Nudism, or naturism, is the practice of going nude or unclothed in social and usually mixed gender groups, specifically in cultures where this is not the norm. It sometimes occurs furtively in secluded places in countries where appearing naked in public is illegal, but enjoys widespread acceptance in other areas of the world. Those who practice nudism are called nudists or naturists. Some people believe that being naked with other people is necessarily always sexual, or that nudism is morally wrong or pornographic. Naturists generally reject these views. Typical activities are sunbathing and sports, but some nudists prefer also to be nude while working etc., whenever the temperature and the social situation allows it (including when one is alone).

Nudists believe that the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, being something that we all possess and ought to cherish. Consequently, nudists participate in various social activities in the nude.

Although the terms are used interchangeably in this article, some would draw a distinction between the terms nudism and naturism. In this view a nudist is one who sometimes chooses to go without clothes. A naturist is one who embraces a philosophy that includes more than occasional nudity, often environmentalism, vegetarianism or simply more of a closeness to nature. Others would argue that the term naturism implies snobbery, and there is no distinction. A visit to a nude beach may entitle someone to be called a nudist, but does not make one a naturist. Changing and showering in a locker room probably does not qualify for either. Doing housework in the nude might. Many nudists do so casually at home. An alternate usage of these terms held by some North Americans is: nudist=nude indoors, naturist=nude outdoors. The nudist or naturist label is really a state of mind of the practitioner, instead of a strictly defined classification imposed by others.

Some nudist organizations do not allow people with body piercings on their premises. (Presumably this rule refers to the foreign objects in the piercings, not to the piercings themselves.) Most, however, accept people of all sizes, shapes and types including those with surgical scars, tattoos or interestingly trimmed (or absence of) hair. Some nudist organizations do not allow unaccompanied men, whereas most nudist organizations not only allow but encourage unaccompanied women to join them. That this is hypocritical of a subculture which promotes acceptance is a topic often debated.

Nudism is not equivalent to exhibitionism. It is people who enjoy being nude and who are not primarily interested in seeing others naked (strictly, voyeurism) or being seen naked by others. That being said, all kinds of people are attracted to the movement, for all kinds of reasons. Many naturists are convinced that increased exposure to the natural environment, made easier through nudity, can result in numerous health benefits. Sunlight has been shown to be beneficial in some skin conditions, and is required by the body to make vitamin D. However, with the increased awareness of skin cancer, wearing of sunblock/sun protection lotions is now part of the nudist culture and is one of their frequently discussed topics. Whereas nudist parents don't require their children to put on clothes before going outside at a nudist club or beach, most do require them to put on sunscreen lotion. Overall, naturists often claim that they are more relaxed and in a better state of mind when they shed their clothes.

Being around like-minded people can make interpersonal interactions, such as meeting new friends, easier and many nudist organizations are really just social clubs. Indeed, some of these clubs have stricter entrance requirements than some traditional up-scale 'country clubs' - requiring references, a sponsoring member, a trial membership, committee approval, and, due to fears about sex offenders, criminal background checks (though this is normally only done on male applicants). At the other end of the spectrum is 'unorganized' naturism in which there is nothing to join, no one to pay, and only civil, common and criminal law to serve as rules of etiquette. Many people get their first exposure to the naturist movement through this kind of informal nudism (e.g. a clothing optional beach, a friend's place in the woods, a party on the shore; skinny dipping).

Nudists will wear clothes if the weather demands it. Naturists are generally accepting people, the general idea being simply doing things nude that one would normally do clothed. However, manners are important. The most essential thing to bring to any nudist site is a towel to sit on. It is very poor etiquette to sit on a chair, bench, or anything else where others might sit without your towel. Also, never sit on someone else's towel. Other rules may include a prohibition on cameras (including cell phone cameras), pets, weapons, loud music, etc. Always check the specific rules before visiting a new nudist site, as policies vary. Some nudist resorts, clubs, or beaches require full nudity at all times (with exceptions, such as when a woman is experiencing menstruation, or certain days/hours for new visitors and cold weather). Most have this policy only for the swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, hot tub bath, etc., with clothing optional elsewhere. Recently, to avoid any possible litigation, some privately owned resorts and clubs in the USA forbid bringing any minor children from other families without written permission in advance. A few even exclude children of divorced parents without the written consent of the other ex-spouse (unless they can prove full custody). Of course, this does not apply to public beaches.

Strong nudist movements exist in Germany (called FKK or Freikörperkultur - Free Body Culture), France and the Netherlands, and smaller such organizations exist in many other nations. Social nudity is practiced in many cultures, especially in the context of social bathing, sometimes with mixed sexes.

Naturism/Nudism Is Not Sex

Most nudists and nudist organizations maintain and try to enforce a no sex in public policy, (nude, not lewd) and it is rare to see obvious signs of sexual behaviour (including staring or gawking) at most sites. These are the stereotypical family-oriented clubs and beaches.

Many nudists feel it is inappropriate for males to openly display a non-sexual spontaneous erection. However, some believe it should be included as a part of "body acceptance"— a key philosophy of nudists. This has been the subject of endless debate on nudist/naturist internet web forums. Under normal circumstances, the best advise is to cover up with a towel, turn over (if lying down), sit down, go for a swim, or otherwise minimize its presence until the penis is in its normal position. For some activities this may not be immediately practicable or even possible, and etiquette suggests it then be ignored by everyone. Public nude beaches tend to be less strict on this issue than private nudist resorts and clubs. Also, there is generally much more tolerance of pre and post-puberty boys having spontaneous erections than for older teens and men. In no circumstances though, should the apprehension of having a spontaneous erection keep someone, of any age, away from nudist sites and activities. Nor, is it any reason for males to be ashamed of their body, or desperately attempt to cover an erection by hand. Nudists are generally understanding and polite people, and know that any male could potentially have an erection at any time. There is a balance between flaunting it and being ashamed. Those still having concerns should discuss them with a person in charge, as policies vary from place to place. One of the least tolerated situations, though, would be a man wandering around for no obvious reason while simultaneously having an erection. Overall, females tend to be among the most tolerant on this issue, however, they are often the first to complain whenever someone shows disrespect for etiquette.

Involvement in naturism has not been shown to be harmful and may even be beneficial to childhood psychological development. Of course parents always need to be vigilant to guard their children from sexual predators. This applies equally to naturists as it does for non-naturists.

Desmond Morris, social anthropologist and author of The Naked Ape, suggests that "If you perform nudity in public you destroy its value as an erotic action." However, some fringe groups and gatherings (such as Swingstock) are more like sex clubs and not considered by most to be examples of true nudism.

Naturist terminology

Nudists sometimes refer to people who don't practice nudity as textiles. Clothing optional or C.O. usually refers to a facility that allows and encourages nudity but tolerates the wearing of clothes, whereas a nudist facility usually insists on complete nudity where practicable (to ensure that no one feels inappropriately dressed). Topfree refers to an area that allows uncovered female breasts, also known as topless (topfree being used since topless has a negative connotation). A free beach is not so much one without an admission cost, but one in which people can be entirely free of their clothes. A landed organization is one that owns the real estate it is situated on. Non-landed or travel clubs meet regularly at different locations such as nudist resorts, bowling alleys, or swimming pools rented for the purpose. A smoothie is a person who shaves off much of his/her body hair.

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