Naturist Extremes in Mexico – and figuring out what that means!

I’ve been procrastinating for nearly ten years in writing something about naturism in Mexico, mainly due to the fact that every time I think I have a comprehensive perspective as to what that means – naturism in Mexico – we visit again and I feel even more adrift in making any sweeping generalization that would help a newbie know what to expect. To be fair, our “research” on the topic has been limited to extended stays at two very different resorts, Hidden Beach near Tulum, and Playa Sonrisa at the southern tip of the Yucatan peninsula. We once stayed at a small inn on Solomon Bay that is no longer in business (for reasons that were evident during our stay), and we once did a walk-through at eco-resort Azulik which used to give more publicity to its clothing-optional status than it does today, but neither of those exist as viable naturist destinations today.

We have also met many people along the way who speak to the virtues – or lack thereof – of resorts with names like Desire and Temptation, but we’ve had neither the desire nor temptation to visit either of those as that simply isn’t our style, and thus, you’ll have to search those out on your own.

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Promotional photo from Hidden Beach

We have been to Playa Sonrisa twice in the past five years, perhaps four times to Hidden Beach over the past ten, most recently at the end of March in an effort to escape the mind/body-numbing cold of a prolonged Northeast winter. If only by price tag alone, Hidden Beach is most certainly high end, which has the implicit consequence of attracting a demographic that is willing to part with a small fortune for a week of naked nirvana. While many put down roots for a week or two at a time, we’ve never managed a stay longer than an extended weekend, partially due to the cost (Hmmm… A week at Hidden Beach or a month in Europe!?), but also due to the limited scope of the property. Beautiful and luxurious though it is, a walk down the length of the naturist beach might be stretched out to five minutes or so should you choose to stop and ponder the horizon along the way.

During our most recent visit, we arrived while a particularly convivial (read: boisterous) crowd was monopolizing the swim-up bar. While I’m typically pretty laisssez-faire about what one might encounter at a naked place, I found the tequila induced dancing on the bar a bit over-stimulating, having arrived this time in desperate need of respite and tranquility. But speaking frankly, my personal state of mind upon arrival should have little or nothing to do with an objective review of whether one’s nakation dollars are well invested in a visit to a specific naturist destination. A place is what it is The problem is figuring out what the place is before you arrive!

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Promotional photo from Hidden Beach

This, to me, seems a marketing nightmare for anyone charged with growing the market for clothing-optional recreation anywhere, but especially on the Mexican Riviera, which is such a bizarre mixture of Spring Break destinations and All-Inclusive mega-luxury resorts, each in their own right intended to produce an overdose of self-indulgence amidst a landscape where the other predominant feature is an infinite jungle punctuated with smallish enclaves of poverty. Perhaps the fastest road to sobriety after a fun-filled night at the swim up bar is the realization that the monthly income of a middle-class resident on the Yucatan peninsula is roughly equivalent to a one-night stay at Hidden Beach Resort. Talk about a buzz kill!

But again, the mind of this naturist is meandering again, as what I find most fascinating about clothing-optional recreation in Mexico is simply defining what that is. And it seems I’m not the only one confused about that. Even in France, where naturist options abound, it doesn’t take a great deal of research to determine the difference between Cap d’Agde – famous and infamous for the pervasive sexual undercurrents, or family naturist destinations such as Montalivet or Belezy, where not only the “naturist etiquette” page makes the expectations forthright and clear, but the entirety of the website creates an ambiance where you quickly come to realize that this is not a good place to get frisky in the pool.

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The view from Hidden Beach

At this writing, I find the webpage for Hidden Beach to be particularly perplexing, where the splash page immediately triggers a brief video, along with seductive music, as a beautiful woman walks across the screen leaving a trail of undergarments (maybe a swimsuit?) in her wake. At last, the motto… “Come out of your shell… at Hidden Beach Resort.” That said, the policies at Hidden Beach are clear and seemingly well enforced, and beyond the aforementioned dancing on the bar, we’ve yet to experience anything there that would get one thrown out of a Disney resort. Nudity, notwithstanding, of course.

