The recent furore about people claiming offence on seeing naked people on beaches and elsewhere needs comment. Some of these offended people have demanded naturists be banned from beaches, particularly because they are concerned about the effects on children. But are such protestations rational or mentally healthy?
First, I emphasise that I am talking about naturists doing what everybody else does on a beach but without clothes. All genuine naturists feel strongly that people publicly acting in an exhibitionist or other sexual way should be prosecuted.
Is it rational to regard the simply naked adult human body of either sex as offensive? In the 21st century it is impossible for anybody to be unfamiliar with what a mature male or female human body looks like. Furthermore, for everyone their body is a core part of their being. Our bodies, how they function, the demands they make on us, the pleasure they give us, define significantly who we are. To consider particular parts of our bodies inherently obscene is to deny our humanity.
Does it harm children to see naked adults walking, swimming, or sunbathing? For years naturists have been alert to studies of the effects on children of involvement in naturism or being brought up with an open attitude to nakedness. There is no evidence that the sight of the naked human adult is likely to cause children harm.
Studies show that the experience is either benign or positive. Children are not born believing certain parts of their bodies are dirty, or offensive. They have to be taught that by adults who do it because of their own insecurities or simply to conform to social mores. Our experience is that children coming to a naturist venue for the first time have no difficulty adjusting to the new environment. With everybody around them naked and not fussed the children just get on with enjoying their new freedom.
If children are raised believing their genitals should always be hidden, or are offensive, then this creates a recipe for great anguish as they go through their teenage years with its physical, mental, and hormonal changes. Not only are many children shielded from the sight of naked bodies but because of their own upbringings and beliefs their parents are not able to talk about essential body/mental health issues.
The conflict created between these erroneous beliefs and inner physical forces can create lifetime psychoses in some people. Also not being familiar with the normal human body and its attributes can lead to other social problems. Studies have shown that children growing up in societies with an open healthy attitude to naked bodies have lower rates of teen pregnancies and sexual diseases. The phrase "Prudery is child abuse with good intentions" is correct.
Acceptance of simple public nakedness also confers significant other benefits. People are bombarded by multiple media messages that unless you have the perfect image as portrayed by models, body builders or film stars then you are an inferior person, and should not show yourself. This particularly applies to women who are made to feel inadequate if they don't meet the ideal media image.
Naturists know, however, that the human body comes in a bewildering number of sizes and shapes. Once you have seen a multitude of naked people you realise only a few per cent of the population could even aim to achieve the "perfect" body. Once people, especially women, accept that their body is just another normal variation of the human species then considerable stress is avoided.
This conflict between artificial social conditioning and the reality of human body shapes/sizes is particularly acute for teenagers and young adults. They believe from what they see in the media that their body's changes, growth, development, size, and shape, are abnormal and take steps to remedy the perceived faults.
In the extreme cases this leads to eating disorders. Imagine, instead, that all our children and teenagers grew up in a society where the sight of naked human beings of all ages, in all their glory, faults and imperfections, was common. Young people would then be able to resist the messages of inferiority pushed on to them.
The High Court in New Zealand has several times concluded that people who are simply naked while on the beach, cycling on a quiet road, or tramping in the bush, are not committing a crime.
The positive reaction of people to recent articles about beach nudity, the lack of either police or other negative reaction to events like the naked rugby in Dunedin and the regular naked bike rides, shows most New Zealanders also see that there is no harm from people simply being naked where it is a sensible mode of dress, just fun, or an expression of sincere beliefs.
The "live and let live" attitude prevails. Also the evidence is that, rather than being harmful, acceptance of simple public nakedness would be beneficial to society.
Kevin Sampson and his wife Joan are the owners of Katikati Naturist Park, a Tourism Industry Award winning holiday park