Inconsistent standards have always confused me and there are many of them. When I grew up, I understood that there were those who were against promiscuity and pre-marital sex, and those who were all for it – or at least more tolerant of it. It was only much later in life when I learned that there were also those who looked down on promiscuous women while praising promiscuous men. Sexist double-standard aside, what really confuses me is the logical incoherence of the position. Who are the men supposed to have sex with if not women? To praise them is to praise the women, too. To put the women down is to put the men down as well. It takes two.
Another example of this phenomenon is the set of cultural attitudes surrounding nudity. Though most of us wear clothes most of the time, nudism is not really a minority position. Many people are already partial nudists and do not realize it. They carve out various exceptions to the rules, but still balk at going all the way. When I was very young, these inconsistencies confused me. Some of them still do.
Lockers: People not only bathe, shower, and sleep naked in private, but do so in front of others. In locker rooms and elsewhere, they change in front of members of the same sex – in public! A locker room is public, isn’t it? Some locker rooms have curtains and some do not. Why the inconsistency? I remember going to summer camp when I was eleven and being absolutely shocked that the guy right next to me changed his underwear in full view of everyone in the dorm. He was soon copied by others and nobody but me thought anything unusual about it. I had been taught that this was illegal! Later in life, I was told the story of how at a different a summer camp one night was so hot that every boy slept undressed and uncovered, neither they nor the counselors thinking anything weird of it. If it is okay for another male to see my body, why not a female? If it is okay for me to see another male nude, why not a female? This was never explained to me.
Family: I have heard that many will change in front of family members of either sex. In many families, the father will shower with the sons and the mother with the daughters. I have even heard of a family wherein the boys were allowed to be naked around the house, but the girls had to cover up. They just thought that was normal! I didn’t understand how they ever got away with it. If I can be naked with family, why not my friends? My casual acquaintances? Complete strangers? What difference does it make?
Blurry People: I discovered later that some homes have translucent shower doors. Yes, they often blur out tiny details, but only just barely. If nudity is such a bad thing, isn’t it still bad to be seen naked through a shower door? It’s not as if we can’t tell. Since these doors are considered acceptable, is it okay to wear see-through clothing that distorts details? Is it okay to walk around naked in the dark at night? Is it okay to be naked in front of someone who needs glasses but doesn’t have them on at the time? Is it okay to be naked in public so long as we cover ourselves with our hands if someone else comes within forty feet of us? Is it okay to walk around in nothing but body paint? Why is it okay for people on television to be naked in front of the production crew so long as specific body parts are shown blurred to the viewers at home? It’s not like we don’t know what’s there. If nudity is so bad, why do we even allow the plot to call for a nude scene at all?
Three Percent: Swimmers often wear the bare minimum required by law. Some cover more than this (Males are much more likely to wear trunks than speedos), while some cover slightly less (Thongs fail to cover the buttocks, the thin back strap covering only that which is naturally hidden anyways). How is it that anyone confident enough to strut around in a tiny bikini – covering a mere three percent of the body and tightly fitting the form so as to leave nothing to imagination – can possibly have any shyness or shame at exposing the final three percent? Based on what I have seen some women wear, I can only conclude that they want to be seen. Why not just get it over with and go all the way? I am still to this day confused about how it is that swimsuits are okay in public, but not underwear (practically the same thing) and how dresses are okay in public, but not slips (practically the same thing).
Only as old as you feel: Those under a certain, ill-defined age are somehow immune to expectations to cover up. Children as old as two years can be seen naked everywhere without trouble. I have even seen topless girls as old as ten, though this is very rare. If children can be naked, why not slightly older children? Why not teenagers? What exactly is the cut-off age? If children can be naked, and by extension are allowed to see other children naked, why are they not allowed to see naked adults? It’s not like they will know anything is wrong. We aren’t born with knowledge of clothes. There is no child in history that has ever been harmed by nudity that wasn’t first taught they were supposed to be harmed. Who teaches them stuff like that? This is child abuse!
