As promised, we’re going to discuss the problems facing social nudity in the U. S. currently. It’s generally recognized by people who enjoy social nudity that there are lots of problems. Hardly anyone would deny that. A golden age for naturism and nudism this isn’t. (This discussion may apply to similar countries as well, though there are often differences.)
And as we observed in Naturism and creativity a week ago, explicitly describing what the problems are is the essential next step to dealing with the problems after recognizing their existence.
Let’s also keep in mind that, in spite of the problems, there are changes occurring in U. S. society which are potentially positive for social nudity. That has been discussed here, for example. These changes include:
- There is rapid evolution of Internet services that potentially allow many new channels of communication between people who enjoy social nudity, and outreach to the rest of society.
- Younger people always tend to stimulate changes in social sentiments and values, and this effect now is favorable to minorities that have previously been disfavored, such as gays and lesbians. It also is tending to moderate traditional taboos against various things that were considered “sexual” in the past. This even includes nudity to some extent, if what is now considered permissible in movies and cable TV is any indication.
- Traditional mainstream media channels (e. g. broadcast TV and newspapers) are slowly but surely dying. This is eliminating the power of such media to act as gatekeepers to the kinds of information the public can access. (Unfortunately, a number of the most popular new media, like Facebook, seem to be performing the same role, at least as far as nudity is concerned.)
- In a significant portion of the population there is a growing concern for the health and sustainability of the natural environment. This extends to a greater sense of identification with the natural world, and interest in “natural” food, “natural” healing, “natural” lifestyles, and appreciation for experience of the natural world. These have been very important themes in naturism all along. Being naked seems a lot more “natural” than wearing clothes.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s difficult to assess “trends” as they are going on, because the ultimate direction is often apparent only in hindsight. However, it’s useful to keep such things in mind, because various problems facing social nudity have in common that they result from a failure to take advantage of ongoing trends – the changing and more open-minded attitudes of young people, for example.
In spite of ongoing changes, it’s also as true as ever that the more things change, the more they stay the same – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French say. So many of the problems social nudity faces today in the U. S. are much the same as they were in Germany 100 years ago. It is only the fact that modern societies most everywhere have themselves evolved in positive ways that makes the difficulties for social nudity seem more puzzling.
But it’s good to keep things in perspective. Richard Ungewitter in Germany in 1906 self-published the book Die Nacktheit (English: Nakedness). Though the ideas were mostly not original with Ungewitter, the book set out many of the principles of nonsexual social nudity that are still prevalent today. The book was also rather popular, and earned Ungewitter a fair amount of money. Unfortunately, the “authorities” considered the book scandalous and pornographic. So Ungewitter had to spend most of his earnings to defend in court publication of the book. We can be thankful that our modern problems aren’t quite so severe – at least, as long as we just want to write about social nudity, rather than try to practice it other than on private property.
We’ll consider the problems that social nudity faces in several categories, with additional details in each.
Problems with public attitudes to nudity and understanding of social nudity
- Most people have negative opinions about nudity in general: that it is shameful, embarrassing, or “gross”, that it should be enjoyed only in private, that it is psychologically unhealthy or physically unsanitary, harmful to children, etc.
- Most people do not clearly distinguish nudity (even when one is alone) from sexuality in general.
- Most people can’t understand what naturists/nudists find pleasurable about nonsexual social nudity.
- Most people are also unaware of other benefits of social nudity, such as relaxation and reduction of stress, greater self-confidence, improved body acceptance, feeling of community with pleasant, like-minded people who take some pride in being a little unconventional, the ability to be more open with others, feelings of greater closeness to nature, etc.
- Most people do not know how “normal” and nonsexual the activities actually are at naturist/nudist clubs and resorts, beaches, parties, and other social events.
Problems resulting from various fears associated with nudity and nakedness
- Men who have no experience with nonsexual social nudity almost always fear being embarrassed as a result of having erections. (The fact this concern is so universal is an indication of the difficulty of finding even such basic information.)
- Women generally have fears of unwanted sexual attention or even fears for their physical safety as a result of full or partial nudity.
- People have fears, often legitimate, of disapproval from others as a result of participation in social nudity – e. g. bad reactions from friends and relatives, harm to a career or even loss of employment, ostracism from other social groups.
- Both men and women have fears about involvement in unwanted sexual activities. Both also may worry about losing their partner to someone else in a sexually-charged environment.
- People regard the community of people who enjoy social nudity as being something like a community with “alien” or unfamiliar customs and conventions, the unintentional violation of which will lead to embarrassment and social disapproval.
- Most people have limited understanding of the many and complicated laws governing public or even private nudity (see below), and have legitimate fears of legal problems even when the laws don’t actually apply.
- Many people have fears about participation by minors in nonsexual social nudity, though that is usually legal, and actually very safe.
- Even when minors are legally participating in social nudity, there are legitimate fears about the legality of photography or video recording (even in private with one’s own children). The laws about this are very complex, inconsistent from place to place, and often applied incorrectly.
