The fear of nudity, part 1

From September 1997 to July 2000 (yes, that long ago) I published on the pages of this site a “Weekly Nudesletter” (which became increasingly sporadic). It contained mainly brief remarks on current news items. All that content is still online, if you care to see it. Occasionally, there were longer essays. In particular, there was a two-part essay on “the fear of nudity”. Most of this is still quite relevant, and I’ll refer to it in later posts. What follows here is the first part. (Original page)

There is no passion so contagious as that of fear.
Montaigne, Essays

We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.
Livy, Histories

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
H. P. Lovecraft

In time we hate that which we often fear.
Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavour after a worthy manner of life.
Bertrand Russell, “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish”

In our essay in the last issue on Nudity and Personal Growth, one of the key observations was that it is fear which very often holds us back from personal growth. Generally, this is fear of the unfamiliar and the unknown — because growing entails going someplace we haven’t been before. It might be our first date, our first time speaking in front of a large audience, our first time piloting an airplane alone. Or the first time we experience social nudity.

In the case of social nudity, we generally experience the fear as various of a number of particular concerns such as being laughed at or doing the wrong thing or being approached sexually. We’ll go into some of these concerns later, but ultimately what’s really involved is simply fear of the unknown.

Are all fears really just fear of the unknown? Probably not, except by a great stretch. Fear of pain or physical harm, for instance, probably isn’t in this category. However, often we anticipate pain or physical harm when facing unfamiliar circumstances. But let’s take a different example: fear of losing one’s job. (And this in general, not specifically because of involvement with social nudity.) Why does the prospect of losing a job cause us fear? Well, certainly there are a variety of unpleasant consequences: embarrassment, the effort required to find a new job, the thought of things we may have to do without if we can’t find a suitable new job quickly.

However, assuming we have normal skills and abilities, there are plenty of jobs available. So perhaps what really bothers us is that we may have to change in some way. We might have to move to another place in order to find a job we like. We will have to learn to deal with new people and new circumstances. We may even have to learn new skills or take up a new line of work from what we are accustomed to. All of these things are examples of the unfamiliar and the unknown.

To tackle these unknowns will require us to change — and to grow. That is certainly what contributes a lot to our fear. The situation in learning to deal with social nudity is much the same.

Men are even lazier than they are timorous, and what they fear most is the troubles with which any unconditional honesty and nudity would burden them.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Is not nakedness the indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.
Walt Whitman, A Sun-bathed Nakedness

The best way to deal with fear is to stand up to it and confront it directly. We need to ask, regarding any of our fears, just how likely the “worst” possible outcome is, and in the event of such an outcome, how we can deal with it. The point is to look each fear in the eye, and to think about it calmly and rationally.

Usually what we will find is that the “worst” outcome is pretty unlikely, and the more likely outcomes are things we can deal with. And in case we are uncertain about our ability to deal with some outcomes, there is an opportunity for growth if we set about to acquire the skills needed to deal with the circumstances.

There are many things in life which could be pretty scary if one really thinks about them. Just consider all the things which could go wrong in something you do every day, such as commuting to work. The possibilities range from running out of gas, to getting a speeding ticket, to becoming involved in a bad accident. We’d never be able to function if we worried about all the possibilities every day. A much better approach is to learn to assess the risks realistically and to work at establishing the habits and skills which will reduce the risks whenever possible.

Let’s look at some of the commonest fears people have about trying social nudity. Many times the fears are exaggerated, in that the anticipated problems are much less likely than you might suppose. But this isn’t always the case, and we won’t insult your intelligence by saying that things will never go awry. After all, we’re dealing with some powerful social taboos here (at least in our culture), so some risks do exist. If you are completely averse to risk, social nudity probably isn’t for you.

However, when there are rewards to be had (as there certainly are with nudity), then an intelligent, growth-oriented approach to dealing with risks is to understand them better, and to become prepared to deal with them if necessary — before the problems arise.

As you read through the following list, try to put each item into one of three classes. The first class is for problems that are external to you (such as the possible reactions of your spouse or employer) and that also seem likely to arise. The second class is for problems that are mainly in your own mind (such as your opinion about the appearance of your naked body). The third class is for problems that – if you consider them carefully and maybe do some research – don’t really seem likely to arise. For example, the legal issues may not be as serious as your fear.

Unless something changes, you probably don’t need to worry much about problems in the third class. Problems in the first class will probably require you to think creatively and take some sort of action. For example, if you think your significant other will object to the idea of naturism, you might try to suggest a bargain where you offer something important you know he or she wants, in exchange for reconsidering his or her objections to naturism. Problems in the second class will require you to work on your own attitudes and fears. For example, if you’re concerned that naturism might conflict with your religious principles, search for information from naturists who share your religious beliefs and can explain how there’s no conflict.

