Some people dismiss streakers, naked protesters and even nudists and life models as ‘exhibitionists’ without fully appreciating that we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, motivated by exhibitionism. We learn to be that way in order to stay alive. A baby needs to be seen and to be noticed by its mother, and this need continues to operate in us throughout our lives… Every human being is motivated by this deep desire to be seen, to have attention paid to them, to be noticed and to be heard.

Philip Carr-Gomm, A Brief History of Nakedness, 2012

Naturists or Exhibitionists?

I keep trying to figure out how the social media thing coincides – in a meaningful way – with the naturist cause. I recently re-established my presence on Facebook and Instagram, (simply waiting for someone on a minimum wage salary to shut off my account for too much butt cleavage), hoping I might reinvigorate my web/blog presence to keep spreading the word that naked is not as weird as some have made it out to be.

But I have to say, forging the shark-infested waters of social media can be daunting! I’m less than a week into a new Facebook profile, and I can’t even count the number of “friend requests” from “beautiful women” who all have the same bio and no profile, or even more bizarre (to me!) private messages that routinely follow this same script:

Them: Hi. How r u

Me: Well, thank you. Trying to get a lot of morning stuff done.

Them: r u naked?

Me: Ummm… (In fact, I probably am.)

Them: Full body shot focused on genitalia appears in thread.

Me: Wow. Nice work there. Gotta go, Have an 8 o’clock meeting!

Naturists or Exhibitionists?

I’m a blogger. And a middle aged white guy who spends a lot of time at the computer. You’re going to have to go a long country mile to even begin to register on my shock value meter, but really? Isn’t there a better place to show your wares than finding Facebook friends who call themselves nudists? There has to be a more direct route than that to finding what you’re looking for. Actually, what are you looking for?

But back to the point. Sometime ago, I wrote an entire blog post about Philip Carr-Gomm’s book, A Brief History of Nakedness; a book I would strongly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves fascinated with naturism, nudism, or simply shedding one’s clothes. I found the entire volume to be thoughtful and thought-provoking, in the best sort of way, but especially when he got to talking about the exhibitionist thing. My take-away from his assessment, and quite frankly, a belief that I’ve held for quite a long time is that that humans spend quite a lot of time, energy, and money trying to shape the way other people see us. You could begin with the fashion industry, and work your way down the ladder to how much you pay for a haircut, but truth be told – we care about how we are visually perceived by people me meet from one day to the next.

Naturist or Exhibitionist?

I think that Carr-Gomm would make the case that from that perspective alone, we are all exhibitionists. We present ourselves in a way that we’d like people to perceive us, implicit of all sorts of information about our religiosity, our political or sexual persuasion, our social status… you name it. The bizarre part of this conversation, however, is how people see us when we’re naked?! I made quite a rant in a previous blog post called The Demographics of Nakedness suggesting that nudity is not quite the equalizer that we like to think it is, but that not withstanding, a person without clothing will be perceived someplace on a scale of vulnerable to seductive, with so many variations in between, that it is simply too simplistic to say that nudity is genuine, real, and forthright. Nudity has a full palette of social cues that are no less complex than those in the textile world, especially in front of the lens of the camera.

My personal sense of purpose on this front is quite clear. In a perfect world, I come home from work, feel constrained by clothing, remove said clothing, then seek the nearest warm spot that provides the necessary conditions for nakedness, such as the chair in front of the wood-burning stove or immersed in the hot tub in the winter, or simply walking out into the Mid-Atlantic balmy heat in the summer.

Naturists or Exhibitionists?

But tomorrow, we’ll load the dog into the car to spend the weekend at a naturist retreat some four hours from our home, (A long drive!) to spend a day or so with other naked people. I am fortunate. We have the space and the freedom to be naked at home, and to a large extent, behind our home. Our neighbors know about our proclivity for nudity, but we’ve made the appropriate adjustments to “protect them” from a chance encounter with our unclothed beings. But alas, we’ll make the long drive anyway to get naked, and be naked with other humans, who also have this strange affinity to be naked with us. I reiterate, we are a monogamous couple that is not on the prowl for new sexual conquests, and we are intentional in choosing places that uphold those values so there is no confusion as related to such personal boundaries.

But do we enjoy seeing other naked people? Well yes. In the same way, I suppose, that you enjoy seeing what the celebrities are wearing this year at the Academy Awards, or more aptly, the joys of simply people watching while sitting in a shopping mall or train station. “Hmm… that’s an attractive person. I bet s/he has an interesting story to tell.”

Naturist or Exhibitionist?

