Naturism in the U. S. is not doing well, especially in comparison to how it is in western European countries, such as France, Spain, Germany, England, and even Croatia. Much of the problem is due to outdated cultural attitudes towards nudity. These bad attitudes, however, are not being adequately countered by U. S. naturists and their organizations. Consequently, many if not most naturists feel they have to be secretive about their enjoyment of nudity. And that secrecy, in turn, prevents naturism from thriving as it should.
What follows is an examination of the problem – and what could be done to deal effectively with it.
1. The problem: secrecy
All naturists enjoy being naked, at least when doing so is comfortable. Disagreeing with that is really tough, no? Another thing that most (but not all) people enjoy is socializing with others – at least others they’re reasonably compatible with. That means most naturists should enjoy socializing with other naturists.
Unfortunately, for many if not most people who’ve discovered the pleasures of (non-sexual) nudity, something too often prevents being able to enjoy social nudity. Quite simply, the problem is finding other naturists to socialize with. The reason that’s difficult has been discussed here several times, especially in this post. The problem is that far too many naturists are secretive about their enjoyment of nudity. The reasons for the secrecy are clear: in nearly all societies, being naked around other people (at least outside of one’s family) is a major taboo.
Confronting that problem directly is, understandably, difficult. There are various fears associated with “coming out” as a naturist. For example: job security, loss of friendships, embarrassment, fear of ridicule, etc. Those are all risks assumed by anyone who violates any norms that society in general considers important.
Society can evolve so the risks are lessened or removed. But it’s a slow process. Generally, it’s necessary for people who challenge the norms to drop their secrecy and “come out” about who they are. Gay people in recent decades have done that successfully. It’s still a problem for trans people – and certainly for naturists as well.
But there’s a way to simply circumvent the problem. That is: learning how to find other naturists to socialize with. This, too, isn’t especially easy. If it were easy, there would be far more people able to enjoy social nudity. But of course, there aren’t.
The need for secrecy felt by most naturists and people who simply enjoy nudity is the root of the problem. Too many active or potential naturists fear – often with some justification – that their enjoyment of nudity will be revealed. If this fear were minimal or non-existent, discussing an interest in or enjoyment of social nudity with your friends and acquaintances would be pretty easy. Then, even if none of them were also interested in naturism, the word would spread through social networks (both in the “real world” and online) how you feel about social nudity. And eventually, others who share your feelings would become naturists themselves and perhaps even friends with you.
People now tell others things like, “Oh, Trisha really enjoys backpacking. I couldn’t do it, but it’s fine for her.” Ideally, that would also be true with “social nudity” instead of “backpacking”. Sadly, things aren’t the way they ideally should be. There is, however, a way for naturists to circumvent their perceived need for secrecy. Result: being able to find other naturists to socialize with – yet not having to “come out” and announce an interest in social nudity to many or most of your acquaintances.
The solution? I’m going to explain why it’s relatively small, local organizations of naturists. This worked for gay people. Decades before it became socially acceptable for gay people to “come out” there were clubs where they could go to socialize with others like themselves with a fair amount of secrecy. How was it possible for gay people to find such clubs? In this case it was possible because being gay essentially means having a certain sort of relationship with at least one other person. So information about gay clubs could spread by word of mouth.
Things aren’t quite the same for naturists. Many people discover that they enjoy being naked even when they’re by themselves – at home, hiking or camping alone, or anywhere they’re not likely to be discovered. Nobody else actually needs to know. But without knowing other naturists initially, how does someone find any naturist organization?
2. Social networks could help, if naturists aren’t too secretive
If people with naturist tendencies were open about it, they could help persuade others to become interested themselves. That’s because the taboos and prejudices around nudity make it unlikely that a person will be persuaded of the benefits of naturism simply from reading media articles about it, finding discussions of it in social media (e. g. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit), or happening to stumble upon one of the few naturist blogs. People are much more likely to be persuaded about naturism if it’s advocated by friends and acquaintances they know and trust – as long as those others aren’t afraid to be open about it. And frequently it takes more than one trusted friend or acquaintance to make the sale.
Social networks that exist in real life, not just online, are a key means by which people can learn about naturism and be persuaded to try it. However, for that to work, it’s necessary that at least some people who’re already active in social nudity are open about it and not secretive. Suppose that Andy enjoys being naked at home and wants to find others to socialize with who feel the same way. Andy has a good friend, Brynn with whom he feels comfortable discussing his enjoyment of nudity. Brynn herself isn’t interested in naturism, but she has a friend, Cody who happens to have a cousin, Dana, who’s known to be an enthusiastic naturist. Many people know that about Dana, because she’s not shy about discussing it.
