Breaking the Grip of Shame Among Christians by Promoting Body Respect.

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Sexuality is a natural, God-given desire. However, when someone violates another person's sexual boundaries, it wounds that person to the core.  For that reason, I believe that sexual abuse is the most damaging and shaming of all abuses.  Yet it is so horribly common in our culture.

- Cynthia Spell Humbert (1)

The following article is from the book Children and Nakedness by Paul M. Bowman, Copyright 2000, and is used here with permission.  Although there are many and varied causes of pedophilia, this article attempts to explain how denying non-erotic nakedness contributes to sexual abuse, which is so horribly common in our culture.  The article suggests a deceptively simple way to reduce both the origin of pedophilia and how to protect children from the real damage of sexual abuse, which is keeping it secret (or, parent's and society's over-reaction to reported abuse).

Those who oppose nudity because they believe it harms children are absolutely right to be concerned about children, but over and over again reality shows that it is body shame that harms children (and adults).  Rather than being harmful, non-sexual nudity can be absolutely essential in helping protect children from abuse.  Unfortunately it is a very controversial subject and very little research has been done on it. 

Peoples preconceptions are very strong, even in the scientific community.  Some people feel the following article is excellent, others feel that it cannot stand up to rigorous critique, this points to two problems 1. that views of psychology are often conflicting and 2. that more research is desperately needed on this very important topic. 

We must do everything we can to find the best way to protect children from sexual abuse EVEN IF it means controversy by challenging strongly held preconceptions in researching the effects that non-sexual nudity has on children.  Research is badly needed on this topic that can stand up the the most rigorous critique. 

I urge any one in the research community who cares about children to pursue this much needed research. Paul will help facilitate in order to get some quality studies produced his contact information is at the end of this article. 


One can barely pick up a major newspaper in America without finding a report or feature story on child molestation.  Experts claim that adults or adolescents molest at least one out of four girls during their childhood.  Boys are frequently molested as well.  With a problem so widespread, one would think finding a solution would be a top priority for society.  Yet, the orthodox wisdom is that child molesters cannot recover from their perversion and victims only survive, never recover.  The common belief is that molesters destroy their victim's lives.

Society cannot completely solve a problem unless people understand how the problem arose in the first place.  Western attitudes toward nakedness undoubtedly cause a major part of the compulsion to molest.  Furthermore, it influences even the compliance with molestation. 

One must keep in mind that social attitudes toward nakedness are not the only influences producing any particular sexual perversion.  There are often many other factors involved that cause sex deviations and some may be completely unrelated to nakedness.  However, the factor of nakedness assuredly has a huge influence on the development of sexual abuses such as child molestation.

Anyone who has read this book this far knows children need to know about the physical differences between the sexes.  Children need enough natural exploration to satisfy completely the mystery of the body differences.  Sex differences must become so familiar they evoke no more conscious attention than a person's nose or fingers.  The only way children can do that is to see people who are naked.

If children do not have the necessary exposure to nakedness, they will not resolve juvenile sexual issues.  With those issues unsettled, insecurities about sex differences develop and remain hidden in his personality.  As long as they are children, there is not much problem.  By the ages of puberty, however, those unsettled insecurities force themselves to the surface in a child's life.  Then, they must deal with them. 

Dealing with issues they should have resolved as children causes many problems for some young teenagers.  It is almost certain that, denied natural means, they will take advantage of deviant ways to answer his questions.  The unnatural methods employed probably causes them to deviate from normal sexuality into child sexual abuse.

The Power of Abstract Thinking

About the age of twelve or thirteen, a new ability develops in the normal child.  Children attain the ability to think in the abstract.  This means they can imagine situations they have not actually experienced.  Until they are young teens, children can conceive only what they can perceive with their five senses. 

During adolescence, children develop the ability to imagine in their mind images with which they have had no direct contact.  This new ability provides them with an imposing advantage over children younger than themselves.  They can create situations.  Adolescents often use this new skill to settle those long unresolved questions about the physical differences between the sexes.