Carr-Gomm says that humans are inherently voyeurs, and essentially implies that such is necessary simply to perpetuate the human race. That’s a dicey argument in this age of political correctness, but quite frankly, I think he’s right. Social nudity is validating in knowing that you’re with other people who like to be naked, but it would be a bit disingenuous to suggest that naked people don’t derive some level of “pleasure” in looking at other naked people, in the same way that humans take pleasure in simply looking at other humans – even when fully clothed. For many, especially when fully clothed!

I realize this is dangerous rhetoric amidst the super wholesome values and guidelines implicit of nudist club creeds, which seem particularly out of sync with the “so called nudist folks” who keep popping up on line that are all too eager to show me more than I asked for. But I think this is a critical part of the dialogue if we’re going to elevate naturism to a place beyond dumb jokes about nudist colonies and worn-out clichés about the people who frequent such places. Truth be told, a person who can find comfort in a social setting, bedecked only in his or her own skin, has found some sense of peace within themselves. I have to believe that’s really a thing.

Naturists or Exhibitionists?

When I’m naked in a social setting, am I guilty of gazing upon the other naked humans around me to admire the artistry of the human form? Yes, of course I am. And am I at least a bit self-unconscious about the parts of my physicality that I wish were a bit more gaze-worthy? Of course I am. I am human. We are hard-wired to admire, and we wish to be admired in return. Not sure that’s shameful. It simply is what it is.

Sorry… I’ll get back to the travel reportage stuff soon, but I do think these are conversations that need to be had.

All images in this post were lifted from Tumblr under the search prompt of “nudist” or “naturist.” Suffice it to say, I left out the extremes on each end.

Naturists or Exhibitionists?

21 thoughts

  1. Part of evolution is displaying our level of sexual maturity. We are naturally attracted to healthy young members of our preferred gender. We see the same behavior in every creature from insects to the great apes.

    One of the primary purposes for clothing is to hide our physically inadequate bodies as we age. Corsets and bras and expensive tailoring to create the illusion of youth. Adherence to style and expense to emphasize status and affluence instead.

    This creates an artificial yuck factor when the reality is revealed. Surely we have all heard the exaggerated claims of disgust at looking at real age by people who would happily admire a centerfold model.

    Requiring clothing reduces the inherent advantage in being young and fit. But somehow we always manage to find a way past that. Even if it is an exclusive focus on the face. (Sharia Law would take even that from us.)

    Then we get to the nude beach. And may even be surrounded by nudists. Free of all that artificiality, right? Nope. Shaved bodies… yeah, like that isn’t throwing off signals. Tatoos. Surely you don’t think those are there for drawing attention? Plastic surgery taken to the point where the face skin is obviously stretched and the breasts are obviously not real.

    Guys going in for body sculpting, penile “enhancements” and whatever balding remedies are in current vogue. And let’s not forget all the jewelry – nipple piercings, “Prince Albert” piercings, cock rings and who knows what all else. oh… and the regular earrings didn’t get left behind either. Oh no, not to draw attention to one’s equipment. Just personal expression. Yeah… right… 😉

    There will always be exhibitionism. Period. If nothing else, a young woman arching her back seductively as she climbs out of the pool. Or the man with the six pack abs and large pectorals who just happens to be flexing as that young woman walks by. Or maybe the guy walking around with a softie just to make it look bigger or the gal lying on the sand with her legs spread wide.

    I just want to be left alone to enjoy myself in peace.

    1. I’ll leave you alone Fred! 🙂

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, and for so beautifully elaborating my point. It’s not whether exhibitionism is part of the human DNA, it’s just the way we choose to exhibit. But a conversation like this lays bare (pun intended) a whole new layer of hypocrisy when it comes to those who are so critical of and threatened by public nudity. And even more absurd when trying to sort that out on the internet! Nude MIGHT be lewd! But scantily clothed will likely be even more so.

      On a side note, can I simply say that my intention in blogging in the first place is that there may be a few people out there who would log on and have this kind of discourse. Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff, AND even more, for taking the time to reply. The entire naturist cause could benefit greatly from more real dialogue beyond the topics of pubic hair and erections.

      Thanks! – Dan

    2. Liked by two people I see. Well, I liked to column. It has some truths to explore in the article. I wear my skin as my cloths and I wish society excepted it as a good wholesome thing to. I wear cloths to protect my skin from damage from the harsh environment that surrounds me. Not to mention the ridicule from society that scorns such behavior. I find it hard to find friends that feel the same as I, about naturism, God created us naked ,and I like it that way, it’s the natural way to be.

