A nice resource guide for those looking for places to hike nude in Washington. Just keep thinking of the spring and summer to come and start planning.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Naturism: A way of living in greater fidelity to nature, with a norm of full nudity in social life, the genitals included, when possible and appropriate. We aim to enhance acceptance and respect for one's self, other persons and the biosphere.
- The Naturist Society, 1997
There's no bird-watching here - no philosophy of natural causes, or doctrines of religious truths derived from nature, or precise reproduction of life in art or literature. That would be naturalism.
If, instead, you're looking to drop your clothing and enjoy social nudity with others of like mind, for reasons of health, body acceptance, relaxation, and getting closer to nature, you're in the right place.
History of Naturism
Naturism1 is generally considered a synonym for nudism. Most naturists prefer not to be called nudists, because of many historical stereotypes (the term 'nudist colony' is so obsolete as to be almost quaint), as well as preferring the connection to nature implicit in the term 'naturism'.
There are many references to early examples of required nudity, such as biblical baptisms, Greek athletic competitions, and the Hindu Gymnosophists (literally 'naked philosophers') who used nudity as part of their spiritual practice. Modern naturism started in Germany with the Freikörperkultur (free body culture) movement in the beginning of the 20th Century, in part as a reaction to Victorian restraints, and in part as a movement towards a healthy, Utopian lifestyle, with compulsory exercise and vegetarianism as part of its philosophy.
Through the remainder of the century, the naturism movement spread throughout the world in many forms, with various naturist groups both reacting to, and attempting to coexist within, the cultural guidelines and restrictions of their particular nation or region.
Naturism is a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity, with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment.
- International Naturist Federation, 1974
Clubs and Resorts
There are a wide variety of organizations and locations around the world where you can become a member and take part in naturist activities within a supportive group.
The most basic type of group is the non-landed club (organization without its own resort or property) that organizes activities at people's homes, or perhaps a nude night at the local bowling alley or municipal swimming pool. At the other end of the spectrum is Cap d'Agde, a nudist city of over 40,000 people in south eastern France, where you can do all your shopping and banking in the nude. In between are a host of resorts, usually with their own lake or swimming pool, camping areas, and even rental apartments or cabins.
Clubs will usually have a membership requirement, which may be restrictive (many clubs try to balance the number of male and female members), and a membership fee. Many clubs have special events, like art or music festivals, which may be open to non-members in order to bring in visitors and recruit new members. Resorts are usually open to anyone who pays the cost of the stay at the resort.
Recent years have seen a growing commercial industry in naturist vacations, including nude cruises and other speciality tourism activities. This trend is providing an economic incentive to support naturism, which could end up having more of an impact on the acceptance of naturism than any other factor.
The Free Beach Movement
The commonly accepted (though often clandestine) activity of 'skinny dipping' joined with naturism to produce the free beach movement which is, in part, an effort to make naturism more acceptable to a larger portion of the population who might not feel comfortable joining a naturist club, but fondly remember skinny dipping as kids. This effort has sought to identify, establish, and protect public beaches, swimming holes, and hot springs where people can swim or sunbathe in mixed company without clothing.
One of the strongest advocates of this movement has been The Naturist Society. The Naturist Society also publishes the World Guide to Nude Beaches and Resorts, which is the most comprehensive world-wide resource for finding places to go naked in public. A copy of this, next to your towel, is a valuable travel companion. In addition to listing major legal resorts and beaches, it also includes common-use remote locations in areas where not supporting the fashion industry may be illegal, with directions something like:
Drive 17 miles past the old general store, then turn left on the second dirt road and take it to the end. Park in the field, climb the fence, then turn right and go down the cliffs about 100 meters to the old stream bed. Follow it about two miles to the spot where there's a rock you can sit on. Make sure no one else is around to be offended before you strip.
Most so-called nude beaches are actually clothing optional, which means that you may be clothed or naked as you wish. However, if you ever happen to be the only one wearing clothes on a beach with 1,000 naked people, you will soon realise that you're the one who feels 'naked'.
The kids Truth and Falsehood grew up as close friends. One day they went skinny dipping in the river. Falsehood climbed out of the water first and decided to dress in Truth's clothing. Falsehood then offered to swap hers for Truth's. But naked Truth chose to remain just as she was.
- Anonymous fable
Naturists include the full gamut of ages from babies to grandparents. Young children are particularly open to the idea, since they're born naturists and usually have to have it conditioned out of them (have you ever tried to keep clothes on a young child on a nice day?).
Many naturists believe that children raised in a naturist environment are likely to have a higher self-esteem, particularly about their own body, thereby being much less susceptible to eating disorders and other body esteem-related conditions, as well as having fewer hang-ups about the body during adolescence and having a more open view towards other people of all types. There is also the belief that many individuals who are prone to sexual violence have been raised to view the body as something shameful or perverse, and that this view contributes to their violent outlook.
Being natural and matter-of-fact about nudity prevents your children from developing an attitude of shame or disgust about the human body. If parents are very secretive about their bodies and go to great lengths to prevent their children from ever seeing a buttock or breast, children will wonder what is so unusual, and even alarming, about human nudity.
- Dr Lee Salk, Psychiatrist2
Naturism and Religion
Despite the fact that most religions do not have anything against nudity itself in their core beliefs, there are a lot of organized religious groups who see mere nudity as something sinful and are determined to shut down any nude beach or club they can, in any way they can, including attempting to pass anti-nudity legislation, picketing, making formal complaints, or publicly labelling all naturists as sexual deviants, perverts, and paedophiles. These people apparently wish everyone to be ashamed of God's creation, and instead, worship Him wearing polyester. These groups exist everywhere, but are particularly prevalent in the USA.
On the other hand, there are religious groups who use naturism as part of their form of worship, under the notion that being closer to nature is one way of being closer to God. They point out that The Bible has no prohibition against nudity per se. Not only was public nudity common in biblical times for practical reasons (or poverty); but, in some cases (baptisms, prophets, etc), it was required. They also note that the use of the word 'naked' in various translations of the Bible often means something else. For instance, references such as: 'And thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister, nor of thy father's sister: for he uncovereth his near kin.'3 are actually using 'nakedness' as a euphemism for 'having sexual relations with' or 'lusting after'.
