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The clothing optional conundrum

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There are landed clubs and resorts that have clothing optional policies which mean you aren't required to be nude until you are comfortable with it.

Other clubs and resorts have nude policies meaning, conditions permitting, everyone is expected to be nude at all times.

All officially designated "nude" beaches in this country like Haulover Beach in Miami and Gunnison Beach in New Jersey are clothing optional so you are likely to see a good many clothed people there. Hippie Hollow Park in Austin, Texas is also designated as clothing optional.

Intuitively nudists can understand the concept behind clothing optional. It gives those who are interested in trying naturism or social nudity for the first time but who aren't quite at the point of baring it all, a little time after arriving at a nude location to get over the normal anxieties before taking their clothes off.

According to the Land O' Lakes Patch blog, "clothing optional" was the invention of the owners of some of the larger, more luxurious nudist resorts, including those built in Pasco County, Florida during the 1980s and 90s.

Those who built and owned the larger resorts realized that to successful, they had to attract more than just established nudists. They needed to attract business from those who may never have tried nude recreation before.

The clothing optional idea then was simply a marketing strategy to make the resorts more attractive to first timers and to allow them to feel more comfortable with the idea of visiting one. Resort owners assumed that the great majority of people would end up nude eventually once they started to enjoy the laid-back, comfortable atmosphere.

While the strategy worked as resort owners had envisioned as far as attracting more business than they might have with a nude only policy, more guests than expected never ended up nude since no rule existed that required it. When too many people remained clothed, it creates an atmosphere that can make nudists feel uncomfortable.

The problem is people too often interpret clothing optional to mean you aren't required to get nude at all instead of what it actually means - you don't have to get nude until you feel comfortable.

Resorts and clubs mitigate the negative effects of a clothing optional policy to some extent by having a nude only policy for pools, hot tubs and pool decks. But that is a simple fix for those facilities because all it takes is a rule. Clothing optional becomes far more problematic when it comes to clothing optional beaches and parks like Hippie Hollow.

Two things a person discovers when visiting a public clothing optional recreation area for the first time is that some people are there to enjoy being nude in the great outdoors and some people are there for far less altruistic reasons.

Besides nudists you find curiosity seekers, gawkers in nudist vernacular and creepers, those motivated by the desire to engage in exhibitionism, voyeurism and other unsavory lewd acts. The former are generally unaccompanied single males or groups of males who are easily identified by the fact they aren't nude.

Hippie Hollow, the clothing optional area I'm most familiar with has its share of gawkers and creepers. You find that the nudists you meet there are generally outgoing and friendly but that the creepers are sometimes super creepy.

In the old days, nudists would band together to persuade clothed people to either get nude and join the fun or to get lost. Unfortunately that tactic doesn't always work as well today.

In this day and age where everyone knows their "rights" the response that the old tactics may predictably get is, "it's a public place and I have as much right to be here as you do." Also people today generally aren't sensitive or reasonable enough to leave a place even when it is plainly communicated to them that they are unwelcome to stay. That exacerbates the problems with clothing optional even more.

The presence of voyeurs, often camera equipped, and creepers is a problem on several levels. People who want to relax and enjoy being nude are made uncomfortable by some lowlife starring at their naked bits while almost salivating or being forced to actually view the physical evidence of some miscreant's arousal or even having him pleasuring himself in their view.

The presence of these kinds of individuals dissuades a good many people who would truly like to use clothing optional areas for the purpose intended from visiting them. Besides having to endure the lewdness and the gawking, who wants her unauthorized naked photos showing up who knows where on the Internet?

Just from a very practical perspective, in areas where parking is scarce, the creepers and gawkers take up parking space that could be used by those visiting the site for the right reasons.

Clothing optional is a serious issue because as the late Lee Baxandall, founder of The Naturist Society and pioneer of the "free beach "movement" once remarked, "the greatest risk to the future of naturist beaches are those that show up and wear bathing suits. Naturists fight to get a section of beach, chase off the perverts, clean the place up and establish beach etiquette, and the "suits" show up to enjoy the work of others."

Some of the former clothing optional beaches where nudity is no longer permitted are evidence of what Lee Baxandall spoke of. As more suits showed up, tolerance of nudity declined, people started complaining about the nudists and before long nudists were excluded.

He also understood that those who never get nude at clothing optional beaches are mostly men and that as the number of clothed men grows, the number of women willing to visit a clothing optional beach diminishes until eventually women stop visiting the beach altogether. Soon all you have left is a beach with men, mostly clothed men.

There is no easy fix for the clothing optional conundrum. On public lands the easiest solution would to make areas designated for nude recreation nude only. That might be relatively easy to do as long as natural barriers like dunes or something existed that screened the nudist area from the clothed areas.

But one issue is that it might be difficult to convince a government agency with jurisdiction over an area to agree to a nude only policy. Most areas, like Hippie Hollow for example, charge an entry fee and like resort owners, the agencies would be reluctant to part with the revenue lost by excluding clothed people. In addition, nude only policies could keep some from trying nude recreation for the first time.

Whether as effective as it once was or not, the best alternative under the circumstances still seems to be the way it has been done in the past. Allow people some transition time but when someone has been hanging around for awhile and still hasn't got nude, it wouldn't hurt for nudists to give them a few words of encouragement to get nude and to join in the fun.

No lewd behavior can ever be tolerated at clothing optional sites since if it goes unchecked and left completely up to the agency in charge, there is a real chance that all nudity may end up excluded. Lewd behavior is usually always the first justification authorities cite when eliminating clothing optional access.

Those who visit and use clothing optional areas for nude recreation have the responsibility to speak up when witnessing lewd acts or to at least report it to the authorities if confronting an offender doesn't seem practical. Otherwise if a clothing optional policy is rescinded at a particular location, naturists and nudists won't be able to avoid accepting part of the blame.

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