Naturism, or nudism as it is sometimes called, is generally defined as the practice of going nude, especially in a mixed social setting. While accurate as far as it goes, the standard definition fails to grasp the "why" of naturism -- why do people choose to be naturists? Individual responses to that question vary greatly. For some, naturism is a carefully considered lifestyle; for others, it is no more complicated than a day at the nearest nude beach. What connects these two extremes is the sense of freedom naturist activities provide. It may be a matter of simple comfort—first-time skinny-dippers frequently marvel at how good it feels to be clothes-free—or there may be something more profound. For many, the social nudity that helps define naturism is personally liberating; through it, we come not only to accept ourselves but others.
Who are "the naturists"?
Broadly speaking, anyone who practices nude recreation, social nudity, or both. By that standard, there are many millions of naturists worldwide, especially in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. According to a 2000 Roper Poll, one in four Americans - roughly 70 million people - have skinny-dipped or sunbathed in the nude. And while not all of them are naturists, the rapid growth the nude recreation industry has experienced in recent years suggests many are. No longer confined to small, secretive enclaves, today's naturists have a variety of recreational and social outlets.
What do naturists mean when they talk about "social nudity" and "nude recreation"?
A number of things. But first, it's important to know what they don't mean. Misconceptions aside, naturism is not a code word for "sex" (see below). When naturists talk about "social nudity" and "nude recreation" they mean just that—nude group activities. The variety of activities varies tremendously. There are nude backpackers, canoeists, kayakers, scuba divers—even skydivers. For less adventurous types, there is everything from the traditional day trip to the nude beach or swimming hole to house parties, chartered cruises and weekend excursions to nude resorts or campgrounds. Most things that can be done clothed can be done unclothed and usually it's a lot more fun.
What about the law; isn't "social nudity" illegal?
This gets a bit complicated, but the short answer is "no." As indicated above, there are public beaches where nudity is perfectly legal. So too are there private clubs and resorts that are either clothing-optional, or where nudity is actually required. Legality is seldom an issue at these places. Nonetheless, while laws that specifically prohibit nudity and equate it with "indecent exposure" are rare, that shouldn't be taken as an invitation to get naked "anytime, anyplace." If you undress in the village square, you're likely to get arrested for something be it indecent exposure, disturbing the peace, or creating a public nuisance. Even if the law is on your side, public nudity is problematic in many jurisdictions. An arrest sometimes depends not on what the law says, but on what police or prosecutors think it says or want it to say. In some places, women are still harassed for breastfeeding in public, and parents are still prosecuted for taking innocent nude photos of their children.
Is naturism appropriate for families?
Absolutely! Naturism is about body acceptance and body awareness, which makes it appropriate for everyone. Therefore, families with children are welcome at naturist venues and events. Any venue or event that purports to be "naturist" but excludes children should be viewed with skepticism. Such exclusions are appropriate in some cases. A grueling nude hike or a late evening dance at a club or resort come to mind. But the exclusion of children is sometimes used as a signal that an event is sexual in nature. The Naturist Society has no interest in passing judgment on sexual activities among consenting adults; however, the ANF adamantly rejects the use of the term "naturism" as a cover for sexual activity. Naturists do not deny the sexual nature of human beings, but they reject the all too prevalent view in our society that nudity and sex are synonymous, and that children should be "protected" from nudity regardless of context. To repeat: nude is not lewd.
How do I become a naturist?
Only you know if naturism is right for you. Some people enjoy being nude in the privacy or their own home or apartment, but can't imagine being nude on a public beach or in a resort. That's all right. Naturism is not something that should be forced, either on yourself or others. Perhaps the best way to "become a naturist" is with the help of a friend or spouse who is a naturist. Of course, that isn't always possible. Another option is to contact a naturist organization near you. Most local and regional naturist groups welcome new members and do their best to ease them into the world of naturism. If all else fails, why not just check out your nearest nude beach or swimming hole? You don't have to take your clothes off right away; do it gradually if you prefer. Or, if it simply doesn't feel right, just leave. You can always come back and try again. But remember: if you go to a clothing-optional site and remain clothed for too long, people might start taking you for a gawker.
What if I'm ready but my spouse (partner, or friend) isn't?
This is common. Typically, women are more wary than men of clothing-optional venues. But everyone, male and female, has "body issues." For some, the idea of being seen nude and seeing others nude is filled with psychological tension. A spouse, friend or partner can help reduce the tension, but only if caution and sensitivity are exercised. Remember, every naturist had a "first time." Many who were most reluctant initially are now avid naturists. And remember, too, that there is a line between encouragement and coercion. Don't cross it if you want to introduce someone to naturism.