Sexual modesty cannot then in any simple way be identified with the use of clothing, nor shamelessness with the absence of clothing and total or partial nakedness. There are circumstances in which total nakedness is not immodest... nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness. Immodesty is only present when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person... The human body is not in itself shameful, nor for the same reasons are sensual reactions, and human sensuality in general. Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of the individual.
- Pope John Paul II4
Naturism and Sex
Do Naturists have sex?
Well yes, of course they do. They're human like most of the rest of us. They just don't have sex as part of their naturist activities. In fact, most naturist groups will go out of their way to discourage sexual activity in public, in order to combat the perception that nudity equals sex.
Social nudity is not by itself sexual, and is certainly less titillating than skimpy costumes on textile (clothed) beaches. In some countries, where cultural beliefs are gained from the media and cinema, many people have the false perception that nudity only happens when beautiful people are having sex.
If you'd like to take the plunge, here are a few tips:
Practice going naked at home. If you think the dog is looking at you funny, it's just your imagination... he's naked, too.
Find a naturist beach or club to attend and find out what you can about the place. Contact the club for details, read about the beach in the guide to nude beaches, or check it out on the Internet (figuring out which half of the information to believe).
Know the local laws... social nudity in jail is probably not what you were looking for.
Leave your camera, radio, and pick-up lines at home.
Bring a book, a towel, and something to share.
Bring sunscreen and a hat. Some parts of your body haven't ever seen the sun, so apply the sunscreen thoroughly. If you're fair-skinned, consider bringing a beach umbrella or other shade.
Relax and enjoy the setting. You'll feel comfortable in no time.
How to Spot a Naturist
A co-worker asks you if you want to see his tan lines and he takes off his ring.
You see a green capital letter 'N' bumper sticker on their car. The capital green N is the symbol for the Naturist Society.
They've got freckles... everywhere.
Early in the summer a friend has returned from the beach, she can't sit down, and she has her bra in her pocket.
You invite someone to go swimming and they have to go out and buy a bathing suit.
12-foot fences around the back yard.
Even though you live on the coast, your friends drive four hours each weekend to go to the beach because 'it's a nice beach'.
At the entrance to their driveway there's a huge sign saying: 'Warning: Beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathers.'
Frequently Asked Questions
I see a guy that looks pretty hot, and I'd like to flirt with him, but I'm already naked. What do I do?
This can be a bit of a problem, particularly if you depend on the tease of clothing for your flirting. Your best bet is to go up to him and say: 'Hey, would you like to watch me put on my underwear?'What happens if I get an erection?
This is the most common question from half of the population - we'll leave it to you to figure out which half - when considering naturism for the first time. In fact, it's not much of a problem. It's true that at first, that portion of your body may get a bit confused, but eventually it'll figure out that sex isn't included and go back to sleep. In the meantime, bury it in the sand, a towel, or the water until it calms down. Note: trying to reason with it out loud is generally not recommended.[cruel Internet bulletin-board hoax answer to the same question:]
No problem. Everyone around you starts to point and laugh at you, until some mesomorph/homophobe thinks he sees you looking at his girlfriend/self and beats you to a pulp. After this happens a number of times, you get conditioned to go limp at the sight of a naked body.My [insert body-part names here] are too fat. I can't go naked!
Just about everyone thinks they are too fat somewhere, but you'll soon discover that normal people come in all shapes and sizes and you'll fit right in, unless you go to the Supermodel Nude Beach (directions are here5), you'll get over it quickly. In fact, being naked can be an advantage over wearing a bathing costume which tends to force sections of your body out of the suit, drawing attention to the fat.I have a tattoo/piercing on my [insert private body-part name here]. Will people accept me naked?
Of course. Unless you tattooed your online banking password there, you probably would like people to see your body art. Here's your chance.If I go to a nude beach, will I be able to meet some overweight, middle-aged, single guys?
Yes.In the old nudist magazines and films, you always see them playing volleyball. Is that just a stereotype?
No. Naturists do play volleyball. Nobody knows why.
What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful that the garment with which it is clothed?
1 It is pronounced like 'nature', not 'natural', although both pronunciations are commonly used.
2 McCall's Magazine, June 1976.
3 Leviticus 20:19, King James Version.
4 Wojtyla, Karol (Pope John Paul II) (August 1994) Love and Responsibility Ignatius Press (ISBN 0-89870-4456).
5 So you had to look, even though 1) Obviously no such place exists; 2) if it did, you wouldn't be invited; and 3) if we knew where it was, we certainly wouldn't tell anyone or waste time writing about it.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Join me for this one. I will be one of the participants to strip off my clothes in protest and jump into the water.
Don't be clothes-minded! Dare to Go Bare! Take the fun plunge in your
The Body Freedom Collaborative (BFC) / Seattle Free Beach Campaign (SFBC)
is pleased to announce its 3rd Annual Community Polar Bare Dip held this year at beautiful Richmond Beach in the City of Shoreline, King County, WA, USA
2021 NW 190th St., Shoreline, WA 98177-2831 ( you can easily generate a map with driving directions to the park at http://tinyurl.com/5cygs ) Saturday, January 15, 2005 at 9 AM (Dip starts at 9 AM sharp so get there early!)
Cheer us on or join in on the fun! All are welcome! From the shy to the bold. All ages,abilities, sizes, and colors welcome. Bring your family, friends, and co-workers!
What to wear? Do not fear! The Polar Bare Dip dress code is "Bare As You Dare"... How bare is that ? How dare is that ?...Its all up to you, you decide what you are
comfortable with. NO ONE IS EXCLUDED OR DISCRIMINATED AGAINST based on levels of clothing, bodypaint, or anything else, for that matter! PLEASE be creative and colorful in expressing yourself! Non-toxic bodypainting, decorating, banners, and other creative _expression is strongly encouraged!