So, through Brynn and Cody, Andy is able to meet Dana – and they become good friends who enjoy the same naturist activities. This is possible, since Dana’s open about being a naturist. It’s also helpful that Andy disclosed his interest in nudity to Brynn, but he might have learned about Dana anyway if Brynn had happened to mention knowing about Dana from a conversation with Cody.
3. The problem compounded
The problem of people being secretive about an interest in non-sexual social nudity is a result of society’s prejudices and taboos related to nudity. And those things are definitely not going to disappear, as if by magic. Society isn’t going to change its negative attitudes towards nudity without concerted efforts to bring change about. Only effort, and probably lots of it, by the people who want change, can make it happen. That means naturists in this case. Attitudes towards social nudity will change only when enough people realize others they know and respect are naturists. That’s how nudity and naturism become considered more “normal”
For most of the history of naturism in over a century, naturists have looked to a relatively small number of individuals among themselves to move naturism forward. Those individuals were mainly enthusiasts who established landed clubs and national or regional naturists organizations to promote naturism. Many of them devoted large portions of their time, energy, and resources to that effort.
Yet where is naturism today? In a few countries – such as France and Germany – it’s achieved a modest measure of public acceptance. Not so much in terms of widespread participation, but at least in general tolerance as a valid personal choice. In most other countries where naturism is tolerated at all, it’s questionable whether it even has the degree of participation as it did a few decades ago. The U. S. is clearly in this latter category, as indicated by declines in membership in the national organizations (AANR and TNSF) and the dwindling number of landed naturist clubs and resorts. It’s a sad loss for naturism every time a club or resort gives up being clothing-optional or simply closes. Yet it keeps happening.
So let’s focus on what could turn things around in the U. S. (and similar countries). It’s unfortunately pretty clear that the national organizations haven’t been effective at increasing the popularity and acceptance of naturism. Social nudity hasn’t become more regarded as normal for many people. The number of landed clubs and resorts has declined, and the average age of members and visitors has increased. This is not what “success” looks like.
How about the efforts of individual naturists? In a few cases, local naturist groups have gained official acceptance for clothing-optional use of local beaches. Haulover Beach in Miami is probably the best example. In some other cases, beaches where clothing-optional use has long been traditional have gained official status. Yet many other beaches where nude use was popular in the 1970s and early 1980s have seen sharp declines in naturist visitors – or else have been closed entirely for naturist use. This certainly isn’t success either.
What accounts for the decline? Consider the situation with landed clubs and resorts. Part of the problem is that there are too few of them in most parts of the country. Consequently, too few people are near enough to visit regularly. Therefore many clubs couldn’t afford to stay open, especially after the original developers retired. And as land prices have risen, often dramatically, new clubs can’t be opened. There’s a vicious circle. Fewer places available means naturists must travel farther to visit – so they do something else instead. But fewer visitors means remaining places are more likely to close eventually. And then people drift away from naturism as there are fewer clubs and resorts to visit.
4. Can national and regional organizations help?
In the past, people with enough motivation who were interested in naturism could learn more about it and find other naturists to socialize with through national and regional organizations.
The focus here is on naturism in the U. S. Other countries have national and regional organizations with similar problems. But we’ll just deal with the two U. S. national organizations: AANR (and its regions) and TNSF. Unfortunately, both have been losing members during recent decades.
Both organizations are able to do various things to promote naturism. AANR is primarily a trade association for naturist clubs and resorts. It’s funded both by naturist businesses and individual member dues. However, most of the people who become AANR members are already seriously interested in naturism. Some may have even grown up in a naturist family. Others may have become interested in naturism on their own, or else were persuaded by openly naturist friends to try it. In any case, they’ve probably been involved in naturist activities for some time, so secrecy hasn’t kept them from finding naturist friends.
AANR does some things to promote naturism to the general public, such as by issuing press releases touting naturist activities. But its real objective is to stimulate business for naturist clubs and resorts. That’s OK, but it doesn’t do nearly enough to attract new people to become naturists. To significantly stimulate business, the organization needs to help anyone who’s interested in naturism to meet active naturists. That’s the best way to motivate potential naturists into patronizing clubs and resorts.
TNSF has more of a focus on individual naturists. It has a legal arm (the Naturist Action Committee) and an educational branch (the Naturist Education Foundation). But currently its main activity is publication of a pretty good quarterly naturist magazine. However, among the few remaining newsstands and bookstores these days few are interested in carrying naturist periodicals. So although the magazine has good information about naturism, someone must first join TNSF to get it. Most people who’re curious about social nudity may not know about TNSF. Even if they do, before joining they may prefer first to find out more about naturism, better understand the benefits, and learn how to find naturist friends.
