Thursday, September 2, 2004

Exhibitionism or Nudism?

That's a tough one and the answer really depends on what sensations and motivations you experience while hiking nude! Often I question my own motives for stripping off my shorts on the trail with full realization that there is a good chance that I may accidentally (or even purposefully want to) encounter another person on the trail. There is no doubt that we all have an innate desire to present ourselves as sexually appealing to members of the opposite sex (or same sex if you are so oriented). Clothing constrains us to covert exhibitionism but rarely diminishes the fact that we are always doing it . . . clothed or not. That is why we have fashion designers like Calvin Klein with low-cut jeans or revealing shorts designed to enhance our sexual appeal. Not all of clothing design is for functionality. Fashion designers create just so that we may display ourselves in the best possible light. In reality, all of us are exhibitionists because of the choices we make in the clothing we wear.

So what about the nudist? What is he or she trying to state with nudity? Is the person strutting down that trail purely enjoying the sensation of the elements on his or her skin, or is there just a little bit of exhibitionism in there? I would argue for both for I experience both sensations when I hike and despite the objections to the opposite, most fellow nudists I know are doing the same thing . . . if only subconsciously. It is no accident that most public nudists (those that practice what I call risque nudism, like myself) as opposed to nudists keeping their lifestyle to a landed club, are, by and far, younger and in good physical condition. It is natural that we want others to appreciate our bodies as well.

Nudists are extremely self-confident of themselves. They have to be because they are presenting themselves to the world (if only in a limited and controlled fashion) with all their flaws and less-than-perfect physical features wide open for anyone to see and criticize. We live in a world where we are pushed to achieve perfection in form yet few of us are perfect. We all want the perfect body . . . the sculpted vision of Madison Avenue ad agencies. Just look at any lifestyle magazine on the rack at your local supermarket. Clothes cover up our flaws and give others the impression of fitness and perfection. The nudist has no such crutches to rely on. What he or she presents to the chance gawker at the beach or on the trail is themselves . . . pure and simple, and they'd better have the self-confidence to deal with criticisms that clothed, nobody would ever be aware of.

Extreme self-confidence. You have to believe in yourself if you are a nudist. You have to accept the fact that you are not perfect . . . that the imperfections you do have do not matter and you are not going to ascribe to any required pillar of perfection. We are what we are and we open ourselves up to you!

So what about the original question? Are we just enjoying nudity or are we subconsciously hoping that a member of the opposite sex will be attracted to our display of nudity? Is it inappropriate? Do we push for response from an encountering individual that makes them feel uncomfortable? That's that supreme self-confidence at work again. We expect that the person will react favorably to our display and that that individual will get some erotic pleasure (hopefully a lot) from seeing us naked. That is exhibitionism and needs to be recognized when it happens. I do not deny that on the occasions when I have been caught off-guard and been wide open to a group of women hikers, that I did not get sensual pleasure from the suppressed smiles and giggles as we passed on the trail. On occasion the experience has produced physical and evident arousal which either makes me very self-conscious or indeed gives me much self-confident pleasure. Is this wrong? Is it a form of perversion?

I think the answer lies in our motives and how we behave in situations like this. Oft-times, this sort of display is not expected nor wanted by those we encounter on the trail and we must be aware of that. Would we do the same on a busy street downtown during a lunchtime rush? Probably not. But on the trail, enjoying nature, we tend to think that harmless nudism is somewhat expected or accepted on occasion. All of us have gone skinny-dipping at some time in our lives and gotten pleasure out of the naughtiness of seeing and being seen naked.

If you hike nude in the wilderness, expect that at some time or another you are going to encounter those that either get a thrill out of seeing you naked (and those people often wish that they had the guts to do the same thing) . . . or you are going to run across those that disapprove with disgust. Women often have no problem with nudists . . . men are usually hung up in moral criticisms of your actions. So what are you to do?

Curb those exhibitionist tendencies. Yes, it is part of our belief in self-worth and attractiveness but fraught with dangers of offending others whom we must share the trail with. They have their rights to enjoyment without undue displays that force a reaction (either favorably or otherwise).

Listen on the trail. Observe far up ahead and be aware if someone else is on the trail or you are on a section where you might encounter someone else who might come upon you suddenly and without warning. Be prepared to duck off-trail into some cover if need be . . . or bail off the side of the forest service road as a friend of mine is wont to do.

A pair of shorts (like those tucked in the belt of my fanny pack) should always be close at hand to put on before you encounter other hikers coming in your direction

Carry something to cover yourself in those situations and don't pack it away in your day-pack or fanny pack where it would take time and effort to pull them out and hurriedly put them on. I hike with a very loose-fitting pair of shorts tucked into the belt of my pack where I can pull them out quickly and step into them in only a few seconds. It has saved me from embarrassment many times. Make sure the shorts can be stepped into without removing your hiking boots.

But it will happen and one day you will be coming around a bend in the trail, stark-ass-naked to the world, and walk straight into a group of hikers coming the other direction. What else can you do but grin and bear it. To panic and hurriedly attempt to pull your shorts on as they watch is only going to make you look weak and unsure of yourself. I think at moments like that you need to pull that self-confidence out and stride forward with a smile of your face. By and large, my experiences have all been positive . . . and yes, in this situation it is exhibitionism because I am all too aware that I am being watched and appraised . . . probably an appraisal of my sexual apparatus. If you can do that then you are all deserving of the sensual self-pleasure you feel.

Fair warning (and polite), you do fellow hikers as courtesy by posting a warning sign

If you hike to a destination where you plan to sun or relax nude, consider posting a warning sign like the one above at a reasonable distance up the trail and perhaps at a location where you can observe hikers approaching in advance. Give your fellow hikers the opportunity to either continue on the trail or make a detour around via another trail. Forewarned, they will appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness . . . and oft-times will react favorably by continuing on and joining you. There have been occasions when a swim at an alpine lake has turned into a group of never-before-nudists stripping down and enjoying nature with me. It's up to you to present an non-threatening environment that lowers the inhibitions of all concerned.

Above all, nudism is not sexual exhibitionism. You cannot completely suppress the physical reactions we all get (nor would I want to) but you can behave responsibly and with consideration for others.


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