What’s holding naturism back?

Now that we have a fairly long list of obvious problems facing people who enjoy social nudity, it’s time to try to figure out what are the main underlying causes for the problems. Only after carefully considering the possible causes will it be reasonable to try finding solutions for the problems.

Identifying the “causes” is not an easy process. Although there are many “usual suspects”, establishing causality is a difficult task. This is because we are dealing with human societies and human psychology, both of which are very complex. Sigmund Freud and many other astute psychologists have tried to identify the most basic causes that shape human personality. In Freud’s case that involved making hypotheses about how the psyche is structured (“ego”, “id”, “superego”) and then trying to trace how these structures were formed (often in childhood experiences related to sexuality). Freud’s hypotheses have not proven to lead to reliably good techniques for treating psychological ills, so they can’t be considered satisfactory theories about how the human mind works. If a pretty smart guy like Freud couldn’t get this sort of thing right, we can hardly trust our own pet theories either.

But we have to try. For example, if you wake up some morning and find that your car won’t start, then you need to find the real cause among various possibilities. It could be a problem with the battery, the starter motor, the alternator – or perhaps you’re just out of gas. You could waste a lot of time and money if you make the wrong guess. So you investigate the simplest, easiest to correct problems first. If you can get a jump start from another vehicle, then your starter motor is probably OK. And you can check to be sure you actually have some fuel in the tank. But (unless you left some lights on in the car overnight) you still don’t know whether your battery or your alternator may need replacing. The former is a whole lot cheaper to replace than the latter.

Diagnosing the causes of the problems facing naturists is a lot more complicated, and it’s possible to waste quite a lot of time and effort if it’s decided to tackle a possible “cause” that’s not the correct choice. Or perhaps it really is a cause, but one that’s just too difficult to handle with the resources available. There’s certainly not just one cause for naturists’ problems, and it’s probably best to address the simplest ones first.

When you start to look around at the possible problem clauses, it’s quickly apparent that they are, roughly, of two kinds. The first set of causes are found in the wider culture – or perhaps in human nature itself. The second set consists of causes that are specific to the naturist/nudist community.

Here are some of the causes found in our society or perhaps in human nature:

  • Historically, going back several millennia or more, dominant religions have tried to place strong taboos and other kinds of control (religious and civil laws) on sexuality. This usually affects nudity as well, since nudity in essence entails not covering up sexual parts of the body.
  • Many societies have standards of “beauty” or “attractiveness” for human bodies, and since these standards cannot be met by the vast majority, people use clothing to conceal bodies that don’t meet the ideals. For this reason most people wouldn’t even consider going naked, but if they do, they’ll probably be derided by others as “ugly”.
  • Even if a young person has what is considered an “ideal” or “beautiful” body, aging brings about changes (wrinkles and parts that sag or bulge) that renders their bodies much less attractive to others, especially to younger people. Such changes in people’s bodies are sharp reminders of mortality, which renders them doubly unwelcome.
  • Many people, women especially, have fears – often not unreasonable – related to sexuality and the exposure of sexual body parts. Nudity is easily associated with a state of considerable vulnerability.
  • Modern societies often regard sexualized nudity, or nudity in general, as being detrimental to the freedom and dignity of people, especially women, because it “objectifies” them.
  • There are powerful economic factors that put pressure on people to purchase and wear certain types of clothing, as indicators of status, “hipness”, and social identity. Even if nudity never became a normal form of attire, and people chose to enjoy nudity only in more limited circumstances, clothing could lose much of its value for indicating status or identity.
  • Once a particular society or culture evolves strictures against nudity, cultural inertia makes change very difficult, since the prevailing attitudes against nudity are passed on from generation to generation by social conditioning that originates from both the family and peers.

Since all the above factors generally have roots in human nature and are reinforced by social pressures, it should hardly be necessary to argue that eliminating or even significantly weakening these causes of anti-nudity attitudes is likely to be very difficult, at best. “Education” to change such attitudes is bound to be a really tough slog.

However, there’s a largely independent set of causes for the failure to thrive of social nudity. These causes are found in the current nature and habits of the naturist/nudist community itself.

  • There is a great deal of bickering, quarreling, and fighting endemic in the community. Many people who consider themselves either “naturists” or “nudists”, see significant differences between the two types of social nudity, and regard their chosen identity as more wholesome, virtuous, or whatever. Such distinctions revolve around personal choices such as whether to enjoy nudity in private clubs or on public lands like beaches, or whether to enjoy nudity as a pervasive lifestyle or only when convenient opportunities arise.

    Other differences arise over philosophical issues and personal preference issues such as dietary choices (e. g. veganism); use or abstention from alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs; other health and lifestyle issues (e. g. exercise and fitness); and amount of effort to protect and defend the natural environment.

    Sociologists and anthropologists are keenly aware of the natural human tendency to draw “us” vs. “them” distinctions. It’s just a fact of life that humans disagree about many things. However, social nudity is bound to be weakened if people who enjoy it and want to see it prosper let other differences get in the way of that objective.

