doesn’t really qualify as being a nudist. Changing and showering in a locker room probably does not qualify either. What all practitioners agree is that exposure to other unclothed persons outside the home is usually seen as the defining moment that causes one to be able to declare he/she is a social nudist or naturist.
Many non-nudists believe that being naked with other people is necessarily always sexual, or that nudism is morally wrong or pornographic. Nudists/Naturists generally reject these views. Objections against being nude are often religiously motivated, even when they start out as a cultural taboo. Some peoples have started wearing clothes only after missionaries argued that that is “more civilized.” However, there are many devout nudists who attend services regularly and argue that they do not need to shed their morals with their clothes. Also there is a Christian sect that practiced religious nudism, the Adamites. There also are several Christian-based nudist resorts and travel clubs scattered across America.
At one end of the spectrum is 'unorganized' naturism in which there is nothing to join, no one to pay, and only civil, common and criminal law to serve as rules of etiquette. Many people get their first exposure to the naturist movement through this kind of informal nudism (e.g. a clothing optional beach, a friend's place in the woods, a party on the shore; skinny dipping).
Among “organized” nudists, the need to exist in as crime-free an environment as possible is taken very seriously, and potential members often go through strict screening procedures before being allowed inside. Persons who think of nudity as “foreplay” are more correctly defined as “swingers” and not nudists. These people are warned that solicitation for sex is strictly taboo and will get you tossed out of a club or resort very quickly. As a result nudists claim that their children (and spouses) are far safer from potential sex predators in a nudist environment than they are in the textiled world. Nudist organizations maintain and try to enforce a no sex in public policy. The common mantra is “Nude is Not Lewd” It is rare to see obvious signs of sexual behavior (including staring or gawking) at most sites. When sexual or drug misbehavior occurs it is usually done by non-nudists in “unorganized” environments, such as by people (usually men) up on the cliffs looking down on the nude beach-goers.
Some nudist organizations do not allow people with body jewelry below their neck on their premises, as these often have sexual connotations. The same applies to certain tattoos, although both these rules seems to be less and less enforced since body piercings and tattoos are now becoming more commonplace in the general public. Almost all clubs accept people of all sizes, shapes, ages, and types including those with surgical scars, or interestingly trimmed (or absence of) hair. Some nudist organizations do not allow unaccompanied men, or have established quotas in order to better achieve “gender balance” at their venues. The same policy does not usually apply to single women, and some see this as hypocritical in a subculture which promotes “acceptance.” This topic is often debated within naturist circles.
Remember, the terms “colony” and “camp” are now considered arcane and are no longer used except by the uneducated public press. To read some additional nudist terminology, click here.
Q2. What's the difference between a “Naturist” and a “Nudist”?
Both terms refer to persons who believe in the inherent dignity of the human form, whether or not it is covered with clothing, and who reject the notion that all nudity is sexual. "Naturism" is the term more commonly used outside the U.S. to describe family-friendly, clothes-free recreation at appropriate times and places; "nudism" is an American term and usually refers to nude recreation that occurs within the confines of private clubs or resorts organized for that purpose. Although the terms are used interchangeably in this article, some draw a distinction between the terms by defining a naturist as one who embraces a philosophy that includes more than occasional nudity, often environmentalism, vegetarianism or simply more of a closeness to nature. A visit to a nude beach may entitle someone to be called a nudist, but does not make one a naturist.
The nudist or naturist label is really a state of mind of the practitioner, instead of a strictly defined classification imposed by others. The majority of those who enjoy skinny-dipping and other clothes-free activities, though, reject attaching any particular label to it at all.
Q3. Why do Nudists/Naturists like to be nude?
Naturists reject clothes when possible for the same reason most people avoid wearing a three-piece suit to the beach: It's more comfortable to be free of them. Nudists/Naturists are people who believe the human body is inherently dignified and is nothing to be ashamed of.
The idea of “body acceptance” is also a large part of the philosophy. The stripping away of clothing removes the materialistic and class status symbols that act to separate individuals from each other, allowing them to experience, at the same time, both the freedom and also the vulnerability of who they really are with others. They believe people should have the right to be nude at appropriate times and places, public and private. Consequently, nudists participate in various social and group activities without clothes whenever the weather or public circumstances allows it. The benefits naturists claim from clothes-free recreation are as varied as the individuals who participate, but may include relaxation and stress relief; improved body image and self-esteem; the chance to form social relationships based on character rather than appearance; a deeper feeling of connection to the earth and other naked creatures; and the satisfaction of a more natural, rational approach to the body.
