23 January, 2008

Nudism, Sexuality, and Society

Disclaimer: It is not my intention in this post to develop or propagate any stereotypes about nudists. These are merely observations I have made in my limited experience. Keep in mind that nudists are just like everyone else - we come in all shapes, sizes, colors and patterns.

I've been looking up quite a bit of stuff on nudism the past few days - including reading through some discussions on hot topics within the community. I have to admit, while I still maintain the importance of separating nudity from sexuality, I'm getting the feeling that I can at least see where my brother is coming from in terms of nudists having a conservative knee-jerk reaction to issues of sexuality. Obviously, my experiences are limited to reading the opinions of nudists on the internet from the comfort of my chair at home, but the condemnation I'm seeing of any connections whatsoever between eroticism and nudism do feel to me to be somewhat excessive. It's a tricky issue, because there are all sorts of legal implications to the portrayal of nudists within mainstream society, but I do feel that there are people out there that are being way too stuffy for their own ultimate good.

Small example: the issue of erections. I don't know specifically how it's dealt with 'on location', but some of the opinions I'm reading seem to suggest that there are nudists who believe that the mere sight of an erection is an affront to their sensibilities. Now, I understand that there is a level of conscious control involved, but there are times when things just happen to pop up. Obviously, discretion is a respectable solution, but I feel like having to run and hide, like as if the erection was inherently an insult to the public, or even intended as such, is a little extreme. Now, if someone is actively "encouraging" the erection, then you're dealing with a whole new issue - an issue that I would agree is best relegated to a private moment. But if it's just an innocent happenstance, or even an uncontrolled reaction to the environment, I don't see the offense.

For those who are concerned, lest you get the wrong impression, many people have said that this is much less of an issue than it is often made out to be.

Another discussion I enjoyed reading through was on the topic of nude photography, and how (or whether) it relates to pornography. Most nudists in the discussion had the expected opinion that innocent nudist photography has nothing to do with pornography - that it's not any different than regular family photography, since the nudity doesn't serve any kind of sexual function. I'm in agreement on that. But I sensed a sort of disdain for nude photography that does serve a sexual function, which most people would classify as pornography. Now, a question I feel like I want to ask, is this: Can a photograph of a sexual act ever be considered not pornographic?

This is an incredibly complicated issue, compounded by the matter of defining the term pornography. And I don't really feel like getting into all of that at this time. But the bottom line, for me, is that when it comes to pornography, or what many people would consider pornography, there's trash, and there's gold. Ultimately, it's a matter of taste, but what appeals to my taste appeals to my aesthetic sense of beauty, and that's something that has a certain amount of worth to me, even if the subject matter is sexual in nature. Sex can be as beautiful as it can be dirty. So while a lot of the nudists in this particular discussion seemed to carry an unspoken view against the merits of pornography in any context, my view is that a photograph taken of a sexual subject can be every bit as pure as a photograph of a nude person enjoying innocent, non-sexual recreation, or of a clothed person doing the same, or anything else. Granted, the topic of sex is not necessarily appropriate anywhere and everywhere, or in discussions with just anyone, but that does not mean that it is something to be ashamed of. Isn't that the case with nudity, for a lot of nudists that haven't "come out"? They don't feel comfortable talking about it with just anyone, but they respect the lifestyle just the same. Shouldn't sexuality be considered just as pure as nudity then? More on that disparity later.

That's pretty much the point I wanted to make on that topic. Another interesting issue brought up in the thread was that of sharing nude photographs. Most of the nudists in that discussion expressed general comfortability with being photographed in the nude (in a non-sexual context), but with a decided reservation about who would get to see those photos. I understand my feelings on the issue are a little more liberal than the norm, and I can respect their concerns. Many nudists do have a reputation to uphold - although that's something that I personally don't like the idea of, having to hide oneself. I feel like one of the ideas of nudism is being yourself and shedding the masks and deceptions of clothes that you wear in society. But unlike me, most people do value their position in society, and simply can't risk the implications of being labeled a nudist, particularly in a society with many unfortunate and negative misconceptions about people that take pleasure in being nude.

