After an absence of five years, we finally made it back to La Jenny this summer, the place I’ve often cited as the best naturist place in the world. [See previous post here] As it goes with the best of anything, such classifications are highly subjective, and even in this case, we’ve wavered a good bit on that assessment over the years, depending on the weather during our most recent visit. A rainy week at La Jenny doth not a fabulous nakation make.
You can read the long version of our naturist saga here, which highlights our first visit to La Jenny in 1997 as a pivotal event in our naked lives. That first time, we only stayed for four nights, but we were immediately smitten with the place, and with the concept of French family naturism in general. (Check out this recent post by Nick and Lins about family naturism in France. Compelling, at least!) We returned for two weeks in 1999 with our pre-adolescent kids, at which point it became a perennial project to figure out how we could manage the airline tickets for a family of five to get back for subsequent nakations. By this time, we had tried several naturist places in America with our children in tow, but they were quickly moving into the “This is really awkward and dumb” state of mind about going on vacation with parents, let alone taking your clothes off. La Jenny was an immediate game changer, and our summers there still live among our most cherished family memories – nudity notwithstanding.
We would return to La Jenny at least a dozen times over the ensuing years, sometimes with kids, then as they were out on their own, sometimes as a couple. In 2014, we even “coerced” some of our naturist friends from home to join us a weeklong visit, but alas, it was one of those iffy weather weeks which left the lasting impression, “This place would be perfect if the sun shone a bit more.” After that, summers got busy with other things to do and places to be, and La Jenny fell off our travel itinerary… until this year.
Though our adult children don’t really consider themselves naturists, they don’t bat an eye at getting naked for a family vacation, especially if it turns out to be an all-inclusive sort of deal where they get room, board, and a free plane ticket. Two of the three took the bait this summer, so we found ourselves – naked – on the porch of our chalet near the La Jenny golf course, playing Uno into the wee hours of the morning again. It felt reminiscent to be back in this charming naturist village, sitting near the pool, watching an entirely new generation of naturist families, providing evidence – in the flesh – that family naturism is a booming business in France.
As a blogger and avid advocate of family naturism, it has occurred to me on many occasion that our naturist travelogue probably seems someplace between irrelevant and unreachable to many a would-be American naturist. I suspect that many feel just like we did back in 1997, saddled with three small children and barely enough money to buy shoes and lunch makings for the coming school week. “Nakation in France? Never gonna happen.” [There’s a whole separate story that goes here about my friend David who taught me how to earn airline miles with a credit card, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole right now.] And I also remember the “Ah-Ha” moment when we realized that a short week in a Disney park carries roughly the same price tag as three weeks in Europe, if we could figure out how to get everybody from this continent to that one.
But as I read so many blog posts, tweets, and reddit musings from frustrated husbands and fathers who simply can’t find a way to sell naturism to their spouses and families, I can’t help but think, “That’s because you simply can’t find a place in close proximity to where you live to replicate the everyday normal naturist experience in France… or Croatia…or Spain.” Family naturism will never feel normal when you’re in an environment where it simply isn’t… NORMAL!” Where the people you see at the pool and the beach and at the restaurant that evening are the same people you would encounter at Disneyland, or Six Flags, or even at the local grocery store or restaurant.
I’ve ranted a good bit in these pages over the years about the “nudist colony” feel of naturist places in the US. Indeed, there are a few places in North America that have broken that boundary, but making a quick weekend jaunt to Toronto or Palm Springs may even be more cost prohibitive than going to Europe. And then there are the family naturism casualties in the US, like Caliente in Florida, which finally gave up on their business plan for family naturism when they realized that catering to those seeking a sexual adventure became a necessity for keeping the cash flow in the positive. Or Desert Sun (formerly Desert Shadows) in Palm Springs, which first opened as a family naturist destination, where many units sold under the banner of “my grandkids can come visit me here,” only later to have children banned from the premises altogether as the potential of aiding and abetting a child predator outweighed the prospects of attracting clients who would pay for a family nakation. We Americans like to think we’re really progressive, but when it comes to intergenerational nudity, we simply can’t seem to figure it out.
Like Nick and Lins say in their piece, the French have totally figured out the formula for making family nakation acceptable, even to those who would rather vacation with their clothes on. (Imagine that! Telling your friends you went with your family on naked vacation without worrying about getting reported to Child Protective Services!?) France has also learned to embrace mainstream and social media in a way that doesn’t just sexualize or poke fun at social nudity, but portrays it as a viable recreational option for everyday people who simply want to de-stress, snooze by the pool, and walk on the beach, then come home without tan lines.
So now it’s 2019. As I rode my bike (naked) down to the village for croissants and a baguette from the market (also naked), before spending the rest of the day (naked) with my wife, friends, and adult children, I couldn’t help but get a bit nostalgic about that first visit to naturist France some 20+ years ago. I remember thinking, as we were in our thirties back then, “Why did it take us so long to discover this magical place? And how will I ever go on another vacation, anyplace, where clothing is required by the pool or on the beach? Why is that even a thing?”
So I guess that’s the point. Despite the best efforts of the most ardent proponents of social nudity in the US of A, it seems unlikely we’ll ever catch up with our European friends when it comes to creating a place where family naturism not only seems normal, but is in demand! Are there safe places to get naked with your family in the United States to enjoy social nudity with your family? A few, scattered across the country. Do any of them measure up, even to the mid grade places in France? Well… not from what we’ve seen, and we’ve been looking for a long time.
So if you’ve made it this far in these wandering musings from a meandering naturist, and you’re still living in the confines of naked and alone at home, I simply encourage you to find a cheap plane ticket, do a bit of careful research, then go get naked in France. It doesn’t have to be La Jenny; there are over 300 options in France alone. But if you get it right, you might end up wrecked… and naked… for life!
Naturism… and Instagram. Two words that are inherently
problematic when they appear in the same sentence.
I have several Instagram accounts, though it’s only been within the past six months or so that I’ve become one one might consider an active IG contributor. I find it quite annoying that the platform is almost impossible to maneuver from a real computer (as there are things that can only be done from your mobile device – like posting a new photo!) and it’s even more annoying that IG has been swallowed up by the Facebook conglomerate (where I have multiple personalities as well), and you simply have to concede to the fact all those platforms are connected and it’s pretty easy to inadvertently get your wires crossed.
Why so many different accounts? Well, at the risk of invoking a cascade of rage comments from the “bare all or go home” crowd, it’s a simple fact that while what you do in your free timeshouldn’t matter in your professional circles… it matters; especially when your work involves interactions with minors. Looking for an annoying example? Read this ridiculous article about the locals who staged a protest against a British Naturism event held at a water park in Great Britain last week!
And so, I have IG accounts that are connected to various elements of my professional life, but two accounts that I actually care about: one dedicated to our love of world travel (@mileagerundan), and another specifically focusing on… well, our naked asses (@naturistdan) as we’ve sought out naturist places all over the world.
