Review of A Brief History of Nakedness by Philip Carr-Gomm

Philip Carr-Gomm’s book, A Brief History of Nakedness, published in 2010, is impressive on several accounts. It is well-researched, well-written (though the organization of topics could be better), and illustrated with many color and black-and-white photos that are quite relevant but must have required much diligence to locate. Some of its conclusions are prescient. But there are important questions about the selection of topics it discusses.

A vast range of relevant topics are mentioned or discussed, as this quote suggests:

You can skydive, bungee-jump, get married, perform stand-up comedy, or karaoke, take yoga classes, join magic rituals, visit public swimming pools on “nude nights”, go to the cinema, bask in spas, or be body-painted in the nude. You can risk a holiday in “Naked City” at Cap d’Agde in the South of France, bathe naked in a private club or dine out in the nude in New York or Edinburgh, sunbathe in parks in the center of Berlin or Munich, go clubbing at the “Starkers” disco in London, work out in the nude in a Dutch gym, go on a naked cruise or hike in New Zealand or fly to your holiday in the nude on a German airline. [pp. 16ff]

Some of the discussions touch on sensitive topics, such as “The Genital Liberation Movement”. This appears to be mainly the author’s term. It doesn’t mean the flaunting of one’s genitals, but simply the waning of taboos related to genitals, which is implicit in tolerance for non-sexual activities engaged in when one is fully naked. In short, exposure of genitals in such activities is increasingly unaccompanied by feelings of shame or embarrassment, on the part of naked people, or feelings of shock or alarm, on the part of others who happen to see someone naked. Genitals are considered simply body parts that everyone has and that aren’t at all objectionable in themselves. (Clearly, though, there are still many publications and online sites (like Facebook) that try to “protect” closed-minded members of the general public from ever seeing or thinking about genitals, so such progress is merely relative.) Related to this is the trend to make shaving of pubic hair a matter of personal preference, like the choice whether to shave any other body hair.

A topic that should have been covered in more detail involves other psychological issues related to nakedness, in particular the relationship between nakedness (and the degree of comfort associated with it) and body acceptance, both of one’s own naked body and the body of others. This has been a hot topic for some time among people who are favorable towards nudity. The omission is especially surprising, since the author is (among other things) a psychologist who has “trained and practised as a psychotherapist”. Perhaps he may someday devote an entire new book to relevant psychological issues. Or perhaps he never intended to do more than describe many diverse aspects of nakedness in historical and contemporary culture, instead of delving into the psychology of it.

One would, however, think that a relatively recent book of such scope would devote many pages to details of the ups and downs of organized nudism/naturism (or just “naturism”, for short) in the 20th century, no? If so, one would be wrong. This book covers the topic in only about 10 pages in the middle of a chapter on political issues related to nudity. “Nudism” isn’t included in the index (along with a number of other things that should be there too but aren’t). The brief discussion doesn’t get into anything related to organized naturism after the mid-1930s. And this neglect exists even though the book reflects sometimes awesomely thorough and well-referenced research on the history of nakedness over a period of more than 2000 years. Of course, 100 years out of 2000 isn’t much – but far, far more is known about nakedness in the past century than in the rest of the previous two millennia.

The observation of this neglect isn’t necessarily a criticism of the book. Instead, it might be an indication that naturism is only a small, perhaps not very important part of the overall history of human nakedness. But before examining that thought, one point should be noted. In a brief postscript to the book the author reveals that it was only a little less than a decade before the book’s publication that he “had discovered the simple pleasures of baring all”. This, he explains, came about during a “chance visit” to Britain’s storied Spielplatz while doing “research for a biography”. In other words, the author had no long personal experience with naturism. Yet it’s obvious from the profusion of relatively obscure details about other aspects of nakedness, and the research effort required to uncover such, that the author must have spent most of his research time during that decade on almost any relevant topic but naturism.

Does this circumstance indicate the author didn’t care all that much about organized naturism or that he considered it of little importance? We don’t really know, since he never actually discusses this point. There are also several other topics that might seem relevant, but that receive almost no comment in the book. One is the efflorescence of displays of full nudity in cinema (in the U. S. and internationally) beginning in the 1960s. Such displays have been almost always brief, even though they usually earned the movies in which they occurred at least an “adults-only” rating, or even a XXX porn rating. Currently, brief scenes of both female and male nudity in movies dealing with romantic or other adult themes are almost de rigueur.

That’s just as it should be, since humans really do get naked a lot in romantic and various other circumstances. Oddly, however, movies in which one or more characters are naked in most scenes throughout the movie are quite rare. That’s somewhat to be expected – yet many people, who don’t necessarily consider themselves naturists, do actually spend many hours of their time naked in the privacy of their own homes or with friends. This is especially true of wealthy elites, especially popular celebrities, who (fictionally or not), are often leading characters in movies. Why are there almost no movies in which one or more characters are casually naked in anything but sexual scenes? Carr-Gomm, however, has almost nothing to say about such issues, or nudity in cinema more generally. (Except for two movies where nudity is the main subject – Calendar Girls and The Full Monty. And in those two cases, full-frontal nudity is avoided.)

There’s one other relevant topic, which the author avoids altogether – namely the profusion of erotic nudity in publications like Playboy and its imitators since the 1950s. That phenomenon, of course, is only tangentially, at most, related to naturism, though it arose in the same time period. What it does indicate is that nudity (of an erotic flavor) is of significant interest to large segments of the population (albeit mainly among males). In addition, during the past 60 years such nudity has become increasingly explicit, especially after the near disappearance of a taboo on depictions of pubic hair or penises in both sexual and non-sexual contexts of nudity.

Other topics Carr-Gomm doesn’t examine could also be mentioned. One is the increasing acceptance of nudity in Western painting and sculpture since the Renaissance – in the tradition of artists like Michelangelo, Titian, Rubens, and many others. This trend has only increased, with nude sculptures often featured in many public places. In photography, the popularity of artistic nudity (both erotic and otherwise) has grown rapidly. Many “ordinary” people often display in their homes without embarrassment artistic paintings, sculptures, and photography that feature nudity. The author has nothing to say about any of this.

