Nudity and the Desexualization of Bodies

CN: Discussions of sexuality and naked bodies, kink.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately from conservatives who want to restrict trans people’s access to bathrooms and locker rooms, who want to ban breastfeeding in public, and enforce “modest” attire on women and girls. All of these issues involve the connection, in the mind of conservatives, that nudity and bodies are inherently sexual. They see the bare shoulders of a teenage girl, the breast feeding a child, and the process of changing clothes, as somehow being sexually charged and attempt to create rules based on that. On the other hand, actually spending time with naked people demonstrates how quickly bodies can stop feeling so inherently sexual.

I spend time at kink events several times a year, and have for many years. Most of these events last several days and most are at least in part clothing optional. The camping event I go to twice a summer is completely clothing optional everywhere for several straight days, and in practice many people spend the whole time undressed or minimally dressed, if they are not decked out in costumes or fetish attire. I am very used to seeing naked bodies, often in sex positive environments. These bodies are diverse, and I’m used to seeing all of the parts of bodies that are a wide range of colors, sizes, abilities, ages, and more.

The camping event I go to is the best example of this experience, since unlike events held in hotels or bars it includes several days completely immersed in a world where both being clothed and being nude (or anything in between) are normal. One of the things that happens is that people’s bodies almost immediately become desexualized much of the time. People very quickly realize that being nude doesn’t actually mean everyone loses their minds in a fit of lust. People mostly go on doing fairly normal things – cooking and eating food, chatting, playing games, working to keep camp running, and attending classes. Even a lot of the kinky play isn’t overtly sexual – often it’s spiritual, sensual, cathartic, or playful. And yes, in this place people also have sex and sexually charged play, but they generally flirt, negotiate, and hook up in ways that are very similar to the clothed world. The conversations people have about hooking are pretty much the same if they’re in street clothes or fully naked. A lot of the sex takes place within existing sexual relationships, and new sexual partners usually negotiate in ways that are pretty similar to the way they would behave with their pants on.

Of course, boundary crossing happens. Kinky communities are not immune to consent violations by any means. There are extreme cases, but more often there are more comments about people’s bodies than everyone is comfortable with (I’m particularly sensitive to this). However, the casual assumption that someone showing skin means you can touch them is dramatically less common in these spaces.

I am told* by people who move in non-sexual nudist spaces that the experience there is very similar, if not more strong. When at a nude beach, I am told, the vibe is completely not sexually charged. People do beach things – swimming, sunbathing, etc. It’s just not that big of a deal.

I hear from people sometimes who are horrified by the idea of going to something like a kinky camping event, not because they’re not interested in kink, but because they’re disgusted by the idea of seeing naked bodies they may not be attracted to. People of all adult ages, sizes, and genders go to these things, so I can guarantee everyone will see people they don’t find visually attractive no matter what their taste is. However, once people are in these spaces it doesn’t seem to bother them. They quickly discover that sitting around a campfire with someone who isn’t sexually appealing to them is pretty much the same whether everyone is wearing jeans and t-shirts, footie pajamas, superhero costumes, leather gear, or nothing but sandals.

Of course, everyone in these spaces consented to being there and came in knowing they’d see other people’s bodies. Those of us who are naturally comfortable with nudity are over-represented at both kinky and non-sexual clothing-optional and nudity required spaces.

Even with this caveat, I think it’s important to realize that naked bodies to NOT immediately connect to sex in people’s brains unless they’re convinced by conservative media and religious teaching otherwise.

*I don’t go to nudist spaces because I’m completely terrified of running into transphobic people and having to deal with that in a vulnerable (naked) situation. It may not be a totally warranted fear, but not one I’m ready to get over yet. Sex positive spaces tend to be much more friendly to queer people.

Edited after publication to fix minor typing errors.

Nudity and the Desexualization of Bodies

2 thoughts on “Nudity and the Desexualization of Bodies

  1. 1

    Mr and I love going to the Spa, especially on the long sauna night where everybody is naked everywhere after 7 pm (the place we usually go to has an area where you’re clothed and one where you’re not). There’s no experience like swimming totally naked, which is a sensual, not sexual sensation as well. Our bodies aren’t glamour shot bodies and neither are 95% of those around us. Sure, you sometimes take notice of bodies, asking yourself if that piercing won’t hurt when the temperature gets to 90°C or whether pubic hair has been outlawed, but again, no sexual overtones.
    This is also true when I go to the sauna area of the local swimming pool alone once in a blue moon: You’ll chat and joke with people you’ve never met before and everybody is naked.

    I don’t go to nudist spaces because I’m completely terrified of running into transphobic people and having to deal with that in a vulnerable (naked) situation.

    Swimming pools and nudist areas are a huge bastion of cis privilege. I’m glad that by now some swimming pools offer trans swimming nights.

  2. 2

    I like to hang out with a nudist crowd myself. Or I’ll go for long nude hikes in the backcountry – unfortunately usually solo.

    My interest in nudity started long before puberty ever set in. I’m not obsessed about it but it has been a lifelong interest. I consider myself just a “nudie” rather than a nudist or naturist. Labels like that bug me because they have all kinds of preconceived expectations associated with them.

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