Puberty also introduces children to new and very powerful sex hormones.  When that happens, it is certain unresolved sexual issues will force their way to the surface.  It will completely disrupt an adolescent's personality if adults frustrated his efforts to settle those issues earlier.  This is one reason young teens often become contrary and delinquent.

With unsettled childhood issues, adolescents are unable to deal with sexuality in a manner corresponding with natural maturity.  They are sexually immature compared to a normal young teenager.  Thus, they are ill-equipped to deal sexually with age-mates of the opposite sex. 
This is because they were unable to develop the foundation of sexual cooperation.  The basis of sexual concurrence is a secure gender identity.  Nobody can deal in a mature sexual manner with the opposite sex while facing an underlying gender insecurity.

Resolving an underlying gender insecurity is rarely possible with an adolescent the same age.  Both sexes are equally self-conscious about their own changing sexuality.  Both boys and girls are facing new and potent sexual emotions that make them self-conscious.  Young teens are well known for their extreme self-consciousness about any aspect about sexuality. 

Young teens are self-conscious because they are unfamiliar with the perplexing new world of sexuality influenced by sex hormones.  When facing the unknown, the natural tendency is to withdraw.  For a gender insecure teenager, trying to resolve unsettled sexual issues with a partner of the opposite sex is nearly impossible.  The underlying gender insecurity, joined with their self- consciousness, makes it hopeless to even try settling those issues with an age-mate.  Therefore, they withdraw sexually from teenagers their own age.

The urgency of dealing with sexuality does not disappear, however.  Gender insecurity blocks adolescents from settling sexual issues with their age-mates.  The easiest way to try to settle those unanswered questions is with a younger child.  Merely the size difference gives the older child an aura of authority over a younger child. 

Since they can think in the abstract, adolescents can contrive ways to persuade younger children to let them explore their body.  They can devise clever situations in ways young children cannot.  Consider an eight-year-old boy who tells an age-mate girl, "Take off your panties."  She probably will ask why he wants her to do that.  "Because I want to look at you," he might say.  If she says, "No," he has no way to argue persuasively around her refusal.

A teenager has an enormous advantage in such a situation.  He can imagine ways to give her the impression it is logical for her to take off her panties.  For example, while baby-sitting, a thirteen-year-old boy may get a six-year-old girl dirty on purpose.  Then, he has a reason to tell her to take off her clothes.  If she asks why, he can say that she must be clean before her parents return home.  That is something most little girls can relate to, so she will willingly take a bath. 

It is easy, then, to have to wash her--and to focus on her genitals.  By then, she has lost control.  She has already let him touch her in ways she would not normally have wanted.  She probably already had broken her parent's cautions.  Also, she would never realize that he had imagined the whole plan for the specific purpose of exploring her body.

The Role of Sex Hormones

The particular scheme a teenager uses may be far different from this example.  The fact remains, however, that adolescents are mentally equipped to devise a plan that appears sensible to a much younger child.  This, alone, gives an unfair advantage over a younger child. 

If that were the extent of the incident, it probably would not be markedly damaging.  Severe emotional damage probably would not happen to either the adolescent or the younger child.  Unfortunately, body investigation by teenagers is never a simple, childish kind of exploration.  Teenage inspection is very serious because adolescents have the additional factor of adult sex hormones.

Sex exploration between two children is a simple matter.  They use only the five senses to answer the questions that have arisen in their minds.  Absent any adult admonitions and alarm, they easily answer their questions to the level they can understand.  When they answer their questions, they stop exploring because that is all they wanted to know. 

When they finish exploring, children go on to playing cowboys or school or whatever else interests them.  Interviews with children who have grown up at nudist clubs show they usually do not even recall ever "playing doctor."  Those incidents of sex exploration have no more conscious impact on them than any other form of child play.  It is all very innocent.

