Post updated: March 2021I wrote this post sitting on the porch of a yurt on the Big Island of Hawaii – a few years ago. But the trend continues. Want the local government to get behind nudity? Make it profitable for the locals.

It’s easy to reminisce about the good ol’ days, when local nudist clubs were thriving in America, when naturist ethical mores were higher, and people were just more laid back about the naked people on the beach. You know, back before the internet.

The newest naked economic boomtown – Zipolite, Mexico

As a 50-something male, I have pined over the fact that I was born a bit too late to enjoy the “golden days of naturism.” We like to believe that things were better before people became so uptight and paranoid with a desire to legislate every possibly questionable behavior out of existence. While there’s some truth in that, (another rant for another day) I would have to say that things are getting significantly better for naked people. More complicated, perhaps, but better.

From Ile du Levant, c. 1961
From Ile du Levant, c. 1961

My inspiration for making such a bold statement is largely a reaction to having read Stephen L. Harp’s recent book, Au Naturel: Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France. I fear he won’t get much press outside of academic circles, as even the Kindle edition is really expensive. But given the fact that I’ve spent so much energy over the years touting the naturist glories of France, I thought this would be well worth the investment. And it was.

Harp spends a lot of time setting up the story as he traces the roots of naturism back to early twentieth-century Germany and France. In short, it was a radical movement, embraced by only a few, and held in contempt by most. The early leaders worked tirelessly to convince the government (and the masses) that, along with a diet that restricts meat, alcohol, tobacco, and anything else that tastes good, that direct exposure to the sun will be make you healthy.

A vintage postcard from Cap d'Agde
A vintage postcard from Cap d’Agde

There were various coalitions in those early naturist movements, including a few pioneers in the US, but it’s worth noting that much of what they were fighting for back then would be considered more conservative than the average swimwear you see on just about any beach today. (Especially European beaches – home of the Speedo!) The requirement of le minimum was typical, meaning that while breasts and chests might be exposed, genitalia still needed to be concealed. Of course, there were those who would push the boundaries for full nudity, but they were the daring ones. It would be the early 1960s before people really started getting naked on French beaches. That’s scarcely fifty years ago.

The early days on Ile du Levant
The early days on Ile du Levant

What changed the narrow minds of the masses? Two things; tourism and sex!

My followers know that we’re very keen on Ile du Levant, as we try to make even a brief visit during our annual naturist pilgrimage to France. And I have carefully avoided mentioning that we have several times visited the famous naked city, Cap d’Agde, as the reputation among naturists in the know is dicey at best. “Oh, you’re those kind of naked people!?!”

No. Actually, we’re not. But interestingly enough, when I tell somebody from the US that we enjoy naturist vacations in France, if they know anything about the topic at all, their first question is, “Oh, do you go to that big naked city on the Mediterranean? What’s the name?” And if they’re really in the know, “Aren’t there swingers there?”

What I found most informative about Harp’s history of French naturism was that there has been a consistent pattern over the past hundred years when it comes to humans getting naked. In very general terms, it goes something like this:

  • People were looking for a place to get naked and they found Ile du Levant. The tradition grew until it was no longer possible to mandate, let alone enforce “acceptable behavior,” until eventually, some of the naked people decided to push the boundaries of sexuality. Between nudity and sex, tourism exploded, and this little island became an international destination until the authorities cracked down and a better option materialized.
  • REPEAT: but fill in Cap d’Agde
  • REPEAT: but fill in Florida
  • REPEAT: but fill in any number of “naturist places” that begin with the best of intentions, but at the end of the day, people come to spend their naked dollars (euros, francs) or they don’t. Money speaks louder than an imposed sense of morality.

The “AH HA” moment for me was not that naturism caught on in Europe simply because Europeans are more open minded and free-spirited, but in nearly every case, the right to get naked followed some initiative of commercial development. “Turn these marsh wetlands into a place to get naked, and people will come by the thousands!” Simple supply and demand. At this writing, we’re seeing a similar trend in Zipolite, Mexico where locals that were once afraid of the naked people have come to realize naturism is completely revitalizing their economy. Money talks!

