167-179. Historical origins of the repression of nudity.
167. Repressive morality was developed by the state and the Church as a tool to maintain control over
otherwise free individuals.256
Paul Ableman writes: "A complex civilization has an enormous investment in differentiated apparel. It is
no accident that one of the first matters that a revolutionary regime turns its attention to is clothing. The French
Revolution decreed classical grace and simplicity. The Chinese homogenized clothing. The Ayatollah Khomeini in
Iran returned women to the black chador and so on. . . . Sexual energy is needed by the authorities of the world to
maintain order. . . . It immediately becomes obvious why the true obscenity of killing and violence has always been
of less concern to those in power than the pseudo-obscenity of erotic acts. Death provides no scope for a network of
regulations by which society can be manipulated. . . . But sex is a permanent fountain of dynamic energy, which can
be tapped for social purposes by regulations concerning marriage, divorce, adultery, fornication, incest,
homosexuality, bestiality, chastity, promiscuity, decency and so on. All those who wield power intuitively perceive
that in the last resort their authority derives from the repression, and regulation, of sexuality, and that free-flowing
sexuality is the biological equivalent of anarchy. All transferrals of power, all revolutions, are invariably
accompanied by transformations of the regulations governing sexuality." 257 Seymour Fisher writes: "The
implications of nudity as a way of declaring one's complete freedom have often elicited strong countermeasures
from those in authority. Nudity is punishable by death in some cultures. The Roman Catholic church has taught in
convent schools that it is sinful to expose your body even to your own eyes. The wearing of clothes represents a
form of submission to prevailing mores. It is like putting on a 'citizen's uniform' and agreeing to play the game." 258
168. Repressive morality has often sought to control not only nudity, but sexuality in general.
Margaret Miles observes that "the regulation of sexuality was a major power issue in the fourth-century
Christian churches. Regulation of sexual practices was a way to inject the authority of church laws and leaders into
the intimate and daily relationships of Christians. Analyzing the canons of the Council of Gangra in AD 309,
[Samuel] Laeuchli found that 46 percent of the eighty-one canons were concerned with sexual relationships and
practices." 259 Philip Yancey notes that "between the third and tenth centuries, church authorities issued edicts
forbidding sex on Saturdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and also during the 40-day fast periods before Easter,
Christmas, and Whitsuntide--all for religious reasons. They kept adding feast days and days of the apostles to the
proscription, as well as the days of female impurity, until it reached the point that, as Yale historian John Boswell
has estimated, only 44 days a year remained available for marital sex. Human nature being what it is, the church's
proscriptions were enthusiastically ignored." 260 Don Mackenzie notes that Christ and the very earliest church, in
contrast, emphasized a message of freedom--"from demonic powers, from tyrannical governments, from fate. . . .
[and] a prevailing commitment to the separation of secular and ecclesiastical power. . . . [The Church] adopted
asceticism, not in obedience to its founder's teachings but as a bid for support in the face of competition, offering
spiritual solace to people whose material world (the Roman Empire) was collapsing. Once the Church was officially
recognized, it promptly discarded Christ's dedication to poverty, but it clung tightly to sexual asceticism as a
disciplinary tool in a disintegrating society." 261
169. Repression of nudity is still used today as a means to further a repressive political agenda.
Regarding nude beaches, Patrick Buchanan, on PBS's "McLaughlin Report," said, "I think we ought to let
the liberals do it, if they want to do it. Then take photographs and use them in attack ads." 262 The right-wing
Christian Coalition uses blanket attacks on mere nudity and other matters of "morality" to rally support for their
cause. Their method, as described by ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser, is "to prey upon the fears of millions of
people who are all too willing to believe that sacrificing personal liberty will help solve our nation's problems." 263
A Missouri legislator, in 1993, introduced a bill that would have made virtually all public nudity--and even some
nudity in the home--a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison! This bill was fortunately defeated, though by a
narrow margin. Similar bills have been proposed all over the country in recent years.264
170. Much of the origin of repressive attitudes toward nudity may be traced to the political setting of the
early church and church-state, though not the teachings of Christ Himself.
The earliest writings of the Christian church show no evidence of the negative attitude toward sexuality and
nudity which so characterize later years. This negative attitude grew slowly among some segments of the faith, but
was by no means universal. For some, asceticism represented a means of remaining pure for the impending return of
Christ. For others, it was a reaction against the hedonism and homosexuality common in Greek culture, or against
the sexual excesses of the dying Roman Empire.265 For some, it grew out of a mixture of Christianity with the
legalism of traditional Judaism; and for many, it grew out of preexisting personal and cultural prejudices. Clement of
Alexandria, in the late 2nd century, and Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, in the mid 3rd century, both condemned the
nudity common in Roman public baths primarily because it offended their personal ideas of female modesty. (In the
same era, Tertullian was condemning women as the "gateway of the Devil.") Jerome, in the late 4th and early 5th
centuries, also condemned nude bathing, especially for women. He considered pregnant women revolting, and felt
that virgins should blush at the very idea of seeing themselves naked. On the other hand, in the same period,
Jovinianus, a Christian monk, campaigned actively in favor of the public baths. In the end, the decisive actor in the
controversy was Augustine. He was a firm believer in the doctrine, introduced long after Christ, that the body and
sexuality are inherently sinful. (He applied this doctrine to women's bodies and sexuality especially aggressively.)
