Why Do Teenagers Turn away from Nudism?

Nick & Lins ask the question:

Why Do Teenagers Turn away from Nudism and Is that Such a Big Deal?

Toddlers are born naturists and not only literally (although they’re obviously delivered naked). In fact, they might well be the most genuine kind of naturist there is, they don’t even question their nudity. Most of them will question clothes though and if they see an opportunity to get rid of them they’ll often take advantage of that. Our memory doesn’t go that far back, but we would like to remember the day when being nude was not an option anymore. Yesterday it was completely normal to run around the garden naked, jump through the sprinklers on a hot summer day while everyone smiled and agreed with your joy. The next day this was not possible anymore…

They make some good points that address the question. I won’t summarize. Just read their article.

However, I think there’s one important factor that I’ve written about: There is a general fear of nudity, even among adults. However, it’s especially salient for teenagers. Younger children in nudist homes – and very young children in general – simply aren’t keenly aware that letting other people see oneself naked is a big taboo in our society, and many others as well. Kids in middle school, if not earlier, somewhat suddenly become aware of this fact: Nudity (except perhaps in the family or with very close friends) isn’t customary and it certainly is not “normal”.

I discuss that at some length in Additional thoughts on the fear of nudity

Simply put, the problem, as I explain, is that behavior that’s unexpected and not considered “customary” or “normal” puts one in a fraught, risky position with respect to society in general – but especially so with respect to one’s peer group. And for typical teens, the peer group is all important. This situation leads to a serious fear of nudity itself – just as much as fear of, say, putting one’s hand on a hot stove. Don’t do it, or you’ll get burned!

There’s some prescient psychological theory that helps explain why the peer group matters so much to teens.

The noted psychologist Erik Erikson had a theory of the development of an individual’s personality. (See especially his book Identity, Youth and Crisis) The theory posited 8 stages of development. He called the 4th stage that of “Fidelity, Identity vs. Role Confusion”. Basically, this is when an individual tries to figure out and define his/her “identity” – that is, what kind of a person one is in terms of social categories (e. g. religious, atheist, artistic, nurturing, studious, rebellious, etc.). This stage happens typically when one is an adolescent. Failure to figure out one’s identity results in an “identity crisis”, and this may remain a problem for quite a long time. The onset of this stage is a result of “hormones”, but also cognitive development, when the brain achieves a mature ability to recognize different “categories”.

When a young person is raised in a nudist family, the category of “nudist” is still not well understood until adolescence. A few such young people may be content with this identity, but most recognize that it’s shared by very few other people he/she is aware of. This makes it difficult for the young person to identify as a “nudist” – because it is simply not a very socially acceptable identity among peers. (Even a “gang member” has less trouble finding peers to identify with.) This is especially true in a society, like most in the modern world, where the whole idea of nudity is considered scary and dangerous. The net result in most cases is the children raised in nudist families are pretty likely to reject “nudist” as an identity during (and after) their adolescence.

People, whether or not raised as nudists, may somewhat later in life accept “nudist” as an identity when they develop sufficient self-confidence and independence from social attitudes to be less concerned about others’ opinions of the identity. They may even feel confident enough (like Nick & Lins) to espouse and defend a “nudist” identity.

From an entirely different perspective, the dissatisfaction of teens with naturism is just part of the problem of the dissatisfaction of young people with adult society in general.

Before the teen years, children tend to follow their parents’ guidance on what to be interested in. They generally go along with whatever the family as a whole is doing – whether its taking trips to the beach, visiting grandma and grandpa, or going to nudist resorts. But in the teen years, they develop interests of their own and their interests no longer have so much in common with their elders.

Young people, from the teen years on like different types of activities, music, movies, games, hobbies, etc. and these interests diverge considerably from those of their parents’ age and older. So it’s not that young people don’t want to be around older people. It’s just that the two age groups just enjoy rather different sorts of things. Unfortunately, the activities available at most nudist places are much more what the older group prefers than what the younger group does. The perceptive nudist resort should have staff whose main responsibility is providing activities to young people in the ages from teens up to but not including people with their first children.

Letter of Recommendation: Naturism

It’s rather interesting, and unusual, to see a positive article on naturism in the New York Times or similar mainstream publications. Usually, whatever else the spin, a writer treats the topic with at least a little condescension. You know, something along the lines of “Well, it wasn’t as difficult to do as I’d imagined, and I sort of enjoyed it, but it’s tough to think that intelligent people (like me) take this very seriously.” Not in this case, however.

