Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nudism and Naturism at a Crossroads, or, Perception is Reality

I want to open this essay with a quote from my friend, The Academic Naturist:
There is no point in combining "sexuality" and "naturism" because they really are completely separate topics. Combining them, and drawing links between them, only adds confusion. Please stop.
The problem with this statement is that it ignores the fact that human beings are very sexual creatures, and much of the understanding we have of this comes from Sigmund Freud.
As Freudian ideas filtered into our society, many thought that Freud promoted uninhibited sexual expression. To the contrary, psychoanalytic ideas help us appreciate the arc of sexual development and the pitfalls that can befall those who do not successfully mature. Psychoanalysis describes the conflicts that we experience between intimate personal fantasies and the norms of social life and individual development. Psychoanalysis recognizes the necessity of developing normal controls over the uninhibited expression of these fantasies. Psychoanalysis encourages the idea that parents need to promote children's development so that they can eventually integrate sexuality in their lives in a balanced way, so that sexual and intimate personal bonds can be integrated as much as possible.
This is all pretty heady stuff. One more quote:
Paul Ableman writes: "It is interesting to speculate as to what kind of model of the human mind Sigmund Freud would have constructed if he had based it not on clothed Europeans but on, say, a study of the naked Nuer of the Sudan. Almost all the processes which he discerns as formative for the adult mind would have been lacking. Freud assumes that children will not normally see each other naked and that, if they do happen to, the result will be traumatic. This is not true of naked cultures. . . . Thus great provinces of Freud's mind-empire would simply be missing. There would be no Oedipus complex (or not much, anyway), no penis envy or castration complex, probably no clear-cut phases of sexual development. We are emerging rapidly from the era of Freudian gospel . . . and can now perceive the extent to which he himself was the victim of prevailing ideas and prejudices."
Nudism today is also a "victim of prevailing ideas and prejudices", being pressured on both ends of the spectrum. On one hand, some think that nudism is too tame and boring, and that it needs to evolve into a sexually charged activity to attract more people into the lifestyle. On the other hand, family nudism is threatened by a worldwide hysteria over child pornography and the misconception that any image of a nude child, even a toddler, is indecent.

Two traditional nudist clubs broke ties with AANR when they made the decision to go with more adult activities. Angye Fox, public relations director of Caliente Resort in Florida, openly courted swingers groups and developed an "Eyes Wide Shut" party based upon the orgy scene in the Stanley Kubrick film. When suspended by AANR over these unacceptable activities, Caliente quit. The same scenario occurred with Paradise Lakes, which stirred things up with a "Miss G-String International" contest. In Australia, the owner of the White Cockatoo resort explains that he converted the nudist venue into a haven for swingers because the "prudey nudey market has certainly diminished worldwide for the past couple of years."

Keep in mind that people who socialize in the nude are, by definition, most certainly not prudish.

Another clear sign that nudists and naturists are beginning to "loosen up" a bit is the online schedule for the Mid-Winter Naturist Festival coming up in February at Sunsport Gardens in Florida, a Naturist Society event. Among the 300 activities are seminars on polyamory, Wicca, the Tantric approach to sensuality, "raunchy" burlesque, Voodoo, ancient Roman sex and fun, and circles on intimacy and sexuality, all mixed in with children's activities such as ice cream socials, pool games and campfires.

The bottom line is that declaring that there is no connection between naturism/nudism and sexuality is almost as absurd as saying there's no link between schools and sexuality, or churches and sexuality, or business and sexuality.

Do they not teach sex education in schools? Do preachers and ministers not speak out from the pulpit about human sexuality, and do they not counsel people on sexual matters on a regular basis? Is not sex in the workplace a part of everyday life?

And where in our vast country does most sex and discussions of sexuality occur? Why in the home, of course. It's under the roofs of houses and behind the doors of apartments where human sexuality is in full bloom.

So why is it that nudists and naturists are expected to deny any links to sexuality, as The Academic Naturist suggested? According to the Naturist Society and its "205 Arguments and Observations In Support of Naturism", there are at least 20 reasons why naturism promotes sexual health, among them "#30. Nudists, as a group, are healthier sexually than the general population."

