Family Skinnydippers

Is Nudity Inherently Immoral?

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Where does the objection to nudity come from?

Ultimately, it comes from the notion that nudity is immoral. To be nude, except in rare and controlled circumstances, is an act of immorality.

But what's immoral about it? It's just our bodies. How can our bodies that we are born with, that we are forced to carry around with us throughout our lives, be immoral?

It's because, so goes the logic, nudity is sexual. The sight of a nude body is sexually stimulating. And we shouldn't be sexually stimulated except by certain people under certain circumstances. This is the basis of the belief that nudity is immoral and therefore should not be seen.

So does that belief stand up to scrutiny?

Understand, if it does not stand up to scrutiny, then the whole argument that nudity should be forbidden crumbles to dust.

A few generations ago, women were obliged to cover their legs down to and including their ankles. The reason? If men caught a glimpse of an exposed female leg, they would not be able to control their lust. This belief became so prevalent that the legs of pianos and other furniture had be covered with aprons, because they could remind a man of a female leg.

Only a century ago bathing suits did not look like they look today. In fact, if you tried to wear a modern conservative bathing suit to a beach a hundred years ago, you could very well have been arrested. Men were expected to be covered from neck to knee, and women wore out-and-out dresses into the water. They were cumbersome, uncomfortable, and possibly dangerous if a woman tried to actually swim in such water-soaked garb--but they were modest.

Today we marvel at such silly prudishness. Men see female ankles and legs all the time without feeling lust. If anyone showed up at the beach in a bathing suit from 1900, he or she would be laughed to scorn.

So what happened? How did female legs (not to mention piano legs) lose their lustful impact? Why are sex orgies not running rampant on our beaches, considering the revealing swimwear of today?

The only thing that happened was, female legs became a commonplace sight. Extensive amounts of skin are routinely exposed on our beaches and in our pools. That which is seen stops being mysterious and enticing. That which is seen often, becomes absolutely commonplace and evokes little or no reaction at all.

It worked with ankles and legs. It worked with swimwear. Why wouldn't it work with any part of the body?

We perceive that sexual deviancy is on the rise. Rapists, child molesters, and sexual predators of all kinds seem to be coming out of the woodwork. The world appears to be polarizing into two camps: those that want complete licentiousness over sex to be the norm, and those who are clinging desperately to a moral code that preserves the sanctity of sexual relations.

Into this mix drops the issue of nudity. People want to do something about the perceived problems, but being human, they look for the quick, easy solution.

Their solution? Make everybody stay dressed. If we never see nudity anywhere, then no problems can occur, right? Or, at the very least, we can better contain the flood.

Norman Rockwell, the quintessentially wholesome painter, painted scenes of skinnydipping with complete innocence. The Disney movie Pollyanna opens with the nude buttocks of a skinnydipping boy. A half century ago, the YMCA required skinnydipping in their pools, and their locker rooms and showers were shared by both sexes up to a certain age. Many school facilities had the same policy of nude swimming. As recently as a decade or two ago, skinnydipping was a regular tradition among Boy Scouts. A generation ago, gang showers in schools and locker rooms across the country was universal. Not too many years ago, nudity was expected in the doctor's office at some point in an examination.

All of this has been abolished in the name of morality.

No skinnydipping occurs in YMCA pools. Nudity in locker rooms is a rarity--virtually nonexistent among the younger generation. Gang showers have become extinct--students now wander the halls smelling of sweat after gym class. The Boy Scouts of America has officially banned skinnydipping. The television show America's Funniest Home Videos will pixelate the nude bottom of even toddlers. Wal-mart stores have harmed families by calling the police on decent parents who dare take a picture of their two-year-old in the bathtub and have it developed there. Doctors are hesitant to ask for nudity in their examinations--and it's their job to examine human bodies. Medical personnel these days have been known to be as disturbed by nudity, even in medical situations, as regular people.

Why has such a drastic change occurred? Because if no one is ever naked with each other, then sexual predators won't molest our children. Teenagers won't have sex together. Kids won't make fun of other kids' bodies. We will all treat each other with the respect we deserve. Right?

On Mars, maybe.

Sexual predators continue to prey. Teenagers continue to have sex with each other. Pornography is becoming a bigger and bigger industry. Marital relations are becoming more and more fragile. Kids are as cruel with each other as ever.