I’m a little surprised at myself that I’ve gotten into the IG thing at all, but it’s turned out to be strangely cathartic! For starters, we’ve amassed over 100,000 photos since the advent of digital photography in the early 2000s, and digging back through the archives that document our travels – naked or otherwise – immediately lifts me out of the daily grind, if only to take a moment to muse over places we’ve been, people we’ve met, or moments of reveling in a great meal in a quirky cafe in Thailand.
But beyond that, it has been fascinating to watch the feed develop as the list of people I am following – naked and otherwise – has grown. Sometimes a quick shot of “naked in nature” is simply that inspirational jolt you need to augment that morning Cup of Joe. And on the mainstream travel feed, I’m forever finding places to add to our bucket list, quietly envious of some twenty-eight-year-old dude who’s working his way across Asia with one spare t-shirt and a smartphone, capturing images of nature and humanity along the way.
So, this all sounds lovely, I suppose, but there are decisions to be made and strategies to be considered in shaping one’s IG presence. These perils are best documented by a recent post from Nick and Lins blog (@n_wanderings is their new IG account!) where we were fortunate enough to make their Top Twelve List of IG naturist accounts. This, after they’ve been going through something of a reconciliation process with Instagram since their account with 42,000 followers was suddenly dropped after posting a screenshot from Austin Powers that, ostensibly, was well within the criteria for acceptability.
FORTY-TWO THOUSAND FOLLOWERS!! THINK ABOUT THAT! Knowing that in the current format, you get a sponsored ad for about every four or five “organic” posts on your feed, and here was an account that was playing by the rules, attracting a diverse and highly engaged audience, and POOF! Disappeared without a trace with no recourse or process for an appeal. In an age when people are so paranoid about censorship from the government, doesn’t anyone give a flip about censorship from commercial social media?
As I write this, my naturist IG account is creeping up on
1600 followers; the fully-clothed travel account continues to hover around 300
followers. Which brings up an intriguing element of the psychology of posting
on social media altogether. Quite directly… Why bother?
The fervent naturist community likes to tout the mission of
normalizing nudity in mainstream media. That’s certainly been my stated
modus-operandus, though quite honestly, I can’t really tell if a presence on
social media is actually helping or hurting the cause. It seems there are three
positions on that front:
Converting the Converted: I don’t know that other naturists need to be convinced about the virtues of social nudity, though that sense of solidarity is sort of nice.
Entangling with Erotica: With all the preaching (from naturists) that nudity is not inherently sexual, I find it challenging to decide who I’m willing to follow on IG under the banner of naturism. A photo of a naked person walking in the woods, that draws you into their feed where you find photos of a couple in a deep embrace, then you scroll down and there she is posed in a decidedly seductive position. And then you’re suddenly getting suggestions for other accounts that are downright pornographic or hook-up leads for swingers. Again, no wonder people are so confused about social nudity!
Sustained Success to Sudden Death: So, you amass 1000 followers, or 10,000 followers, or 100,000 followers, then suddenly some algorithm in the nipple detection software catches one of your images and your entire identity disappears from the internet! Just like that! So many naturist profiles that read, “my last two accounts were deleted – Starting over!”
Starting over! Why bother? And what is that addictive drug that causes us to covet followers in the first place? That same impulse that causes you to check-in every few hours to see if your Pic of the Day is getting the love it deserves (measured in likes and comments). But if we’re going to be honest, there’s a clear hierarchy that garners “likes” in the Instagram game…
Pics of your family vacation will draw a handful of followers and a smattering of likes
Put humans in the picture (clothed) and you’ll get more
Put a naked human in the picture (Sorry – but especially an attractive female*) – and you’ll get a truckload of hits.
Hint at full frontal nudity and WOO-HOO… You’re an instant celebrity!
*I use the word “attractive” with a good bit of trepidation in this analysis, as naturists like to embrace the idea that every body is beautiful, but I think it illustrates the point.
This whole concept became a bit more curious when this topic came up with an IG-savvy friend who pointed out to me how people will follow your page just to get you to follow them back, then as soon as you do, they unfollow you! Huh! Turns out my social media friends aren’t such great friends at all!! They just liked my pic of the Golden Gate Bridge to curry my favor in adding one more follower to their own feed! Jeez! We humans are so petty!
My point in all this? Well for starters, I’m mad as hell that advocates like Nick and Lins have followed all the rules while doing all the right things to promote something I feel so passionately about – the right to embrace social nudity in an appropriate context. But in the last place, their efforts have been thwarted by the very cause they’re rallying against.
And what does that say for the rest of us who are chipping away at the social nudity acceptance cause. In the end, it seems that us naturist types can be as altruistic as we’d like, but amazingly enough, even given the bottomless pit of every kind of pornography anyone could ever hope for on the internet, the naturist cause will always fall victim the biological desires that sustain the human race. (Thank you for sharing your picture of Mt. Rushmore, but could you just put up a photo of a naked woman instead?) It’s simply a mystery to me why someone would spend time trolling naturist social media accounts for a glimpse of nipplage when there has never been such easy access to so much erotic material at one’s fingertips at any time. And this says nothing about the number of times I’ve gone searching for “genuine naturist information” on these very same prudish social media platforms, only to accidentally click into a thread of hardcore sex videos that have yet to be detected by the nipple and buttock detector bots. It seems those sites can survive for months – unnoticed and unfettered, even with direct links to porn sites.
Here we are in 2019. People in my age bracket have seen a fleeting image of Janet Jackson’s nipple – blurred of course, for our safety – and it’s almost impossible to set parental controls on the family computer to keep your seven-year-old from stumbling into a hard-core fetish site. All the while, protesters are gathering outside organized naturist events to “protect the children (they don’t even know) from psychological damage,” and butt recognition software is routinely freezing and deleting legitimate accounts that are lobbying for one simple concept: “A body part is a body part is a body part. Don’t objectify or sexualize. Just realize that most humans have one set of parts or the other, and they are all attractive and beautiful in their own right.”
And so, I’ll play the Instagram game for another day, knowing I’d best avoid posting an image of Austin Powers lest my followers and I are eliminated in an instant – just like that.
Humans! How can we be some complicated and so simple minded all at the same time? Can’t we all just be naked and get along?
[It takes me a while
to actually get to the point on this one, but eventually, this post is going to
be about the absence of children at most naturist places in the US – or at
least my perception that this is the case – and what that may or may not mean
for the future of naturism in America.]
I’ve been ruminating on this post for quite a long time. In fact, since my oldest daughter just turned 31 a few days ago, maybe for about thirty years. The subject matter? The ever-controversial topic of children and social nudity, and simply what to make of it all.
The blogosphere is a strange place as people don’t typically
read a blog in any sequential sort of way. Maybe one finds a link on Facebook
or Twitter and clicks through. Or perhaps you’re even a follower of a
particular blog, and if the timing is right, you’ll read posts as they are
released in succession. But personally, I find the digital age to encourage
rather impulsive behavior. “Oh… look at that! I think I’ll read that, or maybe part of that post, or maybe I’ll
bookmark it for… I don’t know when.” All that said, if you’re a regular reader,
I apologize for the redundancy here.
