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Women's Issues with Nudity

It is certainly - and unfortunately - a fact that many fewer women than men seem to enjoy nudity, at least as measured by almost any index of participation in social nudity. At clothing optional beaches there are usually several times as many men as women. The ratio is even worse in online discussion groups for nudism and naturism. Only in private clubs and resorts, where deliberate balance policies are often applied, does the ratio seemingly even come close to 1:1.

Is this because men are more attracted to social nudity out of voyeuristic interest, exhibitionism, or other sexual motivations? Are women just less likely to find the experience of nudity (either privately or socially) enjoyable? Or is it something else?

One of the most persistent concerns/criticisms voiced by non-participants about the practice of social nudity in any of its various forms is that it must represent the ultimate dream/fantasy of the male voyeur. Though this is usually expressed by women, many men (both potential voyeurs as well as those who disapprove) may hold this opinion also.

Probably nothing short of actual experience can adequately rebut this opinion. Indeed, it may well be that many voyeurs do harbor this dream/fantasy. However, individuals who actually try the experience of nudity, either alone or in a social setting, usually find that being naked is so pleasurable and satisfying in itself, that the issue of voyeurism diminishes greatly in importance.

Mature, psychologically healthy people who like to be naked are either neutral about seeing others naked or find it pleasurable, but they still derive most of their satisfaction from being naked themselves.

What about individuals who are immature, inconsiderate, or otherwise are not in the best psychological health? The answer depends on the setting. Except for situations where access can't be controlled (such as beaches on public land), a community of people enjoying nudity (or some other pursuit where nudity is accepted even if not the main purpose) naturally tends to exclude individuals whose behavior is disruptive to their enjoyment, for whatever reason. Even in the remaining cases of public beaches, there is often a community spirit present among the regular users of such places that actively works to make voyeurism and other disruptive behavior distinctly unwelcome.

Just why do so many more men than women seem to enjoy social nudity?

If an interest in social nudity is not a manifestation of male voyeurism (or worse), then what does account for the disparity in participation between men and women?

Although many men in our society are unable to appreciate the pleasures of nudity, there seem to be many more deterrents for women than for men. These include greater problems with body image, concerns about voyeurism and sexual harassment, reasonable (though unfounded) worries about physical safety, and simply the weight of social tradition that nudity is "offensive", indecent, lewd, and immoral - and more so for women than for men.

But even for women who personally have overcome these deterrents, are relatively at ease with being naked in public, and have even come to enjoy it (perhaps a lot), there remains one significant problem. Namely, because of all the extra deterrents to women, many more men than women choose to participate in social nudity, and consequently the remaining women may feel intimidated just by the sheer imbalance of numbers.

It is a classic self-fulfilling prophecy. Women are disproportionately deterred from social nudity, so there are fewer of them, and this itself becomes an added deterrent.

Why is it a deterrent? Not necessarily because of concerns about rude behavior or even physical safety if there are "too many" men around. It may simply be that women like to spend time socializing with other women, no more and no less when naked than when not. Women do differ from men in what tends to interest them, so at just about any kind of social gathering like seeks out like. Or it may be even simpler than that - if there are few women at naturist places, both women (and men) will readily assume women don't WANT to be at such places.

What can be done about the problem?

So we have a handle on the problem of gender imbalance in contemporary social nudity. The essence is that women face a number of deterrents to enjoying nudity that men don't, at least to the same degree. Therefore, in any random population many more men than women will experiment with social nudity. Hence in the absence of balance policies, the resulting imbalance adds a further significant deterrent - a feedback effect that makes the imbalance even worse.

Solution? The harmful feedback loop has to be broken. All deterrents and obstacles to the enjoyment of social nudity that affect women more than men must be identified and either eliminated, or at least reduced to the point there is no difference between men and women in their effect.

The approach for dealing with each specific obstacle or deterrent will depend on what it is, so let's look at a number of cases we can readily identify.

Cultural disapproval of nudity in general

The roots of cultural opposition to nudity in Western civilization go back at least two thousand years to the ancient near East. Although not without variation since then, the general attitude has been that nudity is "offensive", disgusting, and shameful. Except sometimes for poverty or servitude, no other association with nudity is recognized except for sexuality. Hence nudity itself if considered to be inherently "lewd", "indecent", and immoral.

Although this disapproval certainly affects both men and women, it tends to fall much more heavily on the latter. There are cultural traditions going back at least to the Greeks that nudity is appropriate for men in certain contexts like athletics. But for women, nudity is associated, at best, with slaves, and at worst with harlots and whores. "Nice" girls aren't supposed to let strangers see their "private" parts under any circumstances.

This cultural prejudice certainly has to be opposed by education and positive messages about nudity. The prevailing opinion about nudity itself has to be changed, so that it is rightly understood as something wholesome, pleasurable, enjoyable, rewarding, relaxing, and just plain "good" in and of itself, rather than a sexual adventure.

Since current attitudes towards nudity are harsher where women are involved, women will benefit more when it is possible for a person to say without embarrassment or shame that she/he really likes to be naked.

Social emphasis on body image

The tendency is very well recognized in which advertising and popular entertainment promote (to put it mildly) a very narrow range of body types as beautiful and attractive, while most other types are regarded as unattractive, repulsive, or ugly. But in spite of this recognition, these attitudes retain their power over our aesthetic perceptions through contemporary phenomena like the cult of physical fitness.