Why spend so much time discussing what topics are omitted by the author, as opposed to what is included? Not only are the omissions curious, but they have a few things in common, especially when compared with topics that are covered. There is a wide variety of the latter. It includes many instances that are hardly if ever mentioned in other histories of nudity. This includes many examples of religions or religious practices that have featured nudity. Some of the these are well-known, with examples as diverse as Wicca and Druidism (in which the author has some interest) and Jainism. Others, less well-known, include the Kashmiri woman known as Lalla, who was influenced by both Hinduism and Sufism, and various Christian and Jewish sects. Another broad category includes the use of nudity in social or political protest. This includes very diverse examples such as (the legendary) Lady Godiva, the persecuted Russian Doukhobors who emigrated to Canada, and much more recent examples such as WNBR bike riders and nudity of the PETA animal-rights group.

There’s also a lot about nudity in live artistic performances such as theater, music (even opera), dance, and “installations”, including Spencer Tunick’s, which often feature a cast of hundreds or thousands of completely naked volunteers. And there are many other diverse examples of open, public nudity – rock concert attendees, hippies, streakers, (some) Burning Man attendees, fashion show models (ironically), artistic life models, and so on and so forth.

What can we generalize about the topics that are treated in the book, and other relevant topics that are (mostly) ignored? One thing that stands out is that the author favors topics where the nudity involves live participants and is fairly open and visible to observers, even sometimes to the general public. In contrast, depictions of nudity in painting, sculpture, cinema, and photography are rather little discussed – even though they have become increasingly more common in recent years.

So, where do naturists and naturist activities fit in all of this? As far as Carr-Gomm is concerned, apparently they don’t. This seems like a striking anomaly, since naturists – especially those who favor skinny-dipping at clothing-optional beaches and similar places – receive hardly any mention, in spite of openly enjoying their nudity, at least in groups of like-minded others.

How could we explain this anomaly? There are various possibilities. It would seem that the author is partial to nudity involving people who are open about full or partial nudity in “real-life” situations where others, who aren’t naked themselves but are tolerant of nudity, are present. Additionally, it helps if there is some understandable and worthy “purpose” to the nudity – such as entertainment of an audience, being a subject of artistic visions, political or social protest, religious observance, demonstration of body acceptance, efforts to improve mental and/or physical health, etc.

Although the author doesn’t explicitly state such a preference, and may not have been consciously aware of it, there is a fairly clear bias evidenced by his choice of topics. Could it be that many other people, who don’t necessarily identify as naturists but who have devoted at least some time to serious thought about nudity and nakedness also have a similar bias, whether consciously or not? If so, what would the implications be for naturists?

Organized nudism/naturism seems to be facing lots of problems, such as the declining popularity of nudist/naturist clubs, resorts, and grass-roots organizations (YNA just decided to fold, for example), the loss of clothing-optional beaches, the waning influence and membership of and the internal political strife within regional, national, and international nudist/naturist organizations. Perhaps anyone who laments such trends should think about the questions raised in the previous paragraph.

In defense of the book, it should be said that there are important issues about nakedness that are difficult to research, because they involve private behavior that is hardly ever studied and then well documented in public sources. Such questions include:

  • Just how common is it for individuals and families in a particular culture to be naked at home or when socializing with others who also enjoy nudity?
  • How many people who haven’t (yet) developed an enjoyment of nudity are at least tolerant and accepting of their friends and relatives who enjoy being naked?
  • How many people who enjoy nudity are willing and able to do so at public clothing-optional beaches or camping/hiking areas where nudity is tolerated?
  • What personal characteristics or life histories distinguish people who have tolerant or favorable attitudes towards nudity from those who don’t?

There are plenty of similar, related questions that would need careful investigation by trained psychologists and sociologists to answer properly, so it’s no knock on Carr-Gomm’s book that it doesn’t address them.

Posted in Book reviews, General naturism, Questions | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Enhance your life with nudity?

So, you’re reading this now. Perhaps you were just randomly browsing. Or used a search engine. Or followed a link you came across on Twitter or Facebook. In any case, if you’re still reading, it’s not unfair to assume you’re interested in the topic, or at least curious about it. So I’ll assume that.

Perhaps, in fact, you have personal reasons for wondering and learning more about nudism or naturism. To be clear, I generally use those terms interchangeably, since there’s little agreement about how they differ. Sometimes I’ll also use “social nudity”, which means being naked in a group (of any size) of people who’re also comfortable with being naked around others. That’s a little more general than either “nudism” or “naturism”, which to some people suggest simply enjoying being naked in the privacy of your own home.

There could be several reasons why social nudity arouses your curiosity or interest. Maybe you simply wonder how people could want to get involved in such a thing. Maybe you actually know one or more people who are actually involved. Or maybe you wonder whether it’s something you might try yourself. You might already have tried it, or even found that you rather enjoy it. However that may be, unless you already consider yourself an expert in the subject, I hope I’ll be able to provide you with useful information about it – information that could be helpful if you want to become more involved with social nudity yourself.

I’m not going to go into the history of social nudity, or give a lot of specifics about where to find places to enjoy it, or discuss how social nudity is (or isn’t) accepted by the rest of society, At least, that’s not what I plan to get into first,

My first objective is to discuss how to consider whether social nudity could be something you’d be willing to try (if you haven’t already done so). I’ll write some about how to initially become involved in social nudity in case you decide that’s the direction you’d like to go. That will mean offering practical tips on things you ought to know to get along well in social nudity situations, and alerting you to a few pitfalls to be avoided. This isn’t really all that difficult. If you become seriously interested while taking the first steps, you could be on the way to making social nudity a part of the rest of your life. Even if you don’t eventually take that direction, at least you should gain some insight into how some people do become social nudists.

At the outset, I should be clear that this discussion will be limited mostly to social nudity in the United States, since that is the only place I have much experience with the subject. In other countries, things may be a little or a lot different from what they are in the U. S.

It’s also important to point out that all of this is about non-sexual social nudity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with social sexual activities that include nudity, but involvement in that sort of thing is strictly a personal choice that is not what will be discussed here. Legitimate nudist/naturist and social nudity venues strive to be “family-friendly” and don’t allow for open sexuality. Please respect that distinction.

The first topic to consider is: how one might go about deciding whether to investigate nudism, naturism, or social nudity in the first place, with the thought of maybe actually getting into it. There are, of course, many reasons why going in that direction might be quite difficult for some people. I’ll try to address various things that may concern you. For example, one may:

1. have accepted the social consensus that being naked around other people they aren’t extremely close to is a major taboo.