Our dip is held on this day in honor of America's premier advocate of nude sunbathing, Benjamin Franklin, who was born in Boston on January 17, 1706. For those who are photo-shy or who are interested in honoring Ben Franklin, there are very inexpensive ( I seem to recall they were well under $5) Ben Franklin masks locally available in the patriotic-themed party section of Display & Costume. There is a location in Seattle (Northgate) and Everett. http://www.displaycostume.com
Richmond Beach features a breathing-taking view of Puget Sound and the Olympic
Mountains to the West. It is the next large park to the north of Carkeek Park (where last year's dip was held). There is plenty of parking for those who choose to carpool or drive. The dip will be on the main section of the beach after walking down from the footbridge over the railway. Please stay safe and legal; stay off the train tracks! Please do not take off your clothes until everybody is ready to go in together as a group.
A clothed beach clean-up follows the dip at 9:30 AM. Those participating in the clean-up should bring their own gloves and heavy duty garbage bags to carry out
litter. BFC will have a pickup truck to carry away any litter that cannot be disposed of in park garbage cans. Leave no trace!
This brief swim is one of many events BFC's Free Beach Campaign has launched to help fast-track development of clothing-optional beaches, especially in Washington State's Puget Sound region. While Oregon, California, and Vancouver B.C. boast many
clothing-optional beaches, the Puget Sound region has no such beaches with parking
and safe access for families and people with disabilities. Let's stop pushing
residents and tourists out of the state for body-positive recreation!
While some people don't mind going a little out of their way to enjoy recreation au naturel, most families and individuals prefer areas close to home, among communities that take their responsibility to maintain a safe and clean environment seriously. With the explosion of large-scale developments in formerly less-populated regions, and growing concern of the environmental impact and time involved in traveling for hours to reach too few remaining areas, grassroots momentum is growing fast to open existing local public beaches for clothing-optional use.
Americans traveling abroad, especially those from the Northwest, are increasingly aware of the disparity between what they can enjoy abroad and what little they have
back home. Many countries, especially in Europe, have been front runners for providing its citizens and their many tourists with a large and diverse selection of opportunities for clothing-optional recreation. Denmark, as an example, has had its entire coastline available for clothing-optional use, with the exception of two beaches, for 35 years! In Germany, many citizens can sunbathe in public parks and can be found skinnydipping along rivers all over the country. How can this cultural disparity be justified? If body acceptance can be a measurement of a civilized society, what does that say about us?
Isn't it time that Seattle, renowned worldwide for its natural beauty and friendly demeanor,caught up with the rest of the civilized world? Seattle citizens, say yes!
In a recent Seattle Post Intelligencer poll, citizens were asked "Should Seattle have a clothing-optional beach?" The results were very positive: Yes: 54.8%; No: 40.9%; Not sure: 4.3% (total votes: 2912, June 16, 2003).
The Bob Rivers Show posted a daily online poll on Sept 7, 2004 asking: "Activists in Seattle want the city to create a nude beach along an isolated stretch of Puget
Sound between Golden Gardens and Carkeek Park. Should we allow nude beaches?" Results (Total 229 votes cast):
Yes 85.15% "Preventing Americans from taking off their clothes in public is as bad as forcing women to wear burkhas. I don't care if flabby white people take off their clothes and frolic in the Sound, provided that I don't have to watch. Live and let live."
No 14.85% "Naked folks are popping up everywhere, from the Super Bowl to the streets of Fremont. The more local governments allow nudity, the more we'll have to
endure. Have you seen the people who want to run around nekkid? `Nuff said."
The addition of clothing optional beaches in Seattle will enhance and extend the multiple uses that Seattle Park & Recreation offers to an increasingly diverse
population, including the thousands of Northwest families and individuals looking for clothing optional beach in the State of Washington.
In a recent Naturist Education Foundation (NEF)/Roper Poll, Americans were asked: "Have you, personally, ever gone 'skinny dipping' or nude sunbathing in a mixed
group of men and women at a beach, at a pool, or somewhere else?" The results may
surprise you: Yes: 25%; No: 73% (Roper Poll of 1,010 adults, September, 2000, Error risk: 5%). The Poll shows that one of every four adults in the U.S. has been skinny-dipping or has sunbathed nude in a mixed-gender social setting. That is, by the way, a 10% increase from the same poll done in 1983. Using current population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the latest poll suggests more than 70 million Americans have participated at one time or another in nude recreation.
Last year we had a blast! We had about 14-16 dip participants, plus many who came to cheer us on! We had some great press coverage as well. Check out our web
page for the 2004 Polar Bare Dip at http://www.bodyfreedom.org/seattlebeaches/polarbaredip.html
Momentum is building! Help make it happen! Please join us for our winter
wade-in & cleanup at Richmond Beach and be sure your also mark your calendar for our other upcoming events:
** World Naked Bike Ride - Seattle - June 11th, 2005 Join others in cities worldwide (Those in other cities should sign up for other local rides or help coordinate one in their city) For more information about World Naked Bike Ride visit http://worldnakedbikeride.org <---be sure to use the sign up form to receive event info
** Seattle Free Beach Campaign - Multiple events planned for 2005, especially focusing on the promotion of Discovery Park Beach
For more information about the Seattle Free Beach Campaign visit http://
seattlebeaches.org <--- be sure to use the sign up form to receive event info
For more information about the Body Freedom Collaborative visit
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Sunday, December 12, 2004
A search of sex laws turns up some surprises
Duane Hoffmann / MSNBC
By Brian Alexander
Updated: 7:57 p.m. ET Dec. 2, 2004
News of the illness of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist has raised the issue of how President George Bush might change the Supreme Court. What does this have to do with sex?
Well, when it comes to sexual expression, a lot of people say, “There oughta be a law!” And politically powerful crusaders are already salivating over the possibilities. Concerned Women for America (CWA), for example, said last year that anal sex ought to be banned: “If we were really compassionate, we would be putting sodomy laws back on the books, not removing them.”
