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Urban skinny dipping in India.
Two women of the Zo'é tribe of Pará State, Brazil in the Amazon Basin.

Social nudity describes the nude appearance of the human body in relatively public settings not restricted by gender. This occurs both in public spaces and on commercial property, such as at a naturist resort. It is sometimes controversial for addressing and exploring a myriad of sometimes taboo subjects, stereotypes, and mores. Although many issues are discussed, it does not necessarily mean that they occur frequently.

Some isolated indigenous nudity still exists in the tropics, though this way of life is highly endangered, as is male nude swimming in public, which used to be very commonplace in Western civilization. Modern European-style naturism began around the turn of the 20th century in British India and Northern Germany, and it was later adopted in America as well.



Nude men at the Woodstock Festival in Poland.

The terms naturism, nudism and social nudity are generally defined as the practice of going nude, especially in a mixed social setting. The terms naturism and nudism generally also mean that the activities are done in non-sexualized, family-friendly contexts.

The usage and definition of these terms varies both geographically and historically.[1][2]

The term nudist is more widely familiar in North America, however naturism is also widely used. A naturist is sometimes defined as an individual who prefers a more natural setting for their nude or clothing-optional activities—such as a beach, a lake, the woods, or the mountains.

Within the naturist and nudist movements, many people prefer to adopt only one label or the other. Others do not bother or like adopting labels. In the traditional view, the nudist in the U.S. is a person who seeks out organized social settings for the practice of the nudist philosophy. This often takes the form of membership in a landed or non-landed nudist club, with a well-defined system of conduct and social structure. It is believed to be a predictable environment, which offers the participants the safety that comes with facilities for secluded, lawful nudity (without the threat of legal action or observation by outsiders seeking to view them for prurient purposes). However, others avoid "organized" naturism and nudism, and are content with clothing-optional public beaches, home naturism, etc.

Some political contention exists between the traditional nudist and the naturist within the national organizations that represent clothing optional recreation for lobbying purposes. Traditional nudists seek to maintain the status quo, while the naturists push for designation of more clothing optional beaches and other outdoor facilities. It has been said that naturists tend to be more supportive of public nudity than do nudists, who generally focus more on landed and non-landed clubs. In America, there appears to be more support for mass-nudity, such as the photography/art of Spencer Tunick, while in Europe, there are extended naked walks by individuals and small groups of like-minded people.

Clothing optional terminologyEdit

Some nudist resorts and clubs have the "undress code" of full nudity at all times (with exceptions, such as cold weather, a woman experiencing menstruation, or certain days or hours for new visitors). Most have that policy only for the swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, hot tub bath, etc., with a clothing optional policy elsewhere. Full nudity requirements at free public naturist beaches are not common except in France and Brazil.

Those advocating full nudity maintain it provides a better sense of equality when everyone is without clothing. First-timers to a resort may be uncomfortable with other clothed people around and feel "naked." Since naturism is not a spectator sport, anyone not already nude would be disallowed entry (except the periphery for undressing). As the French social psychologist Marc-Alain Descamps wrote (translated): The reciprocal visual sight of complete nudity defuses the exhibitionistvoyeur relationship.[3]

Others welcome everyone whether dressed or nude (subject to other miscellaneous rules and requirements). Some people have issues with body shame—especially the areas commonly covered by a bathing suit while in a mixed-gender nudist setting. A married couple might have one spouse who is comfortable being fully nude, but the other spouse is not. If a full nudity policy were in place, such a family would have to split up for the day, or find an alternative activity. A few resorts attempt a compromise by allowing females to wear minimal clothing, but not males.[4]

Legal concernsEdit


Many countries or provinces/states within a country have laws which adversely affect naturists. These laws are often intended to address "indecent exposure", but are so broadly written that they criminalize ordinary, non-sexual nudity. Muslim-majority countries may prohibit exposing areas of the body that are not considered indecent in Western culture, although exact details vary substantially. In Islam, the area of the body not meant to be exposed in public is called the awrah.[5][6] Examples include prohibitions on males wearing shorts, and females exposing their head. Precisely which body parts must be covered varies between different schools of Islamic thought.[7]

Some laws specifically target naturism. In the U.S. State of Arkansas, nudism is illegal beyond the immediate family unit, even on private property. It is also a crime to "promote" or "advocate" nudism.[8]


Street photography at some public mass-nudity events, such as the World Naked Bike Ride above, is the norm.

In democratic countries where street photography or filming cannot be restricted in public areas due to freedom of speech legal protections, photographers are free to take photos of nude swimmers in public nude beaches. However, some beaches may have an organization that limits photography. Private nude resorts might prohibit cameras altogether, while others may require permission be granted by anyone being photographed, in addition to management in some cases.[9] Due to the proliferation of cell phones with camera capabilities, these may be restricted as well (including voice and text messaging).

