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Nude Awakening: The Benefits of Getting Naked

There's a lot more to the nudist/naturist lifestyle than the negative stereotypes. And the movement is seeing a youth revival.

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Equally shocking/refreshing was the general lack of sexual vibes permeating the event. Again, considering we’re used to a consumer culture in which everything is sexualized, combined with a religious/conservative culture in which sexuality is demonized, one could be forgiven for expecting a young nudist gathering in Florida, home to a million tanked Spring Breakers each year, to look like a somewhat more brightly lit version of Plato’s Retreat, the notorious ’70s-era New York swingers’ club.

But nope. Sexual contact, of course has always been verboten at nudist events, as is ogling, tongue-wagging, and other come-hither behavior. But despite the hot, sweaty weekend's made-for-bacchanalia vibe, I didn’t get the sense that anyone was there for a potential hook- up. Which is not to say the event was free of all creeps, or all whiffs of objectification—“Can I get a picture?" a man breathily asked me—but it had less of both than most women experience when they’re sporting jeans and a t-shirt.

Still, cultural critics, especially those with an eye toward gender politics, must maintain a few reservations about the new kind of youth-focused nudism. For starters, the new nudism, apart from its obvious demographic differences, diverges from that of decades past in that it’s not nearly as philosophically or politically motivated. Yes, mass naked parties and gatherings constitute a basic rebellion against societal norms, but so far, it's a rebellion without a unified ideologic cause or M.O.

Where the old-guard nudists seemed to actively campaign for the legitimacy of their lifestyle, many legislating for clothing-free public spaces and buying land to set up “colonies”—younger nudists and naturists seem less interested in the civic aspects of nudism (nude sit-ins!) and more in the social ones (nude tattooing!). Even when they’re using public nudity politically, as with the World Naked Bike Ride, whose aim is to advocate for changes in energy policy—the nudity is a means to an end.

Granted, there are exceptions. For instance, Aug. 26 marks International Go-Topless Day, which brings awareness to worldwide topfree equal rights movements. Overall, though, it seems the new nudists are content with the gains made by those who stripped down previously, and don't seem the see the need to build upon them. When asked about end goals, for example, some of the young nudists I met at Sunsport Gardens told me that they'd maybe like to live on a colony one day, seeming much more interested in attracting people to a lifestyle than to a cause.

That brings up another key issue. If the new nudism is oriented around event planning rather than intellectual conversations, the discussion and debate required to change the very entrenched—and outdated—elements of the culture may not be taking place.

Take the dress codes in some naturist settings, also. For menstruating women, a common practice is the wearing of sarongs. At Sunsport Gardens, home of the Florida Young Naturist party, management required sarongs to come off poolside —even for those clearly acting in a reportorial capacity. This policy has apparently been a significant source of tension between Sunsport's old- guard nudists and newer participants, with the club's male manager maintaining a hard-line postion on sarongs and advising menstruating women to purchase rubber cups rather than use tampons or pads.

Then there’s the gender essentialism evoked by many nudist events’ treatment of male guests. While statistics are statistics, and the overwhelming majority of sexual predation is perpetuated by men, nudist settings routinely treat single male guests drastically differently than single female guests, putting the burden of proof on them to prove they're not predators before any clothes get doffed. At Sunsport Gardens, for instance, lone males are checked against a sexual predator database before being allowed on the campus. At other nudist settings, unaccompanied men are flat-out banned.

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