I also find it interesting that what has disappeared from the Hidden Beach website is the home-grown gallery of guest photos that was something like a TripAdvisor gallery, few of which featured full nudity, but most of which exemplified the people you actually meet and see at a typical clothing-optional destination, of which almost none (yours truly included) look like the 30-something models in the photos in the limited professional gallery that exists now. If you weren’t already intimidated by the naked factor, the beautiful people factor ought to frighten the self-conscious away, whether wrapped in a bathing suit or not.

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Playa Sonrisa

At the other end of the spectrum, and essentially at the other end of the country, is Playa Sonrisa, a quiet little resort that requires a five hour drive from the Cancun airport that leads you to a place that feels like the end of the world. Interestingly, owner/innkeeper Murph maintains two websites for this little naturist haven in the jungle; the original patchwork site found at www.playasonrisa.com, and a spiffier updated version at www.playasonrisa.net. In either case, however, he wants it to be clear before you make the long drive that what you will not find there is a swim-up bar, themed lingerie parties, or anything else that resembles a pulsing night-life. Additionally, your willingness to make the long drive will literally save you hundreds of dollars per day without compromising the main attraction – the opportunity for a few days of clothes-free, stress-free living.

We have many good things to say about Playa Sonrisa, beginning with the genuine hospitality of the owners best epitomized in the ethos of the 24/7 honor bar, to their unrelenting efforts in providing the necessary creature comforts in a part of the world just beyond the reach of broadband internet and your typical 900 channels of cable TV. In fact, that is their marketing niche, appealing to those who desire to get away from it all, including their clothing. With only eight or ten rooms at most, there seems to be enough appeal for this decidedly more rustic approach to make it difficult to book there less than a few months in advance. and Murph goes to great lengths to make sure you understand that what they offer is quite the opposite of the all-inclusive indulge-a-fest opportunities that lie to the north.

 

 

It’s worth noting that we’ve blown right past the opportunity to stopover at a newer condo-quasi-naturist resort in Tulum called Intima Resort, partially because we’ve never been willing to spend the time, and also, by name alone, we can’t quite figure out what it is. And therein lies the conundrum of the entire naturist marketing debacle. In fact, my confusion was confirmed recently when I stumbled across a GQ Magazine article from 2017 intended to help readers realize their clothing-optional swinging dreams. While focused on a couple resorts that are only mentioned casually here, they also gave a shout out to Hidden Beach as well, which explicitly rejects such playtime activities as part of their culture or acceptable behavior. (Thankfully, Murph and Playa Sonrisa dodged the bullet of an honorable mention altogether!) But how is the average consumer to know?

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A GQ artist’s depiction of clothing-optional Mexico

Or more importantly, how is the average moderately open-minded person to know what to think when clothing-optional vacations come up in casual lunchtime conversation? What if that spawns enough curiosity that she might go home and Google “clothing optional Mexico” just to figure out what it’s really about? That brings to mind another thread I recently saw on Twitter about the prudes who are so intolerant “about lingerie dances at nudist places.” What’s the big deal, she says?

The big deal is that it’s very difficult for the average person who has never experienced social nudity to differentiate where nakedness becomes provocative becomes sexually charged becomes the exchange of bodily fluids. And it’s always the GQ article that’s going to get the most hits and the most citations, especially from those looking for a reason to tell those crazies to “Put your clothes back on and behave!”

So there it is.

People are confused about clothing-optional recreation in Mexico. Sadly enough, I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times, and so am I. That’s not a good sign.

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Promotional photo from Hidden Beach

 

 

 

 

Naked and Alone – on a nudist island…

I have yet to really comprehend the complexities of the blogosphere. You never really know who your audience is, especially when you include words like nudist and naked in your meta tags and post descriptions. I think bloggers – or at least this blogger – would like to think that people find The Meandering Naturist, bookmark the site, then meticulously dig through the archives to see what has been said in the past, and how one’s story continues to unfold over the years. Though having said that, I have several blogs that I’m quite fond of, and despite the best of intentions, I rarely work my way back beyond the the last two or three posts. I guess this is all a precursor to offering an apology of sorts if my musings about a certain place (say Ile du Levant) or particular topics (like the bizarre social construct of the naturist ideal) seem like the very same topic of ninety percent of my previous entries. If you are the fastidious reader who has combed through the depths of my naturist diary, I offer my sincere apologies from the Department of Redundancy Department.