Banned personsEdit

Resorts may ban persons convicted of sex, drug, or violent crimes. Policies vary, but might include doing a criminal record check or checking a sex offender registry. However, minor crimes related to naturism are usually excluded, even if the person is required by law to register. (Requirements vary substantially from one jurisdiction to the next.) An example would be someone who thought they were in a secluded area while nude bathing with no lewd intent, but were charged with a crime anyhow.

In addition, resorts may ban individuals who have broken the rules, but either stop short of a criminal offense, or would not be worth the effort to involve law enforcement. This could include unwanted photography, indecent behavior, annoying others, being intoxicated, rude, etc. If the resort is a member of a national or international naturist organization, they might be blacklisted from any resort or club that are also members.


Most nudists and naturist clubs consider it essential for reasons of hygiene to sit on a towel whenever sitting on a chair, bench, or any other place where others might sit (unless under water) and they consider it poor etiquette to do otherwise. Some clubs encourage members or guests to bring their own chairs. Likewise, sitting on someone else's towel is considered a breach of etiquette. Similar rules may also apply to clothing-optional bike rides. Often in situations involving shared use of pools or tubs people are asked to shower first to minimize contamination and prolong the amount of time the water can be used before further maintenance is needed. This practice is also common in non-nudist pools.


One of the greatest challenges of organized naturism is increasing the participation of several demographic categories, especially in families, females, young adults, inner-city dwellers, and people of non-European ethnic backgrounds.

Body and hair acceptanceEdit

People with shaved pubic hair pictured at the World Naked Bike Ride in Toronto, 2013

Generally, nudist groups accept people of all races, ages, sizes, and shapes, including those with amputations, scars, tattoos or trimmed (or absence of) pubic hair. Recently some "smoothie"[10] organizations have expressed a preference for members to completely shave or remove all pubic hair, as some profess to believe that having pubic hair does not leave that body completely nude, although head and possibly facial hair are judged acceptable if not too long. Official mandates are rare, however.


Statistics show that more men than women participate in social nudity activities.[11] To address this, some nudist organizations do not allow unaccompanied men, while encouraging unaccompanied women. Some venues ban all single people, and accept only families and male/female couples. Others have quotas for single males.


For the past few decades many naturist and nudist clubs have fewer young members, though previously this was not the case.[12]

Reasons for this decline include parents being concerned about the possibility of false accusations or suspicions of child abuse by those who are unfamiliar with non-sexual nudity. In the United States, Child Protective Services (CPS) may investigate even if no laws have been allegedly broken. Although such incidents are rare among its members, the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) has an attorney on hand to assist. Many private nudist venues require that one or both parents, including absent parents, be consulted regarding the documentation of their minor children. This may also include situations with partial custody, stepchildren, etc.[13]


Samoan girls, c. 1902

Organized social nudity usually attracts more people of European ethnic backgrounds. This may be due to it becoming a social movement in Europe, before spreading to other parts of the world. Other reasons include the fact that most resorts are located far from the cities, and have done little to promote themselves to those of non-European ethnic backgrounds.[14]

If someone is from an ethnicity whose recent ancestors had no problem with public nudity (parts of Africa, Asia, pre-European Americas, Australia, and the Pacific Islands), it might be thought of as being "primitive" by modern standards, and lacking in social status. (i.e. "Only the poorest of the poor would go about without clothing.") This contrasts with the more Western attitude that nudity and sexuality are somehow related, but nonetheless causes them to shy away from social nudity.[15]

Home nudity between childrenEdit

Social nudity without labels or with alternative terminologyEdit

Many people casually enjoy social nudity without adhering to any term and without associating with any traditional naturist, nudist or FKK organization or any other groups or movements.[16] That is common, for example on nude beaches and other forms of public nudity, such as seen at cultural events like Burning Man or clothing-optional bike rides.

Several activists, such as Vincent Bethell, claim that associations to promote naturism or nudism are unnecessary, leading only to "nudity in tolerated ghettos". Activist Daniel Johnson believes that labels and affiliations overly complicate a relatively simple phenomenon, alienate others from a fear of over-commitment or undesirable stereotypes, and thus get in the way of integrating nudity into everyday life.[17] Naturists and nudists counter that associating with established terms and philosophies such as nudism and naturism makes it easier to understand a common set of principles and values.

Other issuesEdit

Non-naturists may get very concerned by issues that naturists do not perceive as problems.