2. have children not yet adults, about whom one might be concerned over the effects on them of being with adults who are sometimes or frequently naked.

3. be under the age of 18 and afraid of what one’s parents or other adults might think of one’s having an interest in being naked.

4. have friends or relatives that one might expect will not be open-minded about social nudity and the effect of this on one’s friendship with them.

5. have negative feelings about the appearance of one’s naked body for various reasons, such as it’s not “attractive enough”, too fat or too thin, too old or too wrinkled, or disfigured in some way or other (amputation, burn scars, etc.).

6. feel embarrassed or ashamed about the appearance of one’s uncovered genitals or other sexually significant parts.

7. have a spouse, romantic partner, or significant other who might not be open-minded about when and where nudity is acceptable – and with whom.

8. be active in a religion or religious organization that is not open-minded about social nudity.

9. have employment that would be adversely affected if one’s participation became known.

I’ll try to offer helpful ideas and advice about the first six of these issues, at least in some cases. It should usually be possible to deal with these issues in a way that entails no drastic changes in one’s life but works out well for all concerned.

The last three issues, however, are a different matter. I don’t feel confident about offering advice on how to deal with them. Perhaps some suggestions offered related to the first six issues may help. But in general, it may be best to discuss the last three issues with a professional counselor, since how they are dealt with can significantly affects one’s life.

To continue, let’s suppose you’ve been able to address each of these issues, if they are relevant to you. And suppose that you then decide you actually want to try out social nudity in some way or other, with a possible goal of making it more than a minor part of your life.

So the next thing to address is: What actual steps should you take to get started and to proceed to the ultimate goal? I’ll try to offer some suggestions, such as:

1. Be naked occasionally, and more often as time goes on, when that’s comfortable to do and you’re alone or with others (e. g. immediate family) whom you know are OK with your nudity.

2. Always sleep naked. Healthy people (other than infants!) really don’t need to wear anything in bed (if there are enough blankets).

3. If you have a private backyard swimming pool, go in naked whenever possible, and invite others to do likewise (without exerting any pressure). If you like to sunbathe, you probably want to avoid tan lines.

4. Talk with friends and relatives, whom you consider open-minded, about social nudity and your interest in it. Telling others you enjoy being naked may not be easy at first, but it’s an important step, because it’s a kind of “coming out”. This step lets others know something important about you, and it also affirms the fact to yourself. You’ll feel more at ease being naked when you’re with these people, since they won’t be surprised to find you that way, and if they invite you to their residence, they’re more likely to encourage you to be naked if you feel like it and the situation is appropriate. (It might not be a good idea to be so open about this in social media like Facebook or Twitter, unless you have good control over who sees the conversation.)

5. Do some research on places relatively nearby where social nudity is accepted, such as clothing-optional beaches, nudist/naturist clubs and resorts, remote hiking and camping areas, clothing-optional bed & breakfast places, etc. Plan visits to such places, and invite others along who are tolerant of nudity.

6. Plan vacations to places not nearby where social nudity is possible. Vacations outside the U. S. should especially be considered, if you can afford them, as there are many countries that offer many more possibilities for social nudity than the U. S.

7. Find out whether there are nearby nudist/naturist clubs that meet in individual homes or other appropriate places to enjoy social nudity. Meet with members of such clubs to determine whether they’re people you’d like to have as friends and would welcome you as a member.

8. Investigate whether there are online social networks, discussion groups, “bulletin boards”, etc. that discuss social nudity, seem active, and have people whom you might like to have online conversations with. These may be found on Facebook and other general social networks, as well as in stand-alone sites. Blogs dealing with social nudity (like this one) not only provide information, but also allow for asking/answering questions in comment sections. However, avoid nudist/naturist “dating sites” like the plague. They’re almost always scams. You might have to do some searching and asking around to find suitable online groups, since many of them leave much to be desired when compared with offline in-person groups.

9. There are certain special events, in particular locations, where nudity is acceptable. Examples are Burning Man, occasional “World Naked Bike Rides” in many cities, naked marathon runs (often at nudist/naturist resorts), etc. To find out about such things it’s generally necessary to watch for notices about them via online networks, unless you’ve joined a nudist/naturist social group. Often there are other purposes to the events, but the possibility of being naked is an added attraction.

There are several very important points regarding these suggestions. To reinforce what was already mentioned, all of the suggestions here will be limited to ideas relevant to non-sexual social nudity. You shouldn’t have to worry about inappropriate sexual attention in legitimate groups, and you certainly should be careful to act appropriately yourself. There are simple standards of proper “naturist etiquette” that should be pretty obvious.

Secondly, there may be some significant differences in how it’s best for men and women to get into social nudity. Women do need to take certain steps more carefully than men do. For instance, men tend to participate in online naturist groups far more often and openly than women do. This marked lack of gender balance is likely to be daunting to most women, and that’s the main reason they refrain from more open participation. Both men and women need to realize that other participants in online venues are not necessarily what they represent themselves to be – in terms of gender, age, interests, etc. That’s pretty much inherent in the nature of online systems, which allow for hiding much more than is possible in fact-to-face situations. And we all know that even in the latter case, people can dissemble about themselves fairly drastically.

No matter what venue is involved, one should be alert to the social cues offered by others. When dealing with people you don’t know well, be cautious. Seek out people you trust for objective opinions about others you know less well. In an offline, face-to-face venue, it’s not a bad idea to come along with a friend or two, if possible. Women in most cases already know the routine. Visiting a social nudity venue isn’t really all that different from visiting the local bar or a party where you don’t know the hosts and other guests well. All that said, social nudists are generally pretty responsible, friendly, and easy-going.

Ahead of time think of interesting questions to raise with new acquaintances – things beyond the obvious ones everyone uses. Be careful about asking personal questions such as “where do you work?”, “how many kids do you have”, or “do your friends know you do this?”. Also be careful about “how did you happen to get into social nudity?” Some people may be more at ease with that question than others. Once you meet people you find simpatico is a better time to go into life histories. Try for questions you’d actually like answers to. At a commercial resort ask others what they like best about the place. They might well know things you aren’t aware of, like the best food at the resort’s restaurant or snack bar, or the fact that someone on the staff is an expert on local hiking and camping opportunities. You can also use your questions to let others know what interests you the most.