It is very different for adolescents trying to make up for the sex exploration they should have done as children.  Due to the presence of adult sex hormones, an adolescent has a dramatic reaction.  Then, the sight, touch, and even smell of the young girl triggers the sex hormones.  They produce a sense of immense excitement and pleasure.  Sexual excitement.

Such pleasant passion makes it impossible to forget the incident because Nature designed sexual passion to be supremely pleasurable.  This is to be sure that people repeat sexual intercourse often enough to continue the species.  An adolescent feels the same intense fervor with a child partner as an adult does with an adult partner.  It is beyond human control. 

Since the passion is so wonderful, the natural wish is to repeat the experience.  Sexual pleasure does not promote sexual maturity, however.  Thus, teenager molesters involved with children do not mature sexually because of the experience.  They are no more equipped to deal sexually with an age-mate than they were before first substituting a young girl.  Unable to relate to an age-mate, youths must seek to reproduce the experience with another young girl.  The more adolescents repeat the experience, the more rooted it becomes in their personality.

Several aspects of pedophilia still needs attention.  In spite of the intense sexual pleasure, he may hold the desire in check through fear of exposure.  First, the general anti-sexuality attitudes of our culture may hold it in check or reduce its frequency.  Second, the severe social and legal penalties toward such age differences in sexual activity may prevent further such action.  Third, the person's superego may intervene to deter continuation of the practice.  No matter what factors intervene, however, that person will never completely forget his first sexual pleasure with a little girl.  He may repress it, but it will remain in his unconscious mind.

Grandfather Molesters

This is illustrated by the common occurrence of sexual assaults on children by older men.  After adolescents, the most common class of child molesters are probably grandfathers.  If molestation incidents by grandfathers become known, it usually shocks their family.  The family can't believe it.   The old gentleman, they say, never showed any such tendency before.  Why would he molest a young granddaughter? 

The answer is simple.  It is certain that in every such case, the old man experienced sexual abuse when he was an adolescent.  It could be as a victim of molestation, although it is more likely that he molested someone as a young teenager. 

During adult life, he may have married and had a solid career because his superego was strong enough to overcome his compulsion.   He could control the need to repeat the initial sexual pleasure while he had a useful social value.  As his value in society declines, the superego's ability to conform with social expectations also declines.  At some point it declines enough that social decency loses its influence over him.  Then, he becomes free to repeat those youthful pleasures.  The powerless feelings of old age also may be similar to those he felt in his youth.

Letting children play naked with each other can naturally prevent the development of the issues that produce child molesters.  [Reasonable naked activities would be playing at the beach or with a sprinkler in the back yard.]  Consider evidence drawn from situations where the people openly accept nakedness that held no sexual connotation. 

Adults in primitive cultures consistently have no sexual interest in children.  Modern children who grow up in a healthy nudist environment also never develop a sexual interest in young children.  Many notable examples prove the point:  Natural nakedness while growing up prevents much emotional pain for both the molester and the one molested.

When Natural Nakedness is Secret

Natural nakedness does not merely mostly rule out the development of a pedophile.  It also acts as a natural protection for potential victims of sexual abuse.  The reason is amazingly simple.  For a child molester to "succeed" in his activity, one critical element must be present.  Secrecy.  The loss of secrecy means the discovery of his perversion.  Society's attitudes toward sex abuse makes some punishment almost a certainty.  Therefore, the molester's primarily concern is with keeping the deed secret.

Amazingly, the child's parents are usually the pedophile's strongest ally in that effort!  Consider the typical American family's attitudes about their children's nudity.  Almost everyone has experienced a situation such as these.  Little Johnny or Sally jumps out of their bath and happily runs, naked, into a living room full of guests.  Maybe, a mother discovers her preschooler joyfully playing naked in the front yard.  Immediately, Mother rushes the child into the privacy of their room. 