Because there are so many nuances possible with most of these problems, this isn’t the place to pursue the details. Those may be good topics for further articles. However, if you’re impatient, there are many discussion on all of these topics already out there. You just need to search for them. Perhaps another good topic for another article here would be suggestions on where to search for pertinent information.

There is already a Part 2 on this topic, and it considers a few things aren’t dealt with here.

  1. My spouse or other members of my immediate family will object strongly.
    Unfortunately, this is one of the more likely problems, given how unhealthy our society’s attitudes are towards nudity. Most likely, you already know if this is going to be a problem. There is no single solution which works for everyone, since the things that cause others to object to nudity are so many and varied, though all are ultimately unfounded. If the problem can be solved at all, sincere and honest communication is the way to do it. Learn as much as you can about social nudity, at this Web site and many of the others around, so that you can explain exactly why social nudity is good and the fears of it are vastly exaggerated.

  2. Friends, relatives, or business associates will find out and react negatively.
    As far as people you don’t live with are concerned, it is not very likely they will find out you enjoy social nudity unless you tell them. Clubs, whether landed or not, are very respectful of members’ privacy. And beaches or other “public” places where nudity can be enjoyed are usually in distant and remote areas where you’re very unlikely to encounter anyone you know. There are people around who won’t change their minds if they are negative towards nudity. However, if you’re careful about it, you can generally figure out how others will react and whether they will at least be tolerant of your attitude towards nudity. This is called learning to tune into the points of view of others.

  3. Even if other people seem to accept or tolerate that I like to be naked, they will think I’m weird.
    The fundamental issue here is that it is not “weird” to enjoy nudity — atypical and not talked about in our society, but not “weird” or “deviant”, which are pejorative terms. It is quite possible, if you have this fear, that you yourself think there’s something a little deviant about enjoying nudity. You will then have this fear until you learn to think otherwise, that nudity is healthy and good. Really, what it comes back to is learning to be comfortable with yourself and your own preferences, to be able to march to your own drummer, despite all the peer pressure against it.

  4. People might think I’m hung-up on sex.
    The question is: are you or aren’t you? Remember, it’s OK to enjoy sex just as much as it is to enjoy nudity. (Our society is very ambivalent on this point, unfortunately.) But there is a time and a place for everything. You are “hung-up” on either one only if you feel an obsession about it at the wrong time or place. You need to be clear in your own mind that nudity and sex are only loosely related, and you need to be confident explaining to others that they are quite different experiences for you, though each is very worthwhile in its proper time and place.

  5. Enjoying social nudity could result in legal problems.
    Fortunately, this problem is non-existent with legitimate private clubs. The days when people got “busted” for social nudity on private property are, thankfully, long in the past. (Though there are ominous trends in some areas that might bring back past harassment.) It’s a different matter in “public” places, of course. But the risk depends drastically on where you are. As long as you stick to places which have a long-established tradition of nude use without official interference, you should be fine. Just be sure you know the current status before you strip off.

  6. Nudity in front of my children could raise legal problems.
    This is extremely unlikely in most locations, as long as you know the members of your immediate family are comfortable around nudity. There is no place in the country where nudity in front of your children is actually illegal, though there are many conservative communities where a lot of people think it is or should be. The best advice here is to know the attitudes in your community and keep a very low profile if necessary. Explain to your children that, though your family thinks nudity at home is no big deal, there are others who get upset over the idea, and that it isn’t something which should be discussed with others who might misunderstand. Unless you have previously conditioned your children to think there is anything improper about nudity, you shouldn’t have any concern that exposing them to your nudity should cause a problem. After all, millions of children have been raised in nudist/naturist/nude-friendly environments during the last 100 years (to say nothing of the rest of human history). If nudity really were harmful to kids, certainly this would be apparent in some nudist families. Yet there simply isn’t any evidence that this kind of upbringing has hurt them. Be prepared to point out this simple fact if you are challenged on the issue.

  7. I could lose my job if it became known I enjoyed social nudity.
    Again, this is quite unlikely, but it does depend on the attitudes of people who are in charge where you work. A few job categories, like teachers or daycare workers, may have special sensitivities. However, in most cases, your employer need never know, and almost certainly won’t do anything if he/she does. You’ll just have to judge the risk for your own circumstances. (But then, Paganism, with or without nudity, could also be hazardous to your teaching career in some places in the Bible Belt. See one of the stories in our News section, below.)

  8. As a man, I might have an erection when I’m around naked people, especially women.
    This is probably the most common fear men have about social nudity. For most men, it is a totally groundless fear, but for some guys, especially younger ones, it can happen. Nervousness over this issue is usually enough, by itself, to forestall it. The best advice is that as long as you aren’t thinking about sexual matters, you won’t get a sexual response. And even if you do, as long as you are careful not to be too obvious about the situation until it passes, other naturists will understand and neither laugh at nor think badly of you.