Augustine was a shrewd politician. By aligning himself closely with the imperial court at the beginning of the 5th
century, he effectively ensured that his version of Christianity became the dominant one. By the Dark Ages, with the
collapse of the Roman Empire, the Church became the last remnant of Western civilization, with a monopoly on
education, and tremendous control over ideas. Thus Augustine's heritage of anti-sexuality became the predominant
force in Christianity, even though such ideas are impossible to find in the teachings of Christ Himself.266
171. The aversion of early Christian church leaders to casual nudity was due in part to an association of
nudity with paganism and homosexuality in the surrounding cultures.
In many pre-Christian pagan religions, such as those practiced in western Europe and Great Britain, nudity-
-especially female nudity--was a powerful force, and played an important role in pagan worship and rituals.267
172. The Church's aversion to nudity derived, in part, from its roots in the cultures of the ancient Near East,
where nakedness had signified poverty, shame, slavery, humiliation, and defeat. Naked, bound prisoners were
paraded in the king's victory celebration, and slain enemies were stripped of clothing and armor.268
173. Before Western civilization, nakedness was a normal element of life and considered acceptable in
many circumstances. However, as Freud describes in Civilization and Its Discontents, psychological repression of
the awareness of our natural being was a necessary step in building civilization, by disciplining the masses into
taking part in vast and self-abdicating social projects.269
Lee Baxandall notes that, by contrast, "the post-industrial, newly greening era offers fresh options, a chance
to integrate the natural human being with post-industrial values, technology, and knowledge." 270
174. Nudity has often been censored primarily to avoid the more difficult task of managing it.271
175. Recreation managers often "permit" nudity on remote beaches without facilities or lifeguards, then use
nudity as a scapegoat for problems including litter and drug use that inevitably appear in high-use recreation areas
without active management.
176. One of the greatest challenges faced by clothing-optional beaches is that their popularity, combined
with their scarcity, leads to intensive use, which in turn conflicts with environmental and management concerns.
This has been a source of problems at several beaches across the country, including Sandy Hook in New
Jersey, and Cape Cod National Seashore, which closed its traditionally nude beach ostensibly for environmental
reasons in the mid 1970s.272
177. The "secondary effects" of an actively managed nude beach have in actual experience proven to be
less crime, less inappropriate behavior, no drug dealers, an increase in parking revenues, and an increase in business
in the adjoining commercial area.273
178. Nudity has often been repressed for economic reasons, not because it was considered immoral.
Bernard Rudofsky writes: "In the 1920s, in some parts of Europe people used to bathe in public without
feeling the need for a special dress. At the height of summer the beaches on the Black Sea swarmed with bathers
who had never seen a bathing suit except in newspapers and picture magazines; their holiday was one of untroubled
simplicity. . . . The idyll came to an end a few years later when tourism reared its ugly head, and the protests of
foreign visitors led to making bathing suits compulsory." 274 The same thing has recently happened in the former
East Germany, where traditionally nude beaches are now being restricted to appease more conservative European
179. We must never forget that for any freedom that is lost, we bear partial responsibility for letting it be
In the words of Frederick Douglass: "Find out just what people will submit to and you have found out the
exact amount of justice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. . . . The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the
endurance of those who they oppress." 276
256. Moral codes regarding dress and fashion have historically been used as a means of political control, especially
by the Church. Dress codes have been especially instrumental in the repression of women. For a thorough history,
257. Ableman 33, 105. See also Robinson, Body Packaging 146.
258. Fisher 139.
259. Miles 29.
260. Yancey 48.
261. Mackenzie 21, 24.
262. "Mainstreaming Nudity" 31.
263. O'Brien, "Naturist Interests" 36. For an in-depth analysis of the Radical Right political movement, its tactics,
and its goals, see Triggs.
264. O'Brien, "The Naked Truth" 47; et al.
265. See R. Martin 39; Westheimer and Lieberman 62-63.
266. See Ward, "Women in Roman Baths" 142-47; Mackenzie 21, 24; Renbourn 483-84; and Johnson.
267. See Walker.
268. Bonfante, "Nudity as a Costume" 546, 548.
269. Ableman 33-34, 37; Hall 4.
270. Baxandall, World Guide to Nude Beaches and Resorts 13.
271. The Naturist Society closely monitors issues related to the management of nude beaches and recreation areas.
An ongoing account of the successes and failures of clothing-optional recreation areas may be found in its magazine,
Nude & Natural.
272. For a detailed account of the Cape Cod beach closing, and the unsuccessful legal challenges which followed,
273. R. Mason 19.
274. Rudofsky, Unfashionable Human Body 70. See also Rudofsky, Are Clothes Modern? 196.
275. "Losses on Germany's Nude Coast" 33-35.
276. Craft 60.