That’s probably enough advice for this introductory piece.

There’s something you may be wondering about if you’ve read this far. How many opportunities will you have to enjoy nudity if the best places for social nudity are not close to where you live? Will there actually be enough to go to the effort of explaining your interest in social nudity to people you know?

The truth is, you’ll need to spend some time thinking about how to discover or create the opportunities. If you happen to live alone or with others who are comfortable with your nudity, the obvious course is to start doing without clothes as much as practical. This will allow you to really have a “naked lifestyle”, where you needn’t bother wearing anything under normal circumstances.

Electing such a lifestyle does entail trade-offs in exchange for the comfort of not having to wear tight, confining clothes. You may need to keep your environment a bit warmer when you’re naked, or else adapt yourself to tolerate being a little colder. Perhaps wearing only a T-shirt is a good compromise between full nudity and cumbersome layers of clothing. On the plus side, if you don’t wear clothes in the summer, you won’t need to run the air conditioner as much, and saving on that could offset the cost of more heat in the winter. Another benefit is having a lot less laundry to do all year – and the cost saving of that. Reducing your dependence on clothes simplifies your life.

However, my purpose isn’t to sell you on the idea of being naked much more of the time. You may be perfectly satisfied to enjoy nudity only in times and places when it’s more practical and you can be with others who also enjoy nudity. On the other hand, if a fully “naked lifestyle” appeals to you, at least during warmer times of the year, then you won’t need any extra encouragement to go for it.

Posted in General naturism, Naked living, Promoting naturism | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Jack Gescheidt’s TreeSpirit Project needs supporters to get published

Jack Gescheidt is an accomplished photographer who’s been working for over a dozen years on a project that celebrates the natural beauty of both awe-inspiring trees – such as oaks, cypresses, and sequoias – and the naked human body. The project has been known, from its inception, as the TreeSpirit Project.

On the project’s website you can learn all about the project, watch videos explaining the philosophy behind it and introducing Gescheidt himself, see many full-size sample photographs (and purchase prints in the gallery), and learn how you can participate yourself. (Especially if you live in or near California. The next opportunities are in June and September of this year, among giant sequoias.)

Gescheidt is now ready to publish a fine art coffee table book featuring his best project work. But to make this happen support is needed for this KickStarter project by May 6, 2017. All naturists should take the time to evaluate for themselves whether this is indeed an outstanding artistic endeavor that will benefit naturism, promote respect for the natural world, and help spread the artist’s vision to a much wider audience.

Posted in General naturism, Naturist news, Nudity in art, Nudity in nature | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

New on the blogroll (9/14/16)

There are new additions to the blogroll (in the right-hand column). In most cases these are blogs that have started fairly recently. They are very diverse, but all deal with nudity in some way or other. The quality is quite good (or else they wouldn’t be in the blogroll). Being in the blogroll means they are recommended, although I may not agree with particular opinions expressed.

In general, these new additions feature more than the routine, tradional sort of naturist material (“I went to the local nude beach yesterday, and…”, “It’s getting cold around here now and I need to wear a sweater…”, “The disco night at our local club was just…”, “This article on nudism in my newsfeed ticked me off…”, etc.) Instead you’re likely to find creative, original thoughts about nudity and naturism, reports of nude/naked activities that expand the boundaries of traditional naturism, posts that show you aspects of naturism that may be new to you, and good links to similarly interesting material from other blogs. (However, there shouldn’t be any actual porn.)

Quotations used in site descriptions are taken from the site itself.

Brief summary of each addition (in alphabetical order):

Casually Buff

This blogger mainly offers reports on naturist happenings around the world, based on his preference for being as “completely naked as possible.” “My site is a celebration of my lifestyle, its influences and events. And the wider wonderful world of Naturism,” he explains.

Naja Narayana

Naja is a young woman, born in Denmark, who has traveled to many countries in search of a life that is meaningful to her. Her blog is a very personal account of her journey. Nudity and dancing have been among her most significant discoveries.

“I would at occasions take off all my clothes.
I felt like: “This is all there is. My wild untamed spirit. My naked body. The dirt, the bass, the sky, the stars.”


It’s sort of a combination of naturist news site and blog. Posts are in several categories (select from topics listed on the menu at the top of the page). Although the site is based in Brazil, some posts may deal with naturism anywhere. Most posts are in English (or optionally, Spanish), though some are in Portuguese (use Google Translate).

Our Naturist Blog

The blogger writes: “I’m Miles, an artist living in SW Cornwall. I’m lucky enough to live within a stones throw of one of the most beautiful naturist beaches in the UK. Molly and i have been naturists for around five years. We like to get to the beach whenever we can which sadly isn’t often enough and we try to sneak in one or two naturist holidays every year. Oh and the occasional naked disco from time to time!”

Most posts are either reblogs from other sites, or naturist experiences of Miles and Molly.

Spirited Bodies

Posts on this blog describes events, led by professional life models, that prepare people to help themselves through the discipline of life modeling.

“People come to model with Spirited Bodies to experience being nude with others in a relaxed environment, for the creation of art.

They want to face body issues and feel the warmth of human bonding in a way our society rarely offers; to be seen as a work of art and have the opportunity to express oneself in moments of silence and stillness.”

The SL Naturist 2

“SL-FKK is a blog reporting on the naturist lifestyle in the virtual world of Second Life. We also report on naturism in the real world around the globe, and will often apply Second Life situations to naturism as it exists in the real world.”

You may be surprised at how relevant naturism found in the “imaginary” world of Second Life is to naturism in the “real” world.

View from a grassey knoll

The blogger writes: “I am an Australian married man with teenage children, dog and surrounded by the great Australian bush. This blog reflects my thoughts, comments and discoveries on Christianity and Naturism (nudism).”

Non-Christians need not be put off by this, since many of the posts are links to interesting articles by other writers.

Weed and Naturism

“I’m a naturist, I smoke weed, and I’m a good person. Being a weed smoker and a naturist is NOT a reflection on my ethics. I’m not into porn, I don’t want to see your junk. What I’m into is self-expression. Being naked and smoking weed is a personal journey and a personal choice.”