Milk does a body good: Breastfeeding mothers are also somewhat more accepted, it being legal in many states. It begs the question: If it is okay to view/display a breast so long as feeding begins in a few seconds, what is so wrong if no feeding occurs for a longer time? One cannot unsee what has already been seen. Would it then be okay to change clothing in public, so long as one hurries? Okay to be naked on the beach, so long as one runs into the water quickly? Okay to jog naked, so long as one doesn’t stay in one place for too long? I have also heard that in one city, nudity in the context of political protest was legalized (first-amendment protected speech). Who defines what is and isn’t political protest? Can’t anything be said to be making a statement of some kind? If an exception can be carved out for protest and for breastfeeding, how about while standing around at the laundromat waiting for our clothes to dry? Why not? If it can be okay to change in public locker rooms, why not the laundromat? How about instead of changing for gym class, we hold nude gym classes? The question of which locker room transsexuals should use becomes moot if we all change together. What about “dressing” as a nude for Halloween? The rules of fashion are already relaxed on that day. Why not relax them just a tiny bit more?
Art: In some places, art nudes are completely unavoidable. They are everywhere! I even see them at the public library in book cover illustrations – in sight of children! If it is legal for a book to be naked in public, why not an actual person? If it is legal for a park statue to be naked in public, why not an actual person? With so many bare stone bodies already around, how can we justify making real people cover up at all? That’s discrimination!
Puzzling Parts: When I was a kid, I understood that my pants had to remain on at all times, but I was allowed to go shirtless, while girls had to keep their shirts on. I believed that they were required to cover both breasts and belly button, though I did not understand why. The swimsuits I saw most often were one-piece. When I did become aware of two-piece suits, I was always under the impression that they were somewhat controversial. I was surprised that they were legal. Later in life, I read that men were not always allowed to go topless. In the nineteenth century, they had to cover far more. If it is possible to change the standards once, is it possible to change them again? Doesn’t the fact that change is possible show the standards to be totally arbitrary?
As the years went by, I noticed swimsuit tops of many styles. Some left the tops of the breasts uncovered, some left the bottoms of the breasts uncovered, and some tiny tops covered nothing but the nipples. I was surprised that these were legal as well. Since there is clearly no requirement to cover the breasts themselves, why cover the nipples? Men don’t cover theirs. Since there is no requirement to cover male nipples, why cover female nipples? What is the difference? If men can go topless, why can’t women go topless? If women in other countries can go topless, why not here?
I have also seen view of the butt (both male and female) gradually become more acceptable in my lifetime – okay in the newspaper and on television (including in cartoons supposedly for kids), but not in person. If my bottom can now be uncovered (even if it is still slightly controversial), does that mean the rest of me can? What is the difference? Is there a hierarchy of shame I am unaware of? It would be very easy for an impulsive person to misinterpret the allowance of one form of nudity for the allowance of other forms and unwittingly get themselves in trouble. And aren’t the buttocks just extensions of the thighs anyways? That’s where the legs start.
Can women go bottomless? Unlike a penis, a vagina is not a part of the body, but rather the lack of a part – a hole – literally nothing. Why cover literally nothing? They are far less conspicuous than either belly buttons or nipples. They can’t be seen from the side. They can be covered by subtly crossing the legs or vanish inside a patch of pubic hair – no cloth needed. Why cover that which is naturally hidden? Since visible breast cleavage and butt cleavage are tolerated (not to mention the cleavage from love handles and double chins), why cover what from the front appears to be nothing more than just another fold in the skin where the legs come together? Women have nothing down there to hide. If men can go topless, why can’t women go bottomless? What is the difference? I’m not the first person to make this point. I remember reading of a judge who ruled that women are incapable of indecent exposure (as defined by the law in that state) because their genitalia are internal and naturally out-of-sight. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which state this was.
Note: Over the years, two women have told me they would be more comfortable going bottomless than topless. Zero have told me they would be more comfortable going topless than bottomless. I don’t understand the hierarchy in either case.
If men can go topless, can women go topless? If men can go topless, can women go bottomless? If women can go either topless or bottomless, can they go both topless and bottomless at the same time? If women can go fully nude, can men go fully nude? When one exception is made, it unravels everything. It is only a matter of time before somebody other than me connects the dots and full nudity for everyone is fully legalized everywhere.
