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The nudist and naturist argument for nudism

Last time in this column we looked at moral conservative arguments against nudism. Now we will look at nudist and naturist argument for nudism and examine some established philosophical concepts that support the position that laws based on the "offense principle" are unnecessarily burdensome and the antithesis of a free democratic society.

Nudist and naturists reject social norms that demonize open nudity.
Hans von Marées [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike moral conservatives, naturists and nudists regard nudity as both natural and normal. They reject the notion that it is inherently sexual, sinful or morally corrupting. Consequently the members of the culture of nudism do not subscribe to the idea that social norms that prohibit public and social nudity are necessary, useful or even defensible and so they disregard the norms in circumstances where being nude is considered practical and appropriate.

The utopian ideal for some naturists and nudists is that they should be at liberty to be nude whenever and wherever they please since they consider nudity to be a natural, wholesome and a morally neutral state. But the majority of naturists and nudists do not hold or advocate that position even though they understand and may in principle agree with the argument.

[MORE from Dallas Nudist Culture Examiner: Understanding moral conservative arguments against nudism]

Those that have visited a clothing optional beach understand all too well that such settings predictably draws exhibitionists, voyeurs and in some instances sexual predators. It is then reasonable to assume that allowing people to go nude in any and every public place without restriction would produce similar undesirable results. It isn't because simple nudity isn't natural and wholesome, it's because unfortunately there are those in our society who would use universal nudity to indulge in unwholesome acts which would make the situation something ugly rather than beautiful
In the current cultural and social environment, no regulation of public nudity would likely result in widespread acts of public lewdness and perhaps even serious sexual offenses. Just like clothing optional beaches, it wouldn't be those who adhere to naturist and nudist philosophy that would be the source of inappropriate behavior but those outside the community with paraphilias and others emboldened to satisfy deviant sexual appetites.

Members of clothed society are largely ignorant of the fact that the repressive modesty and decency standards of western culture bear the brunt of the blame for why there are so many paraphiliacs as well as those with other abnormal sexual impulses. As an example, while it still isn't precisely known what causes a paraphilia, psychoanalysts generally believe disordered psychosexual development results from conditioning during childhood that prevents normal psychosexual development. That results in a repetitive pattern of sexual behavior that is not mature in its application or expression. Instilling children with feelings of shame about nudity and sexuality is one example of such conditioning. The culture of shame in western society largely explains everything from exhibitionists and voyeurs to pedophiles and sex offenders.

There are many both inside and outside the community who criticize nudists and naturists on the basis that they embrace the naturalness of nudity but are too uptight about sex and sexuality. The examples given typically are expectations that men cover rather than flaunt erections, the bar against public sexual activity and the general disfavor towards the wearing of jewelry and other adornments designed to draw attention to the genitals. Those who make such criticisms reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of what nudism and naturism is actually about.

Nudists and naturists are typically far less repressed when it comes to sex and sexuality than those of society at large. Yet since nudism exists as a subculture within the broader cultures upon which it is dependent, naturists and nudists do not disregard all existing social norms but only those that restrict nudity when it is practical and appropriate.

Being naked in nature or socially is a temporary state which practitioners enter and exit at will while never entirely losing the perspective of the dominant culture from which they also belong. The universal prohibition against overt public sexual behavior in family-friendly nudist settings is evidence of that. Being nude is not a statement of sexual liberation and it cannot be since discrimination between the concepts of simple nudity and sex and sexuality is such a key part of the philosophy of nudism.

That is the chief difference between naturism and nudism and a lifestyle where nudity is only peripheral to engaging in sexual activity like the swinger lifestyle. That is why nudism and naturism is a wholesome, family-friendly way of life while swinging is decidedly neither. Swinging is a hedonistic lifestyle suitable only for consenting adults.

While the underlying philosophy of nudism and naturism is the primary argument in favor of the culture and lifestyle, there are other philosophical truths proposed by other unconnected with nudism which also lend support the nudism argument.

