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Religious Tolerance logo

Nudism and Naturism

Introduction, history, & glossary of terms

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It has been customary for all, except for the occasional infant, to have their genital area and buttocks covered when in public. Females over a few years of age are normally expected to also wear coverings over their nipples. Decades ago, men were required to wear tops, even at the beach. Recently, thong bathing suits, which expose almost the entire buttock area, have changed our concept of acceptable clothing in many areas of North America. Some jurisdictions allow women to go topless.

Naturists believe that if weather, location and laws permit, activities such as sports, swimming, hiking and relaxing in a social environment can be enjoyed without the necessity of wearing clothing. "Naturism is not the exploitation of nakedness, exhibitionism, a religion, or a cult...Naturists accept and admire the beauty of the human body as it is, regardless of age, gender or form." 1

Some people oppose social nudity (also called nudism and naturism) and would like to criminalize it even if it is confined to private naturist resorts. Some feel that nudity, when practiced within a family, is a form of child sexual abuse. Many people feel awkward when a woman breast-feeds her infant in public. Topless women can be arrested in most of North America, even though the practice is generally accepted on European beaches.

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History of Naturism

Nude swimming has probably been the rule rather than the exception during the history of mankind. 

bullet Public nudity was common in ancient Egypt under Pharaoh Akhen-Aton (1385-1353 BCE).
bullet Students in ancient Greece exercised and received instruction while unclad; athletes competed in the nude. This continued until 393 CE, when the Christian emperor banned the Olympic Games because he considered them Pagan.
bullet Ascetics in ancient India practiced nudity as part of their quest for simplicity.
bullet "The Japanese widely practiced *mixed sex* nude communal bathing until recently. Although, today, there exists only a few *mixed sex* bathing pools at hot spring onsen resorts, remote outdoor venues called rotenburo and some mixed public baths in small villages  deep in the countryside, many spas still offer mixed private baths. The tradition of nude communal bathing as a social event carries on widely in the numerous bathhouses to be found in every city and town but which are almost entirely segregated now."

bullet Five Christian groups from the 2nd to the 15th century practiced public nudity: the Adamites, Adamianis, Carpocrations, Encratites, and Marcosians.
bullet Many cultures in tropical areas wear very little or no clothing, even today.
bullet John Adams enjoyed nude swimming in the Potomac River.
bullet Public nude bathing was common on the beaches of the UK by the 1840's.

During the reign of Queen Victoria, a period of sexual repression began which spread throughout much of the English-speaking world. At the height of the Victorian Era, it was common to cover all legs, even those of pianos and tables, in order to prevent sexual arousal. Bathing suits at the time covered almost the entire bodies of both men and women. Then, as now, much of society considered nudity and sexual arousal to be synonymous.

The following naturist landmarks occurred during the 20th century:

bullet circa 1900: A return to nude public bathing was pioneered in Germany by a group of young weekend hikers called Wandervögel (migratory birds). They hiked around the countryside and skinny-dipped where conditions allowed. A second German group also contributed to naturism; it was the Naturheilbewegung (Natural Healing Movement) which promoted the idea that the sun's rays had healing properties if they were enjoyed in the nude. German sociologist Heinrigh Pudor is regarded as the "father of nudism." He wrote a book "The Cult of the Nude" promoting naturism. This was at a time when the word "cult" had not taken on the negative meanings that it has today.

bullet 1903: The first naturist resort was opened up by Paul Zimmerman near Hamburg, Germany.

bullet circa 1905: The British nudist organization English Gymnosophist Society was formed.

bullet 1929: Kurt Barthel founded the American League for Physical Culture. Members Reverend Ilsley (Uncle Danny) Boone, and family are recognized as the first leading family of nudism in America.

bullet 1930's: On one particularly hot summer, thousands of men on Long Island NY disobeyed the law and went topless. The law was changed in 1936 to decriminalize toplessness among men.

bullet 1940's: The Comstock Law, an omnibus anti-obscenity law was used to suppress nudist magazines in the US.

bullet 1958: The US Supreme Court ruled that naturist magazines were not obscene under that law.

bullet 1950's: Police raids on nudist groups became less frequent. One of the last occurred in Michigan in 1956. A Christian radio evangelist had campaigned to close down the Sunshine Gardens Nudist Resort. After a series of court battles, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that naturists had a right to practice nudism within private resorts.

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Naturist Terms

bullet Some people regard Nudism and Naturism as synonyms, as are nudist and naturist. However, many regard them as similar but not identical terms. They feel:

bullet A nudist typically prefers to visit nudist resorts. Some feel more comfortable there, being free of peeping toms and harassing law officers. Others like the social organization, activities and facilities that resorts provide.

bullet A naturist typically prefers the great outdoors, free of boundary lines or fences. They typically visit public lands where there are few if any amenities.

bullet The International Naturist Federation defined naturism as follows: "Naturism is a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity, with the intention of encouraging self- respect, respect for others and for the environment." Some naturists prefer a wider definition and include individuals who practice nudity by themselves, with a partner, or within a family. Nudists are not rigid about the wearing of clothing. It is used if it is needed for comfort, if required by law, or if preferred in situations where others might feel awkward.
bullet Textile is used as a noun to refer to a non-nudist, or as an adjective, as in "textile resort".
bullet The word colony as in nudist colony is not used; campground, resort or park are preferred.
bullet Landed nudist clubs are groups who own a naturist facility. Non-landed clubs meet at nudist resorts, landed clubs, or travel to wilderness locations.
bullet Free beaches are public beaches in North America which have remote sections in which nude sunbathing and swimming is practiced. Two are officially recognized in Canada, in Toronto and Vancouver. A few free beaches are at least tolerated in the U.S. For example, South Gunnison Beach at Sandy Hook, is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey. National Park Service has posted signs there stating: "Beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathers.Haulover Beach Park in Miami Beach, FL, is recognized by Dade County and by the City of Miami Beach, although signage is provided by the local naturist group.

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  1. "What is Naturism?," East Haven Sun Club R.V. Resort, at:
  2. "Potpourri," at:

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JAN-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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