There was a time when family members would see each other nude out of necessity--both male and female. Families on the frontier with a one room home and a tub with water heated on the stove for a bath certainly didn't have the luxury of bathing out of sight of one another. Countless stories exist in American history of skinnydipping happening in a river, a lake, or the local swimming hole, from young boys to presidents of the United States. Often these would be same-sex experiences, but mixed sex skinnydipping happened as well. None of these people skinnydipped for sexual reasons. They just wanted to swim, and nude was the most practical way to do it.

These things no longer happen today. So are teenaged boys no longer aroused by the sight of teenaged girls because they never see them naked? Are sexual predators freed from their lust because they no longer get a chance to see their victims nude, now that school showers, the YMCA, and the Boy Scouts have gotten rid of traditional nude experiences? Is the craving for pornography lessening, now that we've banned normal opportunities to see nudity?

People used to be able to learn that nudity didn't automatically cause lust. Because they experienced nonsexual nudity, they knew it was possible. Today, virtually nobody gets that opportunity. Today we train ourselves to equate nudity with lust, just like Pavlov's dogs salivated at the sound of a bell. So, not surprisingly, everyone today thinks nudity equals sex.

When are the only times most people get to see nudity? In movies during a sex scene or a suggestive lathering up in the shower. Playing doctor with the neighborhood kids under a pall of mystery and sexual tension and guilt. Seducing one another to have sex. Playboy, Hustler, and other titillating magazines. Even in marital relations, nudity is often so rare outside of sex that the sexual connotation remains.

This is an artificial state for humans to be in. Children are not born equating nudity with anything, except perhaps comfort. They never would learn to equate nudity with sex--or shame, or lust, or disgust--if they weren't, from birth, emotionally conditioned to react that way. It's a steady, constant, relentless conditioning that works on us emotionally every minute of every day and night.

Ring the bell--salivate. See nudity--lust.

We hide our bodies from each other, then when the urge to know what bodies are like overwhelms us, out of sheer desperation we go to great and ugly lengths to see them. Our entire society is geared to training people to have unhealthy attitudes toward sex and human bodies.

Normalizing the human body--allowing the human body to be seen in nonsexual circumstances--would work wonders in helping people develop healthy attitudes toward each other, including their sexual relations. How much better would society be if we allowed our children to grow up seeing human bodies in controlled, supervised, wholesome situations (like family skinnydipping) rather than banning such education from them and forcing them to find it on their own through pornography, playing doctor, peeking into bedroom windows, or having casual or predatory sex with one another?

Can anyone truly say that sexual attitudes in America are healthy these days? Are things getting better? Are we more moral today than in earlier times because we've banned all nudity?

Words like "modest" or "decent" are used to justify forcing people to wear clothes. They are the everyday manifestation of the belief that nudity is immoral. A modest, decent person would never expose his immoral nudity.

But what do these words actually mean? They have come to mean socially acceptable clothing. But that's not their original meaning.

Modesty really means a lack of ostentation or boasting. It means avoiding showiness or standing out. In fact, the Bible equates clothes with immodesty, not modesty, because people use them to stand out and look superior to others. How many passages of scripture condemn the "fine-twined linen" of haughty people?

Certainly the obsession with fashion that our modern society suffers from cannot be equated with modesty. We use clothing to show up our fellow human beings, to appear better than them. We use clothing to decorate ourselves, to make our bodies prettier. As if the handiwork of God wasn't beautiful enough. Trying to stand out, to look better than others, to show off.


Decency is a mental state and has nothing to do with clothing. To call nudity "indecent" arises from the assumption that the only reason someone would be naked would be for "indecent" intentions. But that is a patently false assumption. There are many reasons why someone might prefer to be nude. To assume a single, ugly motive is itself an ugly thing to do.

True modesty and decency have nothing to do with one's state of dress and everything to do with one's state of mind. If I strut naked down Main Street for the purpose of standing out and shocking people, that is certainly both immodest and indecent. But not because of my state of dress. It's because of my state of mind--my intentions.

If I skinnydip because I need the exercise or enjoy swimming and want to dress in the most comfortable way possible and don't want to go waste money on designer swimwear whose purpose is to look superior to other people, I am being both modest and decent. I have no sexual intent. I'm not trying to shock people. I can't dress more modestly than I am, because there's nothing ostentatious about wearing nothing. I am both modest and decent under those circumstances.