Many naturists are convinced that increased exposure to the natural environment, made easier through nudity, can result in numerous health benefits. Sunlight has been shown to be beneficial in some skin conditions, and is required by the body to make vitamin D. However, with the increased awareness of skin cancer, wearing of sunblock/sun protection lotions is now part of the nudist culture and is one of their frequently discussed topics. Whereas nudist parents don't require their children to put on clothes before going outside at a nudist club or beach, most do require them to put on sunscreen lotion. Overall, naturists often claim that they are more relaxed and in a better state of mind when they shed their clothes.
Q4. How are naturists different from other people?
In their day to day lives, naturists are not very different at all from the people you know. There are naturists in every profession and socio-economic level. Some are married, some are single, and some are parents with children. Naturists tend to be well-educated. They are often politically minded and vote across the spectrum. Many are religious; virtually every major denomination is represented.
Chances are, you already are acquainted with some naturists. In fact, you are talking to one now. Some of your friends, neighbors and co-workers probably enjoy skinny-dipping from time to time. Perhaps you yourself have visited a nude beach or resort, either close to home or while traveling in Europe or the Caribbean.
Naturist gatherings bring together people from all walks of life but with a fundamental similarity. Naturists say this diversity of background combined with a shared belief in body acceptance provides an atmosphere of tolerance and openness unmatched by other social groups and settings.
Q5. What do naturists like to do while nude?
The activities you might enjoy at a clothing-optional beach or resort are the same ones you'd enjoy at any beach or resort: swimming, running, walking, Frisbee, bicycling, picnicking or just reading and relaxing. Many resorts have volleyball, tennis, petanque and other sports facilities, along with swimming pools, hot tubs, saunas and spas.
If you're an outdoors type, you might enjoy backcountry hiking, camping, sailing, canoeing (sometimes called "canuding"), hot springs soaking, or backpacking. If you live in a climate where the weather turns cold, look for a local naturist group to provide pool parties, bowling, roller skating or other indoor nude activities in winter.
Q6. How popular is nudism/naturism?
Very! Millions of people have experienced the freedom of nude recreation. Long accepted in European countries like France, Germany and the Netherlands, today clothing-optional beaches and resorts may be found across the globe and are increasingly popular in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Australia, Britain, Spain, South Africa, Brazil, New Zealand even Russia! The latest World Guide to Nude Beaches and Resorts lists 1,365 such destinations worldwide.
Roper Polls. In the U.S., poll after poll demonstrates public acceptance of naturism. In 1983, a Roper poll found that over two-thirds of the American public (72%) agreed with the statement: “people who enjoy nude sunbathing should be able to do so without interference from officials as long as they do so at a beach that is accepted for that purpose” (24% were opposed). In 2000, Roper did another survey using the exact same questions. This time the approval number had risen to 80%, while the opposition had decreased to 17%. In other words, the public is far more accepting of the idea of “free beaches” than the politicians think or that the volume level of the few remaining vocal opponents would indicate.
Comparing results of a second question, also asked seventeen years apart, yielded even more positive results. When asked of local and state governments should set aside “secluded areas” of public land for people who enjoy nude sunbathing, the numbers now showed opponents and supporters to be evenly divided (48% each). In 1983, the poll showed only 39% in support and 54% opposed. Clearly there has been a positive shift between generations. A third question asked if the person being polled had ever personally ever gone "skinny dipping" or nude sunbathing in a mixed group of men and women at a beach, at a pool, or somewhere else? In 1983 only 15% admitted to having done so, but in 2000 the survey revealed that number had grown to 25%. This extrapolates into an extraordinary 51 million Americans who have participated at one time or another in nude recreation. A total of 18% said they would consider visiting a clothing-optional resort or nude beach.
In 2006, a third Roper poll found similar results. In the scientific sampling of 1009 U.S. adults conducted recently by Roper, 74 percent of those polled said they believed people who enjoy nude sunbathing should be able to do so without interference from local officials as long as they do so at a beach that is accepted for that purpose. Responses to other questions in the poll suggest that more than 55 million Americans have, at one time or another skinny-dipped or sunbathed nude in mixed-gender groups. Approval for government designation of clothing-optional areas has reached 54 percent in the 2006 survey, up from 39% in 1983 to 48% in 2000.