My first efforts related to internet advocacy for naturism date back to 2004 when I bought some space on a remote server to launch a full-blown website called P and C Naturist Travel. I had little to no experience with web design and the result was pretty rough around the edges, but the mission was clear. We had taken our children to Domaine Naturiste La Jenny for the first time in 1999 after several attempts at finding a suitable place for family naturism in the United States, and I was hell bent on starting a campaign that would contribute to the efforts to normalize family naturism in America! By then, we had made several trips (with kids) to Europe and had discovered a plethora of places where children were not only welcome, but plentiful. When our kids went on nakation in Europe, they essentially thought it to be a holiday resort on par with any large family campground or resort. Similar demographic. Amenities you would expect in a large summer seaside village… but no clothes required at any time. Natural in every sense of the word. That first webpage was simply a series of trip reports about our naturist travel.
A subsequent effort led to the creation of a “community”
called the Naturist Family Network. It occurred to me that the United States of
America is a big place, and there must be others like my wife and myself who
were eager to cultivate the ideals of French naturism in this most diverse
nation on the planet. Surely… there would be others who were in a similar conundrum
as ours, fully enthralled with social nudity, and wanting to create a safe and
enjoyable space for their children when seeking a summer vacation destination.
I stayed with that project for a year or two, met a few interesting people,
(one who would eventually take over the project) but also encountered a lot of
trolls or lonely single guys (as are prevalent on Facebook and Twitter today)
feigning an interest in family oriented naturism for who knows why. That message board was handed off to several
entities, and as I do a quick Google search at this writing, it seems the last
remnants of that project have finally disappeared. It was a valiant effort.
I suspect I’ll receive a number of messages and comments in
response to this post, as I did
during the years that I maintained those two websites, that I have missed the
boat, and that family naturism is alive and thriving in the United States.
Which brings me back around to the title
of this post as I have found myself wondering time and again about the Case of the Disappearing Nudist Children.
I keep hearing about them. I’m told there are places where they are plentiful,
but when visiting those places, especially on a weekday even in the summer,
they are scarcely to be found!
We have visited perhaps two to three dozen naturist (nudist)
places in the US over the past thirty years, and indeed, a few times have found
children – mostly preadolescent – to be present. But then we have stories of a
visit to a place in Pennsylvania where the senior citizens (the predominant age
group at this place) were reminiscing about the party the night before, still
in something of a drunken haze the morning after. No kids around.
Or a couple places in Florida, both advertised as family
naturist destinations, the first of which was highly charged with sexual
energy, while another led to an unfortunate incident where our children – the only
children on the premises that day – were chewed out by a not-so-friendly owner
when their ball bounced out of the pool. And then there’s Desert Shadows (now
Desert Sun) Resort in Palm Springs that was going to be the ultimate family
naturist destination, but ultimately, a change in management resulted in the
banning of all children from the premises. Had you purchased a retirement
property there in the early days, you would later find out that your grandkids
would never be allowed to visit you!
There will be those who are quick to tell me that my aim is poor and my timing is bad. And, in fact, I’ve written about quite a few naturist places the world over – most recently in South Africa – where children are, indeed, part of the mix, but maybe only on the big Saturday BBQ and pudding toss festival day! (I’ve always thought the “pudding toss thing’ to be a funky idea at naturist places… just sayin’) This leads to yet another interesting phenomenon when it comes to naturist places outside of Europe, and that is, most of them lack Europeans!
Europeans know how to do vacation, and are allotted the time
to do a week in a mainline tourist destination, but with one, two, or three
weeks left over for a relaxing stay in a sprawling naturist resort (or
wherever) with all the amenities one would expect at a Disney resort. Such a
place can’t exist if the critical mass isn’t there to fill the place to capacity.
Especially when social nudity is the main attraction, and even in the warmest
corners of Europe, (let alone North America) that’s a season of five or six
months at best. So even if you find a place with a great family vibe going over
the weekend, which is tricky to do in the first place, what happens on Monday
morning when everybody has gone home and back to work?
This got me to thinking about my friend Addie who has contributed several posts to my blog over the past year, including one about dating and finding a naturist soul-mate. Turns out she is quite well traveled as well, having visited several naturist places in Europe, and even Paya Bay on Roatan. Would she have the fervor for the naturist cause had those not been her first defining experiences?
And what if she is successful in finding that naturist-friendly soulmate and they start a family? Won’t they find themselves in the same conundrum we did thirty years ago? Most young families are stretched for resources to begin with. Will they have the time and resources to take the kids to France or Croatia for the annual nakation? Or alternatively, even if they are fortunate enough to live within an hour or two of one of the few resorts in America that have a vibrant family naturist weekend scene, will two or three weekends a year sustain a lasting culture of family naturism? We have been several times to Gunnison Beach in New Jersey where there are typically a few kids amidst the crowd, but you can’t really compare that to the demographics of the large naturist beaches on the southwest coast of France where most everyone there is there with children.
My hunch is that Addie will figure it out, and in all likelihood, will have the wherewithal to do so, but if there truly is a generational divide related to the future of naturism in America, I think this is it! There most definitely appears to be a counter-culture resurgence amongst the millennials that is funding a social nudity renaissance of sorts in the pre-family demographic, and AANR is quick to fire off statistics that nudism is on the rise, due in large part to endeavors like the Big Nude Boat that is capturing the discretionary income of the empty-nesters. But what about that twenty-year stretch in the middle, when the kids are young, the parents are strapped, and the family traditions are being carved into stone? Most of the naturist families we’ve met in Europe are multi-generational… “Yup, I’ve been coming here since I was a child when my grandparents bought that little house over there.”
Who knows… maybe the millennials will pull a rabbit out of
the hat on this one. In the greater context of time, the huge naturist centers
of Europe are not really that old. France’s
naked city, Cap d’Agde (a questionable exemplar for family naturism, to be sure)
has only really existed since the 1970s, and the sprawling resorts in Croatia
opened not that long before that. But could the American culture of paranoia or
highly sexualized perceptions of nudity be ready for the open-minded
twenty-somethings who are ready and willing to bare all? And is there a capital
venture entrepreneur who is prepared to put down the money to build it so they
will come? (Seems that was the plan for both Caliente in Florida and Desert
Shadows in Palm Springs, but maybe it just wasn’t time yet.)
We’re counting on you, millennials! Drop your clothes, stand, and be counted. Now is your chance to create a body-positive environment for your own children, and all those in the generations to come!
EDITORS NOTE: Since writing this post, we’ve traveled to La Jenny in France, and RelaxNat near Barcelona, where there seems to be a noticeable upswing in young families fully embracing naturism. Literally hundreds of children at La Jenny participating in the Kids Club. If you can find a way to travel, there are most certainly places where family naturism is thriving!