Fetishists And Fetishes: In recent years I have even learned of the existence of fetishes. Apparently, some guys are very attracted to feet, but women don’t cover their feet on the beach. Other guys very much like breasts, and women do cover those. Why the difference? Also, why not cover faces? Aren’t faces attractive too? Some women like bearded men. Others don’t. Some people prefer thin partners, others prefer those who remind them of squishy teddy bears. If we can’t even agree on which parts are most attractive, what justifies the law choosing sides and enforcing the will of one faction on everybody else?
The Conformity Trap: Toddlers often find nudity preferable to clothing and have to be scolded into covering up. Then they grow into adults that scold their own children. What changes? Maybe not as much as it appears on the surface. Maybe they just want to make sure the rules are known, even if they don’t agree with them. I know I’m not the only one who thinks of these issues. Many offhand comments from children, teenagers, and young adults over the years prove otherwise, even if none of these people would dare call themselves nudists. Two different guys told me that they slept naked. One girl told me that she wished she didn’t have to wear a swimsuit. Another girl told me that if she ever started her own country, that nudity for both sexes would be mandatory. One guy in the neighborhood mooned me, proving he wasn’t shy about being seen. When I was older, a woman told me that when she was in high school, she had gone nighttime skinny dipping with friends on several occasions. I suspect that many others are the same but are too afraid of what people will think. The thing is, many of those people we are so worried about probably think like us and are worried about what we will think. We cover up for them and they cover up for us, but none of us actually care!
Is Nudity Sexual? Sex is a private activity between two people not to be shared with the entire community. This is the argument against polygamy, promiscuity, and prostitution. To that extent I think I agree, but the same argument is used to argue against visibility of the human body even when not sexually active. Is nudity sexual? Yes and no; it’s complicated.
Growing up, I never used to think of nudity as sexual. I didn’t even know anything about sex yet. Nudity was the logical default. It wasn’t the opposite of clothing, it was simply the lack of it. Unlike clothing, nudity needs no explanation or justification. It just is. Newborns are born nude and no one suggests that the baby is being sexual. When one is caught engaging in sexual behavior, one can stop behaving, but one cannot simply stop being nude. We can’t just take our bodies off to reveal the clothes underneath. When one’s clothes are stolen by others, the victim isn’t being sexual. Since we all are naked under our clothes everywhere we go, bringing our bodies with us at all times, are we always sexual? What difference does the presence of cloth make? Besides, if it was really only about sex, why cover the breasts? Breasts aren’t sex organs.
It was only when I turned twenty-seven and discovered nude art (quite by accident) that I learned a few things: Women are inherently artistic. They are true art. This is exactly what I like about them. That women can use nudity to express both confidence and vulnerability in ways not directly sexual only makes them even more interesting, and interesting women who have entire lives and personalities not built solely around sex are exactly the type of women I like to pursue.
Since humans are sexual beings, we all have a mental program running in the background evaluating potential mates. Every situation (while clothed or otherwise) is somewhat sexual so long as we are a part of it. This includes situations in which we or others are naked, but clothing somewhat disrupts this natural process by getting in the way. This means nudity is sexual after all, but in a healthy way as God ordained it, and when we cover up we artificially lower the sexuality level (but still not to zero). So even admitting nudity is slightly sexual in this way still doesn’t justify making people cover up.
Men are supposed to be attracted to women. God designed them this way. The less clothing there is, the more woman visible, and therefore the more there is to be attracted to. Erections of the viewer do not mean that the pictures viewed are pornography or even that those viewing them are making them into pornography in their minds. Men are supposed to get erections around beautiful women, even more so around unclad women. It’s the first step towards propagating the species. Anyone who is intolerant of erections is intolerant of men. This is sexism at its worst.
So, is nudity sexual? No, but we are – and this is actually a good thing.
Conclusion: Clearly there is no common agreement that nudity is inherently bad. Instead, people struggle to uphold inconsistent standards that they don’t really believe in. We are all nudists; we just don’t all realize it yet. Who will be the first to step out and change things?
Sin, Sex, And The Human Body
The Conformity Trap
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.