The gender imbalance problem in naturism

Here’s a new blog post from UK bloggers Hannah and Nick: Encouraging women into naturism. Almost immediately they say “Our experience is that there are actually very few who are actively against people removing their clothes in appropriate public circumstances. However, there does seem to be a gender divide when it comes to people trying naturism for themselves. Men are often keen, women less so.”

I think it’s essential to address that issue, and that just giving women more encouragement is far from enough. The bloggers remark, sensibly, that “before knowing what form any encouragement should take we need to ask ourselves why it is that women make reluctant naturists.” Their answer is basically that most women have problems with body acceptance, no matter how well their bodies conform to cultural ideals. They also note that part of the problem is gender imbalances, and “Most naturist clubs will, from necessity, need some sort of policy to avoid becoming too male heavy.” I agree with that, but the tough question is “what should that policy look like?” Ideally, though, naturists should find a way to make the problem rare – without onerous policies.

I don’t quite agree, however, when Hannah and Nick say “It is the shackles placed on us by society that result in the gender imbalance, and it is those shackles which we need to address, both as naturists and as members of society in general.” Sadly, the question of how to achieve (approximate) gender balancing isn’t squarely addressed, and I think it must be. The post does present a number of good suggestions for encouraging women to try naturism. Comments are invited. But I think there’s much more that needs to be said than easily fits in a blog comment, so I’ll offer my response here. I don’t know any simple solutions or even concise explanations of how I see the problem, but I’ll try to get the ball rolling.

In short, it’s time for naturists to admit to themselves what’s happening. Many reasons can be suggested to explain why women are leery of naturism. The blog post mentions some of them. The suggested approach to the problem is to offer women a number of reasonable arguments why the fears of naturism that women tend to have are unrealistic and that women might actually benefit from naturism.

But it may well be that, at least in the U. S. and various other countries where naturism even exists, a tipping point has been passed – in the downward direction. There are a variety of indications of this. The ratio of men to women continues to rise in naturist activities – such as attendance at naturist resorts, naturist swims, World Naked Bike Rides, and participation in online forums on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Ratios like 10:1, 20:1, or higher aren’t uncommon. That’s just not going to work.

Some male naturists try to argue that this shouldn’t be a problem. Naturism, after all, isn’t sexual, and that’s (generally) a fact, so what’s the problem with lopsided gender ratios? Isn’t naturism just about the enjoyment of being naked, not seeing others naked? There are plenty of nonsexual, clothed social activities where lopsided ratios are the norm, and not considered problematical. Motorcycle clubs, for instance, are overwhelmingly male, while sewing and knitting groups are overwhelmingly female. These are examples that seem “naturally” to appeal much more to one gender rather than the other. That’s not necessarily bad.

The problem for naturism, however, is that most women now seem to put naturism in the same category. And their evidence? Just look at the gender ratios! Case closed. Unfortunately, lopsided gender ratios in naturism lead to a snowball effect, a vicious circle, where the ratio itself persuades people who’d be in the small minority that the activity simply isn’t for them – so they stay away even if they accept the rational arguments for participation and are even a bit tempted to try it out.

Think about it. If you’re male, wouldn’t you be concerned about joining a group that’s mostly female, because you’re afraid you won’t have enough in common with others in the group to enjoy the experience? What would you talk with them about? Women wonder the same thing about groups that are mostly male. They would, at least, like to have women around so there would be a variety of women they could have conversations with about matters that males have little interest in. Some men argue that it’s only a few misbehaving male “rotten apples” who drive women away from naturism. There’ve always been workable solutions for that, so very few men with even a little naturist experience misbehave. They know what the rules are. Extreme gender imbalance raises concerns that have little or nothing to do with physical safety or the awkwardness of being a naked woman surrounded mostly by naked men.

The main problem is the social discomfort of being in a small minority of any sort. Most people simply want to have the option of socializing with others who already have important things in common with themselves. Regardless of one’s gender, social events just naturally seem to be more enjoyable if both genders are present in roughly similar numbers – because that gives everyone more options for things of interest to talk about. If you’re a woman, you might well be happy to talk with someone about football or motorcycles – but not for the entire time! Naturists believe, and need to stress, that their chosen way of socializing is, and should be, quite like other ways. That includes being enjoyable for all present – even though that’s difficult for non-naturists to understand.

Gender imbalance can be a major deterrent for male naturists too. And (at least in most cases) the imbalance isn’t because naturist men want to see naked women. After all, many have female friends and/or significant others they often see naked (and perhaps also families) – and with whom they want to share naturism. Lots of men work in jobs (high tech, trucking, etc.) with large male:female ratios. They’d really prefer to have an opportunity to enjoy social activities, including naturism, with much better-balanced ratios. The same considerations apply to women. If there are few such opportunities, even people who enjoy nudity will also stay away. The result is that many fewer naturist camps and resorts can afford to start or stay in business. Everyone loses.

This problem is real and not at all simple. It’s not going away as long as the gender ratios are the way they are, and getting worse. However, the first step in dealing effectively with any problem must be understanding accurately the root causes of the problem.

I have ideas about what to do. Hint: they involve many naturists actively working in an organized way to promote naturism to others – men as well as women. “Let George do it,” isn’t going to work. I’ve made some suggestions here and here. But I could use additional concrete suggestions for how to proceed. If you care about this issue, please add a comment or two with ideas.

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