If nudism/naturism has a positive effect on human sexuality, how can anyone deny a link? The truth is you cannot put nude men and women together in social situations without an element of sexuality. You cannot put CLOTHED men and women together in social situations without an element of sexuality. The key component to the success of all social gatherings is BEHAVIOR. When nudists and naturists say that the lifestyle is not about freedom and body acceptance, and not sex, they are not denying sexuality, they are advocating maturity and self-control over one's sexuality, and a behavior while unclothed which is on a par with a behavior when wearing clothes.

ANY social situation with mixed genders can get out of control - office parties, college parties, proms, sporting events. People behave badly, they drink too much, they have casual sex, they curse, they fight, and they inflict physical and emotional damage upon each other. So much is made in the media of people who are naked in public, there's always someone lacking clothes who is targeted by police and tased, but far and away most pain to society is caused by people who are fully dressed.

We all express different behavior depending upon the situations. We are quiet in libraries and churches, respectful and attentive at lectures and theatre presentations, raucous and enthusiastic at the ball park, hard-working and diligent on the job, and relaxed in the home.

What nudists profess is that the wearing or not wearing of clothes is not behavior, it is mere adornment. The type of textile that one chooses to wear or not to wear should have no bearing upon the way that person behaves. The complete lack of covering on the skin is the great equalizer. Nude we resemble one another.

But society today is consumed by fashion. We are told that "clothes make the man (and the woman)", that certain clothing is appropriate for specific situations. We can wear a swimsuit at the beach but not at the mall, we can wear a t-shirt and jeans at home but not at the office, we dress in team colors when at a football game, and at Halloween we don masks and use clothing to actually transform who we really are. When we are cold we bundle up, when we are hot we wear less. The power and practicality of clothing is one of the strongest social bonds, so ingrained that laws mandating dress around the world are accepted without a second thought.

The nudist/naturist movement is merely a century old, begun at the end of the Victorian era as a crack in society's wall.
In the early 1900s, a series of philosophical papers was published in Germany. Dr. Heinrich Pudor, under the pseudonym Heinrich Scham, wrote a book titled Nacktkultur, which discussed the benefits of nudity in co-education and advocated participating in sports while being free of cumbersome clothing. Richard Ungewitter (Nacktheit, 1906, Nackt, 1908, etc.) proposed that combining physical fitness, sunlight, and fresh air bathing, and then adding the nudist philosophy, contributed to mental and psychological fitness, good health, and an improved moral-life view.
The reference to "moral-life view" confirms that even in the earliest days, it was understood that the shedding of clothes in social situations was good for sexual health and maturity.

The nudist philosophy is essentially unchanged since those beginning days, but the way people express themselves in the lifestyle is changing. As the bathing suit has evolved from full-body woolies in the 1800s to the skimpiest bikinis and Speedos today, so have attitudes about sex and the human body.

It's not all good change. With Kinsey in the 50s and the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, coupled with the rise of widespread pornography, the door was opened wide for experimentation and illumination about sex, but at the same time sexuality became a product, something to be manufactured instead of experienced. While the human body has always been used as an object in art, it suddenly became just another means to sell products. In this process, the body has been manipulated and exploited to such a degree as to be nearly unrecognizable as something human. These idealized and stylized images have created the most severe body image problems in history, compelling people with self-loathing to seek surgeries to "correct" what they perceive as imperfections. The body has gone from a something we live in, to something we cannot live with.

From The Naturist Society:
The Naturist Society celebrates the nude human form as inherently wholesome and natural; TNS promotes attitudes of tolerance and respect toward the body, and rejects the exploitation of the body for commercial or sexual purposes.

The Naturist Society views clothing-optional recreation as essential to body acceptance. Through clothing-optional recreation, participants, be they individuals, couples or families, learn to appreciate the diversity of body types, gain a better understanding and acceptance of their own bodies, and reap the social, psychological and physical benefits of a healthy and natural way of life.
In a society which has such a widespread disease of body dissatisfaction, it would seem that nudism/naturism would be an obvious part of the cure. At the same time that the worldwide interest in nude recreation is booming, both AANR and TNS have seen a decline in membership over the last decade.

Organized nudism and naturism in America is at a crossroads, and several societal changes are presenting challenges to the traditional family-friendly lifestyle.

1) Society's war against nudity. The Woodstock generation is losing the war over legal public nudity. In recent years several towns and cities have passed laws banning nudity: Huntington Beach, California, Ashland, Oregon, and Brattleboro, Vermont. The state of California has banned nudity at San Onofre Beach, and nude sunbathing at other state beaches could also be at risk now that the long-standing Cahill Policy has been declared invalid. Successes like Haulover Beach in California are few and far between.

