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Changing perceptions

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. – Albert Einstein

Perception is reality.
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Perceptions of naked human bodies are quite literally capable of provoking some of the most powerful and disturbing emotions people are capable of feeling. That explains why many in society are offended by nudity. Their perception of nudity is that except in the specific, limited settings defined as appropriate by society and culture, nudity is obscene and repulsive.

Albert Einstein might have agreed that if we substituted the term perception for illusion in his familiar observation quoted above, we would still be saying if not the same thing, at least something equally true. Reality is merely a perception, albeit a very persistent one. In other words our perceptions are our reality.

Douglas Adams, an English writer, humorist and dramatist perhaps best known as the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, made another insightful observation that bears on the discussion today;

“Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.”

If your perception is that open nudity is inherently sexual and is always wrong, immoral and deviant, that is reality. If it is reality then of course it is objectionable and offensive and everyone must agree with you. Those who don't are deviants, perverts eccentric or otherwise not fully in possession of their faculties. That is why people with those perceptions will band together in opposition to clothing optional beaches and demand that they be shut down and why in years past similarly minded people tried to shut down nudist landed clubs, and even today sometimes still do. This view of course fails to take into consideration that your perceptions are unique to you and are your reality, not the perceptions or realities of every other person.

The interesting thing about perceptions, while personalized to the individual they are quite often not the creation of the person holding them. Think about your perceptions. Where did they come from? Did you consciously decide to create the reality you’re living now, or was it mainly shaped by others - your parents, friends, spouse, teachers or the media? No one who finds nudity offensive or shameful or always about sex was born with those perceptions. In lots of cases they didn't even formulate them on their own. They were imprinted by others on them during their formative years as a child while they didn't yet have sufficient agency to make their own decisions about things like values and beliefs.

The reality is nudity is natural. The mere fact that each of us is born naked is ample evidence of that indisputable fact. No amount of clothing or existence of social norms can change that. The only thing that can be disputed is whether it is natural and normal for people to go nude outside an environment of complete privacy where they may be seen by others. Is it really nudists and naturists who are perverted by believing it is perfectly appropriate to be nude in nature and in the company of other like-minded people, or is it those whose warped perceptions make them incapable of grasping the simple distinction between nakedness and sexuality?

Nudists and naturists for many years have tried, albeit without much success to change not reality but the distorted perception that nudity is always sexual. Do nudists and naturists have sex? Yes, of course they do just like most human beings. They just don't have or condone sex as part of their nudist/naturist activities. Nudity is a social taboo and primarily that is because so many in wider society insist on the linkage between nudity and sex. Since the beginning of contemporary nudism in German culture in the early years of the 1900s, nudists and naturist groups have gone out of their way to discourage open sexual activity in public in order to combat the perception that nudity equals sex.

The truth is our broader society and culture has never, despite their best efforts been completely successful in making the case that simple nudity, as practiced by nudists and naturists, is sexually motivated debauchery. They have had to primarily be content with innuendo and spreading slanderous suppositions. That is a testament to how effective nudist and naturist groups have been at least in refuting the myth that nudist settings are hotbeds of sexual activity. But the community must never forget winning a war is more than winning a series of battles. Nudists and naturists must be continually vigilant in refuting any linkage between sexual activity and the practice of nudism or else the closure of clothing optional beaches will become the least of our concerns.

What sparked this discussion was a discovery I made recently while perusing a website advertised to be a naturism site with naturist curators. I found something disturbing, a section of the site devoted to sex-positive advocacy. Sex-positive is a term that is becoming increasingly prominent in cultural discussions today. I think it is fair to say it has actually taken on the proportions of a movement.

Primarily sex-positive is an affirmation that everyone is different and sexual orientation shouldn't be limited by society on just the basis of a person's genitalia but should be viewed from the standpoint of an individual's right to choose what is best for him or herself. It’s a philosophy that recognizes sexuality as a potentially positive force in a person's life, as contrasted with sex-negativity, the view that sex is problematic, disordered and perilous. Sex-positivity advocates that sex and sexuality are integral parts of being human and relating with others. A healthy, shame-free sex life is a basic right that should be enjoyed by all regardless of age, gender or orientation. Sex-positive advocates call for an end to anti-sex propaganda, phobias and half-truths in favor of facts and reasoned thought. It emphasizes personal choice with regards to consensual sex without a person having to fear being labeled a pervert or deviant based on his or her sexual orientation, sexual appetites and relational preferences.

First, let me be clear that there are a number of good things in the sex-positive cultural philosophy. The fact is the ambivalence about sex and sexuality in western culture and society is one of the biggest reasons so many have such prudish attitudes toward nudity. But sex-positive advocacy has no place on a website that is held out to be a naturist site. It shouldn't be necessary to point out to a naturist or nudist that nudism is not about sex. Discussing and advocating for a sex-positive culture on a "naturist" website only helps to forge the very link that nudists and naturists have been refuting since the beginning. If you want to be an activist for the sex-positive movement then kindly have the intellectual honesty and the courtesy to create a sex-positive website instead of waving the naturist flag while you advocate sexuality issues.

When in a naturist or nudist setting, it doesn't matter what your sexual orientation, sexual appetites, sexual desires or what turns you on sexually because nudism is just not about sex. That's just the bottom line. Prominently featuring discussions of sexuality on a naturist site is not helpful or insightful and doesn't show what an enlightened person you are. It is damaging to the cause of earning greater tolerance of naturism. You simply display an utter lack of understanding of the most basic principle of nudist philosophy.

The take way is simply this. Be aware of what you encounter on the wonderful information highway because not all information is trustworthy. If you are looking for naturist information, don't waste your time on a site simply because it claims to be naturist oriented when a good portion of the content you find there is in complete conflict with what naturism is about.

There has been some discussion in naturist circles recently about persons being unfairly discriminated against because of sexual orientation and that is valid topic worthy of discussion because such discrimination is completely opposite of another important naturism/nudism principle, acceptance. I applaud naturist writers who have tackled that issue. But no credible naturist site is going to feature discussions on alternative sexual lifestyle practices or insinuate the nudists are prudes because accepted etiquette doesn't condone men sporting erections. Yes, erections are definitely natural but the fact is no one wants to look at yours at a family-friendly nudist venue or on a naturist beach.

By design, naturism separates nudity from sexuality, beyond simply stating that naturism is not about sex and why. Don't take my word for it. Check out The Naturist Society site, the American Association of Nude Recreation site, the Federation of Canadian Naturists or British Naturism. You won't find any discussion of the sex-positive cultural movement there because it isn't relevant. Mixing sex with naturism is a bad idea. It reinforces the very misguided perceptions of the lifestyle that the culture has tried to change from the very beginning.


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There is still time to add your signature to the petition that seeks more designated clothing optional recreation spaces. Understand the argument by visiting the Clothing Optional Access website.

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