Good quote:

My friends and I hardly followed the naturists’ chaste, no-judge code to the letter, but the more we visited, the closer we approached a sense of ease. The discipline of public nakedness rewarded our efforts in proportion to our degree of exertion, the euphoria of being in the moment a direct byproduct of battling the innate and unignorable weirdness of our collective situation. … On the beach, consumed with the task of pretending this was normal, I was able to attain what I assume is something like Zen. Naturism required so much effort that, somehow, it worked.

The author, Kelli María Korducki, concludes:

Nakedness doesn’t democratize social experience, as the naturists seem to suggest. Instead, it offers something better: a shared preoccupation. It’s so awkward to act blasé about being naked around other people — people who are also, themselves, naked — that there’s nothing left to do but submit en masse to the social and afferent novelty. Take in the warmth of the sun on your bare butt, skinny-dip unaccompanied by a sneaky sense of thrill, try not to stare at anyone’s penile jewelry. It’s easier said than done.

What does she mean by “It’s easier said than done”? I think it’s more than just admitting some discomfort with her own nakedness and that it’s not easy to resist staring at penises, areolas, and other body parts that are “normally” covered. At least, not easy before one learns how to enjoy sharing nudity with others without undue attention to the naked bits. Nudity, perhaps with some effort, can become normal, so just enjoy it. People new to naturism should realize there’s a “degree of exertion” required initially. The effort is required, to begin with, in order to overcome many years of social conditioning that shared nakedness is “abnormal”. And it’s worth the effort.

Here’s how the experienced naturist blogger (Fred) at This is my place comments on the article:

If one were not preoccupied with nudity to some extent, one would never take to the lifestyle. This is true of any special interest. …

If you felt a sneaky sense of thrill at skinny-dipping, then good for you. You are enjoying yourself. People who wear penile jewelry want to be looked at. Keep at the nudie lifestyle for a while and it becomes background noise. I’m still not blasé about it 40 years into social or even private nudity. Why would anyone ever want to become blasé about something they enjoyed? Novelty wears off but the satisfaction ought to remain.

The same as with penile jewelry can be said about nipple jewelry, which is perhaps more common. Many naturists used to find such things “shocking”. Some still do. Even though they don’t find full nudity at all shocking.

It’s not unfair to say that people who enjoy social nudity like being seen naked. That’s a prerequisite for the full enjoyment. Part of the pleasure is because they are proud of having overcome embarrassment from being naked. Do not assume this is the same as being an exhibitionist. It’s not. Exhibitionists want to attract attention to themselves. That doesn’t work when most others are naked too. Exhibitionists also aim to shock people. Naturists intend the exact opposite.

Grassroots naturism II

In the first article on Grassroots Naturism, I tried to explain how almost anyone – with sufficient time and motivation – could start their very own local naturist group in which to enjoy social nudity. At a minimum, it’s necessary to find 2 or 3 other individuals or families who share your enthusiasm for naturism and social nudity.

However, even if you’re not currently aware of people like that to discuss the idea with, you may still be able to develop an interest in naturism among your nearby friends and relatives. The first step must be to let such people who might be sympathetic to the idea know of your own interest in social nudity. Having identified people like that, then you might be able to “sell” the idea of naturism to them well enough that they’ll be willing to try it out.

If even that seems unrealistic, then you should probably find an existing group to join. That may be done by seeking information from one of the two U. S. national organizations, The Naturist Society (TNS) and the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR). (Or similar organizations in the country where you live.) Another possibility is to search for naturist groups using Meetup.com. Joining a local or regional group may eliminate any need to start a group of your own. If the only group of this sort you can find isn’t close to where you live, you might join anyhow, in order to ask members of the group to introduce you to social nudists who live closer to you. Yet another possibility is to visit or join a landed club. Even if that is also not close to where you live, by asking around you may get suggestions of people who aren’t quite so far away.

If even that approach isn’t successful, you’ll need to somehow expand your circle of friends to locate the kind of people who could become interested in social nudity. In this post I can’t attempt giving advice on how to do that, but perhaps the subject can be revisited later. How good are you at making new friends?

But let’s assume you can find 2 or 3 people near where you live who already have some potential interest in social nudity, or are at least can be persuaded to try it. What’s the next step? That’s what I’m going to discuss here. Once you have found these people, you should aim to help them become as enthusiastic about social nudity as you are, so that they’ll repeat the same process of finding additional members for the local group you’d like to build. The idea is to start a chain reaction. In the previous article I suggested a number of activities that should provide lots of opportunities for enjoying social nudity, and as a result stimulating enthusiasm for the idea.