    Here’s another, more extended discussion of this issue: A house divided cannot stand -what’s happening to the clothes free community

    Let me take a moment to address those divisions which in reality are very natural human behavior. Nothing feels better than to belong, it makes us feel good. But we also have a tendency to make very thin distinctions within the groups to which we belong. This is something we see in general society and it is evident in the clothes free community as well.

  • This sort of division among different factions of the naturist/nudist community is not merely something found in the rank and file. It affects the “leadership”, such as it is, also. In the U. S. we have two principal national organizations, AANR and TNS. Sometimes they cooperate, and sometimes they don’t. Mostly they just seem to go their own ways, oblivious to what the other is doing. This is pretty clearly inefficient and wasteful of effort and resources.

    There are a number of smaller groups as well, somewhat more narrowly focused. They tend to represent different constituencies in the community, such as young naturists, urban naturists, GLBT naturists, etc. I won’t attempt to list names here, since surely some would be left out inadvertently. It’s difficult enough to determine just how many people are represented by AANR and TNS, and it’s even harder to do that for the smaller groups, some of which exist largely on paper or on their web sites.

    In fact, operators of a few of the more popular naturist blogs, naturist discussion forums, and naturist-only social networks are another important sort of community leadership. They are mostly competent and well-meaning. But they also divide and fragment the larger community further. We’ve mentioned several times before how the Internet has effectively divided the community up into small clans with little communication between each.

    This fragmentation is a big enough cause of trouble all by itself, but on top of that, there’s often a lot of discord and squabbling between the principals of each organization or entity. Here’s a longer discussion of this aspect of the problem: Filling the leadership vacuum

    When a single, authoritative voice in the form of a cohesive organization does not exist that can point to a written articulable philosophy and code of conduct that defines the culture any group can hold itself out to be nudist or naturist even when their conduct and viewpoints are diametrically opposed to what the traditional culture is about. Organizations are formed and self-appointed naturist “leaders” fill the void and start to espouse to the media and the public what it means in their personal view to be a nudist or naturist.

    It’s certainly a very familiar aspect of human nature for prospective “leaders” to contend with each other for primacy. But the community as a whole needs to try to keep this jousting under control, so that chaos doesn’t negate any effort we make to advance social nudity.

    A couple more posts on this theme: A Question of Leadership in Social Nudism and Are nudists their own worst enemy?

  • The two main naturist/nudist organizations in the U. S. are weak and ineffective. This has probably been discussed to death, so I won’t go into a lot more detail. Membership in both organizations shrinks year after year. The organizations are not able to recruit young naturists to replace older naturists who can no longer participate – let alone add to the ranks of active naturists/nudists. The number of private clubs and resorts where people can enjoy social nudity is also declining from year to year, and they are not being replaced. There’s a corresponding decline in public areas like beaches that can be enjoyed without clothes. Growing the number of naturists/nudists and places they can socialize with each other is, or should be, the main purpose of both AANR and TNS/NAC.

    But they aren’t doing it. There isn’t any great lack of ideas of how the major organizations could do a better job of promoting social nudity. What is lacking is the resources and the determination to do the job. And the next item has a lot do to with that.

  • There’s way too much apathy and indifference among people who enjoy social nudity. The number of people who actually think of themselves as naturists or nudists is a lot smaller than the number who enjoy nudity often or occasionally in various forms – at home (alone or with their families), with friends and extended families at each other’s homes, or at public places that tolerate nudity (beaches, hiking trails, etc.) Unsurprisingly, this larger group provides almost no support to the national organizations, and in general is hardly even aware that the organizations exist. But even among self-indentifying naturists/nudists support for the organizations is tepid, at best.

    This apathy is both a cause and an effect of the weakness of the organizations. It’s a cause since the social nudity community provides little guidance or financial support to the organizations. But it’s also an effect, since when support for the organizations is lacking, education and recruiting for the community is possible only to a very limited extent. Thus the organizations are perceived as weak, further discouraging support in a vicious circle.


As long as the community of people who enjoy social nudity has the weaknesses noted above, the community is going to be far too weak to seriously consider trying to deal with the causes of opposition to nudity present in the society as a whole. If the community can’t speak with a reasonably unified voice, backed up by the financial and managerial resources of a healthy pro-nudity organization, it’s a fantasy to imagine that any efforts to “educate” the general public can succeed.

The community really has no choice but to deal with its own weaknesses first. And I’m inclined to think of apathy as the principal, root cause of the whole problem.

Stated another way, as long as people who enjoy nudity want nothing more than to be able to enjoy a relaxing day naked at the beach, free of having to worry about organizational politics or finances, they aren’t going to get what they want. Period.

There’s another recent blog post out there which makes the positive case for apathy. I’m not going to embarrass the person by identifying the blog, so I’ll just paraphrase. This person does not feel involved with the bickering and squabbling that’s going on, and doesn’t want to be bothered hearing or thinking about it. He/she simply wants to attend the locally available naturist activities, and not get caught up in any of the factions or “politics”. He/she feels that activists and militants serve a necessary function, but doesn’t want to participate in that personally. He/she thinks that naturism is all about the freedom to do what one wants (as far as clothing is concerned), and that there’s an equal freedom to choose whether or not to make an effort to defend freedom from clothes. I realize this is a very common line of thinking – but I’m pretty certain it’s very unrealistic wishful thinking.

