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Nudity and sex ─ telling the truth and nothing but

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Humans are sexual beings and it cannot be disputed that our sexuality plays a major role in our lives. Sexuality is an integral part of our personalities whether we are aware of it or not and the sex drive is one of the most powerful drives we have to deal with. Unlike lower animals, our desire for sexual activity is more complex than just an internal prime directive to reproduce and propagate the species. Rather, there are a variety of factors that cause people to want to have sex.

While no two people are exactly the same where it comes to what turns them on sexually, researchers say that sexual arousal begins for both men and women in the brain. That is the brain responds to a stimulus, either thoughts or visual images and the arousal cycle begins. Physical attraction, the desire to look and touch because what you see is pleasant or arousing on a biological level can trigger sexual desire.

[More about Dallas nudist culture: Nudism and sex: an ongoing debate]

Why discuss human sexuality in an article about nudism? After all, don't we all know that nudity within the context of nudist culture in not sexual? Almost immediately after getting involved in the lifestyle, we are exposed to the near continuous drumbeat, 'nudity is not sexual' and we dutifully recite it like a mantra. It seems rather odd that after eighty some odd years since nudism took root in our culture, we have yet to convince society at large that nude is not lewd. I've lost count of the number of nudist sites I have visited where I've found the common obligatory blurb, "That nudity implies sexuality is the biggest misconception that naturists have to fight" or something quite similar. What is the matter with society? Why aren't people listening? Haven't we told them millions, perhaps billions of time that nudity is not sexual? Perhaps the reason the message has been so ineffective is because society simply doesn't believe us.

Joel Feinberg, the late political and social philosopher once wrote, "The unresolved conflict between instinctual desires and cultural taboos leaves many people in a state of unstable equilibrium and a readiness to be wholly fascinated, in an ambivalent sort of way, by any suggestion of sexuality in their perceptual fields. We are drawn ineluctably toward the sexual suggestiveness of the naked body, then ashamed of our own reaction." Since most can identify with Feinberg's observation, society just doesn't buy it when nudists say nudity isn't sexual, knowing from personal experience that 'Joe it just ain't so.' In addition those in the broader culture also know by experience that there are some very clear connections between nudity and sex. For one thing getting naked is the prelude to sex for most people and the exposure of genitals is by implication sexual because that is the context in which they are most often used. The more we repeat something that many outside our lifestyle regard as an outright lie, the less credibility we have as a subculture and the more suspicious society becomes as to why we are being deceptive.

[Participate in the new survey: More Access to Public Lands for Nude Recreation]

When it comes to nudity and sex, I think many nudists have misunderstood the message and when they tell others that nudity is not sexual, believing they are espousing the party line, they are actually getting it wrong. A review of the websites of three respected nudist/naturist organizations didn't turn up a single blanket disavowal of any connect between nudity and sex.

"TNS 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."

- The Naturist Society

"Do men get visibly excited? Not often. Nudist clubs are far less sexually charged than places where bikinis, thongs, or other provocative clothing, are worn. On the rare occasion where this occurs, simply don a towel, turn over, or take a quick dip in the pool."

- American Association for Nude Recreation

"Isn't nudity sexual?

Most of the people who visit a naturist club/beach for the first time are surprised by the lack of sexuality. Some expect a sexually charged atmosphere, since in North America we see others nude in sexual situations such as love scenes in movies, in magazines and in videos.

However, the link between nudity and sexuality is arbitrary. In Victorian times, to see a woman's knees was very sexual because they were supposed to be hidden all the time. We expose some parts of our bodies which are as sexual as those which we hide. Our lips, for example, are probably as involved in sexuality as our genital areas. Yet people walk around exposing their lips without causing mass arousal.

You will probably find that suggestively clothed people are more arousing than completely nude people. It can be more sexual to wear a bathing suit which subtly hides and emphasizes certain parts of the body.

That nudity implies sexuality is the biggest misconception that naturists have to fight. As a result, you may find them to be over-sensitive to it. This is not to say that naturists are against sexuality. They just believe, like most of society, that there is an appropriate time and place for it. It also means that there is nothing wrong with finding a person attractive, whether he or she is nude or not."

- Federation of Canadian Naturists

The Naturist Society speaks of context, the American Association for Nude Recreation admits that some men may become visibly excited in a social nudity setting by recommending steps men can take if it occurs and the Federation of Canadian Naturists offers the opinion that there is nothing wrong with finding a nude person attractive.

Nudists who categorically deny that there isn't anything sexual about nudity are being dishonest when trying to explain the lifestyle to someone and more importantly being dishonest with themselves. Of course many who do it have good intentions. What they are really trying to do is dispel the misconceptions that social nudity gatherings are sexually-charged atmospheres, that nudists engage in social nudity because they want to look at and lust for other naked people, or that nudist clubs and resorts are a cover for non-stop, hedonist orgies or swinger parties.

When explaining nudism, stick to the facts and don't use a blanket denial that there isn't any relationship between nudity and sex in nudist culture. That hurts nudist credibility and is really a disservice to the nudist community as a whole. Nine times out of 10 haters are not convincible anyway. In my experience people who believe all the negative things about nudists want to believe them and people with an open mind will believe the truth despite all the negative things that are said or written about nudism.

Nudists aren't asexual or immune from sometimes experiencing arousal when seeing another naked person they find attractive. To be fair, when that occurs they would just as likely find the person attractive even if they were clothed so nudity isn't usually the issue. The real truth isn't that nudists are never aroused by nudity but that nudists make a distinction between sexual nudity and non-sexual social nudity. It isn't about a biological drive that a person really has no control over but how a person chooses to behave in a particular context while nude which everyone does have the ability to control. It is really as simple as that.

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