While the majority clearly accepts the naturist way of life, it seems our lawmakers and politicians in North America have yet to catch up with the times. Although there are a number of traditionally recognized clothes-optional beaches in the U.S., only a few are officially designated.
Q7. Isn't it against the law to be nude in public?
All 50 states have laws addressing public nudity, and there are Canadian and territorial laws addressing the topic, too. But laws are not uniform across North America. In some places, nudity is only restricted under certain circumstances, such as being reckless in your disregard for the presence of someone who would be offended. Definitions of nudity vary wildly among jurisdictions, too. In many places (New York state and Austin, Texas, for example), a top-free woman is not considered nude. One Florida county started a legal trend a few years ago with a bizarre 250-word mathematical definition of the human buttocks!
Enlightened jurisdictions are making a distinction between lewd activity and simple non-sexual nudity (e.g., skinny-dipping or nude sunbathing). Even those retaining relatively harsh penalties for nudity are beginning to see the benefit of having public places set aside for clothing-optional use.
For questions involving legal interpretations, we recommend that you consult an attorney. For a complete listing of the various California laws regarding nudity see another article in this booklet.
Q8. I'd have to lose 15 pounds first. Do all naturists have perfect bodies?
Most of us are so accustomed to viewing idealized versions of the human body in movies, in magazines and on television that we've developed an unrealistic idea of what the “average” body is like. Consequently, as a first-time naturist you may fear that everyone else will have a thin, fit, perfectly proportioned body, and that you will not. This is not the case. At clothes-optional beaches and resorts you will be greeted by body types of all kinds: young and old, tall and short, fat and thin, tanned and pale, and everything in between. Some people will have physical disabilities; others will carry scars from past injuries or surgeries. Few will conform to an artificial "Hollywood standard" of perfection, a standard that's all but impossible to achieve for most people. What's more, you will find that all types of bodies are accepted just as they are.
Q9. What about sex? Are naturists a bunch of perverts or exhibitionists?
Absolutely not. To the contrary, naturists believe it is our cultural heritage of body shame that leads to an unhealthy obsession with sex. Naturists believe sex is a normal, healthy part of life, but one that should be enjoyed by consenting adults in private. They believe clothes-optional beaches, resorts, or social gatherings are inappropriate places for sexual activity. They recognize that while nude is not lewd, public sex is offensive to many people, and almost always illegal. Naturists are not exhibitionists. They do not wish to offend those who fear nakedness, and therefore work for designated public and private areas at which people have the option to wear clothes or not. They prefer such areas to be well-marked so people who may be offended can easily avoid them. As in all social situations, there is an etiquette to clothes-free gatherings that's based on common sense and respect for others.
It's common in cultures that link nudity and sexuality for people to believe that anyone who is nude is somehow motivated by sexual desire. Women may worry that men will ogle them or come on to them. Men might fear that they will embarrass themselves by becoming aroused at the sight of so many naked bodies. The truth is that neither happens very often. Desmond Morris, social anthropologist and author of The Naked Ape, writes that "If you perform nudity in public you destroy its value as an erotic action.” Nudists know this to be true in practice.
Women concerned about gawkers should be encouraged to learn that it is socially unacceptable at the places where naturists gather for people to stare, harass, or intimidate others. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable with their comments or behavior, it is right to speak up against it, and to notify the resort manager, activity leader or beach user group volunteer. Unacceptable behavior need not be tolerated.
Men who fear they will get an erection should know that it is rare in naturist settings. Some say it's because the initial nervousness of the new situation inhibits a physical sexual response. But the most important reason is that a naturist environment is not sexually charged.
If a man should experience an involuntary erection, the appropriate response would be to casually cover up with a towel, roll over onto his stomach, jump in the water or otherwise excuse himself until the moment passes. Naturists know that erections are natural and often involuntary, but it's considered impolite to “flaunt it.” Breaking the link between nudity and sexuality often opens an entirely new dimension of body- and self-acceptance. For most people it's an exhilarating realization of physical and spiritual freedom.