In fact, the only reason nudity is ostentatious or shocking under any circumstances is because social custom, in cahoots with the law, forces it to be. Nudity stands out because we force people to be clothed, whether they want to be or not. If there was no law against nudity, if human bodies were seen regularly, there would be nothing ostentatious or shocking about them. Nudity would be a very modest form of dress--certainly more modest than a $1000 designer strapless gown whose purpose is to make other women green with envy and to titillate the lust of men.

Children are born with no shame over nudity. We say that babies have no modesty, but we're using the artificial definition of modesty when we say that. We're equating modesty with clothing when we talk that way. The truth is babies are totally modest--they can't be any other way. They have no concept of showing off. Everything they do is modest, even when they are completely, shamelessly naked.

The positive words "modesty" and "decency" have been corrupted to mean "shame over one's body." Nudity is labeled immodest and indecent only because somebody said it should be that way. In different cultures, different things are labeled immodest. It's purely a function of culture. And it's purely cultural chauvinism to suggest that your culture's definition of modesty is the "moral" one.

Within a culture where nudity is accepted, nudity is modest.

It's an arbitrary choice for a culture to accept or reject nudity. There's no natural reason behind it.

Modesty in dress is also a cop-out. It's a lazy form of morality. People can pass themselves off as being "decent" merely by wearing conservative clothes, while inside their minds, they are raging perverts. At the same time, people who choose chaste social nudity are often labeled as perverts, when in fact their motives are as innocent as can be. It's the people who can't see human bodies without thinking "pervert" that are the ones with their minds in the gutter.

Modesty in dress is simply a lazy way to label the morality of people without going to the trouble of getting to know them. It's a classic example of man judging the outward appearance rather than the heart.

It also promotes lazy morality in a more dangerous way. People don't have to learn how to get control of their lustful feelings. They make others to do it for them by forcing everyone to cover up their naked bodies. Like female ankles a century or two ago. If a man ever saw a naked ankle on a woman, he might not be able to control his lust.

In some modern cultures, women are required to hide their faces behind a veil, or their entire bodies from head to toe under a burqa. The sight of a female face is shameful and could set men off on a fit of lust. A woman of those cultures caught nude will cover her face before any other part of her body.

Covered ankles, veiled faces--how foolish these systems of morality sound to us modern Westerners! But what's the difference between their standard of modesty and ours? Only degree. We suffer from the same irrational biases as they do. We simply apply them to other body parts.

If forcing a woman to hide her face in the Middle East is oppressive to her, even emotionally scarring, why isn't forcing a woman in modern America to hide her breasts equally as oppressive?

The purpose of female breasts after all is to perform one of the most important, wholesome, and innocent functions in all of human experience--breastfeeding our children. Look at the inexcusable inconvenience we put a mother through just to feed her infant: carefully pull the breast out of her clothing underneath a towel in case someone catches a glimpse of it, exile her to a special room for nursing mothers, or even make her sit in a public toilet stall just to nourish her child. All because our society has defined female breasts as sexual.

Don't you think societies who accept public breastfeeding look upon our extreme prudishness with as much scorn as we look upon the notion of clothed piano legs?

But what about the men who might catch a glimpse of the mother's breast? What if they become filled with lust? Don't we need to hide naked female breasts for that reason?

You mean like earlier societies needed to hide female legs from the sight of men?

Hiding a body part from sight doesn't kill lust for it. It causes that body part to generate lust. Nobody gets excited at the sight of ankles anymore because we see them constantly. If we saw breasts constantly, the same would be true, and we would have no more reaction to them than to ankles.

What we would have is more women who would breastfeed their children because it wouldn't be so inconvenient. We'd have fewer women getting cosmetic breast surgery because we would diffuse the sexual connotation of female breasts. We would have fewer body parts for men to sexually objectify, helping them to see women more as human beings and less as objects for their sexual pleasure. We would have less body shame among women as they see all the myriad shapes and sizes of breasts in the world, and realize that theirs are not so strange after all. We wouldn't have this artificial double standard in dress for men and women, something which the courts are beginning to recognize as unconstitutional and are striking down laws that forbid women to expose their breasts while men are free to expose theirs.