Spontaneous erectionsEdit

While most nudists and naturists condemn any sort of overt sexual activity, the issue of non-sexual spontaneous erections is highly debatable. Unfortunately, this topic is routinely ignored by anthropologists who study traditional cultures, and it is not widely known what rules of etiquette exist among peoples who have lived nude since antiquity.[18]

For example, one person might argue erections are not a problem, and forcing males to cover up goes against their beliefs of the human body not being shameful. (This assumes the subject is not breaching etiquette by trying to attract attention, including wandering around.) However, another person may argue that erections—even if non-sexual—are impolite, and certain groups are likely to be offended (e.g. some females who have experienced past sexual abuse). Complicating the matter, many would-be adult newcomers mistakenly think this is inevitable. "What if I get an erection?" is the number one question among males who are considering joining social nudity.[19]

Resorts disallowing erections commonly suggest covering the waist with a towel, lying on one's stomach, or going into the swimming pool (if within the pool fence).[20] Some latitude might be given to younger males according to their age and circumstances because:

  • it occurs the most frequently among this age group
  • others are less likely to take offense or feel threatened
  • they are more engaged in activities where it would be awkward to carry a towel
  • forgetfulness due to a lack of maturity—especially in a recreational setting
  • parents and peer group can deal with the issue themselves without involving management

Some feel overly restrictive rules or embarrassment may be keeping young males away from social nudity, while similar-aged females would be uncomfortable participating unilaterally. (See also 'Age' under the 'Diversity' section above.) Non-sexual erections tend to be more problematic with nudists and naturists in the United States than in continental Europe. The world's largest naturist resort at Cap d'Agde in France is well known among the nudist community to be nonchalant about erections.[21]

Males of some indigenous tribes of the Amazon Basin live nude except for a light string worn around the waistline. This is used to conceal the foreskin of the penis from females, which is considered taboo in communal settings. Since the penis is normally held upright just below the navel, erections are much less noticeable.[22]


Staring at others is generally discouraged by most nudist and naturist groups, and could result in eviction if someone complains that it made them uncomfortable. In the early days of naturism in the U.S. (1930s-1950s), the rules at many resorts stipulated that when conversing, you must only look at each other face to face.[23] On the other hand, staring has been acceptable at the largely abandoned female beauty contests (see below).

Sexual well-beingEdit

Smith and King pose the following points in their 2009 peer reviewed paper Naturism and Sexuality: Broadening our approach to sexual well-being [24]

  • The relationship between naturism and sexuality is managed through social and spatial segregation. In commercial naturist resorts, eroticism and sexuality is controlled by applying hetero-normative values, and strict rules and policing. In other environments, eroticism is moderated through self-censorship of actions and behavior. This can make the practice of naturism an isolating, repressive, and anxious experience, rather than a liberating and social one.
  • Mainstream naturism relies on discriminatory and dishonest practices to manage sexuality, which limits the diversity of the naturist population, and presents an image and culture that lacks integrity and transparency.
  • Mainstream naturism puts strict limits on sexual feelings leading to physical arousal, and equates sexual exploration to deviancy. This may limit the educative potential of nudity in expanding our experience and understanding of sexual feelings beyond the genitals.
  • Naturist environments can offer unique public spaces to explore sexual feelings and experiences that may be repressed or limited in conventional public spaces and sexual relationships.
  • Mainstream naturism may pathologize (i.e. treat as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy) those who enjoy the eroticism of nudity. An asexual discourse can leave individuals who experience nudity as erotic, to feel uneasy, guilty, defensive, and marginalized within the naturist community. This is similar to the way that popular culture often pathologizes and marginalizes naturists.
  • Mainstream naturism may lead to conscious and unconscious repression of sexual feelings, and behavior that limits the relationship between naturism and nature.
  • Sexual feelings and behavior are often negotiated through unspoken consent based on the "ebb and flow" of feelings and body language. This subtle and non-verbal consent runs counter to government guidelines on clear verbal consent in sexual behavior. It is possible that the fear of not obtaining this kind of "consent" may limit future sexual exploration in naturist environments. It is also possible that frank sexual behavior may sometimes broaden peoples' sexual feelings, and consequently enhance sexual well-being. Currently, this positive relationship between naturism and sexuality remains undiscussed and repressed.
  • Some naturist environments can induce sexual feelings. Nudity in public environments where it is not tolerated was cited several times as a source of people's sexual feelings. Sensory rich environments were also cited as potential trigger for sexual feelings, while personal spaces may legitimize an environment in which nudity can become sexual, without it contradicting the public image of naturism.
  • The present law to combat deviant sexual behavior in a public space is inappropriate for the relationship between nudity and deviancy does not appear in the display of genitals, but in the behavior attached to the nudity. The abuse of nudity to cause "alarm and distress" can only exist in an environment in which nudity is absent from everyday spaces. By legislating against public nudity and sexual behavior, the sexual tension and "shock" value created by being nude in a public space may actually encourage those who wish to use nudity as a form of abusive, exploitative, and harassing behavior.