On the whole, then, national organizations like AANR and TNSF aren’t particularly effective at helping people interested in naturism actually become involved in it. Even if people are aware the organizations exist, instead of joining they may prefer to find and meet active naturists to understand what’s so great about social nudity. But that’s difficult due to the secrecy of naturists who aren’t open about it on account of the associated social taboos and prejudices.
Before the Internet came along there were other ways people could learn about naturism, but they no longer exist. Through the 1970s many naturist periodicals were published. This is how potential naturists learned the whereabouts of landed naturist clubs they could visit. But that source of information is almost entirely gone now. A few decades ago there were more such clubs and resorts than there are now. But even then, they were generally distant from each other and from potential visitors. So they were inconvenient to visit. That situation is even worse now, in most parts of the country.
There have always been small, local, non-landed naturist clubs, but they tended to be pretty secretive, so were even harder to discover than the landed clubs and resorts. The national and regional organizations could (though not inevitably would) keep track of them and provide the information to anyone interested in participating. Indeed, the situation now is even better, since social media sites on the Internet – such as Meetup, Facebook, Reddit, and naturist blogs – can also disseminate information about local organizations. If there were, in fact, enough of them. Even so, on social media now one of the most common questions is something like: “I live in <someplace> – where can I go to enjoy social nudity?”
5. The opportunity
Let’s look at the numbers. It’s likely that as many as 5% of the U. S. population – possibly many more – have tried naturism in some way or other. That may mean just being naked at home (apart from bathing or changing clothes), being naked sometimes while hiking or camping, or occasionally visiting a clothing-optional beach. Perhaps only 1% of the adult population has had more serious involvement with naturism at some time or other, so let’s work with that number. It means that on average, for every million adults, there are 10,000 who might enjoy social nudity.
These are very conservative estimates. A 2015 poll conducted for NEF (the Naturist Education Foundation) found (Question 8) that 28% of poll respondents “would consider going nude at a clothing-optional beach if you knew it was safe and legal”. But even the very conservative 1% estimate of potential naturists implies there could be far more local naturist organizations than there actually are.
In California, for example, with an adult population of slightly under 25 million, just 1% of them could be 250,000 potential adult social naturists. If 250 is the average size of a “local” club, there could be 1000 of them. In fact, there are only about 10 such groups in the state of a size that would allow people to easily find many potential naturist friends.
So, very roughly, there are only 1% as many local groups as there could be. This seems like a huge potential opportunity that’s scarcely being tapped at all. Even if the number of potential naturists is overestimated by a factor of 10, there remains still a factor of 10 fewer local clubs than there could be. That proportion should be similar in all other states too.
Why, then, is there such a large unrealized opportunity for naturism? Could it be that the proportion of potential naturists isn’t 1% or even 0.1%, but merely 0.01% – one person out of 10,000? That just seems extremely unlikely. More likely, there’s a very substantial opportunity for 10 or 100 times as many local organizations and clubs to exist as there are currently.
So the issue becomes: how can naturists begin to realize that opportunity?
6. Is a smoothly functioning naturist “ecosystem” possible?
What, exactly, is an “ecosystem”? In the world of nature and in the most general terms, it’s a system of living organisms – both animals and plants – that exist together in a particular environment. To give a more specific example, consider the various birds you may see in your neighborhood. A typical bird depends for its sustenance on eating both plant products (seeds, berries) and smaller animals (insects, worms). In turn, the same birds may be prey for larger animals, such as hawks or feral cats. All living things depend to some extent on many others. Even the environment itself may be shaped by what lives within it.
There are human ecosystems also. Fortunately, at least in more civilized societies, most humans don’t prey on others. Instead, they rely on plants and other animals for their food. But they rely on each other as well, both directly and indirectly. People work together to produce goods and services for others and to be able to obtain goods and services they can’t provide for themselves. Humans also have various other relationships, such as between parents and children, with neighbors, and with friends who share similar interests.
Naturists, naturist clubs and resorts, and naturist organizations also form an ecosystem of their own. That’s the one we’re most interested in here, of course. Naturists need – or at least want – to have friends who’re also naturists, to have local clubs where they can conveniently socialize naked with each other, and to be able to visit private clubs and resorts that attract naturists from a wider area. Unfortunately, many naturists and potential naturists find that their needs are not met nearly as much as they’d like.
Let’s look closer at how the different parts of the ecosystem relate to each other. The relationships aren’t strictly hierarchical. But we can consider national and regional organizations, like AANR and TNSF, as being near the top. They have several functions. One is to provide things such as (1) information for individual naturists and potential naturists on how to find naturist friends and local groups (if there are any); (2) information to the general public and to public officials explaining what naturism is, what its benefits are, and why it should be accepted as a healthy, normal personal interest; (3) assistance to individuals who want to establish landed and non-landed naturist clubs and resorts. That’s just some of what such organizations might offer – but don’t necessarily do well.
