Warning: This article contains the word penis. It actually comes up, a lot. (Sorry). You’ve been warned.
I think it’s time we talked about the elephant in the room, and by elephant, I mean penis. Nudists like to wax poetic about the feeling of freedom you get from discarding your clothing, as do I, while ignoring what most people find objectionable about public nakedness. Let’s be honest, nobody outside of Saudi Arabia is really opposed to seeing your epidermis, and men aren’t being arrested for wearing speedos in public. Rather, it’s that tiny, 5% region of the body we criminalize, and that extra 5% nudists are fighting to make normal. For a nudist, a bikini is too much of a burden. What we want is to be completely, entirely, 100% clothes-free, and that means exposing our genitals. And therein lies the problem.
For most textiles (that’s you non-nudists), the thinking goes something like this: genitals are sex organs, and the only people who should be seeing them are those with whom you are about to have intercourse. Displaying your penis or vagina to innocent bystanders is tantamount to propositioning them for sex, and, following this line of reasoning, exposing oneself to a minor is equivalent to pedophilia. Not surprisingly, outrage erupted over a nudist event at a Waterworld in Britain, with textiles fuming, ‘Good grief. Under fives go free. Horrendous. I’m genuinely shocked. This needs to be stopped.’ Another person asked: ‘Why can’t they make it adult only? No issue with that. But no kids.’ While a third wrote: ‘This is vile having NAKED children around NAKED adults is not ok, simple as that.’ Well, of course these people are outraged, and I would be too, if my kids were being invited to some sort of sexual event. But that’s the whole point of nudism: it isn’t sexual.
If nudists ever wish to live in a world free of body taboos, we must tackle these misconceptions head-on. We must change people’s perceptions when it comes to genitals, because while a true nudist isn’t focused on these parts per se, the textile community is.
But between the two varieties of male and female organs, the penis is by far the bigger offender (these puns write themselves, honestly!), and the reasons are multifold, I think. One reason may be that, unlike the vagina, which is largely internal, the penis just sort of sticks out there, demanding attention. So rarely do we see a penis outside of pornography, we tend to forget that its basic function, 99% of the time, is for waste removal. The unrealistic and often grotesque depictions of the male organ on the Internet also leads to unhealthy obsessions over appearance, and further the notion that the penis can only be seen in a sexual context. The artist portraying my naked hero, Xandr, gave the character an “enviable” package, but I’ve always imagined my hero closer to Michelangelo’s David in scale. After all, it’s hard fighting a monster with your most sensitive parts flailing around. Realistically, Xandr has to be a “grower,” which leads me to wonder whether the Ancient Greeks competed in the Olympics without a stitch and without a qualm owing to similar, more manageable physiques. Unfortunately, pornography has taught us that anything less than an infant’s arm is unmanly and embarrassing.
Unfortunately for us in the real world, the penis is too often the star of the show in cases of sexual misconduct. Comedian Louis C.K. became a pariah after masturbating in front of two female coworkers. Billionaire film producer Harvey Weinstein found himself in similar hot water for casually leaving his bathrobe open for aspiring actresses to behold. Nudism does not condone this kind of behavior, of course, and Weinstein wasn’t a nudist, but still, we must ask where, precisely, does one draw the line? Ignoring the numerous other, more serious charges against him, what if Weinstein had claimed that he just felt freer in the raw, and believed there was no shame in the human body? For men and women alike, the unexpected sight of a nude person can feel like a violation, or at the very least, an unwanted invitation. I avoid telling friends and coworkers about my lifestyle for fear they will misinterpret my intentions.
All this is exacerbated by the increasingly troubled and confusing time we are living in. A lot of men avoid women they may be attracted to, never showing signs of interest, for fear of being deemed a creep. Sure, there are plenty of genuine creeps out there, but this has made women all the more wary of men, and men all the more afraid to come across the wrong way. So what is a genuine male nudist to do? While I’d never recommend suddenly stripping in front of a female coworker, particularly in a private setting, sometimes the line between misconduct and freedom becomes blurred. Imagine a female jogger on a long stretch of beach, suddenly crossing paths with a strange man sunbathing in the nude. Despite the jogger having encroached upon his space, does he suddenly become a sex offender? Even though, as any reasonable juror might determine, the man showed zero interest in accosting her? Now let’s consider a similar scenario with a slight tweak. Another man, let’s call him Fred, knows a woman who likes to jog along the beach, so he walks to the end of it and strips himself bare, waiting for an “accidental” encounter. Is Fred acting like a creepy predator? Hell yes! Because context, or intent rather, is everything. Convincing the world that there are other reasons for wanting to be naked, that are entirely innocent, is the biggest challenge facing the nudist community. And when I say naked, I don’t mean it in some vague, artistic sense, but really naked, as in putting your vagina or penis on display, for any innocent stranger to come upon (damn these puns!).