Controversial activitiesEdit

Beauty contestsEdit

Beauty contests have been criticised for reinforcing the idea that girls and women should be valued primarily for their physical appearance.[25][26][27] This is an especially sensitive issue for naturists as being contrary to the naturist philosophy of body-acceptance of all body types, and that women are not there to be looked at. Beauty contests are no longer as common as they were in the 1950s and 1960s in mainstream naturist venues.

Lingerie partiesEdit

Naturist-sponsored "lingerie parties" have been criticized as being inconsistent with the non-sexualized, family friendly environments/contexts that naturism seeks to create. Although nudity is regarded as non-sexual, certain forms of clothing are seen as sexualized, and wearing this clothing in public is thought to make the occasion a sexual one.


Massage or group touch activities, even when done in non-sexualized contexts, make some feel uncomfortable because they are inherently sensual and involve physical contact that some are not accustomed to. Nevertheless, a massage Special Interest Group has been part of The Naturist Society since its earliest days and remains fairly popular.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In his book, Cinema Au Naturel (Introduction on page 11), author Mark Storey states notes "two related terms that we will continually run across are nudist and naturist. Although the meanings of the two terms are virtually identical, they often have different connotations for those who prefer one to the other. In America, people who believe that it is physically, socially, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually healthy to go about fully nude individually and in groups of mixed gender, wherever the weather permits and others are not offended, generally refer to themselves as "nudists". In Europe, such people more often than not, refer to themselves as "naturists."
  2. ^ Presently, Mark Storey is authoring an article detailing historical use of the terms naturism and nudism and how they differ between different cultures, countries, and time periods in history. In a telephone interview by Daniel Johnson on 15 April 2006 with Storey he stated that "a draft of the piece was posted on the "References" page of The Naturist Society web site [1] for a few weeks". At the time of its former release in October 2004 it was titled Naturism, Nudism, or Nameless? A History of Terms He is planning on publishing a revised article as soon as additional information and errors are corrected.
  3. ^ Vivre Nu: Psychosociologie du Naturisme, Marc-Alain Descamps, Edition Trismégiste, 1987, ISBN 2-86509-026-4
  4. ^ "Faqs". BlueBonnet Resorts Inc. 
  5. ^ "Bukhari:6:60:282". 
  6. ^ "Sunnan Abu Dawud 32:4091". 
  7. ^ Martin et al. (2003), Encyclopedia of Islam & the Muslim World, Macmillan Reference, ISBN 978-0028656038
  8. ^ "Arkansas Law § 5-68-204 Violates First Amendment Rights". 
  9. ^[dead link]
  10. ^ Euro Naturist - smooth naturists & nudists - Smoothies Archived 2005-05-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ JustLuxe (16 May 2013). "What Really Goes On Inside Nudist Resorts". 
  12. ^ Daney, Charles. "Why Don't More Young Adults Try Social Nudity?". Archived from the original on 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2006-09-13. 
  13. ^ The Nudist Idea, Cec Cinder, Ph.D. c. 1998, Ultraviolet Press, p.216
  14. ^ The Nudist Idea, Cec Cinder, Ph.D. c. 1998, Ultraviolet Press, p.307
  15. ^ Ibid p.308
  16. ^ Information from Being and Nakedness "Disorganized nudity" by Charles Daney
  17. ^ Nude & Natural (N), Beyond Safe Havens: Oregon's Terri Sue Webb, By Daniel Johnson Issue 21.3, Spring 2002 [2].
  18. ^ An Anthropology of Absence: Materializations of Transcendence and Loss By Mikkel Bille, Frida Hastrup, Tim Flohr Soerensen. Publisher: Springer Science+Business Media
  19. ^ Author: Jordan Blum; Organization: Young Naturists America (YNA); Date: 23 July 2013
  20. ^[dead link]
  21. ^ The Naked Truth About Cap d'Agde Author: Ross Velton Publisher: Chris Santilli ISBN 978-0966268348
  22. ^ The minimalist dress code of the Amazon's Awa people
  23. ^ The Nudist Idea, Cec Cinder, Ph.D. c. 1998, Ultraviolet Press, p.162
  24. ^ Smith & King 2009.
  25. ^ "Beauty and body image in the media". Media Awareness Network. Archived from the original on 18 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
  26. ^ "Reigning Miss Universe Suspected of Having Cosmetic Surgery". Archived from the original on 26 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  27. ^ "Plastic Surgery: Bollywood, Miss Universe, and the Indian Girl Next Door" (PDF). Gujarati Magazine (Sandesh). Retrieved 2010-08-23. 


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit