When was the last time you were naked for any length of time? I don’t mean for sex or washing, but simply the absence of clothes? It’s probably not very often, and probably even less if you share your home with others.
What about being naked outside. Not for drunken streaks but popping to the corner shop or commuting to work? Now we’re entering the stuff of nightmares, for some people literally and figuratively. But why is this? Why is the idea our default setting, naked, loaded with such aversion?
It’s harmful to children
It will encourage rape and sexual assault
I shouldn’t have to see it
It’s just wrong
Think of the children!
Arguably the most obvious and understandable resistance to public nudity is the effect it would have on children. The idea being that children being exposed to naked bodies would somehow become distress or damaged. On face value, this makes sense. However there is zero empirical evidence for this assertion. In a 1995 review of the literature, Dr Paul Okami concluded that there was no reliable evidence linking exposure to parental nudity to any negative effect. Three years later, his team finished an 18-year longitudinal study that showed that, if anything, such exposure was associated with slight beneficial effects, particularly for boys.
“Boys exposed to parental nudity were less likely to have engaged in theft in adolescence or to have used various psychedelic drugs and marijuana.”
The report goes on to state that “Girls were also less likely to have used drugs such as PCP, inhalants, or various psychedelics in adolescence.”
Public attitudes to sex and nudity are far more relaxed in Europe, and with access to the internet, there’s nothing British children are watching that French or Dutch teens can’t. Much like alcohol, the difference is cultural. Indeed, it’s rather telling that British and American attitudes to nudity are fairly similar, and both the US and UK have a teen birth rate far in excess of their European counterparts.
Nudity is icky and unhygienic
The most unhygienic parts of our bodies are probably our hands and mouths. Germs are most commonly spread by our hands and by sneezing or coughing, yet no one is calling for gloves or face-masks. Nudists recognise that surfaces can by unhygienic and so usually carry their own towel to sit on. Food handling and preparation legislation would still apply, so there would be no danger of a waiter/waitresses unmentionables brushing against your meal (unless you had complained and sent it back to the kitchen, in which case, even now, all bets are off!)
Public nudity will make us all sex fiends!
This stems from the idea that because one is only nude for sex, the sight of naked people will somehow spawn a wave of sexual assaults. Yet if this were the case, wouldn’t nudist colonies or beaches be scenes of mass rape? If people were simply unable to control themselves at the sight of skin, shouldn’t we be frantically insisting on 19th century bathing suits at the local swimming pool? Of course not. If you’re wicked or disturbed enough to engage in sexual harassment or assault, a few millimetres of fabric aren’t going to stop you. It stems from the same mind sets which states that women in revealing clothing are “asking for it”.
And it seems odd that the same people that say that the sight of the body is off putting and offensive could also say that nudity will cause an epidemic of sexual stimulation. It would be wrong to suggest that nobody would get off on public nudity. We call these people voyeurs. But much of the voyeur behaviour arises (no pun intended) because of the body is hidden and associated purely with sex. Anything that is forbidden immediately becomes more desirable. It is not unreasonable to assume that a legalisation of public nudity would see a decrease in voyeurism, because it would stop being exciting. Indeed, in naturist settings and events there is a remarkable lack of sexual stimulation because of the acceptance of social nudity.
I don’t want to see all that
Another seemingly valid argument against nudity is that people should be forced to see things we don’t want to. After all, isn’t it a right of ours not to have somebody’s unclothed form imposed on our delicate retinas? But nudism is not for the benefit of the onlooker, but for the person engaged in that lifestyle choice. And who does it really harm? Seeing a naked body, even a really ugly one, does no damage. Topless women at beaches, exposed midriffs during summer, and mothers breast feeding are no cause for alarm. It is not the responsibility of the state to make sure people are safe from the sight of flesh. There are a lot more uncomfortable things people put up with every day, such as button down collars or Brits using the word tuxedo to describe a dinner jacket…
It’s just wrong. It just *is*
Easily the vaguest, but perhaps the most deeply felt resistance to public nudity is this. There is a lingering, unquantifiable something that makes us uncomfortable with nudity. And like many of our national habits and quirks, it stems from the Victorians.
Regency Britain was a raucous place of hedonism and vice. It was Freshers Week, every week! But the pious and virtuous Victorians soon nipped that in the bud. Sobriety, temperance, modesty and faith were the orders of the day. If it was good enough to be rammed down the throats of the colonies, then by golly we should lead by example. Of course, these were the same Victorians who were cool with child labour and didn’t think rape within marriage was even a thing, but hey, details.
We finally got round to decriminalising homosexuality and the other socially conservative nonsense of that era, but many attitudes to sex and nudity remain. Sex is still naughty. The body is still shameful. Touching yourself is still dirty. These attitudes are changing, but painfully slowly.
The case for normalising nudity isn’t just philosophical, for our current attitudes are having very real impacts.
Unless you’re in an especially open household, the only naked body a young person will see is a) themselves and b) celebrities or porn stars. When the only bodies you’re seeing are ridiculously unobtainable and often air brushed specimens of somebody else’s idea of perfection it’s little wonder so many people are growing up with body issues.
And it’s not just the bodies of their own sex they’ll have warped views of – there’s an entire generation of boys growing up who genuinely don’t think women have body hair. Young girls who only see naked men in porn will be forgiven for thinking that the average penis size is at least 8 inches long and may have have never seen a foreskin. This stretches long into adulthood. Even when you know the reality because you still see very few people naked you’re still always going to be comparing yourself to one very specific body type that just isn’t close to be representative. Nobody is benefiting from this state of affairs.
Now imagine if we lived with a culture more akin to somewhere like Finland, where saunas and spars are commonly used. On a weekly basis you see pot-bellies on stumpy legs. You see stretch marks and asymmetrical breasts. You see small penisis and women with leg hair. And nobody cares. Think what a difference that would make not only you people in their formative years but adults too.
I’m not saying we ban clothes or have compulsory make Thursdays. But if you are genuinely troubled by the site of human form, it’s probably worth asking yourself why, rather than insisting others cover up.