Photos for this post were found on internet sources such as Twitter and Google. If you find an image that belongs to you and should be removed, please let me know and I will respond accordingly.
It’s been ten years since my first visit to a German sauna world, or Saunawelt as they would say auf deutsch. An internet blogger friend pointed me in the direction of the newly expanded Therme Erding conveniently situated between Munich and the nearby international airport. As a seasoned naturist, I will remember that initial sauna adventure for all of my days. That moment you walk into the co-ed changing rooms, trying to look unfazed by your inability to open your locker, inconveniently located in awkward proximity to a middle-aged couple removing their clothes. Meanwhile, preoccupied as to whether you’re about to offend more people by being naked or by wrapping yourself in a towel. Informative directives were posted everywhere, which would have been ever so helpful had I paid more attention during that one semester of college German.
It’s not especially helpful that there are approximately a bazillion sauna and “therme” (thermal pool) centers dotting the map of Germany, not to mention those to be found in Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands – each of which have a unique set of customs and rules that may or may not be posted – in German – on a wall, leaflet, or countertop. Doesn’t matter really though; there’s clearly something in the DNA of central Europeans that allows them to decode the unspoken rules of social nudity. It’s no secret the Germans are thought leaders in social-nudity, but still… how do they always seem to know what’s going on?
Before going into my detailed guide for naked spa rookies, I should encourage those who worry about the communal nudity thing to read any number of TripAdvisor reviews written by prudish Americans who uniformly confirm that non-sexual nakedness in a social environment only feels awkward for about five minutes, until you realize that clothing actually does very little to help us obscure the things that make us feel most awkward or inadequate about our bodies. This is not a post about the perils or merits of social nudity, but instead, a guide for the person who says, “I’m over it. A bazillion Germans seem to think it’s fun! I’m gonna shed my inhibitions and sweat it out with a bunch of strangers, and I’m gonna like it!“
With that said and done, I thought it might be useful to provide a few tips to help you find the right place for your first naked sauna experience, noting that the options are abundant and varied. Compared to everything that’s out there, (About 350 spas in Germany alone, I think!) I’ve been to relatively few. (Perhaps a dozen, but a few of those many times over.) But for the sake of this blog post, I think I can narrow thermal spa complexes down into four categories:
The Therme Erding Mega-spas: Therme-Erding is not only a relative newcomer in the spa business, but they seem to enjoy the reputation of doing everything bigger and bolder than all those who have gone before, in a – dare I say it – Disneyesque sort of way! While they advertise the installation in Erding (near Munich) as the world’s largest spa, their more recent endeavors are similarly expansive – with a consistent penchant for emulating the exotic islands of the South Seas, where the climate is controlled 365 days a year under glass domes that could house a dirigible! With locations in Erding, Bad Wörishofen, Sinsheim (near Heidelberg), Schwarzwald, and Euskirchen (near Cologne), the Erding location boasts the largest texteil-frei bereich (clothes-free zone), though the others try to compensate for this by offering “long sauna nights” about once a month when the entire property becomes naked-friendly for the evening. You’ll either need to learn a few important German words or get familiar with Google Translate to figure all that out, but it you’re hell-bent on maxing out the full-monty experience without planning around a specific day of the month, Erding is probably your best bet.
The Kristall Therme Chain: I should remind my readers that I’m no expert here, but as best I can tell, the Kristall Therme chain was pretty much on the cutting edge of chain-style sauna experiences until the Erding folks stepped up to the plate. But while the aforementioned thermes decided to focus on palm trees and palapas, the Kristall team went for a Neo-Viennese-quasi-elegant-but-not-so-impressive-chandelier affect! The result is something like the amusement park down the street from Disneyland that tried to exploit the WOW factor, but didn’t quite grab the brass ring. In my humble opinion, the chandeliers and candelabras are not aging well. We have only visited two of their locations; one near Schwangau which was a good bit underwhelming, and another in Ludwigsfelde near Berlin, which is very naked and family friendly; quite different that the other texteil-frei locations that are limited to patrons aged 16 years and older. The therme in Stein (near Nuremberg) had a serious fire several years ago, but it appears they have rebuilt and reopened. I’d love to know what they’ve done to bring things up to date as compared to the older branches of the chain. Ludwigsfelde is pretty much naked friendly, everywhere, all the time, which may be the reason I’ve gone back there at least three times.
The historic sauna bath-houses: So I have to confess… the only “old school” historic bath I’ve been to so far is the Müller’sches Volksbad not far from the Englischer Garten in Munich, yet another famously naked place in Germany. I went midday on a weekday in the dead of winter, and spent most of my time there asking myself, “Should I be naked here? Can I swim naked? And where are all the humans under 75 years of age? I have yet to visit the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Baths in Baden-Baden, nor the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme in Wiesbaden, nor the Neptune Bad in Cologne, but my impression is that they all provide a similar sense of bathing in a ornate museum, often involving a wellness course sort of ritual where you make your way through the various sensations ranging from very warm pools to very cold pools (Nope! Not for me!), stopping for a rest wrapped in warm towels in between. It’s on my bucket list to try a couple more of these out, but I’m always a little anxious about wasting a precious spa day on something I’m not sure I’m going to love! Maybe Wiesbaden or Cologne soon – we’ll see.
A myriad of independent spas with a vast array of amenities: As soon as you realize that every town that begins was the word “Bad” (German for bath) is essentially a spa town, you’ll see that there are thermal spas all over Germany, as frequently as not, in cute little villages where the thermal springs are about the only thing happening there. Schwaben Quellen is something of an exception, located right in the heart of a Stuttgart commercial center. I’m also particularly fond of a beautiful complex called Mediterana located outside of Cologne, (though the pools are a bit tepid to my liking,) and I’ve been eager to get to one or both of the Vabali Spas, one in Düsseldorf, one in Berlin, each of which are killin’ it on Trip Advisor, especially with the under-forty crowd. Conversersly, I once visited a small spa in Rheinland-Pfalz that felt a bit more like a recreation center for seniors – all good for what it is, but not what I was hoping for that day. And I’ve ventured out to Taunus Therme near Frankfurt twice. Beautiful pool area downstairs, but I keep forgetting to bring a swimsuit, (which is required in that part of the complex) so I’ve never even dipped a toe in the main pool. The point is that you need to do your research before you go. Many thermes will actually have a map like this one from Bad Hönningen that gives you a sense of the layout of the place, along with the size and amenities of the sauna area (almost always nude) and the therme area (almost always texteil), which is why it pays to dig around the website to see if the place is according to your preferences. Of course, that’s equally important for those who are trying to avoid naked Germans! Know before you go.
Locals have told me the big commercial therme chains are just for tourists and they would never go there, which may be true, but I have to say all those tourists at the swim-up bar at Therme Erding speak crazy good German. But with so many spa establishments in Germany alone, it seems location and personal preference defines the ranking system. ‘Just depends on what you’re looking for.