A sea of nakedness at Cap d'Agde
A sea of nakedness at Cap d’Agde

And sure enough, we are seeing similar trends today, even in the US, with offerings like the The Big Nude Boat and some of the Florida resorts that have simply abandoned the guise of what so many of us hold dear as holistic naturism to cater to those with more hedonistic tendencies. The assumption is that if we let people believe that sex might be related to nudity, that the public at large will completely flip out. But if this article in the Huffington Post (What Really Goes On Inside Nudist Resorts) isn’t enough evidence, the only people who are not connecting those dots – at least in the US of A, are the naked people. By and large, the average guy on the street has already made up his mind.

Am I condoning places that advertise themselves as naturist/nudist destinations only as a guise for the crazy sex dens everyone is leering and jeering about? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Am I shunning my commitment to holistic, non-sexual naturism as a truly meaningful way to enjoy life? Again, I say no. But as a fellow blogger put it so succinctly, (Sex and the Conservative Nudist) we are doing a disservice to our own credibility if we refuse to view nude recreation through the eyes of the public at large.

Naked luxury at Cap d'Agde
Naked (concrete) luxury at Cap d’Agde

And to be sure, the Millennials and their younger cousins are growing up in a different world than the pioneers of naturism, with different ideals about sex, nudity, religion, marriage; all salted with a sense of paranoia instilled by a generation of helicopter parents. But amidst it all, as I wrote this, I was sitting naked on the porch of a Hawaiian yurt bantering about nudity. While some of the old nudist camps have quietly disappeared, there is a greater variety of opportunity for people to get naked than ever before… all over the world. And on the day of this writing, people are taking to the streets with the #freethenipple campaign – a war that’s already been won in New York City. That’s a long country mile from requiring le minimum on a beach in the South of France just a few decades ago.

Maybe the Millennials (and Generations X, Y, Z & A2) will help us all sort out some of the sexual hang-ups of the past. My guess is that, as in the past, supply and demand will even things out. As long as there are people who embrace holistic nudity, – whatever that means – there will be places to do that. As long as there are people who want to push that boundary, there will be a market for that as well.

How is that different than anything else that’s trending in the world right now?

A POST SCRIPT to my readers in France: Harp goes on to talk about CHM Montilivet and the other resorts on the Aquitaine as well as those in Provence and in the Ardèche, noting that these places have largely held true to the early naturist core values, while at the same time, benefiting from the local government’s desire to increase tourism. As long time patrons at La Jenny, we are most grateful for that. No such phenomenon has yet to occur in the US.

Photos for this post were found on the internet. If I used your photo without permission, let me know and I’ll change it out.

30 thoughts

  1. Thanks for including me in your dissertation. You’re right, of course, nothing matter except for the money. The free market always decides what business survives and is the only real indicator of morality of a citizenry. BTW: I love how I got equal billing with the Huffington Post!

    1. Actually, I think the leaders in the naturism movement would take issue with that, but in fact, it seems naturism didn’t really get a stronghold in France until it became a matter of hard, cold cash. That makes sense, really, when you stop to think about it. It’s just not how I had imagined it.

      You’re article was better than the Huffington Post piece. In fact, I was really disappointed in the latter. Same old clichés.

  2. Having done Ile Du Levant and Cap d’Adge and a nude cruise in June / July this year I would agree that a’Adge is a sexually charged location, we had been told lots of varying things about this place and figured the only way to find out was to go. I’d suggest we’re unlikely to return.

