In March I went with a local naturist group on an overnight retreat to Quarantine Island, in the middle of Otago Harbour. True to Dunedins weather or maybe my life, Im not sure it was cloudy and cold all weekend and it was only comfortable to get naked in the lodge in the evening with the fire going. After wed come home it was sunny every day for a week, of course.
I am a naturist, or nudist to use the more common word. I have two main reasons for this, both of them about equally important in my own life. One is purely personal. Presumably because Im on the autistic spectrum, I suffer from a mild hyperaesthesia which makes clothes slightly but permanently uncomfortable. Im told other people stop feeling their clothes after wearing them for a while; I dont. Shoes in particular conditions underfoot have to be very unpleasant indeed before its worse than squelching around in my own sweat, so I dont wear shoes much. But there are no such things as comfortable clothes, not for me.
The other reason is ethical. A human body is a human being and vice versa. Everyone has one; indeed, everyone is one. It isnt good for people to revile themselves as obscenities, and its worse to enforce that revulsion with the power of the state. And its dehumanizing to treat another person as an object for the purpose of sexual gratification. Human beings have the moral right to be treated as human beings regardless of what they wear, including if its nothing at all which means not being arrested, fined, locked up, or subjected to any other legal penalty, if theyre not hurting anyone. In short, public nudity morally ought to be both legal and acceptable.
The word naturism obviously implies that the value of nudity lies in its naturalness, which is problematic in several different ways. Not all natural things are good, so being natural doesnt automatically make nudity good. Also, it is arguably natural for humans to adorn themselves, since every culture does it. Naturists shave, style their hair, and wear jewellery, tattoos and piercings just like clothed people. But naturism is the name of the movement now, and theres no point complaining about it. Nudism is a broader word; anyone who chooses not to wear clothes can call themselves a nudist, whereas to be a naturist implies alignment with the naturist ethos. Back in the early 2000s an Altavista search for naturis* would mostly filter out the voyeur sites that nudis* tended to dredge up, and that may have helped the spread of the term. Unfortunately the porn peddlers have gotten wise to this now.
Naturism is one of the more marginalized alternative lifestyles out there. Unlike those lifestyles which consist of opting out of various public health measures (like vaccines or water fluoridation), it doesnt cause actual harm; yet its illegal to practise it in public almost everywhere in the world. I suppose we can at least be naturists in our own homes without police harassment, which makes us more fortunate than pot-smokers. On the other hand, theres less restrictions on sharing pictures of pot-smoking than on sharing pictures of nudity. And ours is surely, bar none, the one lifestyle that is most sexualized by outsiders.
What does sexualization mean, and whats wrong with it? Im tempted to say Ask any woman, and leave it at that. Ive seen confusion about this in other contexts as well. Does it make sense, for instance, to ask casual bloggers not to sexualize particular sexual orientations? Bisexuality is sexual, isnt it? Its right there in the name! How can you help sexualizing it if its already sexual? The answer is that sexualizing something doesnt mean connecting it to sex as a topic; it means making it sexy (or trying to), which is not the same thing at all.
A medical lecture on the physiology of fertilization in humans will discuss sex in some detail, which makes it sexual in a reasonable, if technical, sense of the word. But it isnt remotely sexy trust me on this. Thats not sexualization. Conversely, Im sure youve seen advertisements that associate all kinds of completely non-sexual things with revealingly-clad yet concealingly-posed women looking suggestively at the camera. I used to regularly walk past a local fish-shop van (I havent seen it in a few months now and Im not inquiring after it) which was adorned with a head-and-shoulders photo of a young woman, apparently topless, caressing a dead fish whilst assuming what was admittedly a more successful attempt at a come-hither expression than I would have been able to muster in her position. Thats sexualization.
Now the foundation of the naturist platform is the proposition that nudity can, and should, be desexualized. Ive seen a few blogs now pretty much all on Tumblr, for some reason claiming that naturist environments feature unrestrained public sex. If you find one of these, you should know its lying to you. Its somebodys sexual fantasy. Theres nothing wrong with having sexual fantasies, but theres everything wrong with slandering a worldwide category of people in the course of expressing them. Again, ask any woman.