Full of embarrassment, she sternly lets the child know that nakedness must be kept private.  Mother is very emotional and leaves no doubt that being naked is totally unacceptable.  Often, the child is punished--parents almost certainly threaten punishment for another violation.  Maybe, the little child suffers a spanking for innocently scampering naked after her bath in front of others.  All the children in that family clearly understand that he or she let out some secret that must keep carefully hidden.

A few years later, along comes a child molester.  Using his powers of abstract thought, he puts the young child into a position of finding herself exposed, naked with him.  For example, he might get her dirty and then convince her she need to take a bath.  Up to that moment, he may have thought only of the excitement of seeing or touching her.  Then he thinks of getting caught.  The molester, knowing he needs secrecy, tells her very strongly that they must keep their activity secret.  He may use some sort of threat to reinforce his demand that she should not tell anyone what happened. 

Suddenly, she recalls the incident when her mother found her playing naked.  The first thought she remembers is how upset her mother was.  She also recalls her mother said, "If I ever catch you naked where others can see you, I will . . . ."  Visions of punishment come to her mind, so she readily agrees to keeping their activity secret.  If her parents spanked her, she already knows the pain she receives when her parents discover she has been seen naked.

The Result of Open Nakedness

What is the alternative?  Consider children who experience nakedness as a natural part of their life.  When they encounter a molester, the first "red flag" rises in that child's mind is a question.  Why would a grownup have any interest in those sexual parts of her (or his) body?  They will see it as something children do with each other.  Children who have many opportunities to satisfy their own curiosity about sexual differences will question an adult's interest in their sexual organs. 

The second "red flag" would be the signs of sexual arousal by the older person.  Young children who discover all the answers to their questions about sex differences do it in a matter of fact manner.  There is no sexual passion.  The sight of naked parents or other adults, such as at a nude beach, does not sexually excite children.  The adults he sees in everyday situations do not show any signs of sexual arousal.  Sex play with other children also occurs with no adult-based sexual emotions involved.

What happens with a child molester?  The molester's excited behavior will be different from what the child is used to seeing.  As he shows an interest in a child's sexual organs, he begins to breathe hard, maybe slightly shake.  Typically, the youth will have an erect penis, not the flaccid penis the child would have seen.  The dramatic difference in the behavior of the molester will shock or frighten the child.  It will be fearsome to him or her.   The molester's unusual behavior usually will be strong enough to frighten a child into trying to avoid him.  The natural reaction to fear is to try to flee or to fight. 

Maybe, the molester, by using his powers of abstract reasoning, will allay the child's fear.  Maybe, he will be able to proceed with molestation.  However, when the molester tells the child she must keep their activity secret another "red flag" comes up.  What happens to the children who have always openly explored those parts of their body with others their age?  What happens if they know they have their parents approval? 

Those children are going to mistrust why this person says they need to keep their activity secret.  Children free to be naked, regularly seeing their parent's naked bodies in the natural course of daily events, question the secrecy.  If accustomed to being naked, children will normally wonder why the molester makes it into something so hidden.

All three "red flags" are going to raise questions in the mind of the child.  They increase the chance a child will turn to his or her parents with questions.  Children whose parents have taught that nakedness is naughty or should be kept hidden have no way out.  This is especially true if parents punish the child's nakedness. 

Those children cannot ask their parents why the molester behaved strangely.  They cannot ask why he was so excited, was interested in their body, or why he insisted on secrecy.  To do so is to admit that she was naked with him.  Didn't the child molester tell her that she would get in trouble if she told?

Children Used to Nakedness

On the other hand, children who have grown up with open nakedness have no such barrier to face.  If nakedness raises any questions children cannot answer with their five senses, they usually will ask their parents about it.  Asking their parents any questions they have about the body is very natural if their family is open about nakedness.  They do not have to overcome shame or embarrassment about their interest in the human body.  Therefore, the pattern of turning to the parents about sexual questions will be the natural course of settling sex questions. 