With that, let’s get down to business. How do you make sure your day at the relaxation spa is… well… relaxing, and not just a sequential outing of awkward faux-pas?
ARRIVAL: While I have enough German to say, “Two adults for four hours, please,” there is typically somebody at the check in counter who has enough English to immediately make me feel inadequate about my German. And besides, they’ll want to know if you want to rent a robe (badmantel), a towel (badetuch), or slippers (I don’t know that word!), all of which most locals bring along with them, but if you’re traveling lightly, it’s easy enough to rent them on the spot, and I’ve never been to a place where that’s not possible. Often, they will actually charge you up front for the purchase price of the item (Say 50€ for the robe, but since the rental is only 4€, they’ll refund you the difference once you bring it back at check-out. No big deal if using a credit card, as you’ll probably spend more than that on food and drink while you’re in the spa anyway. Most clients will bring a normal bathrobe from home, though many just make a go of it for the day with a towel. You most definitely want slippers or flip-flops as there will undoubtedly be some outdoor walking, and the floors are frequently wet and slippery.
If the complex has several different areas, you’ll want to know which one you’re looking for before you get in line. Therme Erding, for instance, has one entrance point for Galaxy Water Park (a big water slide area where swimsuits are required, along well as a penchant for sudden drops), another desk for Thermen Paradise (a large family oriented area with elaborate warm pools and maybe a few saunas (swimwear required) and other attractions, and the most expensive entrance lane for Saunawelt, where you’ll go directly into the clothes-free zone as soon as you clear the desk and enter the locker room. While it may seem strange that the “take your clothes off area” is the most expensive option, that’s because that ticket provides you access to the entire complex – but only if you remember to pack a swimsuit so you can work your way back through the labyrinth of gateways to the other areas. Again, your coin bracelet is the key to the gates that separate one area from the next.
To address the perennial question of “Where does a naked guy keep his wallet?” that takes you back to the wristband with a coin chip in it as well. USUALLY, this is ALL you need for all the business you will do that day. You will use it to open your locker, pay for your meals, buy drinks at the swim-up bar, and even to pay for a massage or spa treatment should you choose to book one. I say usually as I remember my last visit to the Kristall Therme near Berlin where they had a bizarre procedure where you could use your bracelet at the food court, but I vaguely remember having to bring a ziplock baggie of money to the swim-up bar, which made absolutely no sense to me. (Maybe there was a better solution, but I wasn’t about to figure it out in German.) In any event, if you can, it’s worth clarifying exactly what your bracelet will or will not do while you’re still at the front desk.
THE LOCKER ROOM and THE GRAND ENTRANCE: I have feared locker rooms since the I first had to use one in seventh grade! Terrifing! Really! I’m mostly over that by now when I go to the YMCA, and I’ve grown accustomed to those at the therme as well, but my heart did stop for a moment the first time I had to ease my way toward my locker next to a naked women leisurely unpacking her spa bag. She could see I was fumbling with my bracelet unlocking-device and offered me help getting the magnetic lock to release.
In reality, she was a bit more immodest than most, as many will find one of the little changing cubicles (think department store fitting room), enter fully clothed, then exit wrapped in a bathrobe of a towel. That always seems like an extra step to me as the entrance to the spa area typically takes you through a shower room where they’d like you to immediately doff said covering garment and rinse down before entering the main attraction area.
But that leads to another interesting element of spa nudity – one that I have never understood, but it seems to be a sort of common law, often specified (in vague language) in the rules for the spa. You may or may not find it posted or printed in English that nudity is mandatory in the saunas and the pools, but you are required to cover yourself with a towel or a robe when moving about the facilities or visiting the restaurants therein. Most everyone complies with the restaurant part, but every time an aufguss session lets out (more about that later) there will be a rush of naked humans rushing to the nearest shower or nearby outdoor veranda to cool-off. But otherwise, the expectation is that you will wrap at least the lower part of your body when moving about the premises. Of course, there’s always a few people who either didn’t read the rules, or simply choose to walk about naked, or maybe with a towel draped loosely over the shoulder, scarcely obscuring any of the quintessential body parts. (Yes, that may well be me!) There are always spa employees everywhere, and not once have I seen them stop someone to ask them (me!) to cover up, and since the large spas have literally hundreds of loungers scattered around, you’ll see every form of undress, from bundled tightly in robes, to people discreetly covering their genitalia, to people napping – buck naked – spread eagle. You’ll have a sense of what goes at a particular spa within a few minutes of arrival.
Having just written this, I have learned my to young female friends who visited Vabali Düsseldorf today were reprimanded for walking around naked! I stand corrected.
NOODLES IN THE POOL: This seems to be another interesting variation from one spa to the next, as Friday and Saturday nights at the therme seem to be a very popular date night outings. At Erding, it’s not uncommon to see couples enjoying a deep embrace as they’re floating in the lazy river outside on a snowy evening with steam billowing off the water. Once again, spa attendants are plentiful and you know there are video cameras everywhere, including the rest areas. (My wife and I once inadvertently summoned a bouncer-like fellow when a hand drifted too close to a sensitive area. He simply stood by making his presence known, and that was that. But indeed, there are cameras everywhere!) The Ludwigsfelde Kristall Therme allows children of all ages, so that changes the vibe a bit, and when we visited the huge Bad Wörishofen on a texteil frei Friday night, it seemed like their were guards everywhere out on noodle patrol. I’ve never seen anything that would get the overt sexual activity prize, but it seems each spa has it’s own unspoken rules regarding acceptable behavior, and somehow, everyone seems to know what those are. When in Rome…
OK – WHAT ABOUT THE SAUNA THING. WILL I DIE?: Seriously. That was my primary concern the first time I went into a sauna. I mean, the whole idea is that you’re going to go in, sit down, and get really, really hot until there is sweat oozing from places you didn’t even think possible?
The large Erding affiliate spas have the most elaborate (and largest) themed saunas. In fact, I think Erding has at least twenty-five different saunas, each of which offer a wide variety of different aufguss (infusion) ceremonies over the course of a day. By large, I mean it’s not uncommon for 80-100 people to crowd in for a popular aufguss session, and yes, everyone is completely naked, with your towel often overlapping the towel next to you. A few people, mainly women, remain wrapped in their towels, but they are by far the minority. It’s simply a sea of naked humanity! That alone might feel a bit claustrophobic to some, but that’s just before the ceremony begins! Perhaps you think yourself clever having chosen a spot with a bit more personal space on the top shelf in the upper back corner, until you realize that twelves seconds before the ceremony begins, five more people are going to dash in, see you are occupying the only available real-estate, and come crowd in around you! Now… you’re on the top level (where the heat is the most intense), in the back corner (farthest from the exit door), and packed in like a giant sweaty sardine when you realize that if you needed to leave suddenly, you’d have to awkwardly drag your moist body and dripping towel over three rows of other naked people deeply entranced in the mediation chimes of ancient Indonesia!
