Someday in the near future, no later than 2040, you will go to the beach and see more than a few people not wearing a bathing suit, or anything else for that matter. People will be able to get their mail in the buff, sunbathe their bare butts in their own backyard or skinny dip in their own pool, without fear of harassment, jail time, or offending anyone except hardcore church goers, who by that time will represent only a fringe minority.
Attitudes toward sex and nudity have been skewing left for hundreds of years, and like Moore’s Law of accelerating computer power, these changes are also accelerating. I mention computer power because history has shown, time and again, that the greatest catalyst for change is technology. The women’s liberation movement and the feminist movement could not have started without giving women the opportunity to work, something that became more prevalent after the turn of the century with the advent of new technologies. No longer needing to prove themselves physically capable, women could take jobs as telephone operators, typists or machine operators (in World War II). Without the need of a father or husband to provide for them, women were free to fight for equal pay and the right to vote. The same technological development helped to drastically change morality. With the invention of the Pill, the sexual revolution spread like a virus (no irony intended) across every city in the country, and with it, a change in beliefs and attitudes. Virginity before marriage was no longer expected of a woman and even the “one night stand” has lost its stigma. While conservatives argue against this “declining” moral landscape (certainly unwanted pregnancies is a negative side effect) the fact is, these changes were inevitable. They were inevitable because basic human needs and desires cannot be repressed. It is the same reason Americans have become so obese. We’ve evolved to crave fat to survive long winters without food. Now that food is in abundance, we find it almost impossible to resist the urge to do what is in our nature, despite the knowledge that heart disease is our #1 killer.
I recently had the fortune to read an article in Cracked, “The Five Craziest Ways Men Have Censored Female Sexuality.” It’s certainly a must-read. But what really stood out for me was how Islamist countries like Iran fight to repress human nature. Censors paste cartoon shirts on all of the female characters on the show Lost, because, for them, tank tops are arousing. Even things we would never consider sexual, like a man and a woman sitting on a couch or the bulge of a woman’s blouse are deemed obscene. Iranian censors will even blur a closeup of a woman’s face. However, no matter how many things the Iranian government tries to omit from TV and movies, boys will find something to arouse them because sexual desire comes from within. It’s only natural that after puberty, an increase in testosterone in the pituitary gland will make a man think of sex, and make him see things, almost anything, as sexually appealing. Trying to repress this instinct is a lost cause. It’s plugging up a pressure cooker bound to explode. The irony is that, by making everything taboo, everything becomes a forbidden fruit. Essentially, Iranian censors are creating the sex-crazed society they are trying so desperately to prevent. No wonder a man can claim overwhelming desire as an excuse to rape. Now imagine, in a country where a woman’s face is blurred on TV, the effects of a XXX film on innocent Iranian children? But wait, we don’t have to imagine it, because of a new thing called the Internet. With the click of a mouse, Muslim boys and girls can watch things that would make their grandparents faint. Just look at how women are using this new technology to fight the injustices of Sharia Law.
[2019 Update] Iranians are also fighting censorship and discrimination through the power of dance. Forbidden by religious authorities, if a woman is caught dancing in public, she can end up in jail. Many hip-hopping demonstrators, like Sahra Afsharian (below) have already been arrested. It’s like Footloose, but with Islam and a half billion more people involved. Still, despite Iranian extremists’ best efforts to curb the behavior, videos like these make their way onto YouTube and other video-sharing platforms, inspiring oppressed people everywhere. You go girl!
The battle against freedom cannot be won, as history has proven again and again. The only recourse is acceptance, and acceptance is a good thing, because human nature is in the right. Honest, open, free information results in the good of any society. As nudists, we find nothing inherently sexual. Nudists are desensitized to the stimulus of the human body (which is still arousing but never overwhelmingly so) so that the act of sex develops naturally by getting to know a person as a person.
The Internet is changing more than Islamic society, however; it’s changing ours as well. The last irrational, moralistic taboo in America is that of public nudity. There is no difference between an Iranian woman being arrested for going out in the streets without her hair covered and an American woman being arrested for stepping out her front door without a top on. Nobody can give a rational explanation for anti-nudity laws. The government uses, instead, abstract terminology like “disturbing the peace” or “public indecency”. Without realizing it, we criminalize nudity on strictly moral grounds, based on ancient and outdated religious biases that have no place in modern society. Often, this irrational attitude is harmful to our children. Pedophiles use the nudity taboo to their advantage; since their victims are taught never to discuss their genitals, most of these crimes go unreported. On the opposite end of the spectrum, one married couple had their two children taken away for months by Child Protective Services after dropping photos at Walmart of their kids playing in the bathtub.
In the following decades, the nudity taboo is going to join every other archaic taboo we no longer recognize. This change is already taking place. In 1992, it became legal for a woman to go topless in New York City, even downtown. One female advocate, Moira Johnston, going bare-breasted in the streets, found most people were supportive. In San Francisco, a law to ban public nudity only passed by a narrow margin. Just type “nudism” into Wikipedia and see what comes up. Or check out DeviantArt, where nudity is acceptable as long as you post a warning. Even this blog features nudity, without Google (now WordPress) making a fuss, as long as nobody complains. Contrast this to just two decades ago, when my USF Nudist Club website was deleted without warning by AOL.
For good or ill, the biggest change will come from pornography. While porn has been around since ancient times, it has never been so accessible. A recent TED talk pointed to the proliferation of porn viewership among boys as young as ten. A study was attempted to compare boys who had seen porn to those who hadn’t, but the study was unsuccessful because there were too few boys who had never seen it! The ten-year-olds browsing PornHub today will become, by the year 2043, our police officers, judges, and lawmakers, and they will certainly be less inclined to find the human body objectionable. By the 2100’s, nudity will become so ubiquitous that we’ll see it everywhere, as common as shorts or bathing suits. Actors and actresses will appear nude on daytime TV without anyone making a fuss, and even athletes will play sports in the nude.
While modern nudism has been around since the turn of the century, and modesty differs from person to person and between time and place (even today, many women prefer a one piece), bathing suit trends have been exposing more and more skin. What was deemed indecent in the 1800’s became commonplace in the 1900’s. The thong bikini, legal on many beaches today, was inconceivable decades before. While many women (and men) will continue to buy and wear suits decades after the year 2040, more enlightened people will recognize the folly of naked shame and choose simply to go without. By 2100, bathing suits will seem as silly as the beachwear of the 1800’s.