Problems with the national naturist/nudist organizations (AANR and TNS/NAC)
- Individual naturists/nudists who aren’t “insiders” feel it is difficult to communicate their opinions and concerns to the organizations and actually effect reasonable changes. Members have little sense of influence on the organization. (There are no formal means of influence at all in TNS since it’s a private corporation.)
- Neither organization is very good at communicating what they are doing and why to their membership, although AANR is somewhat better at this because of its monthly newspaper (The Bulletin).
- Both organizations have failed to make significant use of the Internet to provide services to members.
- Both organizations have failed to make significant use of the Internet to provide information about social nudity to the general public.
- Both organizations have been losing membership due to lack of perceived value from dues paid.
- The organizations have been unable to prevent a steady loss in the number of naturist/nudist clubs and resorts and of public locations (such as beaches) for clothing-optional recreation.
- The existence of two separate organizations serving the naturist/nudist community is itself a problem due to lack of cooperation between the organizations.
- The median age of members of both organizations is significantly higher than that of the general (adult) population. Neither organization is very effective in attracting young people to social nudity.
- Both organizations have been much less successful in persuading women than men that social nudity is a safe and pleasurable activity.
Problems within the naturist/nudist community itself
- People are reluctant to self-identify with “-isms” like naturism and nudism and to think of them as something to be promoted. They just want to have a pleasant naked day at the beach (for example), without any other responsibilities.
- Many if not most people who enjoy social nudity occasionally or often do not feel part of a larger community of like-minded people.
- There’s a great deal of apathy among naturists/nudists because of feelings of inability to improve general toleration and acceptance of social nudity.
- There’s too much bickering and lack of cooperation among prominent nudists and naturists.
- The community is highly fragmented into many small groups among which there is little communication.
Quality of information available about nonsexual social nudity
- Although there are many sites that offer a little relevant information, most are incomplete and some are not entirely reliable. While information from the national organizations is fairly reliable (but occasionally out of date), it often leaves a lot of questions unanswered, especially regarding non-landed clubs.
- There are few good, easy-to-find sources of up-to-date, reliable information about how and where to find existing naturist/nudist clubs and clothing-optional areas on public lands. The same is true about customs and expectations for participants in nonsexual social nudity.
- Using online search tools to get information on “nudism” or “naturism” often produces many results that are definitely not relevant to nonsexual social nudity.
- Many online sites that claim to offer “nudist or naturist” social networking are usually very ineffective and unreliable. This is especially true for women, who as a result usually do not use such sites. Part of the problem is that there are so many such sites, the chances are not good for finding compatible people as friends.
Miscellaneous other problems
- In many parts of the country it is necessary to travel a large distance to visit a landed club/resort or attend events of non-landed clubs.
- In most parts of the country there is a serious lack of places to legally enjoy nudity on beaches and other types of public land.
- Present economic conditions make finances tight for most people, especially young people and young families. Although most naturist/nudist clubs and recreation spots aren’t especially expensive, having to travel long distances to reach them certainly can be. Finding the time to participate can also be difficult, with leisure and vacation time often very limited.
- Many landed clubs still enforce outdated policies, such as restrictions on participation by “single” males or requirements to officially “join” the club after 2 or 3 visits.
- Both older media (TV, newspapers) and many online media as well continue to censor images with nonsexual nudity, either completely or partially (blurring, pixelation) – perpetuating the misconception that most nudity is illicit, offensive, disgusting, harmful to minors, etc.
- The laws of most local and state jurisdictions either criminalize nudity entirely in most public contexts, or make complicated and vague distinctions based on the degree of “offensiveness” or sexual intent, while still essentially criminalizing purely nonsexual nudity. Even if there are distinctions, they are often inconsistently and unpredictably applied. Mandated punishments can be very harsh, especially if the nudity is treated as a “sex crime” or there are repeated “offenses”. And exposure of female breasts is often treated as harshly as genital nudity.
I hope nobody reading about all these problems loses too much sleep worrying about their participation in nonsexual social nudity. The truth is that it is usually very safe, pleasurable, and unproblematic – in the right circumstances. Unfortunately, what these problems do cause is a very significant difficulty for most people in locating and being able to participate in the “right circumstances”.
The decision to seek out opportunities for nonsexual social nudity remains, after all, a very personal one. But the biggest obstacle is lack of opportunities, which is a result of all the problems listed above. For nonsexual social nudity to thrive it has to be readily available to all who want it, so there must be many others who also want it. And that’s not going to happen until there are solutions to many of these problems.
With so many problems, is it even reasonable to hope for solutions to many of them? I think it is, because the problems certainly aren’t independent of each others. For instance, a very good public relations campaign (meaning not the sort of publicity stunts that both national organizations sometimes support) could do a lot to improve public attitudes towards social nudity, and that in turn would help with many of the other problems. But high-quality and effective public relations campaigns are very expensive. Such things can work very well, for example in selling clothing or entertainment products to teenagers. But in that case, there’s lots of money to be made, so the campaign can pay off.
So a feasible campaign to promote social nudity will need to be incremental, and also very clever. And this is precisely where creativity of a high order must be employed. There are plenty of creative people who are already into social nudity. After all, it’s naturally attractive for people who able to think for themselves, not just follow the crowd, and think unconventionally.