Again, the harsh effects are felt disproportionately by women, since (it is believed) physical attractiveness is a woman's primary requisite for finding a mate (whereas earning potential is relatively more important for a man).

The fact of the matter is that only a fairly small percentage of the population, either men or women, come close to fitting the stereotypes of physical perfection - especially for people well beyond adolescence (though teenagers seem to be most acutely sensitive on this issue). Failing to recognize and accept this fact is simply a way for people to make themselves miserable.

Again, education about the reality of the situation as opposed to the general misconceptions is the best answer. Ironically, it is the widespread taboo on nudity which makes it so difficult for people to recognize the truth! If nudity were significantly more common, it would be a lot easier for everyone to see that most people aren't nearly "perfect", and that we'd be much better off accepting our bodies as they are. It's actually a conspiracy of silence, with commercial interests like the clothing, cosmetics, and advertising industries the primary beneficiaries.

Worries about physical safety

For many women, fear of rape is very real, and many men do not understand just how strong or widespread the fear can be. However, there isn't any evidence at all that most venues where public nudity is found present women with any greater danger of rape than similar places without nudity. A nude beach or a nudist resort is not a more dangerous place than a non-nude beach or resort. If anything, the opposite is true.

The basic fact is that, as far as rape is concerned, there's safety in numbers. Numbers, that is, of people whose very presence would deter a potential rapist. A woman completely by herself faces the largest danger, no matter where she is. In a situation involving public nudity, there are others around, by definition. Violent rapists are very angry, unhappy people. They certainly aren't the sort of people who are habituated to the pleasant, relaxing ambience of social nudity.

Yet again, the best way to overcome this deterrent to women's participation in social nudity is publicity about the facts concerning the true, benign atmosphere in which people who like to be naked usually gather. A woman who has any fears for her safety should be encouraged to investigate the possibilities for nudity which are available in her area - and make every effort to bring along a significant other or friend (or many friends) when checking things out initially.

Of course, for anyone who is interested in testing out social nudity with the maximum safety, an option that's usually available is to take the initial plunge by arranging one's own private get together or outing with others from one's own circle of friends who are also curious about nudity. There's no need for special equipment or unusual facilities to discover the pleasure of not wearing clothes. Let there be more public encouragement of naked ladies' lunches so that such things can be regarded as reasonable and fun (and safe) diversions, and the organizer not stigmatized as a total mental case.

Concerns about sexual harassment

As a result of much publicity, lawsuits, and government legislation, there is now widespread awareness of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Such lawsuits and legislation have (so far) little direct impact on what goes on outside of a work or institutional environment. So, unlike rape, harassment can be a real problem in gatherings of people enjoying nudity, just as it can be a problem at places where people aren't naked, such as a beach, a nightclub, or a private party.

Where sexual harassment is concerned, it will not work to proclaim that it doesn't occur at places where people are naked, because it can and does. In the abstract the potential is, if anything, even greater. In addition to all the usual openings some men will take advantage of to make unwelcome sexual remarks or advances, a state of nudity obviously affords many new ones. Staring and voyeurism, for instance. Or exhibitionism. Or pointed remarks about specific, "private" body parts. Or even excessive and unwelcome touching.

A program of education and sensitization is needed here too, but this time directed at men. It needs to become very well known that places which offer social nudity do not welcome men who have harassing behavior in mind. It needs to be equally well known that women can very easily develop a fondness for not wearing clothes, and at the same time be not one bit more tolerant of sexually harassing behavior.

Some men will probably never learn to curb harassing behavior, but they should learn very clearly where they aren't welcome. Most men who choose to participate in social nudity for its own sake already understand that sexual harassment is wrong, just as stealing and selfishness are wrong. But a few need occasional reminders, and they should be reminded when appropriate. Men who are attracted to social nudity for the "wrong" reasons, or who sometimes simply forget their good manners, can spoil it for everyone, just as inconsiderate or boorish people can take the fun out of any kind of social event.

Almost all naturist clubs, parks, and resorts now have formal policies that forbid harassment and provide for the expeditious ejection of anyone who can't comply. But many places go much further, unfortunately, with policies that exclude most males unaccompanied by a female, or even all males unaccompanied by a spouse. Such restrictions on the admission of single males to nudist/naturist facilities and events are one way of promoting a reasonable gender balance, of course. Such restrictions also help to minimize harassment, on the theory that an accompanying female will tend to keep the man she's with on his best behavior.

But there is a high price to pay for such policies. Limits on single males are not the best or ultimate solution to the imbalance problem. In the short run and for specific circumstances they certainly work, but the overall effect is to severely restrict men's ability to experience wholesome social nudity. Consequently, growth in the general understanding of the real nature of social nudity, and therefore its social approval, is curtailed. Women who've learned to like being naked certainly don't want that any more than men do.

Gender imbalance is a symptom, not the underlying problem(s). The latter must be addressed and fixed, rather than just the symptom. Increasing female participation in the enjoyment of nudity rather than decreasing male participation needs to be the highest priority. Recognizing the specific obstacles that stand in the way of this, and taking appropriate steps to deal with each one, is the way to go.

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