A Twitter thread burst into flames yesterday when Nick and Lins from Naked Wanderings posed a simple question, “…when it comes to naturism, Europe is decades in front of the USA. Why isn’t there any European style naturist resort in the USA?” (You can find that post on @nakedwanderings on Twitter, posted on August 27, 2020 at 4:47 pm.)
Why, indeed? Is that even true? America has loads of naturist places, and some of them are really nice. And don’t even get Americans started on another country doing something better than we do.
In a couple months, this blog will celebrate its eighth anniversary. I launched this particular effort to document our travels as we were about to depart for Europe, during which time we would live in the South of France for a year while exploiting every opportunity we could to check places off our travel bucket list, naked or not.
Prior to that, back in 2004, I developed a real webpage, P and C Naturist Travel, in an effort to advocate for family naturism similar to that we had experienced in Europe – essentially an effort to answer the question Nick posed yesterday. By my best calculation, I was about the age then, that Nick is now. A big part of our quest was finding a place to take our pre-teen kids on nakation. Someplace like those big family naturist resorts in France, but in the United States.
My literal obsession with that led to the creation of a second website called the Naturist Family Network (NFN). The idea was that while the US lacked the infrastructure for family naturism that was so common in Europe, given a country of more than 300 million people, there must be enough like-minded families out there who were all looking for each other, and perhaps we could build a cyber-community that could begin to get the word out about the virtues of social nudity in family-friendly settings. We did find a few families, but like everyone else who’s attempted to run an online community, we found even more lonely dudes – mostly well intended – but not conducive to creating the safe space we were hoping for. The Naturist Family Network ran for a couple years until I handed it off to friends more tenacious than myself, until finally the domain registration expired, as did the dream.
So here we are, fifteen years later, and I’m still searching for an intelligent answer to Nick’s question. He even says right in the post that Europeans have always looked at the US as leaders “that the world follows by example,” but not when it comes to social nudity. What IS our problem?
I think I’m about half way through my Naked in America project. As we’ve been unable to leave the country this summer, we’ve taken to the US Eisenhower Interstate System to visit, or revisit, naked places on American soil. I’m quite back-logged on trip reports at present, having already posted about Florida, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, and Vermont, but we’ve also visited “nudist resorts” in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maryland. I think it’s safe to say that each place has had some unique and enticing attributes that are worth touting, while a few have – shall we say – exceeded our threshold for quirkiness. All we have visited advertise themselves as family-friendly, but outside of a token child or two, all have been devoid of families. Soon, we will take to the road again, this time heading westward, in hopes of visiting a few more renowned naturist destinations, but summer is drawing to a close and the weather is starting to turn. I don’t expect those statistics will skew appreciably with future research.
There’s an interesting subtext to this thread that came out in a live interview with Nick and Lins. They don’t have children, and are not seeking a place to take their naturist kids. But, even when traveling in Europe, they clearly have a strong inclination to give a thumbs up to a place that embraces the values of family naturism. In short, is this a place you would be comfortable hanging out naked with your kids? Even if you don’t have kids?
This is where the Naturist Family Network idea starts to unravel in America, and finally, where we might find the answer to Nick’s original question. To that end, I offer a few observations in an effort to sort this out in my own mind:
- American parents are frightened of getting caught naked around their children. Whether urban legend or not, everyone seems to have a friend of a friend who was arrested for the naked bathtub picture posted carelessly on Facebook or Instagram, which of course, led to an intervention by Child Protective Services. Does this really happen? Doesn’t matter – people believe that it does. The message is clear. Don’t get naked with your kids, and for God’s sake, if you do, don’t advertise it.
- It’s simply not appropriate to be naked around your children. I’ve posted several mainstream media articles about family nudity at home, (This one is my favorite) on The Discerning Nudist. The research is conclusive. You shouldn’t be naked around your children if you don’t feel comfortable being naked around your children. Otherwise, there seems to be no inherent damage of your children seeing you naked. I’ve yet to read research that says family nudity is harmful, except in the minds of people who believe that it is.
- “We will not take our kids to that sex club posing as a nudist resort!” Most American nudist places have a very difficult time figuring out their marketing position, if indeed, they have one at all. Discounting a few places that simply put it out there that they are targeting swingers, many webpages for family nudist places post conflicting information right on the splash page. On the left column, you can click through to read the strict behavior guidelines that will get you thrown off the property, but right next to that is an advertisement for Saturday’s “Butts, Boobs, and Bubbles” party. (Only a slight exaggeration.) The only place I’ve seen that sort of contradiction on a European website is for a place like Cap d’Agde, which every seasoned naturist knows to be an adult playground – not a family naturist destination.
