403: Forbidden - Naturism

This article originally appeared in (the now defunct) Internet Underground magazine for June 1997. "403: Forbidden" is (was) a column devoted to topics that are often taboo in "mainstream" media but have been able to receive more sympathetic attention on the Web.

Have you ever met a nudist? You almost certainly have, because they are among your friends, neighbors, and co-workers, though you are likely not aware of it. Nudists generally don't go naked where you might see them, nor do they tend to advertise their presence. They aren't wild-eyed radicals, either, just very ordinary-seeming folks when they have clothes on. They often don't admit, even to close friends, that they really like not wearing clothes.

Because, in most "advanced" societies, the taboos around nudity are even stronger than those around sex. People in casual conversation or on national televison may happily ramble on about the details of their sex life. Nudists have generally not been so open, even though by conservative estimates, several million people in North America enjoy certain kinds of recreation (like swimming) in the nude, or simply like being naked when at home.

This secretiveness is changing, however. People have been talking about recreational nudity on the rec.nude newsgroup for many years. (It was one of the first newsgroups in the early days of Usenet, because computer people seem to be likelier than average to enjoy nudity.) And now many personal Web pages are appearing, announcing the owner's interest in nudism and candidly advocating its advantages over "clothes compulsiveness". I keep pretty good track of this, since one goal of my pages is to catalog all the Web sites - around 500 of them - that have something of interest to people who like to be naked. It's now quite easy to meet nudists on the Web if you want to fathom why anyone would rather not wear clothes.

What do nudists put on their Web sites? Occasional pictures - generally the kind only family and friends could like - very disappointing to porn hounds. Stories about adventures au naturel. But often: essays that try to explain Why. Nudists feel they've been badly misunderstood by mainstream society.

With some justification. Misinformation in mainstream media often receives the blame for the taboo on nudity. For instance, many nudists, prefer to be called "naturists", and they refer to their philosophy as "naturism" rather than "nudism" - because being naked is natural. We were born that way. The underlying philosophy is acceptance of the body just as it is.

One of the two main nudist organizations in the U. S. is known as The Naturist Society ( http://www.naturist.com). Yet most outsiders have never heard of the terms "naturist" and "naturism". If they have, the assumption is of having to do with watching birds or collecting bugs, confusing "naturists" with "naturalists". Also, naturists never refer to places where they gather as "colonies". "Parks", "camps", or "resorts", please. The American Association for Nude Recreation (http://www.aanr.com) wants to emphasize the recreational connotations of these latter words.

In fact, naturists have in the last few decades been able to enjoy the outdoors in public (though usually remote) beaches, rivers, and forests. Word about the best places to go, or to avoid, spreads rapidly over the Net. This has led to a predictable backlash from the "family values" crowd, who have mounted an aggressive effort to stamp out nudity everywhere. Such people would be astonished to learn that there are many conservative religious folks who like to be naked with others, and see no conflict between that and their religion. Religious naturists even have their own organizations and Web pages.

But most irritating to naturists is the mainstream tendency to confuse nudity with sex. Adult naturists enjoy sex as much as anyone else, but that isn't the reason they like not wearing clothes. What they do like is the comfort, relaxation, stress reduction, and feeling of freedom that being naked offers, as well as the camaraderie and openness they find in socialing with others of similar mind.

Most of the problems that naturists have to contend with stem from this misconception that naturism is a sexual interest. It incurs the wrath of conservative religionists, it deters families and body-conscious young adults from participating, and it attracts people whose interest actually is sexual. On the Net, this confusion has hampered networking among naturists. Yahoo! usually ignores requests to add naturist sites to their index. Excite classifies nudist sites as an "X- & R-rated Subtopic", along with prostitution and strip joints. This is badly mistaken, but Excite has ignored protests. Some other search engines don't even index nudist sites because "nudism" is assumed to be a code word for sexual content.

In spite of such problems, naturism, as a lifestyle and a philosophy, is definitely coming out of the closet, thanks in part to the Net. So it's no longer difficult to find people who like to talk about just why naturism deserves not to remain a well-kept secret.

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Last updated: February 3, 1998