    The island and the cruise however were fine. We didn’t get a sexual vibe from either of these that said the need to dress for dinner, which we accept without understanding, on the cruise did give Kim’s the freedom to be more expressive in her choice of dress. The dynamic of course was the same as at a traditional restaurant in that the bulk of the comments on her, and our other traveling companions, attire came from the women present. However unlike a regular restaurant environment the comments were very complementary of the choices made. Let’s face it while we may be on the fun side of fifty we don’t have to dress ‘old’.

    So while I agree there are a lot more options for those that would travel light this I think is because as we’ve gotten older our purchasing power increases as does our expectations. We want comfortable cruises and we want nice resorts.

    As to the perceived, or otherwise, increase in the sexual nature of the places I agree there are some that to be blunt are purely aimed at those in the “lifestyle” and good luck to them. However at some of the other places I think this change may be due to the simple fact that as nudists we tend to be more broadminded than the general public, we need to be otherwise a lot of us would have never tried it in the first place.

    If you then take a group of these broad minded people who for years had been told that they’re to be accepting of others but must never discuss or even think about “it” while the rest of society moves on then there is going to be a level of disconnect between this and the younger, or young at heart, members of society.

    The outside world will always form ill informed opinions of what “really” goes on in the places we visit however as is always said behaviour in a resort or on a cruise that that would not be acceptable in a textile environment should not be accepted in the nudist environment and to be honest this seems the case on the cruises and most places we stayed, including Ile Du Levant.

    So seeing some of the clothing worn, when required, may in a photo seem sexually charged in reality out of 200 plus passengers on the cruise there was only one woman on the ship whose state of dress registered as sexual from my perspective and as it the same woman that has been doing that for more than thirty years I’m ok with that. Anything else that caught my interest was followed by the though, “Kim would look great in that”.

    Maybe then one of the things we are always being told is also true. Sexuality isn’t a state of dress but a state of mind.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response Peter.

      I didn’t mean to imply that Ile du Levant is still attracting the same crowd it was back in the 60s – they’ve mostly moved on to Cap d’Agde (with a couple notable exceptions on the island). Perhaps that’s even more informative, as things go through cycles as the market will bear.

      We have only been on one cruise; one of the Royal Clipper cruises around Italy run by Bare Necessities. It was great, and the dynamic was much as you described. Given the price tag, quite a lot more discerning that what might (or might not) take place on the Big Nude Boat. The same way staying in the Hyatt if different than the Days Inn.

      But it repeatedly occurs to me that in many ways, people committed to naturism simply hold themselves to a higher standard, if simply to protect naturism itself. If you go to any other resort town, or even a place like Times Square in New York or Union Square in San Francisco, you’ll see all sorts of things that may or may not be part of one’s preferred lifestyle. About the only place that’s like Disney World is, in fact, Disney World… where they have round the clock surveillance to make sure people behave.

      If an important tenet of naturism is freedom, that sounds like anything but free…

      1. G’Day Dan…..

        We did the last Royal Clipper cruise, the first small ship one we’d done, and while it was quieter than the Big Nude Boats there were still those ready to party. What a way to spend a couple of weeks.

        I think that the larger ships were more boisterous but this I guess was more due to the larger numbers and greater opportunities. We’ve never seen anything we’d consider promiscuous on them. That said I’m sure there were swingers, or lifestylers, on there but they stayed below the radar. The same may well have been the same for the Royal Clipper.

        I agree that there are many that apply a much higher standard in order to protect our choices, we even have a landed club in Australia that frowns on dancing while nude, while I admire their dedication to the cause I tend to feel that’s almost like imposing additional restrictions on ourselves and making our choice even less desirable to others.

        While there are those that already ‘know’ what goes on at our venues they’ll never show up to be proved wrong and won’t be convinced by words. Instead I’d rather concentrate on those who when they’re told what goes on doubt it because Kim and Pete would never be involved with something like that.

    1. Totally agree, and there always will be. But social values change according to what the market demands – at least in the free world economy. If sixty years ago, getting naked meant wearing a Speedo, and today it actually means getting naked, we’re moving in the right direction. We’ll never win over the prudes.