Children familiar with natural nakedness have a strong advantage if they face a pedophile.  An attempt at molestation will usually motivate children to ask their parents about the adult's strange behavior.  The parent's history of openness about nakedness will have prepared their children to turn to them to answer such questions.  Threats against a child or her family will only raise more questions.  Threats increase the chances children will find the molestation to be so strange they will want to ask their parents about it. 

Open nakedness voids the molesters demands for secrecy.  Natural nakedness creates a wholesome openness within families about their bodies and sexual matters.  This makes it easy for children to ask their parents sexual questions.  It also makes it more likely they will question and report sexual behavior that troubles them.  Since the molester's behavior is very strange, it is more likely children will feel compelled to question his parents about it.  His behavior will seem very strange compared to the naked adults the child has known before. 

Most important, by having a familiar "out" for sexual and nudity questions, children avoid much distress.  Those children do not have to harbor in secret the guilt of having done something their parent would dislike.  Accustomed to openness, the victim of a molester does not have to harbor the fear that comes with the molester's threats.  It is probably the harboring of guilt rather than the actual incident that causes the most damage to a child.

The Unwitting Role of a Victim

One other element of child sexual abuse needs to mentioning.  That is the cooperation of the child.  No one can diminish in any way the power of the adult over any child.  Adults gain power by their size, by their ability of abstract reasoning, and by their aura of authority.  Even if a child does cooperate in the molestation, the responsibility always lies with the adult. 

Some children may have an unconscious need to cooperate.  Those children are the ones who have not satisfied in their own minds the sexual matters they need to know.   Therefore, those unfulfilled needs are still present and the need to fulfill them may be strong enough to overcome their training. 

Those children consciously know they should not be participating in the molestation.  Yet, the emotional compulsion to answer unfulfilled questions about the body may overcome their willpower.  Also present may be delight in the excitement of discovering what is forbidden.  Children who have settled those questions with age-mates will not have an emotional need to settle them with an older person.

We often hear that the victim of sexual abuse feels guilty.  Why?  If the molester is to blame, why would the child feel guilty?  The simple fact that he or she did something his parent disapproves would cause some guilt.  Becoming excited about something forbidden leads to a feeling of guilt.

However, there is a far more damaging cause of guilt.  It arises from an awareness that she emotionally  wanted to carry on while also knowing it was wrong with an adult.  Thus, there may be a conscious desire not to be a participant.  However, she has a conflicting unconscious, emotional need to participate. This discord is probably what produces the severely damaging guilt that usually accompanies child sexual abuse.

By this measure natural nakedness during childhood can be a genuine aid in the prevention of sexual abuse.  It naturally provides the tools a child needs to avoid damage from molestation.   Natural nakedness also aids in the prevention of a pedophile. 

The key is the nature of the nakedness.  It must be wholly natural to the child and completely lacking of any adult sexual suggestion.   If nakedness is seductive or depicted as naughty and secret, any benefits preventing sexual abuse will be lost.  There is no question the damage to the child can be extremely extensive.  Parents should see that their children openly and naturally experience nakedness.  They must be sure the natural nakedness is wholesome and not erotic.  Then, they will be solidly equipping the child to deal with attempts at sexual molestation.

Copyright 2002 Paul M. Bowman

Paul has written excellent books on the subject of nudity as it relates to children and the Bible.  For information on how to get his books Click Here for his site. 

Academic researchers who would like to conduct studies on the effects of nudity, especially on children, should contact Paul.  Any institution or business person who is willing to fund such studies should contact Paul as well. Paul will work as a clearing house to help facilitate and put any professionals conducting such research or any one interested in founding it in contact with each other in order to get some quality studies produced. 

You may contact Paul by email at:
Or by postal mail at:

Paul M. Bowman
P. O. Box 1978
Ferndale, WA 98248 (USA)

Please click here for more information or to contact him via his site.

1. Source: Deceived by Shame, Desired by God: Cynthia Spell Humbert, Navpress, Colorado Springs, CO, 2001 

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