Unreasonable customs become unreasonable moral rules then unreasonable laws

police vs. nudists 1

There seems to be a natural progression found in all human societies. Long before a society has explicit moral rules it has social customs, which may have been unchanged for millennia. The customs have their roots in the society’s natural and human environment. They may be appropriate for that environment, in its particular time and place, but not necessarily in different environments.

However, since people in the society have no experience with any other customs, they assume the customs must be justified as simply “common sense”. Customs are learned by everyone as young children who imitate what is done by most people they know. Further, even as adults individuals are not inclined to question or challenge society’s customs, because to do so risks ostracism and possible harm from others in the society. People who questions customs are seen as nonconformists, who are unpredictable and can’t be trusted. And so customs eventually become inflexible “moral” rules, violation of which is considered “taboo”.

Since the earliest “modern” civilizations several thousand years ago, taboos and moral rules have further become codified in the formal legal system of a society. Punishment of violation of customs-become-laws is no longer arbitrary and left to the discretion of people closest to the custom-breakers. Punishment of verified custom-breaking becomes mandatory and inflexible. Elaborate social systems are put in place to apprehend and put custom-breakers on trial, and eventually to apply prescribed punishments.

But what if the social customs on which laws are ultimately based are misconceived or no longer appropriate for a contemporary environment? Bad customs remain in the form of bad laws – resulting in unjust and overly harsh punishment for personal choices and personal behavior that pose no real harm to others.

And so it is that the custom of wearing clothing in certain circumstances (when the custom may have been reasonable) has evolved into the obligation to wear clothing in most circumstances. This is the whole story of the indiscriminate and inflexible way nudity is treated in most modern societies.

The 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne had a lot to say on the subject of custom and habit (sometimes the same word in the original French). In his essay, “Of custom, and not easily changing an accepted law”, there’s this: “Habituation puts to sleep the eye of our judgement.” He gives numerous examples of radically different customs humans have had in various times and places, sometimes even in close proximity. And later observes

The principal effect of the power of custom is to seize and ensnare us in such a way that it is hardly within our power to get ourselves back out of its grip and return into ourselves to reflect and reason about its ordinances. In truth, because we drink them with our milk from birth, and because the face of the world presents itself in this aspect to our first view, it seems that we are born on condition of following this course. … Whence it comes to pass that what is off the hinges of custom, people believe to be off the hinges of reason. [Translation by Donald M. Frame]

In a later essay (“On the custom of wearing clothes”) Montaigne begins:

Wherever I want to turn, I have to force some barrier of custom, so carefully has it blocked all our approaches. I was wondering in this shivery season whether the fashion of going stark naked in these lately discovered nations is forced on them by the warm temperature of the air, as we say of the Indians and Moors, or whether it is the original way of mankind.

So Montaigne realizes how varied human customs on the wearing of clothes are and cites a number of examples. The general idea is that nature provides humans at birth with what they really need (under the most common conditions).

If we had been born with natural petticoats and breeches, there can be no doubt but that Nature would have armed with a thicker skin the parts she intended to expose to the beating of the seasons, as she has done for the fingertips and the soles of the feet. Why does this seem so hard to believe? Between my way of dressing and that of a peasant of my region I find far more distance than there is between his way and that of a man dressed only in his skin.

As with human customs in general, then, those related to clothing are based mostly on chance and happenstance than inflexible moral imperatives. However, Montaigne happens to have been a rock-ribbed conservative, and he believed that people should generally accept the customs and laws of their society, however arbitrary and capricious they might be. In large part this was probably because he saw the high cost in human life and suffering caused by the religious wars following the Reformation.

There’s always been this debate, which Shakespeare (Montaigne’s contemporary) put in Hamlet’s words:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them?

That is, when is it worth the trouble to try to change unfairness and injustice instead of simply living with it? During the Enlightenment, long after Montaigne’s time, a different answer seemed persuasive.

All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

If people hadn’t realized that sometimes existing conditions are so wrong that they should be changed, the U. S. might still be a British colony, and the institution of slavery would still exist in the southern states of the U. S. Was it worth bloody wars to secure change in those cases? Probably.

The issue of the fairness and justice of existing laws that compel, in most cases, the wearing of clothes is far less momentous. But that doesn’t mean that laws based on arbitrary and capricious customs and moral rules should be immune to change.

Posted in Naturist philosophy, Nudity, Political issues | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Book review: Naked at Lunch

Mark Haskell Smith’s recent book, Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World (published June 2015), may be the best book on naturism – and the most persuasive argument for naturism – ever written by a non-naturist.

However, the book does not begin in an especially complimentary or auspicious way, even though the author eventually comes around to a (much) more respectful point of view. From some of the earliest paragraphs:

I’m especially fascinated by subcultures that are deemed morally suspect or quasi-legal: the people who pursue their passion even if it means possible imprisonment or stigmatization by society. I can’t help it. I like the true believers. The fanatics. … It wasn’t much of a leap for me to become intrigued by the world of nudism.

The book is a pleasure to read, whether or not you’re a naturist yourself, since Smith is a professional author and journalist, with five published novels and another nonfiction book (on marijuana farming) to his credit. And he’s an assistant professor of writing with U. C. Riverside, to boot. He has an impressive vocabulary (which is well-employed), and an entertaining way with lively, colorful metaphors.

As already noted, the author does not consider himself a naturist or nudist, either before or after doing the research for the book:

I wasn’t a nudist when I started this journey and, if I’m being truthful, I’m not a nudist or a naturist or an anti-textile now. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with any of those labels. They’re just not my scene.