As is so often the impetus of a new blog entry, today’s inspiration finds its source in the confluence of several concurrent events that have caused me to take a moment, scratch my head, and utter a thoughtful and curious, “Hmmm….”

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The most immediate and visceral of these is my first visit as a single male to the French naturist island, Ile du Levant – a mere 30 minute ferry ride off the Côte d’Azur near St. Tropez. Fear not faithful readers! It’s not that I’m suddenly single, nor has my naturist wife has given up the crusade for social nudity, but in this case, I had business to take care of in the South of France following a holiday weekend, and thus, my schedule allowed a two night stay on this idyllic little slice of heaven before taking care of business on the mainland. I’ve read a lot about the intricacies of traveling as a naked single male, and I think it’s quite a lot easier in France than in America, but it’s a different perspective all the same.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading a Kindle book called Nudist Cruise, authored by a young woman named Hailey McPherson who moved to Asia with her boyfriend a few years ago to try and make it as musicians and performers. As it would happen, they ended up separated by job leads that took one to Hong Kong and the other to Mainland China. A possible reunion arose when the boyfriend got a substitute gig playing in a show on a cruise ship, which provided the opportunity to bring his girlfriend turned blogger/author along for the ride. What she didn’t know until the 11th hour was that this would be a nudist cruise! The result is a bloggy recounting of a young couple trying to figure out the whole nudist/naturist phenomenon, For an academic such as myself, I find the writing to a bit casual and unrefined, but the big takeaway is the author’s perspective in her efforts to grasp social nudity amidst the inevitable pressures of so many social norms and – by her portrayal – an incessantly horny boyfriend who doesn’t seem to understand that people get naked for reasons other than sex. I have yet to finish the book, but I’m thinking that in the 9th inning she will deliver the message something to the effect of – “So you like to be naked. What’s the big deal?”

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So you like to be naked. What’s the big deal?

I could search for a few more catchy one liners that would help contextualize such a question, but yet another blogger has done it much better than I. I don’t know his name, but he apparently is about my age and lives in the Northwest, and I have to say… his assessment of social nudity is about as grounded and forthright as any I’ve ever read. He has several posts related to naturism, but this post called “Out of the closet and into the frying pan” pretty much drives it home. I was so taken by his post that I actually lifted a few quotes:

On the topic of naked doesn’t equate to sex…

Nudity isn’t asexual. It is just as sexual as clothing – no more, no less. People will still get just as excited about a possible mate whether they are clothed or nude. The fact is that the more you hide the sexual cues that bodies put out, the more everyone becomes hypersensitive to them. The face, by itself, becomes more and more important as the rest of the figure is hidden.

On the topic of live and let live…

I don’t care if you are a nudist. I am not about to try to convert someone or even raise my own children to be nudists. All I care about is that you don’t care if I’m one.

On the topic of causing irreparable damage to your children with nudity…

Even children who have spent their formative years in a nudist environment may push back, if not when they realize that this isn’t what their peer group is doing, then when they hit puberty and things start going out of control. I think parents are duty bound to place their child’s need to fit in with their peer group above the more abstract benefits of nudism. If they reject the lifestyle, then so be it. They may well return to it as adults. Even though my own children sometimes ran around naked and went skinny dipping with me, once they went to school, fitting in was more important.

But my favorite part of the piece – his remarks on why people are afraid to get naked….

Clothing is one way of denying the aging process and all the other “faults” we imagine in ourselves. (Along with plastic surgery, Botox and Photoshop.) Sagging breasts, small breasts, missing breasts, graying or too much body hair, stretch marks and wrinkles, large moles, birthmarks, extra weight around the middle or butt, jiggly thighs, man boobs, shrinking musculature, small penis, operation scars. Yup, a cover-up for all these things, a way to pretend we are not all bound by entropy.