In fact, according to a search of state criminal code databases, there are already laws, lots of laws, regulating even private sexual expression. You might find some of them surprising.
Occasionally, the surprises stem from the legislative zeal to be thorough. In Texas, for example, “public lewdness” is against the law. No surprise there. But you can commit public lewdness even in private if you are “reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed” by, among other things, an “act involving contact between the person’s mouth or genitals and the anus or genitals of an animal or fowl.” Apparently, as long as nobody’s offended or alarmed, Rhode Island Red better watch out.
States also have a wide variety of definitions for such things as public indecency. In Indiana, for example, you might be indecent if your male genitals are completely covered but “in a discernibly turgid state.”
As a former adolescent male, this worries me.
If you’re traveling with a lover, and you are not married to each other, but feeling in the mood, you’d better not rent a hotel room in North Carolina because "any man and woman found occupying the same bedroom in any hotel, public inn, or boardinghouse for any immoral purpose...shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”
Sex under those circumstances would absolutely be “immoral” because, like many other states, North Carolina has laws against fornication whether you are in a hotel or just at home: “If any man and woman not being married to each other, shall lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed, and cohabit together, they shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”
In Idaho, fornication can get you a $300 fine and six months in jail. But that’s a piece of cake compared to the penalty for adultery -- up to a $1,000 fine and three years in the state pen.
If you’re a man in Oklahoma, and you tell a virgin female you want to marry her, then you two commit fornication, you had better not change your mind about the marriage, Bub, or else you’ve committed a felony. You could go to jail for five years. Luckily, if you change your mind back again, and make an honest woman of her, all is forgiven.
Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas are all conservative “red states.” Massachusetts, on the other hand, is the ultimate “blue state,” the state Bush accused of being full of “liberals” as if the state were a breeding ground for godless subversives. But it’s got some doozy sex laws. Adultery could get you three years in state prison. Sell a dildo, do five years. (I’ve previously mentioned anti-vibrator laws in Texas.) The state even has a catch-all statute for any “unnatural and lascivious act with another person.” The law doesn’t say just what is unnatural or lascivious.
Maryland appears to outlaw just about everything except the missionary position between married men and women. The law prescribes 10 years for “any unnatural or perverted sexual practice” like, say, oral sex. Not only that, but, says the law, the state can indict you without naming the particular act it’s accusing you of committing or even the manner in which you committed it.
Tough to enforce
For someone like me, who considers himself as law-abiding as any other good citizen, it feels strange to know I have committed felonies in several states, misdemeanors in many others, and that my accumulated jail time under laws I found in the databases is about 250 years.
For someone like me, who considers himself as law-abiding as any other good citizen, it feels strange to know I have committed felonies in several states, misdemeanors in many others, and that my accumulated jail time under laws I found in the databases is about 250 years.
Lucky for me, most of these laws are rarely, if ever, enforced. For one thing enforcement just isn’t practical. Not only do the acts usually happen in private, but enforcing the laws would make the United States one vast prison.
As of June 2003, there is also a very real legal reason why the laws are not enforced. A Texas statute says: “A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.” (Some other states with such anti-sodomy laws can’t bear to name the act. Instead, they use phrases like “the detestable and abominable crime against nature.”) When police arrested two gay men having sex in their own home, the men fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court -- which is what got the CWA and other sex prohibitionists all riled up.
The resulting decision, Lawrence v. Texas, struck down the law. At the time, the ruling was considered a major victory for gay rights, but it also means states are, for now, very limited in how they can restrict private sexual behavior between consenting adults, gay or not.
The laws, though, are still on the books, lurking like land mines left over from a war. Why? Well, few legislators are willing to propose repealing them because nobody wants to be seen as “approving” of fornication or adultery or, my goodness, anal sex. Besides, there’s no powerful rubberist lobby, or a rich PAC called Married People for Sodomy. But as the new legislative director for CWA has said, “You just don’t mess with the conservative right!”
When Arizona decided to repeal some of its archaic sex laws in 2001, one crusading legislator struck back by proposing a law revoking the teaching credentials of any educator found to be a fornicator or to have committed “crimes against nature” like oral sex or anal sex. The governor received thousands of e-mails, most insisting the laws stay. She signed the repeal anyway.
Would-be regulators of sexual expression realize that the Lawrence decision could be reversed, giving those old, unenforced laws new teeth. Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted with the minority in Lawrence, wrote a scathing dissent which made it clear he favored the ability of states to forbid sexual expression they deemed immoral whether the proscribed behavior takes place in private or not. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas voted with Scalia.
Bush has said that Thomas and Scalia are his favorites on the court. It’s possible that the president will name up to three new justices during his second term. That new court may very well decide that your sex life is the government’s business after all.
Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books, 2003).
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
As it stands today, criminal law prohibits most actions seriously harmful to others, and if not prohibited, the actions' harmful natures: like those of second-hand cigarette smoke, pornography, and the medical use of marijuana—are hotly debated.
There are many ways of arguing for the prohibition of an action. Legal Moralists will appeal to the immorality of the behavior in question, or to its negative effect on the "moral fabric" of our society.1 Legal Paternalists will appeal to the harm the act does to the actor, such as laws that mandate the wearing of seatbelts or helmets. The libertarian strain in this country tends to balk at paternalist approaches to law, and authors of legislation usually argue for the bill's merits under other terms.
There are variants to each of these lines of argument. A third distinct line is relevant to naturists today. More often than not, if a new law is proposed that limits the freedom to be nude, it is justified by an appeal to offense. Any of us may be offended by any number of things. Some people are more offended by certain behavior than others are.
Public nudity supposedly offends many people. But legislators are hard-pressed to show that public nudity per se harms anyone (although some are now making unsubstantiated claims about a negative effect on children). On the other hand, legislators have little footing in showing that public nudity is immoral other than to appeal fallaciously to cultural norms.2
Still, legislators often wish to ban all public nudity, or may feel pressured by constituents to do so. These days, a lawmaker who wishes to ban public nudity will often argue that public nudity offends people, and that because of the seriousness of the offense, such nudity may justifiably be prohibited by criminal law.