“This blog is dedicated to marijuana and non-sexual nudity. Marijuana and the nude human body are both natural. Both nudity and weed have been stigmatized. I want to have an open discussion about the positive effects of responsible marijuana use and being nude.”


Feel free to suggest in the comments additional naturist blogs you know of that have quality similar to those above.

Posted in Blogroll additions, Site news | 8 Comments

Is there a human “need” for being naked?

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe – after Manet, by Sally Moore

Many naturists feel a significant urge to be naked whenever practical. It’s almost as though being naked is an emotional “need” that they have. We’re going to consider whether this can be a genuine need for some people.

Let’s begin by discussing “needs” in general. There are different types of needs. Two of the most obvious types are physical needs and emotional needs. Physical needs include, for instance, water, food, and sleep. If a person is fully deprived of this type of need, that person will die before too long. Even in the case of sleep, prolonged deprivation will result in going crazy, before eventually dying.

Emotional needs can have a similar urgency, though deprivation of them is usually not fatal. Such needs include affection, love, self-esteem, and a sense of worth and competence. Sex is mostly an emotional need, albeit a very urgent one for some people. Yet there are many other people who seem to be quite content without sexual gratification from another person. (Everyone else may find that astonishing.)

There are still other types of needs – health needs, for instance. This category includes various things usually essential for optimal health, such as exercise, a few critical vitamins and minerals, and a balanced diet. Everything mentioned so far suggests that there are quite a few different things that may be considered “needs”, and there’s no simple way to characterize the general concept of “need”.

Various detailed taxonomies of needs exist – Abraham Maslow’s, for instance. Maslow originally classified needs into five separate types: “physiological”, “safety”, “love/belonging”, “esteem”, and “self-actualization”. Examples of each type are probably fairly obvious, except perhaps for “self-actualization”. There’s plenty of discussion of this classification on the Web, so we’ll go into it just a little, later on.

One aspect of this scheme is that the different types are ranked in a hierarchy from “lowest” upward. The idea is that for most people to be able to satisfy the needs on a particular level, it is necessary to first have lower levels of need adequately satisfied. For instance, the “physiological” needs (which we referred to as “physical”) obviously have to be met to some extent (not necessarily as fully as desirable) before working on the other needs. So in some sense, the “lower” needs are at least as important as the “higher ones”. But it’s quite controversial whether this hierarchy is very strict, especially at the upper levels. In any case, that’s a complex question, somewhat independent of the classification itself.

It’s not even clear that some needs fit well in just one of Maslow’s types. If being naked actually is a human need (for some people), where would it fit? Would it be a matter of self-esteem? Or connectedness with others (“love/belonging”)? Or perhaps “self-actualization” even?

One way to approach the general question is to list some widely recognized “needs” that being naked can help satisfy. Here’s a start:

  • Connection with things external to oneself, especially other people and nature
  • Ability to deal with stress
  • Freedom (from constrictive clothes, social stereotypes, etc.)
  • Body consciousness
  • Self-esteem (body acceptance)
  • Sensory stimulation (especially tactile)
  • Physical and emotional pleasure
  • Peak experience, self-actualization

Let’s briefly consider each of these things.

Connection with things external to oneself. The environment we live in has two main parts: other people and the natural world (both other living things and the inorganic world of matter and energy). Humans have a need to connect with and feel a sense of belonging in both parts of their environment. Being naked with other people who are also naked promotes a sense of connection and belonging in a way that hardly needs to be explained. People who like to be naked often identify themselves as “naturists”, because lack of clothing puts one in direct physical contact with the inorganic elements of nature, and also induces a sense of kinship with nonhuman living things, all of which are naked themselves.

Even green plants have a need for exposure to their environment – specifically to sunlight, which they require for manufacturing what’s needed for growth and reproduction. What humans can derive from exposure to their environment is equally important in its own way, e. g. sensory stimulation and physical pleasure, to be discussed later.

Ability to deal with stress. I’ve written at length about this in a post on the health benefits of nudity. In short, most of the health benefits are related to the stress-reducing characteristics of being naked (at least once one is used to it). Stress has a number of different harmful effects on the body, so the mitigation of these from nudity is a good thing. Being naked certainly isn’t the only way to accomplish stress reduction, but it is an effective way. This is typical of a number of benefits of nudity: the benefit is real, but there are other ways to realize the same benefit.

Freedom. Being naked supports several types of freedom. Obviously, not wearing clothes reduces the expense and bother of acquiring and taking care of clothes – in direct proportion to how often one can be naked. The burden of selecting, storing, and laundering clothes is lessened – as well as the trouble of having to decide what to wear. You also don’t have to put up with the discomfort of poorly fitting clothes or irritating fabrics. Probably even more important is that being naked relieves one of the need to deal with social stereotypes associated with particular clothing styles. If you don’t wear clothes, you don’t have to worry about what is or isn’t currently “stylish”, “fashionable”, or “popular”. You get to be yourself, without having to let others control your choices.

Body consciousness. In a very real sense, we are our bodies – no more, no less. One’s mind and consciousness arises from activity in the brain, which in turn is influenced and affected by what’s happening in the rest of our body, including sensory inputs of many kinds from the external world. So we need to pay attention to what’s happening in our bodies, because that strongly affects our moods and emotions, both positively and negatively. If things aren’t well with out body, we may feel grumpy, depressed, or hostile. On the other hand, if all’s well with our body, the results can range from contentment to euphoria. But wearing clothes dulls our bodily senses. In particular, clothes are a barrier between the external environment and our skin – the body’s largest organ – so that we lose a sense of what a large part of us it comprises.

Self-esteem, body acceptance. Many naturists have emphasized the importance of body acceptance: the need to feel good about one’s body, no matter how it may deviate from some culturally dictated “ideal”. Clothing can serve to conceal perceived faults in the appearance of one’s body, but it doesn’t eliminate dissatisfaction that is still felt. Being naked, and especially seeing others who are also naked, helps one to become more at ease with diverse body types, especially one’s own. There’s another aspect to this. Both in law and in general opinion, nudity is largely defined by a person’s genitals not being covered. The reason behind this is that genitals are commonly considered to be “shameful” and “embarrassing”. But this is a very negative, harmful opinion, which seems to originate in religious and/or cultural traditions. Yet genitals are a very important part of one’s body, and the prevalent disparagement of their appearance is not compatible with full acceptance of one’s body. Becoming comfortable with full nudity leads to replacement of feeling shame and embarrassment of one’s genitals (as well as other body parts) with respect and appreciation.