Let’s suppose next that you’ve found at least half a dozen people (and/or families) who live close enough together to meet regularly – perhaps at least once a month or so. Then there will be some choices to consider about the future of the group. Here are some of them:

1. Is the purpose of the group just to enjoy social nudity by doing a variety “normal” things, but specifically when clothing is optional. For example, house parties, pot luck dinners, watching TV and movies. Or is it to engage (clothing optionally) in a small set of related activities, such as sports, hiking and camping, boating, beach trips, or whatever. Although having such shared interests can make a group more cohesive, the activities are often the sort done outdoors, and thus seasonal in nature. But some activities that aren’t like that and can be done in any season are things like chess clubs, book clubs, figure drawing and painting, etc.

2. Does a group need to have a formal organization of some sort, with officers, by-laws, newsletters, dues, etc. This is necessary if the goal is to affiliate with a national organization like AANR or TNS. (See next point.) Or do people want to keep things mostly informal, with only enough structure that makes it possible to do sufficient planning and preparation so that get-togethers and special events happen frequently enough to keep people interested.

3. Does the group want to be affiliated with a national or regional organization like AANR or TNS. Then it is necessary to have a sufficient amount of formal structure to meet the requirement of the larger organization. There are some advantages in that the larger organization may be helpful in finding new group members by advertising the group’s existence and allowing for communication with similar groups elsewhere to share ideas. The downside is the need for more formal group structure and (probably) dues. (See the previous point.)

I’m using the term Grassroots Naturism to focus on the kind of social nudity that’s done at the “lowest” level – individual people who share an enthusiasm for naturism, even if they don’t care to use that label for themselves. This is in contrast to the kind of top-down organization that, by definition, is exemplified by national or regional naturist organizations. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the top-down approach – except that it hasn’t been especially successful in recent years. At best, membership in the large organizations has been mostly stagnant for many years, or even declining.

Why is that? Perhaps for several reasons. First, large organizations take on a life of their own. Their top priority is to continue to exist, whether or not they are able to be of service to their individual members. Often the organization’s first priority is the success of landed clubs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except that the individual member is (at best) just a second priority. And the consequence is that individuals aren’t strongly motivated to put effort into spreading the word about the pleasures of social nudity and recruiting new enthusiasts to the fold.

With the “grassroots” (or should it be called “bottom-up”?) approach, on the other hand, the necessary effort is supplied by individuals themselves who enjoy social nudity enough that they’re willing to put their time and energy into “selling” the ideals of naturism to their friends and relatives.

Note that there’s one particular benefit of this type of organization. Since members will generally come mostly from personal friends or relatives of existing members, no extra vetting methods need to be used to ensure that new members understand and subscribe to traditional naturist values (i. e. no mixing sexual activity with social nudity). Of course, that assumes the group doesn’t use some type of public (including online) advertising to recruit new members. Prospective members should at least meet in person with an existing member to discuss their interest in joining, and existing members should be willing to arrange such meetings. Another benefit is that when a new person joins the group, an existing member will be able to introduce the newbie to others. Alternatively, if this process is skipped, some other sort of vetting should be used, such as, for instance, membership in a national or regional naturist group.

I intend to write more on this subject. One possible topic might be ways to use online social media (Facebook, etc.) to help grassroots organizing. Another topic is to identify specific techniques and tactics that could be used to carry on grassroots naturist organizing. For instance, are there low key ways to advertise in local areas, without attracting people who don’t have good naturist values? Should groups participate in “craft fairs”, county fairs, farmers’ markets, etc. in order to advertise their existence? Are their opportunities to participate as a group (while clothed) in civic activities, such as beach clean-ups, trail maintenance, food drives, etc.?

I’d also like to receive feedback on these ideas: questions, comments, constructive criticism, suggestions, missing topics to cover, etc. Are efforts like this currently being done anywhere you know of? Let’s have discussions about this – either here, or in forums dedicated to naturist conversations.

Suggested readings:

The term “grassroots naturism” and the idea behind it aren’t original with me. Around 2010 TNS assembled this document:

Grassroots Naturism: A Guide for the TNS Volunteer

It’s a good resource – as far as it goes. But the concept of “grassroots naturism” that it deals with is somewhat narrower than what’s discussed here. Nevertheless, it’s certainly worth looking at, and there are some useful appendices at the end, such as information on TNS itself and (especially) a nice collection of naturist quotations.