- The shuffleboard court is in terrible disrepair. It has been pointed out to me over and over and over again that Europeans have four, five, or even six weeks of vacation compared to their American counterparts who are lucky to get one or two. Fair point. (And an interesting tangent about the general orientation for quality of life in Europe, but I won’t go there now.) But the unintended consequence of this is that most American nudist places are weekend destinations, OR… wait for it… retirement communities! Who else can afford to park their four-season RV for weeks at a time? (Can most Europeans even afford a huge house-like RV?) And if you are lucky enough to have two weeks of vacation, are you going to plant your family at a place with a decrepit playground, no bar or restaurant, and only two other children on the grounds, both of whom are under five years old? And oh… the shuffleboard court is in terrible disrepair!
- Please! Let me in! I brought a towel, and I swear, I’ll behave! I’ve probably reached out to two dozen naturist places this summer to learn about current COVID regulations, reservation policies, or simply to ask, “If I (we) come, will you let me (us) in?” As often as not, email and web-form inquiries go unanswered. Phone messages – about the same. Appropriately enough, most places have state-imposed limits on the number of guests on the property any given day during COVID. That makes sense. But in addition to that, nearly every American nudist place requires “a tour” for first time visitors… “Well, we can only do two tours a day, each limited to two people, and we only do tours on Saturdays and Sundays between 12:05 and 12:37 pm. So, our next opening is… on… um… November 12th! Don’t forget to bring your wool coat – it’ll be freezing by then.” (Again, only a slight exaggeration.) Of course, the tour includes a background check, and explicit or not, some kind of interview to see if we might be child predators disguising ourselves as nudists, which is particularly ironic since there will likely be no children there to prey upon. Imagine if you had to go through that process every time you wanted to visit a new theme park?
- How about a big sauna and pool complex like those in northern Europe? There are huge sauna and spa complexes scattered throughout Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Nick and Lins note that most of these places are careful to distinguish themselves not as naturist destinations, and in fact, most have rather strict policies about covering with a towel or a bathrobe when you’re not in the sauna or the pool. But these places attract thousands of customers, seven days a week, none of whom seem to bat an eye when it’s time to go Full Monty for the sauna infusion ritual or at the swim-up bar in the pool (See: So Many Naked Germans…) While I’ve read about Korean spas in the US that seem to be replicating this model in the US, they are generally gender separated. No mixed bathing or sweating. Which begs the question: Are Americans self-disciplined enough not to go absolutely bonkers if they find themselves naked, in the sauna, with someone of the opposite sex? Have we no self-control whatsoever? Interestingly, a young woman named Felicity Jones set up a series of nude sauna nights at a spa in New Jersey a few years back, and literally got run out of the club by angry patrons who found out there had been naked people at the spa after hours the week before. There are certainly enough people in the New York metropolitan area to support a Therme Erding sort of endeavor, but no American business-person would ever be crazy enough to put up the capital for such a controversial enterprise in the US. Bummer!
With our children grown and out of the house, we’re well beyond looking for a place for family nakation (though it would be nice to have one if and when grandchildren come along). But my obsession with family naturist destinations is anything but diminished. It’s not the family part of the equation, but the value system that goes with it. A value system with less paranoia about breast-feeding and nudity on TV. A value system that allows the average worker more than five vacation days a year. A value system where people don’t freak out when talking to their children about nudity and sex, and use real words like penis, breast, and vagina instead of amassing so much anatomy into the mysterious region of “private parts.”
And so, I keep blogging, ever more fascinated with Twitter feeds that capture images of early American nudism (See: Naturist Vintage on Twitter) where ironically enough, family naturism may well have been more acceptable when everyone was purposefully hiding out at the secret nudist camp just outside of town. Seems that back then, Europe and America were pretty much on the same page with nude recreation. Somehow, Europe found a way to turn that into family tourism, while America can’t quite get the messaging right.
Maybe if enough bloggers get out there and fill the social media airwaves with a better story about naturism, and social nudity in general, we can help Americans turn the corner. One thing’s for sure… There has never been a time when just about anyone could become an influencer capable of bringing about significant change in pervasive perceptions and ideals. The US has proven to be particularly susceptible to that. Sometimes, it all begins with one intriguing, eyebrow raising Tweet!