The issue of offense is thus of great importance to naturists in America today. A flippant naturist response is to say, "The offended parties be damned; we as naturists have the right to do what we wish as long as we are not harming anyone." Or, "People will be offended by anything; offense thus should not be relevant to law." These responses fail to acknowledge the complexities of offense, and do not take into account sensible principles thoughtful lawmakers, discerning judges, and liberty-loving naturists can fruitfully bring to the discussion.
Some naturists take the opposite tack. "We should not be naked in public because it will offend people and cause them to pass more stringent 'indecent exposure' laws," they might say. Or, to blend an appeal to offense with a form of Legal Moralism, they might argue, "It's wrong to offend people, so we should never be naked in public. We should limit our nudity to our homes and nudist clubs."
Given the limitations of this discussion, the last two naturist responses can be addressed only briefly. The first merits careful attention at another time due to the concern over a legislative backlash against naturists. Suffice it to say here that rarely is ground gained for social justice without a few courageous souls moving forward, pushing cultural and legal envelopes, to make way for the more timid—albeit equally oppressed—group.
We must also keep in mind that behavior that offends is not only morally permissible at times, but obligatory. Martin Luther King, Jr. offended many people as he marched the streets of Birmingham in 1963. Mary Wollstonecraft offended many Britons as she fought for women's rights. Jesus offended those around him in ways that left his undiscerning followers incredulous (see Matthew 15:12, for example). Offense per se is thus not morally wrong. The question is, what offending behavior is censurable and merits prohibition? When, and in what contexts?
The purpose of this discussion is twofold. First, it will outline many of the common-sense principles legislators should—and sometimes do—appeal to in considering a law banning an offending behavior. Second, it will show how naturists may effectively argue that non-lewd public nudity should not be prohibited outright by criminal law. There is not space here to develop each thread of the required argument, but its feasibility will be apparent.
This discussion does not seek to show that naturists are justified in walking down any street naked, although such a moral right may actually obtain. Nor does this discussion seek to make any comment on whether other potentially offending behaviors (e.g., public sex, "hate" speech, animal sacrifice rituals) should be free from the limitations of criminal law. The focus here is limited to the relevance of offense in crafting laws prohibiting public nudity.
It is unfortunate that many lawmakers, especially at the local level, either cannot or will not approach the complex issue of offense thoroughly and dispassionately. Moreover, when it comes to public nudity, they often feel that failure to support a ban would be political suicide and thus ignore a full discussion. This should not stop naturists from thinking through their positions in detail.
The Nature of Offense
Joel Feinberg, retired professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, is a respected scholar in the field of social philosophy. His four-volume series, The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, and especially Volume II, Offense to Others, outlines in clear detail many of the issues surrounding the legal prohibition of offending behavior.3
Much of what follows comes from Feinberg's work. Although not a naturist himself, Feinberg often uses naturism as an example of non-harming offending behavior. Defenders of naturist rights will not agree with Feinberg's conclusions at every turn, but should be grateful for his careful articulation of the principles useful in the discussion.
What is an offense? Feinberg distinguishes it from a harm. A harm, he says, is a wrongful setback of interests. That which we need to function fully and fruitfully as humans is an interest. We have an interest, then, in being alive, being healthy, retaining our possessions, being free to move about, having the opportunity to learn, having liberty to associate with friends, and so on. Any act of another that sets back such interests harms us.
For an act to be a "harm" worthy of legal prohibition, it must also be wrongful. In short, there are situations in which we may willingly allow ourselves to have our interests set back—such as when we freely enter a boxing match, play rugby, or climb dangerous mountain peaks. We may get hurt in such situations, but we have not been wrongfully harmed.
An offense does not set back our interests. To speak metaphorically, it is an itch on the elbow, while a harm is a broken arm. Still, offenses are unwanted states. Feinberg offers a list of offenses that will seem trivial or serious, depending—oftentimes—on one's point of view.
Offenses are usually unwanted emotional states and can vary greatly. Offenses include states of affront to the senses (e.g., an ugly sight, noxious smell, or grating sound); disgust; revulsion; shock to moral, religious or patriotic sensibilities; shame; embarrassment; anxiety; annoyance; boredom; frustration; fear; resentment; humiliation; and anger (10-13).
These are temporary states we prefer not to experience, but which normally do not keep us from living a full, flourishing human life. Legislators thus are unjustified in prohibiting them as harms. When the offense is serious, however, the question arises as to whether something might not be done to discourage the behavior.
The observation of public nudity offends many people. People offended at seeing others naked describe sensations of embarrassment, anxiety, shock, annoyance, shame, and other—perhaps irrational—emotional states. The mere "bare knowledge" of public nudity—knowledge that someone, somewhere, at some time might be naked in public—might be enough to offend some with the most tender sensitivity to nudity.4 The question is, what should be the limitation of the state's power to protect people from these kinds of offenses?
Feinberg argues that those who would grapple rationally with these questions should consider a set of factors that help determine both the seriousness of the offense and the reasonableness of the offending conduct. The more serious the offense, the more grounds there are for the state to take action in discouraging it; the less serious the offense, the less warrant the state has for interfering with personal liberties. Moreover, to the degree that the offending conduct is reasonable—all else being equal—to that degree the offending actor should have the legal right to that conduct (25-49).
Feinberg is in line with Aristotle, who said some types of questions allow for clear, precise answers, while others do not. Questions pertaining to mathematics, for instance, tend to have definitive answers. Questions on morality or politics, on the other hand, must be approached with more flexibility.
The factors Feinberg outlines provide a general, sometimes hazy, approach to determining when the state is justified in limiting public nudity. We should expect no more than this, for the line demarcating harm and offense is too often blurred. That's just the way things are. Fortunately, there is enough clarity available that thoughtful naturists and legislators may go a good distance toward fair and just social policies in addressing concerns over offense.