Thank you nameless dude on the internet who made the simple, but poignant, realization that clothing creates as many (or more) conundrums than it solves. The real conundrum is facing up to the fact that if climate permits, better to bare all and check the psychological baggage at the front door.

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I know. There are a bazillion entanglements in this argument, but for me, where it all gets stuck is WHY are humans so hung up on the dimensions of the male penis or the female breast? I had a conversation with a young colleague a few years ago in which we agreed that if you really want to know someone, you focus on one specific body part – the eyes! Beyond that – talking to humans like they’re really human – in a day and age where one can find any visual stimulation they might be looking for on the internet, wouldn’t it be to the benefit of the naturist ideal that the human form is simply what it is? No more, no less. Why must it be so complicated?

So back to the title of this post. This may well be my tenth visit to Ile du Levant, but the very first time I’ve not been here with my female companion. I had a couple days to kill, the weather was good; a perfect time to exploit the opportunity to get naked.

It was a nice stay. But it was a bit lonely without my travel buddy, which makes me all the more empathetic to those who experience naturism without a companion.

But that aside, Ile du Levant is an interesting place. Sometimes people are naked. Sometimes people are clothed. There is a “libertin” (swinger) culture here, but you have to look for it to find it. There is a gay culture here, a bit more evident, but why should one care one way or the other? How did we get to this place where other people’s preferences are offensive, one way or the other? Even if you’re deeply religious, the prevalent message there is to love one another and turn the other cheek. (No pun intended.)

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My personal opinion is that if we all invested a bit more energy in contributing to the greater good, and a good bit less energy into the business of wondering what others thought of our bodies, our values, our intentions, we might have a better shot at getting along with one another on a planet that has a finite capacity for humans.

Let people be naked, and alone, or with loved ones, on an island… and be good with that. Need it be more complicated than that?

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Talking to your children about the POTUS and porn-stars, school shootings, and the dangers of seeing a nude person on the beach.

What on earth is going on?

So first the first time ever, I felt badly for Donald Trump Jr. yesterday when I came across a news-feed that says he’s taking a lot of heat for letting his 3-year-old daughter play at home without a shirt on. Really? Are you kidding me?

So let me see if I can grasp where things are at here in 2018…

  • Whether you read the New York Times, or watch Fox and Friends, you can scarcely get through a single day without hearing the name Stormy Daniels, and at least some diffused reference to Russian prostitutes peeing in a Moscow hotel room. (Just to be non-partisan here, do we remember all the sordid details of how Bill Clinton did not have sex with that woman!) In either case, the suggestion that these things didn’t actually happen simply ramp up the imagination to warp speed, causing one to wonder, “Huh! What would that have looked like?”
  • I remember the utter horror while the Columbine Shooting was unfolding on TV, some 20 years ago – simply unfathomable that such a thing could happen in what should be a known safe-haven for our children. Today, an event of that magnitude barely makes the evening news.
  • In the meantime, Netflix and Amazon Prime have all but replaced network television, completely changing the norm for (sexual!) nudity if you choose to watch anything other than the Disney Channel. Let me clarify the rules – It’s OK to see naked people on TV as long as they’re locked in a sweaty embrace, undulating in passion.
  • But turn to page two of the local newspaper and you’ll likely find some wacky story about a person who held up a 7-11 Store in the nude, or heaven forbid, exposed her breasts at the seashore or dared to breastfeed a child in a shopping mall.
  • Dare I even mention the ritual of “sexting” as that now appears to be part of the normal courtship routine for your average middle-school kid? Thank you Snapchat for creating a tool that (supposedly) destroys the evidence after 10 seconds.

I suspect my point is self-evident by now, especially to those open-minded enough to read a naturist blog. What on earth is going on with our collective sense of values? And beyond that, how do you have a candid conversation with your 13-year-old when he comes home and asks whether you think the porn-star payoff was actually drawn from campaign contributions? “My U.S. history teacher says it’s Watergate all over again.”

Our children are now in their late twenties. They grew up with the internet, and while we took to the normal parental precautions of having computers in public spaces, monitoring browser use, etc., smart phones didn’t become common until our youngest was a senior in high school. They had to discover the joys and perils of phone sex on their own time and their own dime.