2) The Women's Topfreedom Movement. This one seems like a no-brainer since men have the right to go nude from the waist up just about anywhere in public, but it's still a crime for most women to bare their breasts unless it's for feeding an infant. While it's legal for women to go topfree in some areas of the country, like Columbus, Ohio and New York State, in most places it's still illegal and can result in fines, jail time, and even putting women on sex offender lists. Aside from a handful of nude beaches in America, it's also illegal for women to be topfree at the beach. This is a movement which should be flourishing instead of floundering.

3) The World Naked Bike Ride. This event grows every year and now includes 70 cities in 20 countries. London alone had 1200 participants in 2009! The WNBR incorporates elements of nudism, protest, street theatre and streaking, and should serve as a model for nudist organizations to follow in making nude recreation more popular and widespread. AANR's first world record skinny-dip in 2009 shows that someone is paying attention.

4) The Decline in Print Media, and the Rise of the Internet. Both AANR and TNS need to immediately begin phasing out their printed publications and go online with password-secured PDF files for its members to access. The money saved on printing and mailing costs can be used for public relations and membership drives. Within the next decade just about everyone will do their reading on a portable device, a computer, or their television. And while AANR is proving to be adapting to the electronic world with it's blog, forum and newsletter, TNS still has an archaic website with broken links and images, which is absolutely inexcusable.

5) The Swinging Lifestyle. It's impossible to put a number on the number of people engaged in "The Lifestyle", but it's pretty safe to say that there are more swingers in America than there are traditional nudists/naturists, and that many nudists are also swingers. While personal freedom regarding sexuality is something I wholeheartedly support, the influx of swingers in to nudism, and the transformation of some clubs into something less than family-friendly, is a direct and serious threat to traditional nude recreation.

6) The Death of Porn for Profit. The pornography industry is shrinking fast. Why? People are making their own porn. “People used to be ashamed to say their girlfriends did porn. That is gone. Anyone can afford a Web site now,” said Pete Housley, who aggregates porn on Twitter. While it would seem logical that a relaxation in attitudes towards porn would help nudism, it's actually damaging, making mere nudity seem tame next to the thrill of real sex.

7) Child Pornography and Pedophiles. The 24 hour news cycle is probably most responsible for perpetuating the hysteria over sexual predators, focusing on sensational child abductions and murders for weeks at a time, filling the empty airwaves between short segments of actual news. As a result, people have become so overprotective of their children that they fear even the most fleeting nudity, and have developed a false mindset that all images of nude children are pornography. A man in Ashland, Oregon, was seen walking legally nude close to a school, which prompted the city to ban all nudity out of fear. People actually believe that airport body scanners used on anyone under the age of 18 is indecent and the creation of kiddie porn. A district attorney in North Carolina wants to restrict nudist events and resorts to those over the age of 18. Since Virginia banned teens from attending nudist camps without parental supervision, Florida is the only state left that still allows such activities. Artists like Bill Henson and Nan Goldin are constantly under fire for their non-sexual photos of nude children. Unless this irrational trend is reversed, the presence of children at nudist venues is under serious threat.

8) Sexting. You might think that the fact that 20% of teens have taken nude photos or videos of themselves is a plus for nudism, but it's the opposite. Such behavior only serves to further the objectification and sexualization of body parts, and the overreaching authoritative pushback only reinforces the notion that the body is dirty, and sex is criminal.

9) Gymnophobia and Body Image. According to a 2007 report by the American Psychological Association "a culture-wide sexualization of girls (and women) was contributing to increased female anxiety associated with body image." In our society, nudity has become synonymous with sex - one rarely experiences one without the other. This perception of the body as mere sex object is causing widespread anxiety in many people, who seek cosmetic surgery in order to "correct" themselves in order to conform to an unattainable "perfection". In addition, normal and natural nudity is rapidly disappearing. Skinny-dipping, once an acceptable innocent pastime, has been banned in most areas of the country. Even a pool in the UK has banned nudity in the shower room out of fear that people would be offended and children could somehow be harmed.

10) The Law. Public nudity is illegal in nearly all areas of the United States. Once bastions of freedom, California, Oregon and Vermont have seen new laws and ordinances banning nudity over the past few years.