The function of landed naturist clubs and resorts is pretty clear. It’s to establish and maintain places that naturists can visit, for a reasonable price, in order to socialize with other naturists, to participate clothesfree in sports and recreational activities, or simply to enjoy fresh air and sunshine without being encumbered by clothes. Such clubs need to ensure a safe and pleasurable environment for their visitors, provide overnight accommodations for visitors staying more than a day, and provide other amenities such as gyms and restaurants. These clubs and resorts should be able to rely on national and regional organizations for directory services, the ability to advertise, and assistance in establishing and operating their business.
Non-landed clubs and other more informal local naturist organizations should provide frequent activities and events to their members throughout the year and any other assistance that local naturists and potential naturists need in order to find naturist friends for socializing in their own homes. Trips to suitable beaches or camping and hiking areas are among their activities. They often aren’t associated with nearby clubs and resorts. But if they are it’s beneficial for both individual members as well as the landed clubs and resorts.
Individual naturists and potential naturists have to depend on other parts of the ecosystem for a number of things, such as places to meet and gather, information about naturist opportunities in the nearby area, and assistance in finding other naturists with whom to establish friendships. Many naturists also need facilities outside their homes for clothesfree activities like naked yoga classes, swimming pools, tennis courts, and gym equipment.
Individual naturists might seem to reside at the lowest level of the hierarchy, because they depend on the other parts of the ecosystem. However, of course, the rest of the ecosystem needs individual naturists even more – or else the other parts would have no reason to exist.
7. Unfortunately, though, there are huge gaps in the naturist ecosystem
It was noted earlier that if potential naturists make up even as little as 1% of the population, there could easily be 10 or 100 times as many local naturist organizations as actually exist. Of course, it’s quite easy to not see something that hardly exists. But that certainly doesn’t mean that same something shouldn’t exist.
To echo Robert F. Kennedy, some people see things as they are and ask why. Others dream of things that never were and ask why not.
What’s currently almost entirely missing in the naturist ecosystem is a level of organization between the national and regional organizations, on one hand, and individual naturists and potential naturists, on the other. Local clubs are in this middle space, but as just noted, there are far too few of them. And even if they exist, finding them can be difficult.
I’m in the process of starting such a club for the area where I live. It’s part of Meetup. However, as you’d suppose, the chances that local naturists could notice announcements about it on international social media (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) are slim. TNSF has a “network” for such clubs – but too few naturists are TNSF members and live in the area. AANR doesn’t seem very helpful for local clubs unless they’re associated with a landed AANR club.
The landed clubs and resorts are off to the side of the ecosystem. They can only with considerable difficulty reach individual naturists and potential naturists who don’t already know about them. In fact, there would gradually be many more of them if only individuals knew about them and what they had to offer. And, of course, many more means many additional naturists would be close enough to visit easily.
Let’s try to imagine how things could be.
Suppose first there’s a small group of experienced naturists, perhaps about a dozen people, who act as a board of directors for a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to popularize naturism. The group would decide what population centers around the country might be most likely to have many potential naturists. The centers should be in parts of the country that have relatively mild climates in much of the year and also plenty of people who’re likely to be open-minded about naturism.
Say there are about 50 such population centers to begin with. (More can always be added later.) The next step is to identify a small number of experienced naturists in each area who’ll be responsible for promoting naturism in their area. This might be as few as only 2 or 3 people per area. They should all have some experience promoting naturism. They might be owners or managers or long-time members of existing naturist clubs or resorts. Among them there should be some who’ve been successful at promoting naturism or have started and coordinated local (non-landed) naturist clubs.
Using video conferencing and other online discussion tools these people should agree on techniques for finding other naturists in their area who are willing to start and operate local naturist clubs. These latter naturists should be assisted in learning the necessary techniques for promoting naturism and building club membership. A key technique to develop is how to help potential naturists overcome the idea that they need to be secretive about their interest in social nudity.
If this scenario works in even a few population centers, it could slowly but surely spread to others. Patterns would be identified for what techniques work best. The process would become increasingly successful the more it works in particular places – just by copying what has already been most successful.
The basic problem to be solved is how to make it as easy as possible for potential naturists to find others like themselves to socialize with. Having enough local naturist groups is the solution – as long as there’s an up-to-date directory of these groups that’s widely known about.
This addresses the issue of naturists feeling the need to be secretive, because finding kindred naturists without having to broadcast one’s interest in social nudity becomes much easier. All one needs to do is find and join the local club. Before long, many people will be sufficiently comfortable being naked with others that they’ll worry less – or even not at all – about discussing their enjoyment of nudity with friends and relatives.
As Karl Marx might say, “Naturists unite! You have nothing to lose but your clothes!”
John Lennon might then respond to Bobby Kennedy: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”