Doesn't a moral code that forces mothers to hide in shame when they nurse their babies strike you as a perverted moral code?

But everything just said about breasts could be said about any body part.

We don't consider ears sexual because we see them all the time. What if there were a social custom to hide ears--and a law to back it up? Ears would become very erotic. People would pay money to see naked ears.

What on earth is sexual about buttocks? They have absolutely no sexual function whatsoever. Both men and women have the same buttock design--there is no significant difference between a male and female buttock. Yet you can go to jail if yours is exposed in public. It's considered a titillating thing to wear a thong bathing suit, in spite of the utter lack of natural sexuality built into the human butt.

Why? Because our customs and our laws artificially create sexuality in the buttocks. If we could see nude butts regularly, not only would their sexually titillating nature disappear, but we could all feel more comfortable about the shape of our own buttocks, after comparing them to all the variety of cheeks that are out there. A butt would be no more titillating than a leg.

Some might say, this may all be well and true, but surely we must keep the genuinely sexual parts of our bodies covered, right? At the very least, we need to walk around in G-strings, to keep those terrible, terrible genitals out of sight.

The fact is, even genitals are subject to the same phenomenon as any other body part.

We fear genitals. We can actually become disgusted at the sight of them. But why? Why should any part of our body generate such an emotional reaction? They are parts of our body, and everybody has them. They are necessary to the existence of the human race.

True, they are used in the act of sex--but not every minute of the day. Buttocks are also used as a part of sexual arousal, and so are breasts. Ears are nibbled on to produce excitement. Certainly lips and hands are an integral part of the arousal process. Eyes are sexually attractive. In fact, any part of the body can be used sexually. Yet every part of the body is not used sexually during the vast majority of hours in the day. Days, weeks, months, even years can go by without any part of the body being used for sex. This goes for genitals as much as anything else.

The simple fact is that genitals are no more sexual than any other part of the body--until we use them for sex.

The only reason we think of them as sexual all the time is the exact same reason female legs were once considered sexual all the time: we never see them. If we saw human genitalia on a regular basis, they would stop being sexual to us, just like legs.

Does that sound unbelievable? It doesn't matter, because thousands and thousands of nudists have proven that fact over and over again. It's not a debatable issue.

Penises are the worst case for social stigma. Even in films or photographs that show extensive, sexualized nudity, there is rarely a penis in view. Women can be shown completely nude because their sex organs are mostly tucked away out of sight. Men have theirs hanging out in full view.

Penises are still a socially acceptable object of scorn, even in this day of political correctness that minimizes the number of things we can ridicule. It's okay to show physical violence against a penis as a joke. It's okay to make fun of the size of a penis. Try treating women's breasts like that and see how you fare socially.

Penis size is probably a greater emotional issue for men than breast size is for women. Part of that may be because women can't easily hide the size of their breasts, so they are obliged to deal with the issue. Men can easily hide the size of their penises, therefore they suffer more from fear of being "discovered."

And that illustrates the whole point.

Because we never see penises, and because men are not a politically correct form of human life, it's socially acceptable to traumatize them over the size of their penises, over the fact that they have one at all, even for as trivial a purpose as a groin-kicking humorous moment in a film.

If we could see penises on a regular basis, this would change. We could all see what they're like, what amazing variety there is in shape and size among them, and most important of all, become comfortable with them so they aren't a mysterious and threatening body part.

"Mysterious and threatening body part." The very concept is insane. How can anyone think that the idea of a mysterious and threatening body part is a natural state for humans to be in? To fear part of the natural bodies we are born with? How can that be considered a moral thing?

But, some people may say, I just don't like how genitals look. They're ugly, and I don't want to see them.

Have you ever looked closely at an ear? A shriveled up, twisted growth of flesh protruding out of both sides of the head. Ears are ugly! But nobody notices, because we see ears all the time.

Genitals would be the same way--if we saw them regularly. They wouldn't look ugly to us. We'd hardly notice them at all, just like we hardly notice ears.

Hiding our bodies behind clothing does not improve our morality. In fact, it can't help but damage us emotionally. We are our bodies. It doesn't matter if you believe your essence is a soul living inside your body. That's an intellectual belief. Your subconscious, where your self-image originates, can't see that distinction. For practical, everyday emotional purposes, you are your body.