  2. Hi Dan:

    Thank you for writing about this.
    It’s something that we as true nudists/naturists, ponder about on occasion with each other and with other nudists in conversation. And we get various thoughts on it, not unlike yours here.
    We agree with not the “doing” of exhibition but the “how” of the doing. We also agree that we fear those vocal critics of our lifestyle painting with a broad brush stroke.

    Jan&Gary 😊👍

    1. Thanks Jan & Gary. In fact, it’s that broad brush stroke that drives me crazy, exacerbated by the absurdity one encounters on the internet, whether you mention nudity, sexuality, or anything else that brings out the trolls. The irony is that there are undoubtedly LOADS of people that are into all sorts of bizarre fetishes, mainly via web in the middle of the night, that would be quick to dismiss naturists as bunch of loonies at water cooler or cocktail party. I keep saying it… There are SO many things for today for people to get all worked up about – why is my proclivity for clothes-free recreation one of them!

  3. Why are people deemed as guilty for looking at the naked body ? Maybe it’s more a case of not seeing people naked enough that makes it “guilty thing “ rather that a normal everyday thing.

    1. Well… here’s another angle. In this age of #metoo and to much attention to objectification, I think we’re all pretty sensitive about looking at one another whether clothed or not.

      1. True….nudity just shows freedom to me and usually sunshine too which in this mixed up world is nice

  4. Reblogged this on Look at Both Sides Now and commented:
    You express many of my thoughts in ways I could not, Dan. I’ve always accepted that I not only enjoy the freedom of my nudity, but to some extent I am a nudist because I want to be noticed, i.e., an exhibitionist. Many of us “purists” would deny that some of their motives for wanting to get naked are to be noticed. Just as you say, it’s part of us.

  5. There are many paths. There are naturists. There are landed club nudists. There are sensualists. There are exhibitionists – some are sexual, some are not. There are paid models. There are pure freedom seekers. There are people who simply don’t give a crap and will object to any label you give them.

    Personally I prefer to be called a nudie because I don’t care if you are nude, just don’t hate on me because I am. Consider it just another fashion option. I have no cause to convert anyone, just to be allowed my own freedom to choose what I wear. I can be the only naked person or everyone can be naked. Really makes no difference.

    If I am naked alone in the wilderness, what am I? If I am at a club just enjoying the life and the interesting company, what am I? If I am naked on a stage doing a one man show in front of a hundred people, what am I? If I am posing nude for an artist, what am I? If I am being paid to be nude and erotic for a private party, what am I?

    Over several decades I have done and been all these things – and more. I am still all these things and will be until I die.

    I don’t think there is a label for me. If there is, I’ll do something to invalidate it.

    1. Well stated Fred. Imagine a world where people just worried about themselves and quit wasting energy on putting labels on others. How crazy would THAT be?

  6. Thanks for a very thoughtful and nuanced post. I am a dedicated naturist who only wears clothes when I feel I must. Since I live in the middle of a city and do not have the means to travel very often,
    I have had to carve out my own nudist niche here at home. I am very often naked at home, on my front porch and even in my yard.
    I am very open and upfront about my naturism. I have talked to my
    neighbors and, fortunately, most, if not all, don’t seem to care.
    I guess, in some sense, I am an exhibitionist . I don’t flaunt my nakedness but I don’t hide it either and don’t go scurrying for clothes when someone comes around. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I am also unabashed and unashamed. It can be a tough balancing act.
    i recently discovered your blog and enjoy it immensely.

    1. Thanks for following my blog, AND for taking the time to share your kind words. When I wrote this post, these ideas had been ruminating with me for quite a long time. It’s been interesting to see how that’s resonated with different people. Frail, or whatever, at the end of the day, we’re all human.

  7. ” Truth be told, a person who can find comfort in a social setting, bedecked only in his or her own skin, has found some sense of peace within themselves. I have to believe that’s really a thing.”

    I’d hazard a guess that that ‘sense of peace’ is something many first-time social nudists notice and is part of the attraction, even if subconsciously.

    Visual perception: How we’re perceived visually is probably the single largest factor in how other people treat us and therefore affects almost every aspect of our lives. It makes sense that we’re so concerned with it.

    “Nudity has a full palette of social cues”: Agreed. However, I think to a greater extent than with clothing people tend to look through their own lens. What they see is shaped largely what they want to see or feel they are expected to see when they view a nude body.

  8. When I first visited clothing optional beaches in the late 1980s, I thought I must also be an exhibitionist, as I was comfortable being seen nude. At the same time, I considered myself the good kind of exhibitionist, only nude around like minded folks. Eventually I read the definition of exhibitionist and discovered I lacked the requirements. The definition indicated many textiles meet the standard of exhibitionism, such as those who are overly dramatic, wear lots of jewelry, or named Kardashian.

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