  3. I appreciate your optimism. At the same time, a freedom that is rarely or never used is not a freedom at all. New York City may have made it legal for women to be topless since it’s already been legal for men since around 1936, but where are the topless women? In my city of Chico, CA, women get yelled at, called bitches, whores, threatened by fellow citizens. I’m thrilled that our police defend their right to be topless when they arrive, usually called by the raging indignant citizen, but because of this abuse, women almost never go topless in any natural way like men do routinely. What kind of freedom is that? Yes, I’m glad things are getting better, but they are still way too damn bad as well. It takes great courage to live out one’s freedoms and one’s natural desires and wants. Please, let’s together be braver and more courageous and make use of our freedoms and defend them by using them.

    1. Wow! That’s pretty ramped up. I totally agree with you. (The same thing is happening in NYC to the point that they may end up revoking the top free law) But again, I would say this is a matter of supply and demand. Until we, as a society, stop fearing the inherent (or should I say, imposed) danger of sighting an exposed breast, the situation will be rough regardless of the law.

      Do I worry about the ultra conservative Americans who are driving public policy from the backseat? Absolutely! But those concerns go WAY beyond the right to bare breasts!!!

      1. Dan….. From what I read on NYC it’s not so much a law as a decision based on gender equality which effectively says that you can’t enact a law the prevents women from going topless where a man can.

        The approach I have seen discussed by the NYC administration was to have the “painted ladies” declared as pan handlers which while currently having leagle status in Times Square could be stopped by then zoning Times Square as parkland. This then would make “pan handling” ilegal but not toplessness.

        Of course the one suggestion I haven’t seen put forward is to simply ban toplessness in Times Square regardless of gender. A retrograde step no doubt but these are conservative politicians.

      2. Hi Peter – You’ve been tracking this more closely than I have as we’ve been traveling. I simply caught a news clip where Mayor DiBlasio is ready to crack down on the nudity thing to simply make the whole Times Square thing go away. IMHO, this is one of those cases when people are pushing the limits of the law to the detriment of the cause – which in the last place, provides the evidence that naked people are as crazy as alleged. Indeed – some of them are.

  4. Doing your own posts and taking your own photos is the best way of promoting the naturist cause….putting your body where your mouth is and not being scared too 🙂

  5. good read. you should also do a research about long and still thriving nudism in croatia, well known destination for all the sun lovers, young and older, holicstic or party goers… greetings from rab, island with the oldest nudist beach arround

    1. Hi Kristina. Thanks for you nice comments. Indeed, we’ve done a lot of naturist travel in Croatia as well, simply haven’t gotten to writing about it – but I need to. Thanks for reading

  6. On many naturist beaches people complain about unacceptable sexual behaviour. And as long as this exists, there will be an easy link between naturism and sex.
    But how to handle this?
    Should the naturist sites be more protected? This would be in contrast with the naturist feeling of freedom.
    Should we also get sex beaches, so they wouldn’t mingle anymore with naturists?
    It’s a difficult topic…

  7. Hmmm. Few decades ago there were little naturist beaches all up and down the California coast. Not many now. Had the Cahill policy on state park land. Long gone now. A number of major clubs have closed since then.

    Nudies like me have aged and not as many new ones coming online. A lot of gay males. Nothing wrong with that but would be nice to have more gender balance. We do have WNBR but the crowd isn’t very big compared to elsewhere. Bare to Breakers nude participation is way way down from a few years ago.

    At least in SoCal things aren’t what they used to be.

    1. Yup. That’s all true. There’s no question that society has moved away from the “free to be me” era. But as a person who has a lot of contact with generations X, Y, and Z, I think there is a resurgence in the wings. There are fewer people with goofy hangups related to religiosity, and a much more relaxed attitude about sexuality in general. I think we need to pay attention to what the 20-something are thinking. They are our future.

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