Seriousness of the Offense
The seriousness of an offense may be determined by (but is not limited to) the following considerations.
The intensity of the offense. The more intense the offense would be to a standard observer, the more serious it is.5 Thus the offense from hearing a neighbor practice drums indoors for one hour each afternoon is not as serious as that which comes from hearing him practice outdoors beneath your bedroom window for two hours in the middle of the night.
Obviously, some people will find public nudity more intensely offensive than others. Courts and legislators, ideally, would try to determine how intense the offense would be for a "standard" person or for a "reasonable person." Such estimations are often made by juries.
Public nudity will elicit a fairly strong reaction, but it may not be as intensely negative as many naturists and non-naturists imagine. Activists like Vincent Bethell, photographers like Harvey Drouillard and Spencer Tunnick, and filmmakers like Charles MacFarland have contested the standard claim that people will automatically collapse in offended apoplexy at the sight of a naked body in public. More study, however, needs to be made in this area to move beyond anecdote.
The offense taken at public nudity should not be compared only to such trivial offenses as seeing someone walk down the street in garish colors, but to those offenses that on a nearly universal level produce powerfully intense reactions, such as public defecation. In a broad context, witnessing the human body is just not that big of a deal. Negative reactions to the sight of nude humans are learned behaviors. We are not born with an innate sense that nudity is bad, but acquire it through cultural conditioning.
Still, public nudity will provide what many consider an intense offense, so that must be weighed honestly by naturists. No one should desire to offend people without good reason. Other factors need therefore be considered.
The duration of the offense. The longer the unwanted offending sensation lasts, the more serious the offense. For example, when someone walks by an egregiously smelly man on the street, the odor will offend the passerby, but only for as long as she smells the malodorous man. Once she is out of olfactory range, she may recall the offense, but is no longer suffering the offense. On the other hand, if she walks by and overhears two men using the foulest of language in discussing a particular ethnic group, her offense may last for days.
The duration of someone's offense at seeing a naked ocean swimmer or backyard sunbather is most likely to be of short duration. The offended party may experience discomfort in witnessing public nudity, but the offended state is not likely to last much beyond the experience in question. Considering, then, only the duration of the offense, public nudity appears to be at worst a rather trivial concern and not worthy of harsh criminal sanction.
The extent of the offense. The more people who are likely to be offended by a given behavior, the greater the state's justification for taking action to discourage that behavior. Most people would find a loud, piercing noise to be terribly irritating. But few would find, say, vintage Barry Manilow songs to be more than a mild annoyance. The state would therefore have more cause to respond to complaints about loud, piercing noises than it would to complaints about a neighbor's fondness for bad '70s pop music.
What would be the extent of the offense at non-sexual public nudity? According to the Naturist Education Foundation's 2000 Roper-Starch poll, 80 percent of American adults think people should be able to swim or sunbathe nude in locations set aside for that purpose, and 25 percent of American adults have practiced some form of mixed-sex skinny-dipping or nude sunbathing.6 The poll did not address people's tendencies to be offended at nudity in public, but did hint that the extent of offense may be smaller than many think. This is an issue that deserves far more empirical study.
The standard of reasonable avoidability. If it is relatively easy for people to avoid a particular offending behavior, then given the prima facie value to personal liberty, the state should allow that behavior. Since the behavior does not harm anyone, and since no one need be offended given the ease of avoiding it, people should have the right to act in that potentially offending manner.
This is one of the reasons why communities usually allow books and magazines to be sold in stores even if their content might offend people. It is quite easy to avoid being offended: people simply avoid picking up those books and magazines and looking at them.
On the other hand, some communities demand that magazine stands use blinder racks to shield people from nudity on magazine covers. It may be easy to avoid perusing the pages of salacious magazines, but it may be much harder to avoid seeing the covers if they are on open display in a store.
Naturists do well to draw attention to this mediating factor when arguing for a nude beach or private park. The Naturist Action Committee has argued for years that informative signs placed at the entrance of clothing-optional areas can do wonders to forestall offense. If people know that if they walk down a stretch of beach they may encounter nude sunbathers, then they can easily avoid getting offended.
The Volenti Maxim: "Volenti non fit injuria," or "To one who has consented, no wrong is done." This common-sense principle holds that if people freely and knowingly consent to experiencing a behavior that offends them, then they are not wrongfully offended and the offending actor is not culpable. For example, people shouldn't get to gripe about being offended by nudity if they knowingly went out of their way to see naked bodies at a secluded beach.
Once again, naturists will point to the efficacy of signs alerting people to clothing-optional areas in forestalling unwanted offense. If signs are posted informing people that an area may be used for nude sunbathing, then anyone who continues past the sign and is offended by the sight will be doing so voluntarily, and has no grounds for complaint.
Since naturists usually request that a mere portion of, say, a coastline be recognized as clothing-optional, those offended by nudity will have many reasonable alternatives for their beach recreation (keeping in mind the standard of reasonably avoidability). Moreover, the signs alerting people to the site's nude use serve double-duty in helping people easily choose to avoid entering an area where they may be offended. Thus only those who wish to be offended will be so.
The discounting of abnormal sensibilities. If only one person in a town is deeply distraught at the sight of purple T-shirts, this would surely be counted as an abnormal sensibility. His offense is nonetheless real. He may very well feel nauseated at the sight of such garments. Still, the state would not wish to prohibit purple T-shirts on this basis alone. If, however, the vast majority of a community experiences a seething, visceral need to retch when coming across purple T-shirts, Feinberg argues that the state is right to take this into account in prohibiting the offending cloth.
A question that cannot be addressed fully in this discussion is whether offense to public nudity is the result of an abnormal sensibility. Even if the majority of Americans would be offended at the sight of a naked person walking down the street, it does not follow that that this is a normal response. Naturists can argue that it is abnormal for any person to be offended by mere nudity, given that nudity is our natural state and merely reveals our bodily selves.