And that’s fine. Nudism/naturism isn’t always a comfortable, convenient philosophy or lifestyle. To fully enjoy naturism it’s necessary to feel more satisfied being naked than not, to have a special sense of connection with other nudists/naturists, and also to be willing to put up with occasional (or frequent) disapproval and inconvenience meted out by the multitudes in most societies who are not especially appreciative of the unconventional.

Both naturists and non-naturists will have good reasons to be glad to have read this book. Even though Smith disclaims the label of naturist for himself, he has clearly learned (from both extensive library research and participatory research in the field) much more about the subject than most naturists themselves know. The author’s accounts of many aspects of contemporary naturism will richly reward most seasoned naturists with facets of the lifestyle they haven’t explored themselves. And non-naturists will get a clear picture of a number of things about naturism that its adherents especially enjoy – as well as credible refutation of misconceptions harbored by most people who’ve never experienced naturism.

Here are a few chapter titles and summaries to provide a taste of what’s in the book:

  • Interview with a Nudist: The nudist is Mark Storey, a college philosophy professor as well as an editor and frequent contributor to The Naturist Society’s N magazine. Storey opines that “If we [humans] do have an essential nature of being social, and clothing does do something towards alienating us from each other, nudity helps break down alienation. I think that’s why so many people like it.”
  • Gymnophobia: This is the intense trepidation felt by most people who’ve had no experience with social nudity just before the first time they are naked around naked strangers. The author’s first visit to a naturist resort is a case study in how this fear dissipates fairly quickly.
  • Vera Playa: The author visits the town of Vera (population about 15,000) in Spain, and its nearby beach area on the Mediterranean coast. The beach is more than 2 kilometers long and was designated by the local government as naturist in 1979. It may be the largest naturist development in the world, is not located behind gates or walls, and consists mostly of condos, stores, bars, and restaurants. Nudity is accepted everywhere in the development. People in the nearby town of Vera mostly have no problems with the beach nudity. Smith observes that the typical extreme uptightness about nudity in the U. S. is laughable by comparison.
  • The Naked European Walking Tour: The author goes nude hiking in the Austrian Alps with a group organized by British “Naktivist” Richard Foley. The group comprised 21 men and women, all Europeans except for Smith, mostly individuals but with a few couples. Foley promotes his concept of “Naktivism”, which is based on 3 principles: (1) To support and encourage naked activities everywhere; (2) “To educate society that the naked human body is acceptable in all contexts”; and (3) “To decriminalize the naked human body”. Although the group walked naked most of the time, they met with very few negative reactions from non-naturists out on the trails. (Here’s a short documentary of this trip, and a longer version.)
  • The Fall of Nudist Clubs: Organized nudism of the traditional sort in the U. S. is undeniably in decline. Membership in the two national nudist/naturist organizations (TNS and AANR) has been steadily dwindling for perhaps two decades. Long-established clubs are closing as their owners retire and cannot find replacements. “This generation gap [between nudists of the 60s and 70s and their descendants] is the principal reason that clubs and the AANR are in decline. That and the fact that people get old and die.” Felicity Jones, a founder of the youth-oriented Young Naturists America (YNA) puts the matter succinctly: “nudist clubs/resorts are not adapting to the times.”
  • World Naked Whatever Day: Young people with an interest in social nudity are pioneering new ways of enjoying nudity, often in very public places, in contrast to the fenced-in nudist camps and resorts of yore. Richard Foley’s Naked European Walking Tour is one example. The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is held in many international cities (on a number of different days). U. S. cities are well-represented in WNBR; Portland, Oregon may have the largest WNBR in the world, with reportedly about 10,000 participants in 2014. Another example of this kind of “free-range” naturism is the Bodypainting Day in New York City, organized and promoted by bodypainter Andy Golub and YNA. (The most recent instance took place July 18, 2015, and involved fully naked participants in well-known, very public locations.)
  • Caribbean Nakation: Smith finally persuaded his naturism-avoiding wife to join him in field research as a “research assistant”. “Nakation” is AANR’s portmanteau word for the “naked vacations” it promotes. In this case, the event was a clothing-optional Caribbean cruise on a Holland America Line ship, organized by the Bare Necessities Tour & Travel company. Eventually the author’s research assistant voluntarily gets naked. “I could tell my research assistant was suddenly understanding the pleasure of swimming without clothes. She could not stop grinning.” Although Smith continues to point out instances of quirkiness among nudists on the cruise (and elsewhere), his overall judgment is positive: “Nudists, or those who travel where clothing is not a priority or necessity, seem to be more laid-back, have a better sense of self, and are simply more friendly, compassionate, and easy to get to know.”
  • Naked at Lunch: In his concluding chapter Smith disclaims the naturist label for himself, while still warmly endorsing naturism. He observes that “society just doesn’t get it.” And addressing readers who still reject naturism not only for themselves but for others, he concludes:

    [W]e need to grow the fuck up. … Society needs to come to terms with the fact that some of us like pleasurable pursuits. A person shouldn’t feel guilty or shame for being naked any more than someone should feel guilt or shame for enjoying a ripe peach. … If it really bothers you, maybe you need to take a long look at yourself and figure out why it bothers you. Just because you’re offended doesn’t give you the right to keep someone from enjoying their own body and the environment.

Posted in Book reviews, General naturism | Tagged | 3 Comments

Benefits of social nudity: stress reduction, general health


Most naturists/nudists believe that social nudity has significant health benefits. They’re very probably right. However, there doesn’t seem to be much clarity about exactly how nudity is beneficial for one’s health. We’re going to take a close look at that issue here. It’s going to take some time to give a good explanation. But if you want the quick answer, it’s this: social nudity helps counteract psychological stress. And if you’re in a hurry, you can jump here for the quick summary.