Q10. Will I be forced to undress the minute I arrive?
Some people fear they will be embarrassed to undress in front of others for the first time. Many of the traditional nudist resorts do require those visiting for the first time to disrobe and to take a tour of the facilities. This acts as a filter to separate out those serious about participating in the club’s activities from those who just want to get a sneak peek. It's best to ask the management when you call to arrange your visit, if this is important to you.
The good news is that all public lands naturist areas, and many of the resorts today, are clothing-optional, not “nudity required.” That means it is entirely up to the individual whether, when and how to disrobe. At nude beaches especially, you will find it easy to go at your own pace. In fact, you will probably find that you are eager to undress, since you might feel strange when you are the only one in clothing!
Most clubs will not allow clothing of any kind in their spas or swimming pools, for example, whether or not clothes are optional elsewhere on the grounds. Most naturists will dress at some times (like when the sun goes down and it's chilly) or for some activities (like barbecuing). Women who are menstruating sometimes will wear shorts, a pareo, or other wrap-around (though others simply wear tampons and tuck in or cut off the "string"). For the most part, naturists prefer to be naked and will be whenever the opportunity is there.
Q11. Are my children welcome? Is nudism harmful to children?
Naturism is for all ages, and naturist beaches and resorts in general are family-friendly places (though some parents may find those out-of-the-way beaches difficult to reach with the little ones). Parents may wonder whether their children will want to participate in nude activities, and the answer depends a great deal upon the child and what messages he or she has received about the body while growing up. Young children are natural nudists, but it's not unusual for older ones to become less interested in nude recreation at the onset of puberty. How parents react to these differing developmental stages varies, but a child's fears and feelings should be respected. Discretion is the watchword here. Another hot topic these days concerns the effect of nudism on children. Freud and his more contemporary disciples (Benjamin Spock and Joyce Brothers) often warned that children, especially during the years from nine to thirteen, should not be allowed to see their parents nude walking around the house because it would “over-stimulate” the youngsters. This unsupported belief was repeated often during the past 75 years.
While introducing one's children to naturism is a matter of parental choice, Alayne Yates, professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, has shown that in cultures where nudity in common, children grow up to be less critical of their bodies. Other studies have shown similar, positive benefits for children who are raised in a nudity-friendly environment. In 1985 and again in 1995, Dennis Craig Smith did a Kinsey-style survey of real naturist families to see how growing up in a nudist environment had affected children in both the short-term and long term. His study was published as a book, Growing Up Without Shame, and its conclusions reaffirmed what nudists always knew: that families practicing social nudism at home or at clubs/resorts were more stable and exhibited far fewer psychological problems than occurs in the public at large. Smith sampled nearly a five hundred nudists twice, ten years apart, once as children, and then as adults. He also sampled 500 college-age students who were not nudists so the results could be compared. Of the social nudists surveyed, 90% said nudity at home was a common practice, and 43.3% said it was common to dine in the nude. Some 28.3% of the social nudist group indicated that they had lived permanently with their parents in a nudist camp at some time during their childhood. The results of the ten-year comparison showed that 66.7% of the social nudists labeled their adolescence as "stable" and/or "happy." Less than 18% of them report an "emotionally troubled” adolescence. These numbers were roughly the same for the college student group.
The degree of marital satisfaction for both the nudists and the college groups did not indicate any differences between the two groups. To the charge that nudity leads to increased anti-social behavior later, only three of the 500 social nudists (less than 1%) indicated having been jailed for more than two days, while 21.7% stated that they had ever been arrested. This is slightly better than the national average for non-nudists. The study found few (only 4%) of the nudist respondents indicated any regrets or negative effects about being raised as nudists. And, most telling, 73.3% of them said plan to raise their children as nudists. Involvement in naturism has not been shown to be harmful and may even be beneficial to childhood psychological development. Some parents worry whether their children will be safe in a nude setting. Nude beaches and resorts tend to be very safe places, and naturists do tend to look out for each other. But as in all situations involving children, especially near water, parental vigilance is recommended.
Recently, to avoid any possible litigation, some privately-owned resorts and clubs in the USA forbid bringing any minor children from other families without written permission in advance. A few even exclude children of divorced parents without the written consent of the other ex-spouse (unless they can prove full custody). Of course, this does not apply to public beaches.
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