One person used a phrase that sums up my feelings on the issue of being seen nude quite well. The idea is this: just because you see me, doesn't mean you have me. One of the most pervasive arguments against the sharing of nude photos of oneself with strangers, particularly on the internet, is the fear of what strangers might do with those photos. I think the implications are clear, but I have to ask, just what are these people afraid that someone is going to do? Honestly, how does it hurt you if some creep gets off to a nude photo of you? My feeling is that if somebody finds me attractive, then I'd be happy to indulge them, as long as it doesn't inconvenience me. Now, I enjoy taking nude photographs of myself, and sometimes in sexually suggestive poses. If somebody is interested in seeing those pictures, why should I keep them to myself? As long as they don't do something like stalk me or hound me for more photos or something like that, then what harm is it?

Obviously, that's a real concern. There are freaks out there, and plenty that wouldn't be below (above?) inconveniencing you if they think you've got something they want. And that's a risk. But my view of humanity is one of peace and love. I believe that people should be respectful to one another. Am I being far too idealistic? Probably. But I refuse to live a life consumed by terror. I believe that if you conduct yourself in a way that allows you to respect yourself, while treating other people the way you want to be treated, then you're being true to yourself, and hopefully, the bad seeds in your life will be displaced by the good ones (I'm talking about people - friends and such). In any case, we do live in a society, and there are always measures if things get drastic. But again, it's a matter of standing up to your detractors and showing them that you're free to be who you want to be. I've lived my life in fear, hiding behind a shell, and I'm sick of it. I'm still working on breaking free, and this is an important step in that direction. But when I see other people building walls of protection around themselves - while I can sympathize - I can't help but feel a little sad at the thought of a person living in fear like that. But I guess that's part of what makes me, me. I just wish it were a marketable thing that I could exploit to make a living or at least just teach people, or something...

There is a criticism I hear used against nudism. If nudism is about loosening the boundaries of what is acceptable, and recognizing that the sight of a naked body is neither immoral, nor harmful, but a perfectly natural thing, that should be encouraged and not shunned, then how come nudists characteristically tend to be so uptight about sexuality? You could argue that where nudists draw the line against public sexuality, the rest of society merely draws their line against public nudity. So what makes the nudists' position any more right, or acceptable? Ultimately it comes down to a matter of taste, and it would seem that the nudists are outnumbered. Now, you could throw scientific facts and studies around, but it's hard to change a person's ingrained sense of what is decent and acceptable. You could argue until you're blue in the face that there's nothing wrong with eating sushi, and that it could even be good for you, but that's not always enough to make a reluctant person try sushi (and who's to say they should be forced to?). I mean, who knows, it could turn out that having sex in front of other people is a huge health benefit for everyone involved - but even if that were true, do you think everyone's going to immediately adopt that belief and start practicing it regularly?

It's not a foolproof case against nudism, but it does raise an important concern. As for me, I would love it if nudity were universally accepted, if the choice to go bare was granted as an inalienable right, but I'm not the kind of person to push my beliefs on other people, and I have to accept the fact that there are people for whom public, social, and/or casual nudity is not the way to go, and those beliefs should be respected, too. But the bottom line is, there should be places, communities, where these sorts of things are more acceptable, and places where they are less acceptable. You would think that there would be enough nudists to form communities like this. Not expensive resort destinations, or just limited areas like parks and beaches, but actual entire communities of people gathered together who have the same open ideas about this subject. In various price ranges and sizes and qualities. Are there? Maybe there are. Maybe in a different country. I just kind of wish they were more prevalent. Like, this is stretching it even further, but why aren't there year-round communities like that at Burning Man? Those people all go back to their federal and state jurisdictions, where the laws only differ so much from the rest of the country. You'd think they'd band together and form communities here and there. And you'd hope there'd be enough of them to form enough communities to be spread out.

I think what I'm getting at here is, why does there only seem to be one way to go through life? There's only one option for society. It's a monopoly. I guess moving out of the country is an option. But I mean, that takes a lot of effort and initiative, and probably money - sampling cultures until you find one that you like. If this is the land of freedom, then how come our standards and morals are dictated by an insensitive penal code, constructed for a majority, when we are but one person? I'm quite frustrated with it all.

