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.