In the early days of naturism (up to 1940, say), there was a strong emphasis on healthful living. In Germany, where modern naturism originated in the late 1890s, nudity was considered to be a part of healthful living, whose principles were sometimes referred to as Lebensreform: “life reform”. The principles included such things as abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and (other) addictive drugs, exercise, healthful diet (especially vegetarianism), living in “harmony” with nature, and exposure to fresh air and sunshine.

However, for the most part, these tenets were principles that were emphasized along with nudity. They were not particularly connected with nudity in a logical way, except that nudity was regarded as the “natural” state of humans. Scientific knowledge about health was limited 100 years ago, so nudity was simply considered to be self-evidently healthful, hence it was an appropriate accompaniment of other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Today, most of these tenets (other than nudity) are widely accepted by the general public – probably at least as much as within naturism itself. So it is difficult to regard them as beneficial aspects of contemporary naturism specifically. Many naturists/nudists do not observe one or more of these principles in their own lives.

It is also debatable, with regard to some of these principles, whether the positives exceed the negatives as far as physical health is concerned. An example is the purported health benefits of sunshine, which has perhaps the most obvious relation to nudity. It is true that some exposure to sunlight (in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum) is necessary for humans to synthesize vitamin D in the skin. It is also true that some amount of vitamin D is essential to avoid certain diseases, rickets in particular (for children). Research has also occasionally suggested other health benefits of vitamin D, but most claims aren’t well established, or the required dosages are unknown. For instance, there may be some beneficial effect of vitamin D for tuberculosis. Before antibiotics existed, people suffering from TB went to sanatoriums for “sunshine cures” (if they could afford it). Even in this case, the benefit is uncertain, but early naturists were influenced by the practices of their time.

The downsides of excessive exposure to sunlight (the UV part, in particular) are not trivial: dried, prematurely aged skin, sunburn, and melanoma. UV light from tanning beds is the same as from the Sun, and there’s little doubt about its potential harmfulness, especially for people of age 30 or under. For the pros and cons of sunlight as a source of vitamin D, see the Wikipedia article.

About 20 years ago The Naturist Society published its list of 205 Arguments and Observations In Support of Naturism. In that list, Arguments 50 through 61 were offered in support of the claim that “Naturism promotes physical health.” It would seem that there should be some strong points in that list. Unfortunately, most points are either weakly supported by evidence, or else have little direct relevance to physical health.

Argument 51 specifically relates to vitamin D. Even though the necessity of vitamin D for preventing rickets is clear, it’s not necessary to get it from exposure to sunlight, since other sources – such as seafood, fish oil, or vitamin D fortified milk or orange juice – are just as good, without the downsides of UV exposure. Besides, if you live anywhere it’s not perpetually cloudy, you can, at least in the warmer months, get all the vitamin D you need from moderate sunbathing without being completely naked.

Other arguments offered in this subset have very little direct relation to health and are debatable besides. For instance “59. Clothing hides the natural beauty of the human body, as created by God.” And “60. Clothing makes people look older, and emphasizes rather than hides unflattering body characteristics.” Aesthetics and health really are not the same thing at all… though people often act as if they were. “Attractiveness” tends to be, statistically, a sign of good health. (And that’s why evolution has made it something that humans value.) However, attractiveness is a sign, not a cause, of good health, hence the confusion. Attractiveness isn’t essential for actually maintaining good health. (Although it can help, if it enables you to have a good social life.)

Other arguments from 50 through 61 deal with possible harmful effects of clothing, especially excessively tight clothing. They generally suffer from weaknesses, such as lack of solid evidence or lack of direct connections with health. In general, the arguments offer little that cites a specific direct benefit, supported by solid evidence, of nudity for physical health.

There is, however, one argument in this list which is rather interesting: “53. An obsessive sense of modesty about the body often correlates with a reluctance to share healthy forms of touch with others.” There actually are various sorts of scientific evidence that “sharing touch with others” is healthful – even (in particular) non-sexual touch. We’ll return to this point later.

Arguments 4 through 14 concern purported benefits of nudity for mental health. Although they are generally vague, they do have a “common sense” feel to them. More importantly, they are probably also, in fact, the best way to understand how nudity can be beneficial for physical health. This is because there is now a good scientific understanding of how psychological factors affect physical health – as we’re about to see in detail.

This isn’t to say that most diseases are caused or enabled mainly by psychological factors. If you’re sick, it’s generally not “all in your head”, not because you have “bad attitudes”, and not because you “just don’t want” to get well. The physical roots of most diseases – viruses, bacteria, parasites, poor nutrition, genetic errors, obesity, lack of exercise, or simply age-related physical degeneration, etc. – are still important. However, in addition to all of that, there is now a good understanding of how psychological factors – what goes on in your brain – can also worsen or even cause disease.

It turns out that psychological stress, especially chronic stress, is a major factor in several physical diseases, like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Psychological stress may or may not result from physical stress, such as physical injuries, overwork, lack of sleep, illness, etc. But we’re about to focus on the non-physical causes.

Nudists and naturists often say that stress reduction is one of the main benefits of social nudity. This seems to be true, and we’ll see some of the reasons for that. In fact, it appears that the ability of nudity to help ameliorate psychological stress is also the main way that nudity is beneficial for physical health. Oddly enough, of the 205 Arguments, there’s only one that even mentions stress: “12. The nudist, literally, has nothing to hide. He or she therefore has less stress, a fact supported by research.”