  9. It’s physically dangerous to frequent places where naked people gather.
    This one really is false. Of course, if you’re a woman, it’s not such a good idea to go anywhere alone that is remote and sparsely populated, unless you are confident of your means of self-defense. But other than that, private clubs and popular public areas where nude use is traditional are quite safe. Assaults, rapes, and similar crimes have been known to happen at such places, but the risk is no higher than comparable places where folks always wear clothes.

  10. As a woman, I’m afraid I’ll be bothered by men making sexual advances.
    We can’t say it never happens. It’s generally pretty rare at private clubs — and if it occurs, just ask for help from someone in club management. But at public beaches, well, certainly there are men who can be pests. There are many ways to deal with it. Always visit beaches with one or more friends of either gender — there’s safety in numbers (and it’s much more fun besides). Visit the beaches at busier times — most people there will not approve of anyone who gets too pushy and will take notice if someone steps out of line. Or best of all, develop your self-confidence to the point you have no trouble telling an inconsiderate male just where he should go. Some men, just as many women, may fear being exposed to or drawn into sexual activities they don’t want. The truth is, social nudity isn’t about groping and orgies. There’s nothing about it which will force you to endure that sort of thing against your will.

  11. Being naked around other people may violate, or tempt me to violate, my religious principles.
    There are a large number of religious people, even ministers and priests, who are active naturists. It is simply not the case that most religions are officially opposed to nudity, though there are certainly many religious leaders who misunderstand it. You’ll find thorough explanations at a number of Web sites dealing with religion and naturism. As to whether nudity might lead you into temptation… this is an area where you’ll need to examine your own conscience. If you think your motives aren’t compatible with your religious convictions, then you have something to work on.

  12. My body isn’t especially attractive. People will laugh at me or think I have the wrong size or shape in certain parts.
    Most people don’t have bodies which are especially attractive. You’ll learn this the first time you visit a nude beach or club. It may be that some folks make private judgments about the appearance of others, but it is considered very bad etiquette to let this show. Most people will not be judgmental, either openly or otherwise, and laughing at someone else’s appearance or making rude comments on it is considered extremely boorish. But the best advice, long-term, is for you to become comfortable with your own body and its appearance. You may choose to improve it, if feasible, or you may simply learn to be happy with yourself as you are.

  13. Since I’ve never been around naked people, I might unintentionally make some breach of nude social etiquette.
    This is quite possible. For instance, you do know you should always have a towel handy to sit on, don’t you? And it’s OK to look at parts of others’ bodies besides the face, as long as you don’t stare. Fortunately, there aren’t really that many rules of nude etiquette you need to know. Common sense is generally enough. Beyond that, a few minutes spent reading some of these etiquette links will tell you all you need to know.

  14. Since I have no experience being naked around others, I will feel embarrassed and awkward. People who are comfortable with nudity will know I’m new at it. I think I’ll appear foolish.
    Everyone has to have a first time, right? The “first time” is something that people who enjoy nudity tend to remember very well. They are therefore sensitive to the feelings of people who are new at it. However, you will probably be a lot less obvious than you suppose. Quite likely you recall dreams in which you were naked even though everyone else was clothed, and you think how awkward you felt, since you were very conspicuous. However, when many others are naked too, you aren’t conspicuous. Chances are most people won’t even notice if you’re new at it. Read some first-time stories to get a feeling for how easily this usually goes.

  15. I’m shy and/or not as socially adept as I’d like to be. I think people who are into social nudity are cliquish and may not readily welcome me into their group.
    This, too, is quite possible. It’s not an unrealistic fear. Private clubs are made up largely of people who have known each other for some time, and even most popular nude beaches have “regulars” who are close friends. It can be as difficult to gain entry to such groups in the clothing optional world as in any other circumstance. However, clubs vary quite widely in their degree of friendliness to outsiders, and while beaches tend to be more open, they also vary. You will at least have to go through a period of “testing the waters” to find a group you are comfortable with. This may be even more difficult if you are a “single male”. You may need to do a bit of work on your social skills (conversation, body language, sensitivity, general affability), in order to get along well. But this is certainly worthwhile — a true opportunity for growth.

  16. I might run into someone I know.
    That ought to be considered a good thing! The other person should be there for the same reason you are — to enjoy being naked. Very likely such an encounter would alter your relationship to the other person — for the better, since you have something unexpected in common. Certainly this is true at most private clubs. At public beaches, it’s true there are those who visit to see what going on without actually participating. While other people who like to be naked are very discreet about whom they discuss this with, it is conceivable you could run into someone who would enjoy causing you trouble. Only you know how vulnerable you might be to this sort of thing, perhaps based on your job or position in the community. If you think there is some real danger, perhaps you need to save social nudity for trips and vacations far from home.

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