We had (have) a very frank relationship with our children, ascribing to simple advice offered to us shortly after our first daughter was born. “When your kids ask difficult questions, answer the question directly with age-appropriate, but real information” But only answer the question, then stop talking. If they need to know more, they’ll ask more questions. Of course, we had also been taking them to naturist places from the time they were old enough to go to Disneyland, which pretty much negated the need for them to ask questions about body parts and pubic hair, not to mention the natural process of aging. They did, however, have some awkward questions about the old naked drunk guy who ran his golf-cart into a tree at a local nudist resort. That was when we decided American nudist resorts were difficult for families, and moved our naturist endeavors to France.

But honestly, I just don’t understand how children or adults are supposed to sort any of this out in relation to any kind of value system. Our most conservative friends will cite – chapter and verse – religious principals that provide a clear framework to establish right and wrong, but seem to have no reservations whatsoever about a President who does not appear to be contesting that he partook in intimate activities with porn stars and prostitutes, but whether such activities constitute collusion or fiduciary impropriety! Don’t even get me started on the people who attack teenagers who rally for gun control. Spend that time instead gathering up a few statistics about how many children have died after seeing a penis or a breast at the beach, then compare those numbers to how many have lost their lives as a result of going to school when a shooter cut loose.

I suppose critics of this argument would say, “You’re talking apples and oranges, dude! What’s your point?”

My point is that the most adamant critics of Donald Trump Jr. about letting his daughter run around without a shirt on, chastised him for “not teaching his daughter a proper sense of modesty.” Funny, our children never once got confused about when and where they could/should be naked. We never got a call from the principal telling us our son forgot to wear pants today. Nor did they ever get a French naturist resort confused with a textile campground or the pool complex at Disney World. “Hey! You can’t go to the mall naked” we said to our teenage daughters exactly never.

They were, however, of age about the time we had to explain the stains on Monica’s blue dress, while rationalizing whether oral activities did or did not constitute having “sex with that woman.” And having grown up during the the evolution of the various Nintendo systems, my children have a much higher threshold (or I should say, are completely desensitized) for violence in movies, video games, and on TV. Post a video from a European naturist resort on Facebook or YouTube and get your account shut-down. Put up a clip from the latest feature film with 90 minutes of death and destruction and your worst case is having the clip removed for copyright infraction.

I understand that not everyone was born to be a naturist. Some people don’t like going to the beach at all, with or without a swimsuit. And we all have our own issues with looking in the mirror each morning, and to what degree we can stand to look at ourselves in the altogether. That’s all fair.

But if we had to make a list of the top ten – top twenty? top ONE-HUNDRED? – things that are contributing to the moral decay of humanity, does seeing a naked person lying on the beach really make that list? Here’s a research study for an eager doctoral student someplace: “Compare the number of people who have fallen victim to a naked person, including fatalities, severe injury, or even lasting psychological damage, to the number of people who are completely adrift right now from other social phenomena.” Adrift because they struggle with porn addiction in an era where Stormy Daniels is a household name. Adrift because they are utterly confused about fake news and why lying is the new truth. Adrift because they lost a loved one in a school shooting, and nobody seems the least bit concerned about the prospect of giving guns to teachers.

Perhaps we should sell bumper stickers:

What’s more dangerous? A naked person or a teacher with a gun?

Good luck parents of the Class of 2036! Be sure to unplug the TV, home-school your children, don’t read fake news, and for heaven’s sake, don’t take them to a beach or a campground where they might see body parts similar to their own.

So many rules!

The Labyrinth to Social Nudity in Japan

I have changed planes at Narita airport near Tokyo perhaps a dozen times, but somehow, never quite made it out of the airport to actually see Japan – until just a few months ago when I had an opportunity to attend a conference in Kobe. And alas, with that came an opportunity to visit one of the celebrated hot spring public baths that I’ve heard so much about over the years.