In order to support the claim that nudity is beneficial for physical health, we need to consider a series of questions:

  1. What is stress?
  2. What are the main sources of psychological stress?
  3. What are the physiological consequences of stress?
  4. How is psychological stress harmful to health?
  5. How does social nudity help reduce psychological stress?

In order to keep this as brief as possible, there won’t be a lot of details. There is, however, now a vast scientific literature that explains and gives evidence for just about all the points to be made here. The scientific findings don’t usually deal with nudity specifically – it’s still a taboo subject. However, if you accept that social nudity is like other things known to reduce stress – and there are solid reasons for that – the connection is pretty clear.

What is stress?

Suppose you are out for a hike in the hills. You go around a bend in the trail, and just 10 feet ahead of you on the trial is a large rattlesnake. Your heart starts to pound, you forget about the trail mix you’ve been nibbling on, you stop daydreaming about the new car you’d like to buy, and you look quickly around for the nearest large rock or stick. There is a fair size stone nearby, but it’s a pretty large snake, and you decide maybe a strategic retreat is your best bet. That’s stress.

Stress is not inherently a bad thing. Our experience of physical stress is a result of evolution that makes it possible for us to deal most effectively with physical threats, such as dangerous animals, combat with other humans, and falling into a swift river. This response, often called the “fight or flight” response, has obvious survival value, and hence is favored by evolution. For the same reason, most other complex animals, even fish, have a similar response. This response includes effects that make our senses focus on the threat, make the heart pump more strongly, and reduce activity of less immediately critical body functions, such as digestion and the immune system.

In earlier times, stress was usually not a chronic thing. Whatever dangerous situation was involved, the problem was usually resolved quickly – for better or for worse. Before the invention of agriculture and the resulting new kind of social organization, there were relatively few sources of chronic stress. These might include inadequate sources of food or water, extreme temperatures, or conflict with hostile tribes.

However, in modern times, the situation is reversed. At least in relatively prosperous countries there is little threat from wild animals and hostile neighbors. But instead there are a host of other sources of stress: financial worries, fear of losing one’s job, actual unemployment, overwork, inadequate sleep, chronic pain, loneliness, tension in relations with a spouse or other family members, low socioeconomic status, and general lack of control of important aspects of one’s life. The result is that stress now is often chronic.

Occasional stress in emergency situations is a small problem compared to the emergency itself. But chronic stress is entirely different. It’s a big health problem, for a variety of reasons which have only recently been recognized and understood. Humans evolved with fewer sources of chronic stress, so our bodies are not well equipped to deal with it.

Most modern sources of stress have a psychological component. Even stress from physical causes like pain, inadequate sleep, or overwork have psychological ramifications. Such things can make us anxious, depressed, hostile, have difficulty sleeping, and generally miserable. Psychological states that accompany stress can have a direct effect on physical health. And the reason is that the brain itself directly and indirectly controls the somatic effects that are characteristic of stress.

There is, it’s now known, no clear separation between the mind and the body. If someone tries to tell you that some physical ailment is “merely” psychosomatic and “all in your head”, don’t be persuaded that you can deal with it simply by mental effort and “positive thinking”. The brain will do what evolution has programmed it to do in stressful situations – so the most effective approach requires dealing with the stress itself.

How does the brain react to stress?

There are various areas of the brain that are activated in response to stress, such as the amygdala (which registers fear) and the limbic system (which includes the amygdala and traffics in other emotions, such as sadness, excitement, and anger). But one primary interface between the brain and the somatic response to stress is through a relatively small part of the brain: the hypothalamus. This has a direct private line to a small adjacent endocrine gland beneath the brain, the pituitary gland, which in humans is about the size of a pea. The pituitary in turn interfaces to much larger endocrine glands, the adrenal glands, which are located far away, on top of the kidneys. This interface is effected by emitting “releasing hormones” into the bloodstream to instruct the adrenals to produce (among other things) stress-related hormones. (Don’t stress out about the technical terms here; there won’t be a quiz.)

There are two main types of stress hormones produced by the adrenals. One is the “glucocorticoids” (also known as “corticosteroids”), of which the most commonly discussed is cortisol. These hormones are produced in the adrenals in response to releasing hormones in the bloodstream. As just noted, this is a result of brain activity acting through the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. As the name suggests, these hormones stimulate production of glucose (a sugar that is the main source of energy used by the body’s muscles). Glucocorticoids also have suppressive effects on the immune system.

There is a second type of stress hormone produced in the adrenals – epinephrine and its close relative norepinephrine. These may be more familiar by the names adrenaline and noradrenaline (even though they’re hardly the only hormones produced in the adrenals). These hormones affect many different cell types in the body. Among their effects they increase heart rate, respiratory rate, and levels of blood glucose. All of these effects make more energy available to muscle cells – which makes possible the fight or flight response. Just about everyone is familiar with the “adrenaline rush” sensation precipitated by dangerous situations, or simulated dangerous situations such as amusement park rides or watching horror movies.

The net effect of all these hormones is an increase in heart rate, which pushes blood more rapidly through the cardiovascular system. Blood carries both glucose and oxygen to the muscles, as well as to the heart itself. This enables all muscles to work harder in order to either fight a sudden threat or else escape from it. This is how the original perception of danger by the brain is translated into effective action.

The fight or flight response is a very good thing for survival in the face of occasional threats. Chronic psychological stress leads to almost exactly the same response, because the brain is originating the same signals to the adrenal glands. Unfortunately, if this response occurs continually, instead of occasionally, the results can be quite bad for the body in many different ways.

How is psychological stress harmful to health?