When it comes to sexuality, Americans are conflicted. On one hand we make celebrities out of people who sell sex, such as Hugh Hefner, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, Ron Jeremy, and Jenna Jameson, yet we crucify others who yield to their sexuality like Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, preacher Ted Haggard, and virtually any politician who "strays". It's about more than hypocrisy - we have an insatiable appetite for sensationalism, and for watching people's lives destroyed.

The problem with nudism/naturism is that it falls somewhere in-between sex and chastity. The non-nudist, or "textile", cannot grasp the concept of nudity without sexual behavior because the two elements have been so deeply ingrained in our minds by popular culture. Generally, with few exceptions, when someone takes off their clothes in a movie, sex is sure to follow. As a result, nudists have over-emphasized the fact that sexual behavior is not tolerated, to the point where even a hug and a kiss between two people is grounds for suspicion. First-time visitors are required to present a photo ID at the gate of nudist parks, and most are given at least a cursory background check in order to preserve the safety of all club members.

Dr. Paul Rapoport, editor of the Federation of Canadian Naturists publication "Going Natural", has this to say about how sexuality has influenced nudism/naturism over the past few decades:
It's okay to hold hands now. Same-sex couples are admitted more. Naturists are also probably as likely to discuss sexual matters (humorously or not) as non-naturists are, which means more often than before.

Principally, it's problematic to say naturism is totally non-sexual and that naturists should *never* be allies of the sex industries. The former is a bit of a political position not based on observation of reality in naturism. Still, it's mostly non-sexualized, meaning there's not much overt that's more sexual than equivalent activities with clothes on. It may justifiably be less so sometimes, because of the need for some people to strengthen psychological boundaries when physical boundaries are removed.
My fear is that the misconceptions over what is and what is not child pornography could eventually remove all those under the age of 18 from the lifestyle, even at home. A little over a year ago in Pasco County, a caseworker blocked two children from having visitation rights with their grandparents who live in the Lake Como nudist resort, erring on the side of "safety and well being" for the children.

This brings us back to the Mid-Winter Naturist Festival at Sunsport Gardens in February. As noted above, mixed in with all the children's events, are seminars on polyamory, Roman sex, and "raunchy" burlesque.

When it comes to human sexuality, I am very libertarian. I think it's terrific that Morley Schloss and the folks at Sunsport promote spiritual, physical and ecological health, and I think it's perfectly fine that some members are in polyamorous relationships. And I am presuming that these more adult-oriented seminars will take place without the presence of children.

The question is in a hostile social climate where people think everyone is a potential pedophile, when even innocent childhood nude photos are condemned as pornography, and where even an electronic scan of a child by airport security is considered indecent, is it wise for TNS to be flaunting its freedom so openly on the Internet where some ambitious politician can come along and make a case about nudist camps being unhealthy or dangerous for children? Nudist/naturist arguments generally don't carry much weight in court when moral outrage drives politicians, prosecutors and judges. Perception is reality when it comes to how non-nudists view the nudist community.

Sunsport and its youth camp are perhaps the last bastion for true family naturism in America. Images of children have been gradually disappearing from TNS and AANR publications. FCN's "Going Natural" maintains a healthy mix of all ages in its photos, and European magazines have never had an issue with showing nude images of kids.

Should Sunsport come under attack, and lose their youth camp like White Tail Park in Virginia, consider it the end of organized family nudism in America for a long, long time.

This is the time. We are at the crossroads. Nude cruises, adults-only resorts, and swingers holidays are providing the excitement and luxury that many people want on vacation, while traditional landed clubs in the U.S. are suffering from declining attendance and advancing ages. Here in Ohio, children's play areas go unused, and many resorts are a little too rustic to compete with more upscale options.

AANR has recently proposed new bylaw amendments, one of which is "AANR welcomes all people willing to conform to its principles and standards, regardless of age, gender, marital status, religious beliefs, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." A couple of years ago my wife and I invited a same-sex couple to visit an AANR resort. I emailed ahead of time and was told in no uncertain terms that our friends would not be welcome by the members. When I complained to AANR, I received no response whatsoever. The old "ignore it and it will go away" strategy.

This is a major shift for nudism/naturism, which is plagued by institutional discrimination against people with skin color other than white, and sexual orientation other than straight. The only way these nudist/naturist organizations are going to survive in an increasingly tolerant and diverse world is to open up and capture the attention of a lot more people. As I said before, the world record skinny-dip is one such event which has the potential of attracting more people into at least trying nude recreation.