There’s a historically valid truth that refutes this point of view: Freedom is not free. It has to be won with strenuous effort, and continually defended.

If you have readily available social nudity activities where you live, it is only because someone, probably several someones, organized them, at a cost of not insignificant time and expense to themselves. If the larger society in which we live weren’t so hostile to nudity, the effort and expenses would probably be minor. But that’s not the society we live in.

A large number of people hate politics and don’t want anything to do with it, even so much as voting. But this sort of attitude is precisely why the politics in our country is so juvenile and corrupt. Yes, an awful lot of the politicians are mendacious clowns. But the people who elected them, or allowed them to be elected by not voting, are ultimately responsible for them. Because so many people, even if they voted, didn’t make the effort to understand the issues at stake or the character of the people running for office. The citizens of a country get pretty much the quality of government that they deserve. Unfortunately.

And it’s the same way with the future of social nudity. People who want it will be able to enjoy it only if they either put out some effort to make it happen, or are fortunate enough that someone else will make the effort for them.

If we still lived in the Garden of Eden, nudity would be universal and effortless. But that’s not where we are now, and the availability of social nudity is anything but universal and effortless.

There are a few of criteria that are generally applied to determine whether or not a person should be considered a “real” naturist/nudist. Whatever criteria are your favorites, a willingness to contribute to the tolerance, acceptance, respect, and eventually approval by society for the choice to enjoy nudity should definitely be on the list.

Let’s review where we are now in this discussion. We’ve stated the obvious problems faced by social nudity. We’ve just gone over some of the causes that these problems exist. The next step in creative problem solving is to engage with the problem and accept the task of solving it. Obviously a whole lot of people who enjoy social nudity simply aren’t going to do that. But it will be necessary that as many as possible do.

If you think back over the history of naturism/nudism in modern times, since the origins in Germany around 1900, it’s not unfair to say that the problems we’re faced with now are inherent in the original vision of the movement. That is, in spite of all of the considerable prescience of the originators, it was inevitable that the larger society was going to resist the vision, pretty strongly. (For the reasons at the top of this post.)

I think we’re going to have to do a lot of work to bring that vision up to date. As Albert Einstein supposedly said (though the aphorism is probably more of a paraphrase), “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

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3 Responses to What’s holding naturism back?

  1. Laziness is what upsets me more than anything!!! Most of us don’t even do the easy things like challenging social norms by wearing shorter shorts to the store. Doing nothing is almost as bad as betrayal.
    Before feeling hopeless about changing our culture it’s important to keep in mind that most lawmakers are from the older, more socially conservative generation. America is still a young country with a deep Christian influence. Technology is causing a gradual influence away from social conservatism, but it takes decades. There hasn’t been any sudden events to shake this part of our culture. The only thing I see coming that might shake up our culture is the collapse of the dollar. With so many people packed into cities there could be millions die of starvation. (1929 was a small depression compared to what’s coming.)
    Topfree equality could be used as a stepping stone for our ultimate goal. It’s a lot easier to get people to accept equal rights then complete freedom. To get a bearing of how long this will take I look to the gay rights movement. Their first big annual protest was in 1970. The first annual protest for topfree equal rights was in 2008. This means we have about four decades before women will get the same equality as sexual minorities did in 2008 (still far from perfect). I’m not sure how the dollar collapse will affect this new movement but one thing is certain: change is slow so we need to stop being lazy!

    • Prediction is difficult – especially about the future. Unless there are major upheavals, there may not be much change even in 40 years. However, there could easily be major upheavals. I don’t know about dollar collapse, but there are a couple of things that might be a lot more likely. Climate change is one thing. That’s going to have a big economic impact if there are major droughts, hurricanes, etc. On the other hand, if it gets a lot hotter (in the summer), people may be more willing to wear less, or no, clothing.

      Technology is the other big factor. It’s going to eliminate a lot of jobs – or at least a lot of need for labor. A lot of work that’s done by people now will be done by computers or robots before long. Everything from driving trucks to serving burgers to retail checkouts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Automation means the same goods and services can be produced in fewer hours worked. To get the benefit from this, three things must happen. Hourly wages have to go up sharply and the “normal” work week must get shorter. So people can get as much done in half as many hours as now, at some point. However, the THIRD thing that has to happen is that most of the benefit has to go to the large majority of people – NOT the most wealthy (as has been the case for the past 30+ years). If that works out right, people will have much more leisure time (or more income from working two jobs in the same 40 or 50 hours). Hence much more opportunity to enjoy recreation and naturism. But if most of the benefits keeps going to the top 1%, there will be a violent revolution at some point, and all bets are off.

      Since violent changes are the most difficult to predict, probably the best thing for naturists to do right now is assume more gradual evolutionary changes, and work hard to move those in the right direction. Gay people haven’t seen significantly more social acceptance in the past 30 years merely by staying quiet and doing nothing.

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