The most obvious bad thing that happens if the body is continually responding as if it is in the presence of a serious danger is excessive wear on the whole cardiovascular system. The heart must work harder all the time, so it will wear out sooner. Blood pressure is always at a higher than normal level, which damages the blood vessels. Although the blood vessels are quite strong and seldom burst (unless completely blocked), they do sustain internal damage.

This damage leads to inflammation, produced by the body’s immune system, just as happens when you have a cut or abrasion to your skin. Inflamed blood vessels become sticky, so that stuff like cholesterol and fat that normally circulates in the blood sticks to vessel walls in the form of “plaque” – causing “hardening of the arteries” (arteriosclerosis). Layers of built-up plaque constrict the flow of blood. The plaque can also break off, obstructing an artery completely – yielding a heart attack or stroke.

Chronic stress can lead to numerous other health problems besides cardiovascular disease. Higher levels of cortisol themselves cause problems. One of the main effects of cortisol is immune system suppression. This is not a bad thing when dealing with occasional threatening situations, because it allows the body’s resources to be devoted to dealing with the threat instead of supporting the immune system. Hormones similar to cortisol, in fact, are commonly prescribed for dealing with autoimmune diseases that result from an overactive immune system. But an artificially suppressed immune system causes other problems, such as vulnerability to infections, slow wound healing, progression of cancer, and… stomach ulcers.

Wait a minute. Perhaps you have read somewhere that the “real” cause of ulcers isn’t stress, but instead a certain bacterium, Helicobacter pylori. It is true that in the 1980s it was determined that H. pylori is the primary cause of ulcers. However, it has also been found that only about 10% of people infected with this bacterium get ulcers, so there must be other factors, too, and stress is probably one. Why? There could be a number of reasons, but a suppressed immune system, caused by stress, may be unable to keep H. pylori sufficiently under control.

There are quite a few other health problems that have been found by scientists to be statistically associated with psychological stress – especially metabolic diseases associated with obesity, such as (adult onset) diabetes. High blood pressure also tends to be associated with obesity and may also occur with diabetes. The causal relationships among metabolic diseases are complicated. But excessive “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in the blood contributes, together with high blood pressure, to plaque build-up in the arteries, leading to arteriosclerosis. Obesity leads to higher levels of fatty acids and triglycerides in the blood, which also contribute to plaque build-up – and to insulin resistance, when cells are unable to store any more fat. Insulin resistance leads to diabetes and even higher (and harmful) glucose levels.

The connections among all these factors are pretty complicated. However, the risks of both cardiovascular disease and diabetes are seriously raised by the combination of stress-related effects (high-blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, elevated glucose levels) and obesity-related effects (insulin resistance, triglyceride levels, higher glucose levels). Your health might be OK with either obesity or lots of stress – but both together are especially unhealthful.

The list of possible health problems from psychological stress could go on, but by now the point should be pretty clear. Stress is not good for you. So, in what ways, exactly, does social nudity reduce stress and thus promote better health?

How does social nudity help reduce stress?

There are various ways to reduce stress. You could take prescription tranquilizer drugs, such as anxiolytics, to reduce anxiety. But they can be addictive, and have other undesirable side-effects, as well as expense. Alcohol works too, but certainly has its own problems. Some other recreational drugs also work – but they’re mostly illegal. And if the factors causing your stress remain in place, do you really want to rely indefinitely on prescription drugs, alcohol, or illegal drugs for relief?

There are much better alternatives to reduce harmful levels of stress. The best way, of course, is simply to reduce or eliminate the source of stress – if you can. Quit a job that is too unpleasant. Get out of a bad relationship. Move to a place with a lower cost of living. And so on. But such things are more easily said than done. And suppose you’re stressed by something you just have little control over, such as fear of losing a job you like because of economic conditions. Or in-laws who drive you crazy. Or a serious health problem like early-stage cancer.

Social nudity can help, since it brings a number of inherently stress-reducing practices, opportunities, and features. Almost all of these are available to you outside of social nudity. But if you become involved with social nudity, you’ll find most of these things readily available as part of the package.