Can you see why I don't believe in free will? I feel like I have no control whatsoever over how to live my life. Granted, a lot of that is due to psychological limitations, but you have to admit that being raised in a society like this, there are certain things that it's really hard to escape. What if you don't feel like paying taxes? Isn't there some kind of alternative? What if you don't agree with some of the petty laws on the codebooks? Do you have to go to jail just to prove your point? And don't talk to me about lobbying. You could argue with politicians your entire life and not get the results you want. And what if somebody else wants the opposite - isn't that always the case? You die with no results, having wasted your life away on a lost cause. Yeah, I'm bitter.

Maybe I'm spoiled, and maybe I'm a dreamer. But who's to say we should have to compromise? My body is a product of my environment, and my thoughts are a product of my mind. I'd like to think there's something more to what I'm saying than petty idealism... Wouldn't you?


  1. Glad to see that you see where I'm coming from. I take deeper offense from stuffiness coming from within an outsider community because I feel like it's a betrayal. My desire is not to replace the old conformity with a new one, my desire is for conformity itself to be stamped out.

    Personally I think you can definetly have a picture of a sexual act that is not pornography. It's actually pretty simple, pornography is intended to arouse. If it's not intended to arouse, it's not pornography. So... if you're a convention of people who are only attracted to thin people, and show a picture of fat people having sex... not pornography. More importantly, a sex act could easily be shown as a "beauty of life" picture the same way that anything could. I know there must be books of things like that, just like how you have books of non-pornographic nude photography.

    I personally don't approve of considering sex to be remotely dirty in the first place. What decides sex as dirty, whether someone is saying "your hot" instead of "I love you" when they do it? Not that you're saying that, I've just heard that kind of argument. Rape, destruction, perhaps those things are dirty, but regardless of the various sex situations I have no desire to ever see, I can't concieve of a reason to ever call any consensual sex act dirty no matter who and what is involved.

    Living in fear has always terrified me, to the point where I often sabotage my potentials for the sake of not having to fear failure. I'm not sorry about it though, it works well. Less is more and all that. I'm living in fear of living in fear, but it's less fear than the alternative.

    I'm in 100% agreement with the normal versus nudist line-drawing and how nudists aren't less square than squares. But, being a relativist, I also believe that me and everybody else is like that too. For example you could say that GG Allin is "square" in that he has a problem with squares, and it's technically "square" to be uptight about anything, including the pushiness of squares. My taste leads me to be on GG's side and not that of the squares, but it's still technically uptight.

  2. Addressing the lack of communities... I think that while there may be a good number of nudists out there, there may not be enough nudists with the kind of capital it takes to start a new community, let alone the kind of skills it takes to sustain one.

    I mean, look at what goes into making a flourishing community; you need doctors, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, people to run and work in stores, teachers, vets, all kinds of professions. The feeling I sort of get is that while nudists may come from all walks of life, the majority of them only come from a certain area... that's just my gut feeling, though. I haven't done the kind of research you have.

    On top of that, look at Utah. It's more or less the "Mormon" state, and it's been around for over a hundred years. That's almost two times the age of the nation itself.

    Yet, in this nation of freedom of religion, you still see a lot of people targeting Utah and Mormons because of their "degenerate" practices, or perhaps, to put it more accurately, the traditions/practices they have that lead to certain elements taking advantage of them.

    Can you imagine the uproar that would result from someone trying to make a full nudist community? With children? In schools?

    It would practically have to be an armed camp to keep undesirable elements out. I've already talked a lot about the undesirable elements; if you've got a year-long open community, how do you keep them from wandering in? I mean, obviously, you can just arrest them or something if they go after kids in public, or if they're doing something blatant, but those aren't the only kinds of exploitation around.

    That kind of community has a huge amount of risk, and that risk is probably what keeps people from doing it, rather than any real kind of fear of the law or society...

    Or, to put it another way, it's more a fear of elements of society rather than society itself.