Here are several ways that the scope of this document is too limited:

  1. To some extent, there’s an assumption that the principal purpose of many naturist groups is to protect the clothing optional status of an established nude beach. While that’s certainly important, it’s hardly the only purpose of a grassroots group. This happens to be the reason that TNS itself originated in the 1970s, and groups that are closely associated with a particular beach are important to help ensure that visitors to the beach do not engage in behavior that’s inconsistent with naturist values.
  2. TNS desires to see local groups established, because the organization itself has no significant local presence anywhere (except for the headquarters in Wisconsin). It’s strictly a national organization and it doesn’t (at this time) have much ability to help start new groups or support them. It appears, instead, that TNS views local groups (in part) as a way to promote TNS memberships.
  3. In order to meet the requirements that TNS has for local groups to become part of the TNS “Naturist Network”, the group must be formally organized with officers, by-laws, newsletters, dues, etc. While there are certain obvious advantages to that, if a group is large enough, it’s also possible for a reasonable “grassroots” group to be considerably less formally organized. In fact, that’s the easiest way for a group to get started.

TNS also assembled a more detailed document on starting an operating a local naturist group, perhaps about the same time as the above document. It assumes, of course, that the group will be one with a fair amount of structure, so that it can be part of the “Naturist Network”. Strangely, too, the document is not currently (as of this writing) available at the TNS website. Fortunately, however, it’s available from the B.E.A.C.H.E.S Foundation, an adjunct of the Sourh Florida Free Beaches organization, which is associated with Miami’s Haulover Beach. Here it is:

Some Advice on Starting a Naturist Group

[One has to wonder about the strength of the TNS commitment to actually fostering local naturist groups, given the absence of this material on their website. Although, to be fair, the website has recently had a much-needed rework.]

This document has a fairly detailed list of tasks that need to be done to establish an organized local naturist group. Anyone who already has a list of perhaps a dozen or so people with some naturist experience will be able to follow the advice – because there are enough people among which to divide the work.

[I can’t help noting that the very first point in the part of this document on “Obligations of Network Groups” is this: “Substantial effort to encourage the group’s members to also join TNS.” While TNS is a worthy organization that does good things for naturism in general, it’s clear what their priorities are as far as local groups are concerned.]

The whole problem with the advice in the document is this: How does such an initial group come together in the first place? It’s relatively easy if there’s a nearby nude beach where people can meet each other. Alternatively, some people who know each other as members of a landed club can get together to start their own group that can engage in naturist activities away from the landed club itself.

But what about people who’re learned about naturism online or who’ve been enjoying nudity at home and want to find others like themselves? How does a group of people like that come together in the first place? That is exactly the issue that this series of articles here is meant to address.

Part III of this series will look at the general topic of “organizing” a group of people for some social purpose, of which naturism is just a special case.

How nudity is like zero

0 is a very legitimate number. You can add it to, subtract it from, or multiply it by any other number. Only division by 0 is undefined. However, for a very long time after people understood “ordinary” numbers like 1, 2, or 3, the concept of 0 as a number didn’t exist. Even the Greeks and Romans (apparently) didn’t think of it. Here’s a reference: Earliest recorded use of zero is centuries older than first thought

These days the use of the number 0 is ubiquitous. Computers and cell phones would absolutely not work without it. Even so, some people are a bit suspicious of 0, because it can’t be the divisor of another number.

Nudity is to clothing as 0 is to numbers. It’s clearly a “real” thing – otherwise, how could there be meaningful laws against it?

Just as 0 represents a specific quantity, nudity represents a specific form of attire – just as, for instance, a military uniform does. There might be a little less mistrust of nudity if people could just see the analogy, and form their opinions of nudity in light of that.

And by the way, having 0 of something is not necessarily a bad thing – e. g. if “something” is a disease or a car accident. Likewise, there’s nothing inherently bad about wearing 0 articles of clothing.

Respected authors have recognized nudity as a form of attire. Herman Melville, for instance, in Typee, described the young Polynesian girl Fayaway as clothed in “summer garb of Eden. But how becoming the costume!”

Additional thoughts on the fear of nudity

In reading this post on the topic, which I originally wrote almost 19 years ago, I was astonished to have left out what may be the most significant type of fear of nudity based on abstract feelings. (See the original article for “abstract” vs. “concrete” fears.)

What I neglected to write about is this: Fear of nudity, social nudity in particular, is likely in large part due to the fact that social nudity violates a cluster of norms and customs of the society in which one lives. It’s a factor not just in North America and Western Europe, but also in most “advanced” societies whose lifestyles are far removed from those of people who value clothing mainly for warmth, instead of for a variety of unrelated social considerations, such as religion.