Even if we were to avoid Weinstein/Louis C.K. type situations, this bit of exposure is a hard sell, because the penis remains the boogeyman of the free body movement. It’s what scares textiles the most, and what even genuine naturists often shy away from. Sure, we like to let it all hang out, but pretend we don’t notice the baggage between every male’s thighs. If a nudist posts vacation photos, only rarely does the penis make an appearance. I, for one, get outraged when someone sends me a “dick pick,” even though you could say, “A penis is natural, like an ear or an elbow, and you wouldn’t get incensed by an ear pick, would you?” Clearly, there is a difference between the two. And yet, I maintain that body parts—ALL body parts—are inherently innocent. Just as the middle finger is no more offensive, in some cultures, than any other, or the word “fuck” could either mean sea lion, in French, or flashlight, “fucko,” in Greek, the penis isn’t offensive on its own. Consider the penis of a toddler who is running playfully around the living room, or that of a dead man being prepped for autopsy. But when an erect penis unexpectedly rears its ugly head in your Twitter feed, there is intent behind that image. The poster intended to offend, shock and provoke. And, contrary to nudist philosophy, a dick pick focuses on the genitalia and nothing else, divorcing that part of the anatomy from the person it’s attached to. It’s offensive because it is dehumanizing, and because it can only be interpreted as sexual in nature. Clearly, we need intent to find offense, and this is the message naturists need to be making: We are not coming on to you. If you see me naked, if you see my penis, it isn’t because I want to have sex with you. Sorry.
Now you might be saying, why all the fuss over a penis? Can’t you just keep it in your pants, you dirty dirty sicko? A valid argument, to be certain. We can sing the virtues of nakedness all day long, but so could any pedophile. We need, rather, to defend our position on the grounds that it is innocent and safe, because not every freedom is absolute. We can’t argue in favor of rape or murder. But public nudity causes no harm, neither physically nor psychologically, and so it then becomes a matter of personal choice. The case could be made that such a personal choice may lead to an increase in sexual misconduct, and to be entirely honest, I cannot know with certainty whether that would be the case. I can only assume that in a world without nakedness taboos, sex crimes could only decrease. In normalizing every part of the body, we excise the Pavlovian reflex that results from ogling the flesh, and instead, become aroused for nobler and more socially acceptable reasons. We would get excited by love and intelligence, and by the person within. If that sounds like empty rhetoric, consider other countries with lax or nonexistent nudity laws. Heck, the Catholic Church is rife with child molestation charges, but how often do you hear the same about a family nudist resort?
Now let’s imagine that in 2020, we elect our first nudist president (hey, it could have been Benjamin Franklin!) and let’s assume he pushes to make public nudity legal. Great! But then, after a few years’ time, statistics show sex crimes skyrocketing. Where there were tens of rapes per year, there are now tens of thousands. Barring no other catalyst, I would be inclined to admit, “Hey, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” But such a social experiment has yet to happen. Instead, we live in a world where we are free to drink, resulting in thousands of motor vehicle deaths per year, and buy cigarettes, which results in thousands of cancer deaths per year, and buy guns, which results in tens of thousands of fatalities per year. All the while, cannabis has only recently become legalized, after decades of unfounded fears over the harm it could cause. Clearly, our laws do not reflect our most rational thinking. We do and should restrict certain freedoms for the greater good, and yet we base what is good and what is harmful on personal biases and assumptions, rather than on hard data. And of course, the profit motive is a big influence, yet no one has figured out how to make money off public nudity, only private nudity in the form of strip clubs and pornography.
We need to have frank and open discussions about penises because roughly half the human population has one, and there is nothing evil, gross, or shameful about it. Like noses, penises come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are short, long, or tiny. Some are circumcised and others not. Rarely do any look like what you might see on PornHub. The more we learn about, talk about, and see the penis, the more we will demystify it. Just like our noses, it needs to become an everyday sight. Only then will the penis be robbed of its power to shock and offend.
Laws will change. But not before we change minds. As more and more people become exposed to the innocence of the human body, penis and all, we will be more inclined to let go of our irrational taboos, just as we let go of taboos against premarital sex, interracial coupling, and gay marriage. It will be a slow-moving shift in the fabric of social consciousness, a fabric of a million-million threads, each a blog post (like this one), or a natural selfie, or just one friend or family coming out to another and saying, “Hey, it’s 2040, who cares?” Let the penis out. Be free.