"Nudity is a taboo in America because we primarily equate nudity or nakedness with sexuality and we have taboos about sexuality," said Matthew Westra, a psychology professor at Longview Community College in Missouri, in the National Geographic Channel documentary Taboo: Extreme Living. "A lot of it has to do, I think, with the Puritan and Victorian heritage that we have, which says that any kind of temptation will lead you into hell."
Modern strip clubs and pornography also strengthen the association between nudity and sex, a link that naturism activists are constantly trying to break.
"At nude beaches, we swim, we play volleyball, we lay in the sun. We do the same things everyone else does at the beachwe just prefer to do it without clothing," Hoffman said. The rules: no touching, no gawking, no inappropriate behavior. "It's a very family-friendly environment."
Nonetheless, a broad movement embracing the benefits of social nudity didn't appear in the Western world until the early 20th century. It started in Germany, where it blossomed as an alternative to the stress of industrialized, urban life. By 1929, the movement made it to the U.S., where it has struggled to become part of mainstream culture ever since.
"Americans are still severely bothered by nakedness. See a bit of Janet Jackson's breast on national television and it's a fiasco. But all of the violence on televisionthat's accepted. To me, it's bizarre," Storey said.
In the Courtroom
In order to live a clothing-optional lifestyle, naturists form their own communities and have their own resorts. It protects them from prying eyes and keeps "textile" neighbors, as nudists call the rest of the world, from feeling overexposed.
But naturists argue that, as a part of the taxpaying community, some public space should be set aside for them. A recent national Roper poll, one of the two largest independent polling companies in the U.S., said 80 percent of the U.S. public agrees that it is okay to have a nude beach, as long as it is marked by a sign. 25 percent of adults polled said they'd gone skinny-dipping in mixed company at least once in their life.
"Naturists do not divide neatly down political boundaries," said Bob Morton, the executive director of the Naturist Action Committee (NAC), based in Austin, Texas. "No true conservative would suggest compromising civil liberties, so it's not a conservative-versus-liberal issue. Naturists span the entire political spectrum."
The NAC monitors legislative activities at the city, state, and national level, lobbying on behalf of naturist interests and filing briefs in the courthouse to protect the naturist way of life.
"It's been very trendy lately to try to put skinny-dipping on the list of sex offenses for which you have to register with the state. It's already passed in 13 states," Morton said. "That's ridiculous. Go to any nude beach and you will understand that in ten minutes. But people confuse nudity and sex all the time. They don't bother to distinguish between the two, and that's the root of a lot of our problems."
Some states, like Montana, are bringing down the hammer on their clothing-optional residents. A first offense for skinny-dipping means six months in jail; a second offense garners one year; a third offense, a hundred years. "It causes you to sit up and say, My gosh, who thinks these kinds of prison sentences make sense?" Morton said.
While naturists continue to struggle for acceptance in the United States, in Europe it's usually a nonissue. "France has more clothing-optional beaches and campsites than you can possibly number. Croatia has nude beaches up and down the coast. So does Italy and the southern coast of Spain. Germany has large city parks where you can hang out naked. I could go on and on with other examples," Storey said. "The United States is the only Western country that is still struggling to figure this issue out."
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