Consider the word “norm”. Social behavior is considered to be within the “norm” if it’s behavior that is consistent with what “most” people in a given society consider “proper”. This is a numerical type of standard. Behavior by people in a minority that “deviates” from what most people in the majority find acceptable is “not normal”. It is “abnormal”, and that’s not considered a good thing. Such behavior is, at least, suspicious. (This applies to any sort of behavior, not just nudity. Another example is styles of dress that are regarded as “foreign” and not typical in a given society. Of course, nudity really is just another style of dress.)

But “norm” has a slightly different meaning too, roughly what is meant by “custom”. Customs in a particular society aren’t necessarily related to either numerical measures or morality-related issues. Examples of such customs include times of day that meals are eaten, types of food that’s served for specific occasions, activities engaged in on particular holidays, and types of clothing worn in specific places. Nevertheless, failure to observe the customs of a society is also “suspicious” and a cause for disapproval of the “uncustomary” behavior itself.

Regardless of the fine differences between “norm” and “custom”, nudity is almost always considered both “abnormal” and “uncustomary”, and is therefore a source of mistrust, disapproval – and even fear. (Except when nudity is “normal” for activities like bathing or (perhaps) sleeping.) A further sanction against uncustomary nudity is often to make it illegal.

So the question that must be asked is this: Exactly why is “abnormal” or “uncustomary” behavior – of which social nudity is just one example – a source of fear?

There are very good evolutionary psychological reasons that answer the “why” question. All human societies depend on cooperation among society members. Cooperation takes various forms. It may be working “cooperatively” with others in a group on activities that benefit the group. The activities could be as diverse as those of social clubs, businesses, and extended families. But there are often opportunities for individuals within a group to act in ways that benefit only themselves, while harming the group as a whole. For example, embezzlement of money or disclosure of information the group wants to keep secret. Lying or cheating in transactions between individuals in a society provide even more obvious examples.

If such harmful behavior is too common in a group, the group itself is at risk of failure. If cheating between individuals is too common, people cannot trust each other, and so they lose out on the benefits they might enjoy from honest trading and cooperation.

Societies and groups usually can function well enough if there are only a few cheaters. So there is always the possibility that any given member may be tempted to cheat. And consequently, honest people need to learn how to detect potential cheaters in order to avoid them.

How is that usually done? It’s done by monitoring whether other people observe group norms and customs. There are beneficial norms and customs, such as honestly cooperating with others and not cheating. Other norms and customs aren’t as consequential, but whether or not they’re respected may be used to judge how well the beneficial ones are respected.

The problem is that the “honesty”, or lack thereof, of other people is not easy to judge when the others are not well-known. Typically, judgments of honesty are done by considering a person’s “reputation”. If the person is known to have cheated previously in some way or other, the person is more likely to be distrusted. Unfortunately, the reputations of most people one has to deal with are often unknown, because little or nothing is known about the person himself or herself.

However, one type of information about an otherwise unknown person is behavior that can be observed directly. Most importantly, is anything known about the person’s behavior in violation of social norms or customs? If so, the person is more likely to be mistrusted and avoided.

Here’s a simple but very common example. People in management jobs at a company or in certain other kinds of jobs (e. g. salespeople) are expected to dress in a certain way: suit and tie for a man, “professional” clothing for a woman. Failure to dress in the “normal” or “customary” way is a source of immediate distrust. Why should a person be trusted who violates well-known social norms?

It’s a fact that people who are known to be “nudists” or to engage in social nudity are often distrusted or disrespected – precisely because nudity violates typical norms and customs. Such people are stigmatized as “nonconformists”.

Obviously, too, there are whole professions – such as teaching or any other kind of work with children – where being known to participate in social nudity can be used as an excuse for exclusion from the profession.

While it’s quite true that many people in a particular society do not have this negative attitude towards nudity, the negative attitude is still so widespread that anyone who has a favorable attitude towards nudity – and whose behavior is suspected of reflecting that attitude – must be cautious about letting that attitude be known. Or more to the point, people are more likely to think of nudity as something to be fearful of – because they know of the risk that others may disapprove. The existence of the risk is known – and the result is fear. We fear, rationally, what could cause us harm, especially if it’s difficult to estimate the risk – just as we fear spiders that could actually be harmless.

Here’s the reasoning in a nutshell: Social nudity violates a cultural norm. Therefore there’s a risk that others may see this violation as a reason for distrusting people who have positive attitudes towards nudity. Therefore it’s prudent to be fearful of holding positive attitudes towards nudity in order to reduce the risk.