Sensory stimulation (especially tactile). As already noted, the skin is the largest organ of the body, especially the largest sensory organ. In fact, the second largest, the liver, isn’t even close. On average, skin comes in at almost 11 kg (24 lbs), while the liver is 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs). (The brain is next: around 1.3 kg (2.9 lbs).) Wearing clothes, therefore, disables most of the largest sensory organ, like wearing a blindfold over the eyes. The more naked one is, the more sensory perception of the physical world is possible. Of course, that’s not always good – e. g. in the presence of harsh sunlight, low temperature, or blowing sand. But clothing is also a barrier to the feeling of moderate sunshine, gentle breezes, and warm rain. In the words of Khalil Gibran

And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy, you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your body and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.

Another aspect of tactile stimulation is the touch of other people. Human infants (and even young monkeys, according to the work of psychologist Harry Harlow) don’t thrive without physical contact with their mothers. The anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who was himself a naturist (and even contributed an article on nudity and the skin to the October 1992 issue of the Naturist Society’s magazine), had a great deal to say about tactile stimulation in Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. In that book he wrote

Clothes largely cut off the experience of pleasurable sensations of the skin. Natural skin sensation, the play of air, sun, and wind upon the body, can be very pleasurable. … The nudist movement almost certainly reflects the desire for more freedom of communication through the skin.

Physical and emotional pleasure. As far as pleasure itself is concerned, how can there be much doubt that it’s a basic human need? People who are prevented from enjoying pleasure (in reasonable moderation) are apt to be unhappy, depressed, and even neurotic. Isn’t that why people convicted of serious crimes are sent to prison – the deprivation of both freedom and pleasure being a severe punishment? And yet in our society, there’s a stigma attached to unencumbered physical pleasure. “Hedonism” has negative connotations to many, perhaps because of the Garden of Eden mythology (where nudity was the norm) that humans must forego pleasure to atone for their “original sin”. H. L. Mencken defined Puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Pleasure – including that derived from being naked – is a human need like others noted here. It becomes a problem only when its pursuit interferes with the satisfaction of other needs – one’s own or those of others.

The need that some people feel for the pleasure of being naked should be respected just as much as other more common pleasures, such as may be derived from music, art, humor, good food, and social interaction. Interestingly, a recent book has also explained how some people enjoy research into advanced mathematics as a source of considerable pleasure. Apparently this has been little suspected (by non-mathematicians) as a reason some people chose to work in advanced mathematics. Whatever the source, humans need physical and emotional pleasure.

Peak experience, self-actualization. Self-actualization is a concept that appears in various psychological theories. According to Wikipedia

The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one’s full potential. Expressing one’s creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society are examples of self-actualization.

Abraham Maslow later posited that self-actualization occupied the top level of his hierarchy of needs. Satisfaction of this need can be manifested in many forms, such as the accomplishment of difficult tasks in many fields (science, medicine, business, etc.); creative achievements in music, art, or literature; and successful humanitarian endeavors. Peak experiences are euphoric mental states that accompany significant achievements in a chosen field of activity. The objective magnitude of the achievement is not nearly so important as the subjective importance to the individual. Thus such things as running a marathon in a respectable time, completing one’s first successful climb of a 14er in Colorado, presiding over a successful dinner party that’s wildly enjoyed by one’s guests, or celebrating with one’s son or daughter their long-coveted acceptance at a prestigious university can be occasions for peak experiences.

There are also plenty of opportunities for peak experiences associated with being naked. They may not be as dramatic as previous examples, yet they still culminate in very similar euphoric mental states. The experience may be as simple as one’s first great naked adventure with friends at a clothing-optional beach, or a first time modeling nude for artists or photographers. However, it may be something more dramatic like a fun-filled nude Caribbean cruise, being part of a Spencer Tunick “installation” in a big city, or being a nude canvas for body-painting in Times Square.


There’s one thing in common among most of these examples of human needs that can involve being naked. That is: just as in the example of stress control, nakedness isn’t a necessary factor. There are often many other ways to satisfy each need. But in each case, nakedness can be a key factor in the need satisfaction, if a person is willing and able to make that use of it. If you happen to find a way that being naked satisfies any of these needs (in a socially responsible way), then the nakedness in effect becomes a need that you have. It’s analogous, for example, if you’re a good musician who can satisfy some of your important needs by performing in front of an audience. In that case, musical performance becomes a real need for you. It may be necessary to make a little or a lot of effort to find opportunities to perform. But you will do it because you need to. Let’s say that this kind of need should be termed an “instrumental” need (no pun intended), as opposed to a basic or fundamental need.

Naturists would be well-advised to understand the reasons to consider nakedness a genuine type of need, because they will be better able to explain to others exactly and convincingly why they are naturists.

Posted in Body acceptance, General naturism, Naturist philosophy, Nudity, Psychology of nudity, Questions | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

How controversial is naturism?

I go nude at home. Doesn't everyone?

Nope. In fact, being a practicing naturist at home, or in other private settings, is rather controversial, especially in many or most areas of the U. S. Yes, no doubt millions of people, most of whom probably don’t even consider themselves naturists or nudists, do go naked around their homes. Often others in the families do also.

But, unfortunately, even several million people in the U. S. (with a population of around 320 million) make up a fairly small minority. Habitual nudity in families or even in private groups of naturists can be quite controversial.

First example. Here’s a recent article, Should You Get Naked Around Your Kids to Help Their Body Image? The author, a man, is fairly comfortable being naked at home. But he still has concerns:

As someone who is both male and grew up in a house where my parents wouldn’t put on robes until they felt like it (my mother would watch TV in her underwear; my dad would prance around the house in bikini briefs bought on sale at K-Mart), I can’t say it did much for my self-esteem. While I’m happy to wander around naked (too happy, some might say), I’m also self-conscious about my flaws. Not because I’m uncomfortable with nudity, but because, like in my household, I’m always worried that not having clothes on opens me up to criticism—and it does, often, no matter how much practice you’ve had at it. [Emphasis added]

Second example. A naturist group in Southern California – Huntington Beach, to be specific – had been using a municipal pool for members-only naturist swims for about 8 years, with tacit approval from facility and public officials. Clothing-optional swims for naturist groups in municipal pools are common in Europe, of course. Sometimes there are even regularly scheduled times when the general public can enjoy the pools naked.