The aufguss ritual itself has to do with the pouring of scented water on intensely hot rocks, after which, the spa-master will take a large towel, or a flag, or maybe even giant Russian banja leaves and thwack them in your direction to provide a blast of heat that literally takes your breath away! You suddenly have an entirely new sense of empathy for your Thanksgiving turkey, coming to realize that it was a kindness to make sure he was dead before putting him in the oven!
Thankfully, your spa-master has told you about the entire process before it actually began – typically a two or three minute explanation that I think goes like this…”Welcome to mud ritual of ancient Egypt! In a moment, I’m going to close the door, then poor this magic potion on those boiling rocks. Then my assistant and I are going to give you some magic goo that we found near the tomb of Moses so you can spread it all over your body – unless you want to ask your friend to help you with those hard to reach places. (Hahahahaha!) Then I’ll pour some more water on those rocks and take this towel and snap it within inches of your face so you can feel the magic mud being absorbed into your pores and your body begins triage inventory – “Brain – functioning. Heart – beating. Arm-pits – on overload!” Then I think he says something like, “Please remember, this is a high intensity ride. People with heart conditions, pregnant women, and humans prone to anxiety should take note of the nearest exit, even if you can’t possibly get to it when it matters. Please keep your arms and legs inside the carriage at all times.” Let me remind you, I only know a few German words, like exit, panic, and die, but I usually feel reassured by the laughter of my German counterparts.
This is why you may want to ease your way into the process, realizing that any particular sauna will only have an aufguss ceremony every two hours or so. When that happens, they put a sign on the door that says “session in progress,” do not enter!” But otherwise, you can go in and try out the various saunas and stay for as little or as long as you wish. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that each sauna has a sign on the door that tells you the temperature, and sometimes the humidity percentage as well. Of course, it’s all in Celsius, but you’ll figure out the difference between 65° and 85° pretty quickly! Way more than the Fahrenheit equivalent. And the higher the humidity, the more intense the heat.
It also took me a while to realize that if you want a premium seat for an aufguss ceremony, on the bottom step, not too far from the door, you have to plan ahead. Each aufguss event lasts about ten minutes, and while they won’t let additional people come in once “the show has begun,” you do have the prerogative to leave any time, and typically, one or two people do. For me, I found that putting myself in a position to escape if I felt I needed to was all the assurance I needed to alleviate the anxiety, but that requires forethought. In this case, forethought involves arriving ten or fifteen minutes before the aufguss begins, putting your towel down to mark your spot, sitting to acclimate for a few minutes to get a sense of the heat intensity, then stepping out of the sauna – leaving your towel behind – (you’re naked, remember!) to cool down; maybe even step outside if it’s convenient, to bring down your body temperature. Sometimes there will be a giant vat of crushed ice nearby that people scoop up by the handful. I, along with many others, will make a giant snowball and take it back in the sauna with me if I know the heat will be particularly intense, then rub it on my forehead and chest when I feel like it’s just a little too much. By the end of the event, your snowball has vanished into a puddle on your towel.
Most of the aufguss sessions I’ve gone to involve two ceremonious rounds of dousing the hot rocks with infused water followed by the accompanying whacking of towels, but the entire thing never lasts more than ten minutes. That seems a reasonable amount of time for nearly anyone to endure the intense heat, but that’s also assuming you set out your towel early, then stepped out to cool down for a few minute. (25 minutes without pause would be long stretch for even the heartiest of sauna warriors!) And there may well be some quirky ritual immediately before, during, or after the aufguss, like going into an adjacent cave to cover your body in salt, or the aforementioned mud ritual. Sometimes you even get a prize at the end, like fresh bread that comes out of the oven at the same time you do, or a Popsicle to help you internalize the fruity joys of a tropical island. In time, you’ll master the fine art of discretely watching the people around you before you accidentally rub salt in your eyes, which the spa guy probably told you to avoid, but you really weren’t sure what the nervous intermittent laughter was about while he was giving his spiel.
Other than some of the historic spas where the traffic essentially flows from one activity to the next, the typical scenario at the more recent establishments allows you to plan your day as you wish, usually providing a detailed schedule of all the day’s aufguss events. My wife is not too keen on the intense heat of the saunas, but loves the warm pools, the quiet resting areas, the various restaurants (at the nicer spas) and simply lounging by the pool with a good book between visits to the swim-up bar. Those quiet resting areas may have ceremonies as well to encourage meditation, relaxation, or mind-expansion. Or sometimes it’s just a nice place to take a nap or curl up with a book. (Many have reading lights above the bed) Most inhabitants will be wrapped in a towel or a robe, but a few will be naked as well. Just remember… no hanky-panky! 🙂
Whenever possible, we make the spa our first stop upon arrival in Europe since most flights from the US arrive in Munich or Germany around 7:00 am. That’s just enough time to drop our bags at the hotel – spa bag already packed – then make our way to the therme. (This works particularly well in Munich, as bus 512 goes directly from the airport to the village of Erding)
As mentioned above, my two young (female) friends have made their first stop at Verbali Spa near Düsseldorf where they report that the amenities and view of the lake from the warmth of the spa was unbelievable. But contrary to my earlier words of advice, they were actually cited for being too naked as they were walking from one place to another without bothering to wrap in a towel. That seems particularly peculiar for a place that doesn’t even have an area that allows for swimsuits.
Later today, they will visit one of the Erding-chain establishments near Cologne, and I’m urging them to write a guest blog post to capture the experience from their own perspective. They are both quite new to naturism, and even newer to the German sauna experience. Regardless, seems they are both enthusiastic converts to clothes-free recreation. Take note nay-sayers: There is hope for the future of naturism even yet!
You may want to visit a few other posts about saunas and thermal baths, such as my blog post about the Onsen experience in Japan, or one of my very first posts about spa nudity written about five years ago. And I haven’t even scratched the surface on some of the spa hotels in Austria that sport sauna centers as well, or some of the very hip places in Holland that have yet another spin on communal nakedness. All good. Still stuff left to blog about.
So, it’s September. Our summer travels are over and it’s back to the grind; a time that is always a period of reflection for me as I comb through photos of our travels while I start dreaming about the next adventure for the drawing board.
This time, I came across the photos from our trip to Brazil a couple years ago, realizing that I never actually blogged on our experiences there. Well, that is, at least not in the present or past tense. I did write a post about our perils of trying to to get there in the first place called “Getting Naked in Brazil = Complicated!” At the time, we were living in France, and we simply couldn’t find a way to maneuver the complicated task of getting an American tourist visa to Brazil while residing in France.
Praia do Pinho
What I had NOT expected in response to that post was an admonishing email from a reader who warned me about the covert operations of the naturist movement in Brazil, and offered disquieting news about a particular place in Brazil where he cited a sort of pyramid scheme gone awry that ended in huge monetary losses and even allegations of murder!
Murder!? What the hell??? We already knew you had to be careful about pick-pockets in Rio, but is one really in danger of getting murdered while naked in Brazil?