Consider this quotation from John Stuart Mill, a nineteenth century English philosopher and influential contributor to social theory;

"The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself. Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other people if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or disapprobation of his conduct. Secondly, that for such actions as are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable, and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishment, if society is of opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its protection."

Mills point was that society individually or collectively is only justified in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, whether by means of legal penalties or through the coercion of public opinion in the interest of self-protection. Rather than prescribing any particular standard of conduct (social norms), in a free society individuals should have the freedom to act for their own good in their own way so long as they are not depriving others of the right to do the same or causing harm to others.

Mill's philosophy fits very well the notion that nudists and naturists should be able to live their lifestyle without undue interference from the state or society at large. At private landed clubs and resorts and on an individual's private property where reasonable precautions are taken so that the general public is not exposed to nudity without their consent, the nudity practiced there is of no concern to outsiders. In fact, they have no rights whatsoever to complain about it, ridicule it or actively oppose it. Their rights to live as they choose are not impaired in any way and they suffer no harm from others going nude in those settings.

Similarly, in the case of properly signed, designated clothing optional areas on public lands set aside for that purpose, the general public has no grounds for complaint or interference with those who choose to go nude there. If a person voluntarily enters a designated clothing optional area they forfeit any such rights. Likewise visiting for example a beach where a portion is designated closing optional and then voluntarily choosing to gawk at naked people does not give rise to any right to claim offense or to agitate for such an area to be closed. All of those intolerant actions are attempts to deprive naturists and nudists of their rights and represent real harm to them.

Mill's theory flatly rules out the idea that anyone has the right to employ the "offense principle" by considering as an injury or harm to themselves any conduct simply because they have distaste for it or resent it as an outrage to their feelings.

Ronald Myles Dworkin, an American philosopher and scholar of constitutional law offers further philosophical support for the idea that naturists and nudists should have full opportunity to live their lifestyle without undue interference. People, Dworkin says;

“Have the right not to suffer disadvantage in the distribution of social goods and opportunities, including disadvantages in the liberties permitted to them by the criminal law, just on the ground that their officials or fellow-citizens think that their opinions about the right way for them to lead their own lives are ignoble or wrong.”

While speaking specifically about pornography, Dworkin says, "feelings of offence may provide some justification for preventing or restricting the public display of pornography so as to avoid its causing offense to non-consenting adults who might otherwise involuntarily or unwittingly be exposed to it." The statement does however have application to nudism. Here is justification for the familiar "nude when appropriate" principle.

Pragmatically there will always be some segment of general society that will take offense to nudity. It can't be rationally argued that non-consenting adults should be forced to involuntarily or unwittingly be exposed to nudity. That is principally why the idea that people should be free to be nude at any time and in any public place is not realistic. But the opposite is also true.

When nudists and naturists are careful to take reasonable precautions to avoid non-consenting adults who might be offended from being involuntarily or unwittingly exposed to nudity, then the right to be nude should not be unnecessarily restricted by the state or by force of social sanctions.

When it comes to individual rights and the authority of the state, restrictions placed on personal liberty should be justified by the harm principle alone, not enforced on the basis that something simply causes offense because unpleasant psychological states are not in and of themselves harms.

Like all people, nudists and naturists know their own minds and interests better than anyone else and should be allowed to follow their inclinations as long as others persons are not harmed. The social change that is needed will only come when naturists and nudists transition from defense to the offense. The community has attempted to win tolerance for nearly 85 years by trying to educate and explain the culture to society at large in hopes of dispelling the untruths and outright lies. This has not worked. At the very least is hasn't worked to the extent that nudism has made any lasting progress towards gaining mainstream acceptance.

A timid strategy to win hearts and minds through education by explaining again and again that nudity is not obscene and not about sex to those who cling tenaciously to the conviction it is both should be discarded in favor of a more dynamic strategy. Perhaps instead of attempting to change the minds of those who refuse to have them changed the community should instead embrace the goal of simply neutralizing the opposition. A strategy aimed at making the lifestyle unapologetically visible might force general society to start relating to nudists and naturists with rational thought rather than emotions.


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