The point worth exploring is whether a society can be so twisted, mixed up, neurotic, or otherwise confused as to be guided by abnormal sensibilities. We might recall America's "normal" sensibility regarding interracial dating or the right of women to vote. It seems that "abnormal sensibility" must refer to more than just a head count of who would and who would not be offended by public nudity.
Reasonableness of the Offending Conduct
Feinberg argues that determining whether an offending behavior should be prohibited or not requires a balance of mediating factors. So far we have looked at those factors that would provide grounds for the state to discourage—perhaps through criminal law—offending conduct. But liberty is vital to any democracy, and though people wish to avoid offense, democratic societies require a high degree of freedom to flourish. If the offending behavior is reasonable enough, then for the greater good, the state ought to refrain from criminalizing the conduct.
The reasonableness of the offending conduct may be determined by (but is not limited to) the following considerations.
The personal importance of the conduct to the actor. If an activity offends others, but it provides needed economic support for the actor, or assists her in maintaining her health, or is critical to her relationships to loved ones, then that provides prima facie grounds for allowing it. For instance, a professional bagpipe player will need to practice in order to maintain his musical skill. To the uninitiated, the pipes may sound like the dying wail of mutated herons. He should do what he can to allow people to avoid hearing him practice, but should also be given some freedom to master his craft.
On the other hand, the piper's passion for, say, gangsta rap does not justify his playing obnoxious CDs at ear-piercing decibel levels. He has no important interest in hearing such music that loud, and communities may be justified in discouraging his doing so.
Naturists should be able to argue why public nudity is important to them. Skinny-dipping may be fun and feel good, but naturists will have to go deeper than that to establish real importance. (Such a case can be made, but this too is beyond the present discussion.) Feinberg, by the way, recognizes that naturists in particular may find a degree of public nudity important to them, and that sense of importance countsÑall else being equalÑin favor of allowing the practice.
The social value of the offending conduct. Some activities will offend many people, but are themselves so valuable to a democratic society that the liberty to engage in them must at nearly all costs be preserved. For instance, a thriving democracy depends on free speech. Without the opportunity to speak freely and caustically about our government, religious beliefs, the views of others, and so on, the citizenry cannot remain sufficiently informed to play its role in democracy. Thus the state needs to be leery of curtailing so-called "hate speech"—at least when it does not clearly pose a threat of harm—and must back away wholly from prohibiting open and often offending debate about, for instance, the role the president should play in foreign affairs or the Church's stance on birth control.
Is there social value in non-sexual public nudity? Thoughtful naturists should be addressing this question with vigor. Given the growing trend away from body acceptance among people of all ages (e.g., high school students are afraid to take showers in front of others and college-age males are now concerned about back hair), given the unhealthy tie the entertainment industry continues to make between nudity and sex, and given the related psychological disorders of bulimia and anorexia, there is ample call for the promulgation of naturist practice and values. Clothing-optional beaches and public parks, as well as the normalizing of nudity on one's own property, would be good steps toward alleviating a growing set of social ills.
Naturists might turn the question around and ask if blanket prohibitions on public nudity are not harmful and of counter-value to society. Given the cost in time and money of policing harmless skinny-dippers at out-of-the-way beaches, and the need to direct scarce resources to the prevention of serious crime, overly broad anti-nudity laws indicate a lack of fiduciary responsibility.
Free expression. This consideration is related to that of social value. In a democracy, free expression is of vital importance. If the offending conduct is one of expression of ideas—whether written, verbal, or artistic—then due to expression's value, the state should be reluctant to prohibit it.
Some naturists—like Florida's T. A. Wyner—have shown that courts will sometimes recognize a link between nudity and free expression. For the most part, however, the courts have ruled that mere nudity is not an expression, but an activity. Until naturists are successful in convincing the courts that sunbathing in one's backyard or skinny-dipping in a public lake is a form of expression, this consideration will be of little relevance to the issue of public nudity.
Alternative opportunities. If a person does something that offends others, and there are ample opportunities for the offender to satisfy his or her desires in alternative ways, then the offender should (all else being equal) make use of those alternative opportunities. There is no moral justification for offending others when one can just as easily achieve one's goal another way.
For instance, if a woman wishes to raise pigs and chickens in a dense urban setting, the ensuing smell may offend her neighbors. If she has the opportunity to raise such animals in a rural area, or if she has the opportunity to raise other animals with less odor, then the state is warranted in encouraging her to do so.
Naturists will have much to say about this consideration. Given that laws generally keep people from being nude even in their own front and back yards, naturists can argue that they have very few opportunities to be naked socially outdoors. Limiting social nudity to the inside of private homes would be counter to what many naturists enjoy about it. Fresh air, water, and the general communion with nature are integral to the naturist experience.
That the state should allow private nudist parks and clothing-optional public sites follows immediately from the lack of alternative opportunities most people have for nude recreation. The poor and middle class in particular are limited in their alternatives. Lack of clothing-optional beaches, then, may well be an issue of class.
Free beach activists can appeal to this fourth consideration to answer a legislator who asks, "With all the private nudist parks in the state, why should we allow a beach to be recognized as clothing-optional? Naked people have plenty of places to go to for sunbathing."
Naturists may respond in at least two ways here. First, many people live too far away to make a visit to a nudist park a reasonable option. Also, many cannot afford to join or travel to a nudist facility. Years back, nudist parks were priced so that even low-income families could enjoy them. Today, many clubs raise the price of admission to what the market will bear. Many younger families and retired people on fixed incomes do not have nudist parks as an alternative opportunity for nude recreation.
Second, for many people, private nudist clubs are unrewarding. For whatever reason, many who enjoy social nudity prefer natural, undeveloped areas such as beaches, hot springs, rivers, and lakes. For these people, nudist clubs cannot offer the full naturist experience they seek. Select public sites should thus be open for clothing-optional recreation throughout each of the country's regions.
The offender's motivation. Feinberg holds that a person's motivation should not be an issue for the state and should be respected whenever possible. He points to the motives of malice and spite, however, as deserving of no consideration. If a person engages in offensive behavior merely to get back at someone, as when a man takes off his sweaty, stinky running shoes at a restaurant dinner table to retaliate against a cigarette-smoking neighbor, his motive counts against his right to do so.