But a few months ago a new city attorney was hired in Huntington Beach, and he quickly banned the naturist swims, based on an existing but ambiguous city ordinance against “public” nudity. Although the swims were private, being members-only, the facility was publicly owned – thus (according to the new attorney) justifying application of the existing ordinance, which had originally been adopted for entirely different reasons.

It seems that few people had objected to the swims for the past 8 years, including employees at the pool itself. For example:

Former HB lifeguard Keri Boyd emphasized on the city’s Facebook page that no one was ever forced to work the event. “They don’t schedule you to work these events,” she wrote. “It’s a private event, so it is posted in the office as an extra shift to pick up to earn more mula $$$ . . . It never bothered me when I was working. I never felt like it was a distraction from my job to have people swimming naked. ‘Oh, no, not a boob!’ ‘Oh, no, not a penis!’ ‘Oh, no, not a hairy muff!’ We’ve all seen genitalia before. Just a bunch of nudists doin’ their nudist thang and livin’ their life!”

But as soon as the banning of naturist swims became news, so that the general public learned about the swims, probably for the first time, a lot of negative reactions to the swims surfaced in the community:

On the same Facebook thread in which Boyd had urged people to get past their junior-high attitudes, her post was joined by those who were concerned that naked people in a pool were less hygienic than those wearing swimsuits, as if a $20 pair of trunks from Target were some kind of magical block between body and water. Then there were those who, upon learning of the event, said they were concerned that it took place just blocks from a public school; never mind that the events took place in the evening and on the weekend, when no kids are supposed to be at the school.

The objections, obviously, are ridiculous. But people will rationalize their prejudices in any way they can.

There’s an unfortunate tendency to “explain” the negative prejudices on the grounds that most people mistakenly equate nudity and sexuality. It is true that this blanket equation is as common as it is mistaken. But the problem is deeper than that. The Huntington Beach example shows there’s no evidence at all of overt sexual behavior at the naturist swims. (That’s a common excuse used for banning nudity at beaches that have been clothing-optional for decades.) It seems that nudity itself is still just too controversial.

Posted in General naturism, Naked living, Political issues, Questions | Tagged , | 18 Comments

Naturism and moral theories


One of the leading concerns of people who are interested in naturism and related forms of social nudity is that other people, whose friendship is valued, may react negatively if they find out about one’s interest in social nudity.

There’s now scientific evidence that this fear may be realistic, and that applies in general situations, not just in connection with nudity.

Every society has a plethora of rules about what is or is not considered “proper” or “moral” behavior. Societies justify these rules based on specific – but usually implicit, assumed, and unanalyzed – theories of morality. Unfortunately, in most contemporary societies, social nudity outside of very limited circumstances is considered to violate some of those rules.

In order for people who enjoy, or want to enjoy, social nudity it is necessary to question not only a society’s strictures against nudity but also the “moral” principles that purport to justify those strictures.

So the first thing we need to do here is examine philosophical theories of “morality” in order to understand how they impact us. Morality, what it is and where it comes from has, of course, been one of the prime concerns of philosophy for over two thousand years. Hundreds of millions of words have been written on moral philosophy, so only the most simplistic, superficial account can be offered here. But who has the time to read and digest a thick book on the subject anyhow?

Consider this situation – if you haven’t come across it before. You are standing on a bridge over a rapid transit track. You can see that just around a bend in the track a car with five people in it is stalled across the track. The people can’t see an oncoming train and the operator of the train can’t see them either, so the people will certainly die if nothing is done. Beside you stands a large, corpulent man, and you realize that if you push him off the bridge onto the tracks the oncoming train will stop before killing the five people even though the man will die. What should you do?

Yes, this is a highly contrived, unrealistic situation, but it illustrates the point. One theory of morality says that deliberately causing the death of an innocent person is always wrong. But a different theory says that it is always better if only one innocent person is allowed to die instead of five.

The question of which theory is “best” won’t be addressed here. The intention is simply to point out that there is an issue here, and it is very relevant to social nudity. On one hand, many people (probably a majority in most societies) believe that social nudity involving unrelated people (and especially if children are also involved) is almost always wrong, or at least questionable. Why? Simply because it’s against society’s rules or “common sense”. But on the other hand, naturists and other devotees of social nudity think that nudity is just fine, has many psychological and health benefits, and isn’t harmful to anyone under reasonable, common-sense conditions.

So what’s the analogy here with the earlier train example? It is that one “moral” attitude is grounded in a fixed, almost inviolable rule. While the other is grounded in a realistic evaluation of the relative consequences of one choice versus another. Philosophers who are concerned professionally with morals and ethics have technical terms for these two attitudes. The first is called “deontological” (don’t ask me why), and the second is (more comprehensibly) “consequentialist”.

It should be clear enough that that consequentialist morality is likely to approve of social nudity, because social nudists find significant value in nudity, while objectively there is little actual harm in it – on balance the consequences are mostly positive. On the other hand, deontologist morality is likely to disapprove of social nudity, because it challenges the traditional rules and taboos of most contemporary societies.

But here’s the rub: In many if not most contemporary societies, the majority of people seem to lean towards the deontological view of morality rather than the consequentialist kind. In other words, hard and fast rules about “right” and “wrong” tend to prevail over judgements based on rational evaluation of consequences. This is a claim, or at least an assumption, found in this recent essay, which describes the scientific research and elaborates a bit on the train conundrum discussed above.

It follows from this assumption that you are likely to be more popular with others, have more friends, and be trusted by more people if your moral attitudes are in accord with those of the majority. And in particular, if you’re a social nudist, your consequentialist arguments in favor of nudity are going to have a difficult time convincing the deontological majority. That’s not a welcome conclusion to reach, but it wouldn’t be wise to completely ignore it.

Why should you take this seriously? Well, the essay cites recent social scientific research that suggests there is some validity to the conclusion of the preceding paragraph. In the essay’s words,

According to a new study of more than 2,400 participants, which we carried out with David Pizarro from Cornell University, the way you answer the “trolley problem” can have a big impact on how much people trust you.