  1. Friendly social support system. One of the commonest sources of stress is loneliness and social isolation. By definition, social nudity can take care of that. It may require some considerable initial effort to even try social nudity. But if you manage to do that, you have a ready-made network of like-minded people to provide you with plenty of friendships and socializing opportunities.
  2. Increased self-confidence. For reasons covered above, chronic fear and anxiety are big stressors. Fear of failure in some endeavor is a very common type of fear. We’ve already covered how social nudity can help build self-confidence here.
  3. Body acceptance. For many people, unhappiness about the appearance of their body is a big source of stress, and perhaps an obstacle to a happy social life. We’ve discussed this benefit of social nudity here.
  4. Focus on the present instead of past/future.When you’re naked with other people, your attention tends to be strongly focused on the present, the here-and-now. This can overcome fears of unpleasant future prospects (e. g. job loss, family problems). It also overcomes feelings of remorse over past mistakes and failures, or reliving terrifying experiences of the past (PTSD). Without such negative emotions, psychological stress is automatically reduced.
  5. De-emphasis on social status. A great deal of clothing is designed to create messages about socioeconomic status (SES). Wearing expensive, fashionable clothes communicates that the wearer is successful and affluent. People who cannot afford to wear such clothing, or who simply prefer not to because of the social groups they identify with, are prone to feel they have low SES. A lot of research has shown that low SES is itself a source of stress, because people of low SES generally have less control over their lives. Clothing is certainly not the only means for signifying SES. But its absence in social nudity does remove one source of stress.
  6. Emphasis on positives. Normal, everyday life is a mixture of positives and negatives. Stress results when the latter significantly exceeds the former. The world of social nudity isn’t a perfect utopia – far from it. But it does distract attention from life’s negatives, and so promotes a more positive outlook on life. There’s less emphasis on things like physical appearance, social status, and conformance to unreasonable social norms. People involved in social nudity want to share the pleasure of being naked, because an individual’s happiness is enhanced when others are also enjoying life. Happiness is contagious.
  7. Nude yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are practices which emphasize emptying your mind of mundane concerns, “turning off the noise upstairs”. Although the details vary among different types of yoga and meditation, you learn to sharply narrow your mental focus (or unfocus it entirely), away from stressful thoughts. Although you can do yoga and meditation alone and/or without being naked, doing them naked, as part of a group, can reinforce your motivation to continue and advance your level of mastery. Both yoga and meditation are proven to reduce high blood pressure (caused by stress), at least while engaged in the practice, so they may be beneficial after particularly stressful experiences.
  8. Nude exercise. As was pointed out at the start, physical exercise was an integral part of German Lebensreform and early nudism. And like the other components of those movements, the health benefits were emphasized. You can still get plenty of exercise without being naked or part of a group. But as with yoga and meditation, this is something that’s often more satisfying as part of a group of naked people. And some types of exercise are simply not possible alone – volleyball, basketball, tennis, etc. What’s the connection with stress? Again, it’s the focus on the present, the here-and-now. And if exercise improves your physical fitness and general health, you may be able to lose weight and reduce psychological stress associated with obesity. If you join a landed nudist club, you also gain access to exercise facilities (swimming pools, tennis courts, gym equipment, etc.) as part of the deal.
  9. Nude soaking, sauna. Sweat lodges were used by indigenous people of the Americas long before Europeans arrived. Nobody knows when saunas were first used in Nordic countries, because it was before most of their recorded history. And natural hot springs were undoubtedly used by any humans who had access to them as long as there have been humans. Such things have been popular because they are physically relaxing and stress-reducing. This is probably because of endorphins that reduce stressful physical pain and tension. Even if you don’t own a sauna or spa yourself, if you participate in social nudity, there are probably others in the group (or club/resort) who do.
  10. Nude massage. There are many different types of massage, but most of them have been shown to reduce high blood pressure (caused by stress) and pain (which is a source of stress). Most commercial massage providers do not especially encourage full nudity, in spite of how any clothing interferes with a full-body massage. Many nudist clubs and resorts do offer fully nude professional massage. And many members of such clubs and resorts have learned to perform massage pretty well themselves. Physical touch, of course, is an integral part of any massage, and is stress-reducing by itself.

That’s it. As you can see, there are a lot of ways available in social nudity that can significantly counteract psychological stress – and therefore promote physical health and quality of life.

However, as bad as stress is for health, it degrades quality of life in other ways too. As the journalist Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber wrote in The Art of Time,

What I fear most about stress is not that it kills, but that it prevents one from savoring life.

So the ways that social nudity helps control stress make this benefit even more valuable. Life is better savored without clothes.


The popular science magazine Science News just published a very informative feature article on stress and health in its March 7, 2015 edition: Chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body. Highly recommended.

Here’s a more technical review of the biology of how stress due to social causes leads to inflammation and other immune system problems: Stress Fractures – from the January 2015 issue of The Scientist

The definitive book on psychological stress for the general reader is Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky. Although it’s long (over 400 pages, with 100 additional pages of notes), and full of technical detail, it’s well worth the effort.

Posted in General naturism, Psychology of nudity | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Benefits of social nudity: building self-confidence

September Morn

Everybody certainly understands this experience. You recognize aspects of your life in which you seem to fall short and where you hope to improve. Perhaps you have a problem with procrastination, or inability to manage your time well, or a lack of self-confidence in social situations. Unfortunately, overcoming such problems takes time and effort, as well as simply recognizing and admitting a need for improvement. The result is… procrastination.

You need some motivation to make a commitment to expend the time and energy to work on the problem. Social nudity might give you the incentive to work on a particular difficulty: some lack of self-confidence in social situations.

This isn’t going to be a pep talk on building self-confidence. But if you see a need to work on that, and if you would like to become more involved with social nudity, there are some ways that the latter goal can help motivate the former goal – and even provide some means to address the problem.

One reason people lack self-confidence in doing something is that they understand, quite realistically, that they haven’t sufficiently developed the necessary skills. And this realization leads to something else: the fear of failure in how they perform in the relevant area. In other words, people feel vulnerable when they attempt to do something they know is difficult for them.

We’ve discussed vulnerability before, and specifically in connection with nudity here. There’s still more that can usefully be said about the topic, but for the present purpose, let’s assume the idea is pretty clear: Most people think that being naked in front of others, most of whom may be strangers, puts them in a rather vulnerable position. If nothing else, that prospect suggests a large potential for embarrassment, because of body acceptance issues, fears of not knowing the proper etiquette in social nudity situations, worrying about starting conversations, or whatever.

In this discussion, the assumption is that you’re somewhat new to social nudity. If you’ve read this far, it should be safe to assume that you are fairly interested in trying out social nudity, if you haven’t already, or expanding your involvement, if you have. In that case, you’ve probably know that participating in social nudity is something you want to do. So there’s the motivation to get to work on your naked self-confidence. What’s the next step?

