It's difficult to tell whether naturism and the art of public nudity are declining or thriving.
Perhaps it depends where in the world you are.
Naked truth: Aging nudists seek new skin in the game as ranks dwindle reports that "[s]ince 2008, membership in the American Association for Nude Recreation ... has dwindled from 50,000 to 35,000".
But across the Atlantic the BBC ran a story claiming naturism numbers were up in the heatwave. However, Raising a toast to naturism at the Clover Spa & Hotel revealed that "Britain's first naturist spa hotel", set up in 2011 when the proprietor identified "a growing tolerance to nudism", has been granted a liquor licence. Presumably now the "portly middle-aged men, arms dangling at their sides like waxed Neanderthals" can enjoy a tipple while naked.
So what's with this urge to shed clothing?
The Naturist Society has a dollar each way. On the one hand - because it's for people who "enjoy skinny-dipping, nude sunbathing, or that feeling of freedom while nude" - it's all about sensory pleasure. But in case anyone thinks this is too shallow and frivolous an answer, it also aims to "promote body acceptance through clothing-optional recreation". Oh, a serious reason; that's all right, then.
Evidently, it's also about revealing the real you (in more ways than one). The president of Bare Necessities Tour & Travel, which promotes "clothes-free vacationing" and nude cruises, says that "people who are able to leave their clothing behind in a social setting are also more able to check their egos at the door and be themselves".
Auckland Outdoor Naturist Club says it's for people who "have ever found clothes to be irksome ... Once you have enjoyed the wind on your skin, swum in the nude, played sports in the nude you will wonder why it took you so long to take up the pleasure that is social naturism".
It's this social naturism that is most difficult for outsiders to digest. It is one thing to privately savour the freedom of nudity and, many would suggest, quite another to want to be naked in social settings and while participating in sporting activities. But this is precisely what hardcore naturists enjoy. Auckland Outdoor Naturist Club, for example, offers badminton, bowls, mini golf and volleyball.
A TV3 television report looked at what naturists do on a cold and wet Wellington day. It showed a clothes-free woman preparing for friends who were dropping by for coffee. Her guests arrived fully clad for a winter's day and then stripped off in the kitchen.
People on the segment talked of playing board games naked and how being nude results in more authentic interactions. "You're dealing with the person not with the clothing or the trappings," explained one woman.
But I was still wondering about the wisdom of their undressing between the kitchen sink and the kitchen table. Isn't that a little, um, unhygienic? Or do only committed non-naturists have such pedestrian preoccupations?
What's your view on naturism? Are you a naturist? Why is it so widely misunderstood?