Of course, that’s not to say that deontological morality is the “correct” or “right” moral theory. Only that it seems to be the most popular one. A bit later we’ll look at how social nudists might want to deal with this issue. But first let’s consider why this situation may have come about.

Religion is the elephant in the room. Clearly, the Abrahamic religions, which are dominant in the Western and Middle-eastern parts of the world, promote a very deontological form of moral theory. These religions are stuffed full of rules and regulations and commandments about how people “should” behave – with few if any exceptions permitted, and regardless of what rational analysis of a situation would conclude.

Not all religions are like the Abrahamic ones in this regard, however. Buddhism, for example, tends to lean the other way. This summary of Buddhist morality contains the following quote from an expert in the subject:

“There are no moral absolutes in Buddhism and it is recognized that ethical decision-making involves a complex nexus of causes and conditions. ‘Buddhism’ encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices, and the canonical scriptures leave room for a range of interpretations. All of these are grounded in a theory of intentionality, and individuals are encouraged to analyze issues carefully for themselves. … When making moral choices, individuals are advised to examine their motivation–whether aversion, attachment, ignorance, wisdom, or compassion–and to weigh the consequences of their actions in light of the Buddha’s teachings.”

Note, especially, the emphasis on encouragement “to analyze issues carefully” – and especially to “weigh the consequences” of one’s actions. Another religion, Wicca, which is a modern revival of an ancient spiritual tradition, puts the matter much more succinctly, in the so-called Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none do what ye will”. That may be a little too succinct, since there are situations (e. g. the train example) where harm results no matter what is done. But the point is clear enough: rational consideration of whether some behavior is harmful to others or to oneself is the best way to assess morality of the behavior. (It’s a separate question about what criteria to use for deciding whether or not some behavior is or isn’t “harmful”, or for comparing the amount of harm from alternate behavior choices.)

Now, it is true enough that in contemporary Buddhist societies, and perhaps even among Wiccans, there are a lot of deontological moral attitudes to be found. In particular, social nudity is perhaps as much a taboo in Buddhist societies as elsewhere. (Wiccans, on the other hand, seem rather more accepting of nudity.) But this is probably because there are reasons for taboos (including the nudity taboo) that are even more fundamental than religious teaching. We’ll get to those shortly.

It’s worth noting, however, that revered authorities even in Abrahamic religions (to say nothing of various modern theologians) sometimes deviate from strict deontological thinking. For example, Augustine of Hippo (aka Saint Augustine), an early Christian theologian, is usually considered a very strictly moralistic badass. Yet he wrote:

Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good. (source)

So, if the deontological perspective is not strictly inherent in religion, where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Here’s one possible explanation: Most people want other people, especially those they most often deal with, to be predictable. And in fact, predictability is a very important quality for the continued existence of a stable society having a reasonably high degree of social cohesion and cooperation. If you can’t reliably predict the behavior of someone you have dealings with, how can you trust them? And if you can’t trust them, how can you have a productive, satisfactory relationship with them, whether it is a relationship that is personal, social, business, or whatever?

Some social theorists even go so far as to hypothesize that human nature has been shaped to prefer predictability and trustworthiness in others because those are essentials of stable, dependable societies that are most likely to survive.

Clearly, one way for a society to inculcate predictable, trustworthy behavior in members of the society is to promote adherence to deontological morality – having many rules and taboos – in a large majority of the population. Historically, that seems to be the route most societies have taken, because it is the easiest to implement.

Consequentialist morality is at a disadvantage in this regard for several reasons. For one thing, it requires people to think and reason about the consequences of their actions, and that takes time and effort. Simply following the rules and avoiding things that are taboo is quicker and easier than thinking. But beyond that, of course, logical reasoning ability doesn’t come easily to many people, perhaps because it doesn’t have as much survival value as learning certain “common sense” rules. These may include such things as avoiding dangerous animals (lions, snakes), not eating unfamiliar or bad-smelling plants or fruits, not insulting or threatening the tribal chief, not picking fights with someone much stronger or more skilled, and so on. Perhaps it’s safer in the long run to learn the “rules of the game” instead of trying to reason about the consequences of any action one might take.

Bringing this discussion back to the subject of social nudity, it’s probable that the reason people in contemporary societies are very uncomfortable with it is simply that it’s a social taboo. Other people are likely to regard anyone who breaks a taboo as unpredictable and untrustworthy. And a person learns fairly early on that such a perception of oneself puts one at a serious social disadvantage. And the taboo need not involve something as dramatic as going around naked.

Especially when the rule or taboo involves something that is fairly trivial, such as the type of clothes one wears (far less dramatic than the choice not to wear clothes at all), then failure to adhere to expectations can be a big problem – wearing the “wrong” thing to work or on a date, for example. It’s quite likely that arbitrary and capricious expectations about what is “proper” attire on many jobs exist precisely to weed out employees who might be inclined to disregard other expectations as well. And in general, people certainly judge others based on clothing style choices, no matter how irrelevant objectively. Even trivial differences like this can mark another person as “not someone like us”, or “a member of a different tribe”.

In light of all this discussion, what sort of strategies should work best for devotees of social nudity who want to defend and promote their lifestyle? There are many different factors to consider when evaluating various ways that have been thought of to argue in favor of social nudity. So a thorough analysis could take quite a lot of time.

But here are just a few thoughts to begin the task. Let’s make the reasonable assumption that we live in a society where the majority of people lean towards the deontological rather than the consequentialist theory of morality.

The first thing that follows is that presenting arguments about the benefits of social nudity and the lack of harm caused by it may be worthwhile but probably are not the best approach to start with. Because discussions along those lines are about consequences of behavior, not adherence to rules.

What’s the alternative? It should be an argument that leverages rules or principles already widely accepted by society. For example: the right of an individual or group of people to make choices about their lifestyle that have little or no impact on others. The rights of people to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. In other words, people in our society value the right to be left alone, and so it is a rule that this right should be respected. Violation of this rule is (or should be) taboo. We should argue that it’s not socially acceptable to disparage the harmless personal lifestyle choices of others. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1-3)

Posted in General naturism, Naturist philosophy, Promoting naturism | Tagged , | 18 Comments