Naturists should consider sexual enticement and exhibitionism as motives that should count against the actors' plea for liberty. Most naturists, however, are free of malice, spite, exhibitionism, or other questionable motives when they argue for expanded clothes-free opportunities.
The nature of the locality. Where the offense occurs is important in determining whether it should be discouraged by the state. A secluded woodland area may be a more appropriate place for playing bagpipes than the lawn outside a school. A gymnasium is an appropriate place to sweat and smell like old gym clothes; a public library may not be. A college campus may be an acceptable place to hear the position of the Ku Klux Klan; outside the doors of a synagogue may not be.
Locality and context are therefore something to consider when debating whether an offending action should be prohibited. Those seeking broader naturist opportunities on public lands will wisely point out any site's tradition of nude use. The locality will thus be more conducive to continued nude use than, say, a beach that has a history of textile use only.
Naturist activists seeking new public land sites might also point out that a particular beach or hot spring is secluded, out of view of roads and homes, is easily patrolled by police, and can be signed effectively to alert people to its nude use. Such would be an ideal locale for a clothing-optional beach.
Alternatives to Criminal Prohibition
The factors discussed here do not provide a mathematical calculus with which anyone can crank out a black-and-white response for or against public nudity. They do, however, provide thoughtful people with some intelligent points of discussion. Naturists may be confident that they are on solid moral ground as they argue for the freedom to be fully human on select public lands, regardless that offense may be taken.7
One last point should be made here. Even though a good case can be made showing that the offense taken at public nudity is too trivial to warrant the harshest penalties, and that naturists are reasonable in their request for access to at least some public lands, it may be that authorities and public pressure will still demand that the state discourage all forms of public nudity. Prohibition by criminal law should be, in this case, a last resort.8 There are other more appropriate responses the state can make.
Feinberg suggests other approaches to curtail offending behavior unwanted by the majority of society, arguing that "law should not treat offenses as if they were serious, by and large, as harms." The state may, for instance, rely on nuisance law with penalties no greater than parking tickets, or on individual civil suits, or on individual court orders initiated by police and with threat of penalty.
Authorities may issue unofficial policies directing enforcement officers to ask naturists to get dressed only when there is a complaint made by someone other than the officers. California State Parks have functioned with just this approach for years under the so-called "Cahill Policy," to good effect.
The state may also choose to limit itself to encouraging citizens—through lectures, advertisements, and the like—to refrain from specific offending activities. Naturists will point out that simply allowing signed, clothing-optional use of a few appropriate public sites, and enforcing existing law there as it would be enforced elsewhere, is the ideal solution.
The point is that there are many options beyond criminal prohibition open to the state in response to the kind of public nudity practiced by naturists. No one has a blanket right to do whatever he or she wants. On the other hand, no one has a blanket right never to be offended. As a civilized society, we need to inquire calmly and thoughtfully about the moral limits of the criminal law as it pertains to nudity. Naturists must take a stand forcefully, cogently, and graciously in arguing for their freedoms.
Thanks to Allen Baylis for his comments on an early draft of this article. This article first appeared in Nude & Natural 22.2 (Winter 2002): 82-88.
1. For instance, note the wording from a recent anti-nudity ordinance from Simi Valley, California. "WHEREAS, the City of Simi Valley has a valid governmental purpose of protecting public order, decency and morality; and WHEREAS, the City Council finds that the appearance of people in the nude in a public place or in a place open to or visible by the public, including children, is inimical to public safety and order, decency, and morality; and WHEREAS, the City Council is concerned regarding the indecency of citizen(s) of the community who have from time to time appeared in public in a state of nudity, with no applicable prohibitive state statutes; and WHEREAS, the City Council has expressed its intention to limit or restrict such indecent immoral activities, to provide penalties for violations thereto; and WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court has upheld regulation of nudity to protect the public order, decency arid morality in Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 111 S. Ct. 2456, 115 L. Ed 2d 504 (1991), and in City of Erie v. PAP'S AM, 2000 Daily Journal DAR 3255."
2. For a critique of the argument based on Cultural Relativism against non-lewd social nudity see Mark Storey, "Cultural Relativism & the Morality of Naturism," Naturist LIFE International, No. 14 (Summer 1995): 28-29.
3. Joel Feinberg, The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, Volume II: Offense to Others (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Feinberg developed his discussion on offense in earlier works. See, for instance, "'Harmless Immoralities' and Offensive Nuisances," in Joel Feinberg, ed., Rights, Justice, and the Bounds of Liberty: Essays in Social Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 69-109; and Joel Feinberg, Social Philosophy (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1973), especially pp. 43-45.
4. Feinberg argues for strong limitations on the state's authority to prohibit offending behavior when the offense is due merely to bare knowledge. This, of course, has important implications for proposed bans on nudity at secluded beaches or private nudist parks. See pages 33-34, 60-71.
5. Each of these factors should be understood as within the context of all else being equal. Thus, the more intense the offense—all else being equal—the more serious it is; and so on with each factor.
6. Mark Storey and Lee Baxandall, "A Growing Nude Attitude in America," N 20.2 (Fall 2000): 4-5.
7. With more space, I would address the question of whether we are morally justified in doing an action when we can rationally expect that a bad, but undesired, effect may result. Philosophers and theologians have discussed this issue for centuries and have hammered out a useful doctrine called the Principle of Double-Effect. For a clear and insightful discussion of this doctrine from a naturist perspective, see Jim C. Cunningham, "A Dialog of Conscience," Naturist LIFE International, No. 8 (Summer 1993): 22-24.
8. The state of Montana may be the most draconian when it comes to criminalizing skinny-dippers. According to Montana Code 45-5-504, on a third conviction of indecent exposure, skinny-dippers "shall be punished by life imprisonment or by imprisonment in a state prison for a term of not less than 5 years or more than 100 years and may be fined not more than $10,000."