Personally, I do not want to see nudism change into a more adult-oriented lifestyle, but at the same time I am very tolerant of nudists looking for something a bit more exciting than volleyball, miniten, petanque, and pot-luck dinners. People can always find a truly hedonistic lifestyle if they want it. But nudists are held to a higher moral standard, mostly because of their own declared "no sex"philosophy, and come under criticism for hosting events like the "lingerie bowl" or "Miss G-String" competitions. I've spoken out strongly myself against such exploitative events in the past. Many others criticize nudists for "questionable" activities like costume dances, body painting, etc., and events like these have taken place for many years.

The question is that in a society where sexual taboos are dropping, can nudism and naturism grow and thrive while offering merely nudity and family-friendly activities? Is the Naturist Society's Mid-Winter Festival schedule a sign of things to come, a opening up of the lifestyle into a new awareness of the human expression of sensuality and sexuality through nudity?

Right now there are many diverse expressions of nudity in society, like the Spencer Tunick installations, the World Naked Bike Ride, the new FKK movement in San Francisco, photography, fine art, magazines, films, etc. Nudist organizations are failing to capitalize on all these new manifestations of the nude spirit within us all. There needs to be a bigger tent to bring more of these like-minded people together. A failure of imagination as well as a strict adherence to tradition will turn AANR and TNS into dinosaurs, following drive-in movies, video stores, and land-lined telephones into extinction.

Perhaps it's time for organized nudists to recognize that there are all kinds of nudists, just like there are all kinds of people. The strict definitions and guidelines laid out by AANR and TNS are fine, and I espouse them myself, but it seems to me that it's time to recognize that clothing-optional enterprises like Caliente, Paradise Lakes and Castaways travel are forms of nudism, too. After all, "Striptease" and "Finding Nemo" are both movies, and through a ratings system people are able to make a choice about which one is appropriate for children.

I am hard-pressed to find a reason why AANR cannot assign ratings to its affiliated clubs, rather than force those with more adult activities out of the network. This is a change of thinking on my part, I admit, but over the last few years of watching clothing-optional clubs leave AANR, and the NAC go to war with AANR over San Onofre, my feeling now is that nudists and naturists need to find ways to come together over diverse issues, and that splitting up is not the answer.

Traditional family nudism must be preserved if the philosophy is to survive. Families and children provide social balance, foster a caring atmosphere, and control behavior, demonstrating that the simple act of being nude with others is healthy, fun, natural, and normal, and not stimulus for sexual activity. Preservation might only be able to be achieved through the recognition that family nudism is not the only form of nude recreation.

For example, college students might first experience social nudism at a clothing-optional beach. A next step might be adult resorts like Caliente or Hedonism, and when families are formed and children come along, traditional nudist and naturist resorts would be more appropriate.

Deb Bowen, spokesperson for Caliente Resort in Florida, makes no apologies for the "explicit" tone of their events, explaining that the idea is to attract a younger generation. It's possible that when AANR split from Caliente, a move which I supported, it was a mistake. It might have been better to keep Caliente in the fold, but designate the resort as an "adults only" venue. It's difficult to maintain a position of censorship over someone else's lifestyle while at the same time seeking acceptance of one's own.

Perhaps it's time to take an honest look at how society has changed so much over the last half-century. Birth control, nudity in magazines, sex in cinema, abortion rights, gay and lesbian rights, the bikini, sexting, Viagra, and so many other factors have pushed sexuality from the bedroom to the kitchen table and beyond. Yes, there is still much conservative and Christianist opposition, showing that the culture wars are certainly not over, but it's clear that the sexual revolution of the 60s has become sexual evolution today.

Nude recreation needs to redefine itself in the face of a changing society which is passing it by. Family nudism, adult nudism, gay nudism, political nudism, environmental naturism, artistic nudism, performance nudism, home nudism, Christian nudism, holistic nudism, commercial nudism, vacation nudism, freehiking, nude yoga - these all need to be embraced as viable means of nude self-expression, and personal liberty.

Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." The nude lifestyle has come to that fork, where down one road is the preservation of family-friendly naturism, and down the other is a move towards a more adult clothing-optional recreation. Maybe, just maybe, the nude lifestyle can go down both.

Nudist Photos of the Day 01/30/10