If you are ashamed of your body, you are ashamed of yourself. If you feel traumatized at the thought of someone seeing your body, you're feeling traumatized at someone seeing you.

When people put up emotional masks to hide and protect themselves from interaction with other human beings, we universally agree this is an emotionally damaging thing to do. We believe such people should learn to trust others, to strip the masks away, to make themselves emotionally vulnerable to others. Only in this way can they find fulfillment in life.

Well, clothing is one of those masks. A mask every one of us wears.

If we can't even let each other see our bodies without fear, sometimes traumatizing fear, how much trust can we really have? How much emotional openness can we expect among people? If you don't trust people to accept your body as it is--in other words, accept you at your most basic level--how much trust can you have in people to accept any part of you?

It's a common experience among those who practice social nudity that people are much more open and friendly in that environment. This is true even when the people aren't consciously, deliberately choosing to practice social nudity. Go into a locker room and find a group of nude men as they shower, dry off, or dress. Eavesdrop on their conversations. Often they will open up and say things of a personal nature--even to strangers--that they wouldn't dare talk about in any clothed situation.

We have many phrases that describe how cruel life is: dog-eat-dog world, survival of the fittest, the school of hard knocks. We often talk about how cruel children can be to one another. Why is life that way? Could part of the reason be because we're all hiding behind masks, mistrustful of everyone else, trying only to survive and protect ourselves, even at the expense of others, eternally afraid that someone may discover our shameful, dark secrets? Isn't hiding our bodies behind clothes an important symbolic part of this mask-wearing?

Those who practice chaste social nudity will respond with a resounding yes! It seems so obvious to them. They're able to see it because they're the only ones who have experiences on both sides of the question. They've been raised in a clothes-compulsive society, but they've rejected that clothes-compulsiveness. They've taken the step of stripping the mask off and standing exposed before others. This is an act of courage and trust. It's not always easy to do. But once done, how liberating it can be to toss aside the burden of shame and fear that went with the mask.

No one would think that wearing a literal mask on our faces for our entire lives could be an emotionally healthy thing. What would that do to our self-esteem? How could we not end up feeling ashamed of our faces? How much would it disrupt human interaction? How could this be anything but a bad thing?

Yet how is constantly wearing the mask of clothes throughout our lives any different?

It's not any different. Most people can't see that because they've been brainwashed all their lives to accept the mask of clothing. We would be just as accepting of the custom of wearing a literal mask on our faces all our lives if we were brainwashed to accept it from birth like we're brainwashed to accept clothing.

And it would still be just as destructive.

The neurotic habit of hiding behind clothes for our entire lives is not emotionally healthy. Therefore if we don't have a good reason to force people to stay clothed, then it's immoral to force them to.

We think we have a good reason. Uncontrolled lust is a bad thing. It's the reason we use to force people to stay dressed. You have to stay dressed to control my lust, because my lust is uncontrollable at the sight of your body.

But that reason is a demonstrable falsehood. Forcing people to stay dressed causes body parts to become objects of lust. It doesn't protect us from lust.

Rather than forcing people to stay dressed whether they want to or not because we claim we can't control our lust if they don't, isn't it better to learn to have no lust at the sight of a human body?

It's an easy lesson to learn. That's been proven by the fact that we no longer need to force women to hide ankles or calves or knees. We see these body parts all the time and remain in control of ourselves. Why would breasts and buttocks and genitals be any different?

They wouldn't be.

"Modesty" in dress, rather than controlling lust, causes lust. Chaste nudity is the ultimate form of modesty, because it doesn't make any body part mysterious or titillating. No pressure of curiosity builds up. No sexual hot spots are created by hiding only the "sexual" parts. No need to sneak peeks of body parts that we're forbidden to see. We just see them and learn about them and deal with them as easily as we deal with a naked ankle today.

Chaste nudity (in other words, true modesty) is the antidote to uncontrolled lust, to addiction to pornography, to ignorance of human bodies, to the tendency to treat human bodies as sexual objects for our gratification. Chaste nudity makes us vulnerable in a positive way, teaching us to open up to others and develop trust among each other.

The belief that nudity is immoral is a lie. Nudity has nothing to do with sexual behavior, with lust, with immodesty or indecency.

True modesty is in the heart and in the mind, not in the amount of fabric we drape over our bodies.

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