Cabins at Colina do Sol
Finally, at the end of 2015 (and into the beginning of 2016) we made it to Brazil, book-ending our trip with requisite visits to Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu Falls, with stops along the way at the naturist beach (resort?) Praia do Pinho, and finally, the infamous Colina do Sol – yes indeed, the very place the dude had warned me not to visit. “And for God’s sake, don’t try to buy a house there unless you wanna get dead!”
Spoiler alert. We stayed a week at the place. We didn’t buy a house. And nobody got murdered!
While we were there, we stayed in the “Hotel” Ocara – something of a foreshadowing of our entire experience at Colina do Sol, which might best be described as an amazing idea that never quite came to fruition. It seems that one naturist entrepreneur named Celso Rossi had acquired a large plot of land in the beautiful green hills above Porto Allegre, then proceeded to lay out the plans for an expansive naturist village with summer homes sheltered in a tropical forest, a man-made lake, a full service restaurant and even a hotel. We spent quite a lot of time with Celso during our visit, who we found to be warm and resoundingly enthusiastic about all things naturism, but spoke candidly about the evolution of this naked utopia in Brazil.
The lake at Colina do Sol
The story is long and tangly, but resonated deeply with me as I have a brother who got buried in the complexities of running his own business until he ended up in a negative cash flow situation, using tomorrow’s projected revenue to pay yesterday’s bills – always a landslide in the making. Add to that mix the Socratic (I use the word with trepidation) negotiations of the home owner’s association as various people bought into the dream of their own personal naturist vacation hamlets, and a particularly fervent group of Americans who were going to make Colina do Sol their go to place when it’s cold up here and the middle of summer down there. Even by Celso’s account, the sand started slipping from beneath his toes on his own beach, and the untimely death of one of the homeowners led to speculation and allegations about fiduciary scheming and criminal wrong-doing!
Celso, our host
At the time of our visit, (2016) we stayed in the three story hotel where the top two floors remained unfinished. The lakeside restaurant that had once been the center of social activity had recently closed, and hours on the beach near the lake were decidedly quiet for a summer weekend day, though there were obviously people living in the cabins on the sprawling roads that provided a terrific circuit for morning naturist walks. We were the only guests at the hotel during our stay, and perhaps the first Americans to visit since the whole property management debacle of some years before, so Celso spent many evenings with us, guitar in hand, retelling the dream of his naturist nirvana and his unrelenting passion to see the project move forward, despite the hurdles of the past. At this writing, I think he still lives on the property with his wife, but is no longer involved in the naturist center (restaurant and hotel) that is rumored to be under new management and poised for a renaissance.
The pool – heated by the warm air of Brazil
Would we go back? Despite the unpredictable weather, (It rains a LOT in that part of Brazil!) I liked the place quite a lot (more so than my wife) and could imagine a very pleasant stay in one of the little cabins when there’s nine inches of snow on the ground at home. Seeing video footage of the place when it was at its zenith – ten years ago, perhaps – I found myself longing for the vitality of the naturist centers in Europe, thinking this might be a viable winter alternative on this side of the Atlantic. That was not the case during our visit, but as is the case with most naturist places, timing is everything. It’s most definitely worth keeping an eye on the place, though indeed, I’m not likely to buy a home there!
On patrol at Praia do Pinho
Our other naturist stay in Brazil, with its unremarkably modest accommodations, was at Praia do Pinho, about a 90 minute flight south of Rio. Here again, weather had a significant influence on our impressions of the place where rainy periods significantly outnumbered the sunny ones, and our small room became claustrophobic when sun-worship on the beach simply wasn’t viable. The beach itself turns up on many “most beautiful nude beaches in the world” lists, and I think that designation is well deserved. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that summer in the south of Brazil does not come with the arid climate of summer in the South of France. Interestingly, there were a lot of nice places to stay near Praia do Pinho that would have greatly influenced our overall read on the place, though it’s always difficult to weigh the value of the luxury walking naked from your room to the beach. I suppose it just depends on what you think a nakation actually is.
A walk to the beach
As a footnote to our Brazilian experience, with all the fuss about that scantily clad girl from Ipanema, we saw exactly zero naked people or topless women on the mainstream beaches in Brazil. To be sure, the bikini bottoms looked (uncomfortably!) skimpy, though you see that just about anywhere these days. But suffice it to say, there was nothing on the beaches of Ipanema or Copacabana that would not meet the stringent Facebook rules for public decency – which the seasoned naturist knows to be ridiculously conservative. Like most South American countries, Brazil has its own fair share of prudery that belies the implicit notion that social nudity is really a thing there.
A beautiful county worth exploration? Absolutely.
A naturist destination for the sake of nakation? Sadly… not quite.
Perhaps I should change the name of my blog to the “Sporadically Blogging Meandering Naturist.” Simply too much on my plate as of late to keep up with posting as much as I’d like.
That said, 2017 was an extraordinary year for us on the naturist travel front. We started out the year in Australia spending several days at each of three naturist venues, Seclude in Queensland, BB at Byron Bay, and BoBrene, not far from Brisbane. In addition to returning to a couple of our favorite haunts this past year in Croatia (Valalta), Mallorca (Skinny Dippers), and on Ile du Levant (Heliotel), we made our first visit to a few new (to us!) interesting naked places, including Paya Bay Resort in Honduras, Lemontree Naturist Resort in Thailand, and an extensive trek through the Canary Islands where we finally visited Charco del Palo on Lanzarote, Gran Hotel Natura and Monte Marina on Fuerteventura, and a brief stay at Magnolias Natura Resort on Gran Canaria. One day, I will catch up on more detailed reportage of our naturist meanderings, but this is not that day.
Lemontree in Thailand
Naiharn Beach, Thailand
Lemontree in Thailand
Byron Bay, Australia
Gran Natura, Fuerteventura
Charco del Palo, Lanzarote
Es Trenc, Mallorca
Ile du Levant
Heliotel, Ile du Levant
Ile du Levant
Rab Island, Croatia
Boat Trip in Croatia
Paya Bay, Honduras
Paya Bay, Honduras
Byron Bay, Australia
Byron Bay, Australia
Byron Bay, Australia
In the meantime, I very much doubt 2018 will offer so many nakation opportunities as we enjoyed last year. Seldom do the planets align like that. But I post this gallery in hope that people will click through and support these naturist travel destinations so that these businesses will continue to thrive, grow and multiply, bringing naturist travel ever more into the mainstream tourism industry.
Best wishes to all my readers tor a happy and prosperous nude year!
[Images for this post were acquired from a Google Image Search. Please advise if I have used an image without appropriate permission.]
By the time I went home, I’d seen a hundred soft dicks…
Such is the opening line of a recent piece in RACKED, an online fashion magazine, for which the author was sent on special assignment to experience a week at a typical naturist gathering, intended to provide fodder for an article about how clothing defines who we are. Does it though?