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I really had no idea what to expect, except for vague recollections of travel pieces I’ve read over the years. Travel banter from a cocktail party someplace? Somehow, I remember somebody describing a dark hall with wooden planks, and old men groaning as they lowered themselves into the scalding water. Sounding quite a bit short of alluring, I went digging on the internet to see what this famously Japanese custom was about, and if it warranted an afternoon of exploration on a cold winter’s day.

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Trip Advisor led me to the Kobe suburb of Arima; something akin to an Austrian ski village, but lined with high rise apartment and hotel complexes, it seems that hot water flows out of the mountain here in copious amounts, creating a holiday mecca for those who wish to spend an hour, a day, a weekend soaking in the healing waters.

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Turns out this is one of the more well known spots in the Japan to hang out with the boys – or hang out with the girls, but not a place where the boys and the girls will hang out together, at least, not while bathing. As I made my way through various trip reviews, I learned that nearly every hotel in this little valley had their own onsen – or hot springs bath – with the incentive of one stop shopping. “Stay in our lovely hotel, have a hot stone massage, and bathe in the magic water.” I was getting the picture, and so far, it didn’t sound much like my preconceived image of groaning old men in a dark cavern.

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To cut to the chase, I chose the Taiko no Yu onsen about a 10 minute walk, up hill, from the local train station, chosen in large part due to a reviewer who took the time to explain the process while providing a valuable tip, “Good place for first-time foreigners” as most of the signage has English subtitles.” That, by itself, was worth the price of admission.

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Things I wasn’t prepared for… and keep in mind, I’ve been naked on six continents… are many and substantial in this case. Beginning with the procurement of three lockers! One to hold your shoes, one where you leave your everyday clothing, and finally, one where you bare all (leaving your pajama like robe behind) and find your way to the hot mineral baths that have revitalized SO many souls over the centuries.

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The take away of my exploration is that naked is different here than naked in the western world, and would probably be a good bit different yet had it not been for the influence of the western world. Seems that in the days before WWII, during which Japan had been at least moderately successful in isolating themselves form western influences, nudity was essentially a non-issue. “You have boy parts. I have girl parts. Let’s bathe.”

Between the missionaries and the American military generals, it seems we convinced the Japanese to come to their senses and realize that social nudity, left unchecked, will lead to… well I don’t know what it’ll lead to as you can find pretty much anything you want on the internet these days, so what’s the big deal? In any event, today most Japanese onsens are gender separated.

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My experience – though very much limited to a one-day visit to a recommended Trip Advisor spa – was anything but sexual. In fact, this was very much a family affair, where the main (sole) objective is soaking in the magical mineral waters, some of which are clear (I personally like that!) and some of which are milk-chocolate brown (How do you know how deep the pool is when you can’t see the bottom?)

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Since it was a Sunday afternoon, many were there on family day outings, with children of all ages standing in line with their parents as if they we’re queuing up for admission to Disneyland. Of course, I can only speak to the ambiance of the male side, but once you leave your robe behind in the third locker room, nudity is prevalent and normal, even in congested areas where you can hardly get through the crowd without brushing up against another (naked) body. After the customary seated shower, I settled into one of the pools in the main area while observing with quiet awe that three generations of male humans were all enjoying the day of casual nudity and luxurious soaking. Not even in French family naturist resorts does inter-generational nudity seem like such a non issue. Somehow, they had missed the memo that a 10-year-old child seeing his father’s pubic hair or genitalia was an immediate and necessary precursor to psycho-therapy.

I’ve ruminated on this quite a lot since my visit to Japan, and have since found another great article from an author who’s experience was apparently quite similar to my own. The obvious and recurring theme continues to bare out the question: How is it we’ve made the human body so controversial when, in one version or another, our body parts are all pretty much the same. (That’s setting to one side that most cultures agree that the visibility of hands and feet is less far less egregious than the accidental sighting of a  penis or breasts.)  Seems to me the western world has done irreparable damage to this Japanese idea, as my impression is that fifty years ago, mom and dad would have been able to enjoy the entire day at the onsen together – as a whole family regardless of gender. But for those who worry about being caught climbing out of the shower by your 12-year-old, my brief qualitative survey suggests that children seeing their parents naked apparently does not scar them for lives. On this front, we westerners could learn a thing or two.

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