Perhaps that step would be to recognize that if you are able to set your fears aside and actually venture further into social nudity then that participation itself will help you overcome shyness and lack of self-confidence. Here are some reasons for that:

  • Someone who is interested in social nudity, but is worried about taking the first steps, may decide to work on his/her shyness, insecurity, and self-confidence issues even before getting involved – because there is now sufficient motivation to do that.
  • Deciding to get involved in social nudity at all demonstrates a willingness to confront vulnerability and fear of failure. Knowing that you’ve managed to take the first step with few or no unpleasant results gives you more confidence in taking further steps.
  • When you are naked with others in a social nudity situation, you automatically have something in common with them that is fairly unusual. This means you don’t need to be ashamed or embarrassed about the fact you enjoy being naked. You and others have a shared understanding of something that is unfamiliar to most people in our society, so there’s no need to explain or rationalize it. You’ve also found ways to cope with our society’s misunderstandings about social nudity, and you can share those with others.
  • As a direct result of the preceding point, you automatically have many excellent topics for conversation starters. Difficulty in starting conversations with strangers may be one of the main reasons people lack self-confidence in social situations. A good way to tackle this problem is to develop a short list of questions for starting conversations. For example: What other good nudist/naturist resorts have you visited? Do you know any good skinny-dipping or nude hiking places around here? How did you get involved with social nudity to begin with? And so on. (Perhaps this would be a good topic to write more about.)
  • Other participants in social nudity usually enjoy talking with others about their mutual interest. For one thing, this helps validate their (unusual for our society) enjoyment of being naked with others. And it also leads to useful exchanges of worthwhile information. As a result, conversations are usually pleasant and almost effortless.
  • If you have body acceptance concerns, you will find that other social nudists probably have similar concerns – so they will not be overly critical of any aspect of your body you’re unhappy with. You may be motivated to work on dealing with any such aspects, or else learn to accept your body the way it is.
  • Because enjoyment of social nudity is far from the norm in our society, people who participate actively in it tend to be open-minded and tolerant of divergent opinions about other things as well. (That’s not guaranteed, but fairly likely.) So you may be justified in feeling more open to discussing your preferences and opinions about other things besides nudity as well.
  • People who participate in social nudity do so because it’s enjoyable. Unless they are rather insensitive to others, they will try to be courteous and polite to you and others, so as not to spoil anyone else’s fun. Actual insensitivity is unlikely, since being naked around others generally requires one to make extra effort to understand others’ feelings and not to offend them. Deliberately making others feel bad isn’t conducive to one’s own satisfaction – in most cases.
  • Getting involved in social nudity generally requires people to come to terms with touchy personal issues, such as feelings about sexuality, personal relationship problems, personality issues, body acceptance, and so forth. If such issues have been dealt with successfully, to some extent or other, and you’ve overcome inhibitions related to nudity, talking about these issues is easier. So it’s less stressful and more fruitful to discuss them openly with other people – especially other people who are also naked and generally understanding about such issues.
  • People who have participated in social nudity for awhile have usually been successful in dealing with the personal issues mentioned in the last point. This tends to make such people friendlier and less defensive with others. So you will generally find other social nudists easy to get along with. (Although this is usually true in person, it’s less of a sure thing with online interactions. So don’t assume that unpleasant interactions online will be repeated in person.)

Keep in mind that not all social nudity situations are the same as far as meeting others are concerned. At nude beaches, for instance, many people are there to enjoy the beach, not to socialize. Always try to respect other people’s space. Private parties and events at nudist resorts are good places to meet new people. Private meetings of nonlanded clubs are also good, usually, if you inquire in advance. Such clubs are often eager to have new members. When in doubt, try to have someone you’ve already met introduce you to others.

Also keep in mind that there’s no guarantee everyone you meet at social nudity events will be considerate, friendly, and pleasant. (Especially at places like nude beaches, where people with ulterior motives may be present.) Nobody’s perfect; everyone has bad days from time to time. If you should encounter some unpleasantness, don’t take it personally. Just move on and introduce yourself to others.

Try to bring an interested friend with you, if at all possible, for support and encouragement.

If you aren’t satisfied with you self-confidence in social situations – of any type, not just social nudity – the confidence you build in social nudity should apply more broadly. And don’t forget the saying attributed to Confucius: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Posted in General naturism, Psychology of nudity | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Benefits of social nudity: finding something good that’s missing from your life


Ordinary life, for most people, is missing something very good: being naked, for its own sake, while doing something enjoyable with people you like. Because most people seldom, if ever, experience that, they aren’t even aware of what they are missing. Most people who enjoy social nudity say they like it just because “it feels good.” But there’s really more to it than that.

Everyone has experienced nudity in ritualized activities like bathing and sex. However, quite apart from that, nudity is a normal, natural human state that is pleasurable in and of itself. Once an individual experiences this state in routine, everyday situations – especially social situations – wanting to enjoy nudity for its own sake makes a lot of sense – unless inhibitions conditioned by society interfere. When this inhibition occurs routinely, a valuable part of human experience goes missing.

Here’s a thought experiment. Think of what it would be like if you were suddenly deprived of something that you especially enjoy and is a big part of your life – such as hiking in the woods, watching good movies, or eating your favorite foods. You would probably be quite unhappy. It is said that we don’t appreciate what we have until we lose it.

Now think about something you’ve never tried, or even considered – like social nudity. Suppose it were quite like other things that you especially enjoy and are a big part of your life. Then if it isn’t yet part of your life but you just discover it, you should feel just as much additional happiness as you would lose if you were deprived of it.

To be sure, social nudity isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if you haven’t tried it, how could you be sure? Perhaps your life without nudity is as incomplete as it would be without certain things you already enjoy. Even if you are interested in social nudity, it could be you’ve underestimated how much your life is incomplete without it.