Not surprisingly, Naked Truths: Who Are We Without Our Clothes by young freelance writer Jamie Lauren Keiles could easily be the sequel to David Sedaris’s final essay from his 1998 book, Naked. In each case, the writing style is someplace between unabashed and irreverent. And in each case, the author grapples with the awkward dichotomy of something (nakedness, that is) that should be natural and empowering, while drawing attention to the bizarre customs that have shifted the emphasis of the ideal from rejuvenating to weird!
After dinner, I walked to the lake, down an isolated trail in a thicket of trees. The sun was not scheduled to set for two more hours. The light came green and filtered through the leaves as I stopped midway to pull off my shirt, then continued down the trail, fully nude except my shoes. A breeze off the lake took stock of every fine mammalian hair on my body. Walking naked in the woods makes you feel like a real goddamn Homo sapiens. My posture looked stupid, like it had been formed in a time before women were dainty. My brain was a mass of electrical signals; I wanted to kill an animal, or maybe be killed by one.
Not the author pointed out in the photo. Don’t know who that is!
Ms. Keiles takes us through her week-long stay at the TNS Eastern Naturist Gathering one step at a time; at times with a sense of admiration for the genuine nature of the people she meets, at other times, sardonic and cutting in her realization of so much irony.
The following morning was cold and rainy. Most people at breakfast were wearing at least one article of clothing — a silk kimono or a terry-cloth bathrobe or a souvenir sweatshirt from a regional nude beach. One couple stepped out in matching tie-dye Snuggies. Only two well-insulated men remained nude, one very hairy and one very fat. The scene felt like the relief effort following a tragic YMCA locker room fire.
Or later, when she reflects on the ritual square dancing lessons…
Square dancing is an elaborate coupled dance with lots of touching and changing of partners. My partner was a shy man in black tube socks and a Casio watch. I did not feel eager to have him hold my naked body, but soon he proved a dependable dancer. Our first song was a wife-swapping routine called “Push Ol’ Pa, Push Ol’ Ma.” It opened with a jaunty fiddle and a move called “grand left and right” that involved shaking hands with different partners around a circle. As the ladies traveled clockwise and the men counterclockwise, I took extreme care to connect with each outstretched hand. I shook the hand of a 7-foot-tall man with black hair. I shook the hand of a gay man in pearls. When the song was over, everyone agreed that I was a really good square dancer. It is easy to learn quickly when the risk of failure is grabbing a stranger’s penis.
First of all, square dancing lessons? Can you think of anyplace else you might go for a week-long retreat wherein one of the main events might be square dancing lessons? (Author’s note: My parents were life-long square dancers, albeit, most definitely not naturists. Square dancing is an important part of the American tradition, and I suspect, still a wonderful pastime for many people in our midst. But really? This is a headliner event at a naturist gathering?)
Pudding toss at a naturist event. Awkward.
The reason Keiles’s article resonated with me so deeply – as well as that of David Sedaris before – is this thing that has clearly become an obsession of mine to somehow normalize perceptions related to social nudity amidst even a few “on-the-fencers” here in the United States of America. I am sometimes criticized regarding the content of my blog, as so much of my reportage suggests that you have to travel to Europe to experience naturism in any altruistic sort of way. The longer I’m at this though, and the more I read pieces by unsuspecting journalists like Jamie Lauren Keiles, the more I succumb to the fact that, this may indeed be true.
There is some irony, I suppose, that I’ve been a member of TNS (The Naturist Society) since about 1990. Keiles talks a bit about this organization in her essay, noting that it was born out of the nude beach groupies of Northern California (my homeland), in what I always perceived to be a push back against some of the politics and weirdness of the AANR. (American Association for Nude Recreation) It may be that I’m a bit bent out of shape that TNS has never been willing to accept an article submission under a pseudonym, despite repeated requests and explanations that since I am a published author in academia, it might not the best idea to entangle my naturist writings with those about education and pedagogy.
A genuine perception of naturists. Sigh.
I digress, but not really! The TNS policy on pseudonyms – and square-dancing for that matter – reflects a distorted reality as to just how the average American perceives the naturist idea.
Another excerpt, this time about the grand finale talent show at the end of the week,
Curtain down, curtain up: A woman played a beat on a gong and a drum as her pendulous breasts hit the twos and fours. A man with a 12-gauge ring through his dick read an original poem about his sisters.
Really? Like that of Sedaris, this essay in a fashion magazine will reach more people in a week’s time than all the positive PR about American naturism could possibly find in a year! But let me be clear. The author is merely reporting – with flair, to be sure – what she saw and how she experienced it as a 20-something female on assignment. To that end, I found her impressions from the stretching workshop (pseudo-yoga) to be really intriguing as well…
I looked around the group and watched the other people stretch. An eightysomething man and wife reached for their toes on towels in the corner. The room was a showcase of strange and gnarled postures. Spines curved over in improbable ways. Everyone else had at least a few liver spots. In your 20s, there’s a cognitive fail-safe that makes it impossible to imagine your body becoming an old person’s body. Our access to the symptoms of aging seems to be meted out according to market potential. (I know about wrinkles, only because I know I should buy a cream to prevent them.)
And there it is! Perhaps the thing we have most admired about naturist travel in Europe is the way Europeans perceive themselves, naked or otherwise. Not only do we see that in the European naturist resorts, but in every small village as well, where one finds an abundance of 90-something humans making their way through the streets to the village market, on foot (!), acknowledging that aging is part of the life cycle, and at least “I have all day to get to the market.”
Supposedly real naturists dining together, but alas, nobody is sitting on a towel.
In the meantime, the naturist scene in American seems to be as polarized as the country itself. (Little political jab there!) In fact, we have something of an imperfect trifecta!
The constituencies of TNS and AANR that continue to host events reminiscent of a 1950s “covered-dish dinner,” (Click through to the definition. It’s worth it!) despite the fact that as Keiles noted, the attendance of a contingency of under-60s hasn’t “proved true in any statistically significant way.”
The places where nudity does equal sex! Though Keiles’s piece was published three days ago, I found the two comments on the publication website informative in a sad sort of way. The first comment was from some guy who was advocating for his right to sport an erection when naked in public. The second post was committed to shutting the first guy down. Go to the wrong naturist place in Florida, and you’ve signed up for lingerie dances and hocus pocus in the pool. All very confusing, and most definitely not helping the social nudity cause.
And finally, the no-nudity, unless it sells skin products culture. I could write volumes on the puritanical implications of an age in when sexuality sells so many movies, beauty products, and even swimwear lines at the expense of simple immodesty that says, “I’m OK with who I am, with or without clothing.”
Remember, Keiles writes for a fashion magazine, which is why she set out to do this piece in the first place. She says right in the title of the essay that this was intended to explain, “what we accomplish when we choose to wear clothes.” Given all the rhetoric to we are all the same people when we’re naked, Keiles makes a fairly compelling case that that’s not really true at all. We are the people that we are – naked or not.