Someone who hasn’t considered social nudity but decides to try it could add something valuable to his or her life. It could provide new opportunities that significantly enhance overall life satisfaction. Different people will find different benefits of social nudity to be especially enjoyable. Perhaps certain other social nudists are just your kind of people and would be great additions to your circle of friends. Or perhaps there are social nudists who also enjoy some activities that you already enjoy and are best done with others – particular sports, cooking, camping, or gardening, for example. Finding people like that could help you avoid missing out on any number of the finer things in life.

Or perhaps you are in a long-term relationship with someone, and you are both looking for something new to do together that would enhance and deepen your relationship. Social nudity with others, or maybe just being naked together more of the time, might be that extra something to enhance your lives. If you already have a family, everyone in the family might enjoy the new shared activities that are possible with other social nudists. Without social nudity, valuable experiences you could enjoy as a family might be missing.

As has been said here before, nakedness is the special sauce that enhances so many of life’s finest, most profound experiences. You might find that life without nudity is lacking in something, just like chocolate cake without frosting, mashed potatoes without gravy, or hot dogs without mustard and relish. (If those aren’t food preferences of yours, think of examples that are.)

Posted in General naturism, Naturist philosophy, Psychology of nudity | Tagged | 23 Comments

Benefits of social nudity: body acceptance

Many lists have been compiled over the years enumerating the many beneficial characteristics of social nudity. One typical recent list highlights 10 benefits: 10 reasons why I am a nudist. At the top of this one, like most others, is: “Because it feels good.” That is a great reason, and perfectly true. It’s hardly necessary to explain further.

However, there are many more good reasons for and benefits of social nudity. Almost certainly the most comprehensive list was compiled by the (U. S.) Naturist Society: 205 Arguments and Observations In Support of Naturism. It was first published in Issue 16.1 of their magazine Nude and Natural in 1996.

Here’s one more example, from a Canadian teen naturist: The Top 15 Way Cool Reasons To Spend a Day or a Weekend at a Nudist Campground/Beach.

The topic, of course, has been addressed on this blog, though infrequently. Rather than put up Yet Another List at this time, let’s focus on some important categories of benefits/reasons. Each of these items could be broken down into a number of related points, but it’s useful to consider each as a whole.

This is the first of several posts that will go into more detail about important benefits of social nudity.

Body acceptance

The Naturist Society’s motto – Body Acceptance is the idea, Nude Recreation is the way – was coined by founder Lee Baxandall. In most contemporary societies, “body acceptance” is a problem because standards of attractiveness tend to exclude the actual bodies of a majority (at least) of the society’s population. The bodies of older people and people whose bodies aren’t close to the norm are especially likely to be regarded negatively. Bodies of both men and women are subject to negative judgments, though women tend to be more seriously affected, because of the higher importance placed on “attractiveness” of women in most societies.

Social nudity directly confronts body acceptance issues. The proposition that all bodies should be accepted as they are is a key tenet for social nudity, because in order to enjoy social nudity at all it is necessary to overcome negative feelings about one’s own naked body and the naked bodies of others. The idea that only people with “attractive” bodies can enjoy social nudity is pernicious and must be rejected. Fortunately, body acceptance is doable for most people. And making the effort in order to engage in social nudity yields benefits in the rest of a person’s life when unhappiness over one’s physical appearance is overcome.

A secondary aspect of body acceptance concerns genitals in particular. To enjoy social nudity it’s obviously necessary to reject the idea that there is anything at all embarrassing, unattractive, or even unpleasant about the appearance of normal human genitals. That idea, of course, is totally false, in spite of its prevalence in most contemporary societies. Women, especially, have taken the lead in challenging this fatuous notion. Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues is an early example of normalizing genitalia in social discourse. (It would be nice if people were more comfortable with using the appropriate distinct terms for vulvas, labia, vaginas, etc.)

A variety of books, artworks, and websites have been created to show the natural variety and appearance of female genitals. Here’s just one blog post that discusses this issue: A Whole Book Of Beautiful, Diverse Vaginas (Vulvas!). Here’s a whole gallery of labia, and there are (of course) many like it. But this is hardly an issue concerning only women. Both men and women need to eradicate the shame and embarrassment associated with genitals, and social nudity is an appropriate place for this process. Genital acceptance is an essential part of body acceptance.

There are now several photographic projects and websites that showcase ordinary naked human bodies in order to promote body acceptance. Here are some of the best:

Unfortunately, the majority of these sites include only women. This is understandable, since body image has typically been of higher concern for women than men. But men certainly have body issues too. And society needs to get more comfortable with how the naked bodies of men look, as well as the naked bodies of women.

Just to be clear about this: Naturism, nudism, and social nudity are not about imposing beliefs on the rest of society. It’s quite unlikely that any modern human society will come to accept nudity in everyday social life in the foreseeable future. The point, instead, is that people who learn to enjoy social nudity are able to enjoy benefits, including body acceptance, that are unavailable to most people in their societies.

For previous posts on the topic of body acceptance, go here.

Posted in Authenticity, Body acceptance, General naturism, Naturist philosophy, Nudity, Psychology of nudity, Women and nudity | Tagged , | 12 Comments

I’m slowly learning not to let my happiness depend on other people.

I'm slowly learning

In civilized life, where the happiness, and indeed almost the existence, of
man depends so much upon the opinion of his fellow men, he is constantly
acting a studied part.
     Washington Irving

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

     William Shakespeare

Just as a cautious businessman avoids investing all his capital in one
concern, so wisdom would probably admonish us also not to anticipate all
our happiness from one quarter alone.
     Sigmund Freud

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.
     Helen Keller

Posted in Authenticity, Naturist philosophy, Nudity in nature, Psychology of nudity, Quotations | Tagged , , | 4 Comments