Many naturists would answer, "Why not be nude?" Why would you wear clothing while swimming? You don't wear clothing in the bath or shower.
Naturists are not against clothing. Rather, we believe that you should dress only when appropriate.
Being nude feels good. It makes people feel free. It takes away artificial inhibitions that were forced upon us after we were born. Naturists believe in body acceptance. Most report feeling less self-conscious on a nude beach than on a traditional clothed beach.
The body parts which we cover are arbitrary. It has been suggested that we cover the genital area because of its sexual nature. However, a quick survey of your day would show that that area is used for non-sexual purposes the most of the time. In fact, an equally sexual body part is your lips. Yet we do not have any problems walking around with our lips exposed!
Naturists are obviously not offended by nudity. What about others? There is no question that some people find nudity offensive. However, why they should be offended is debatable; their reaction is often closer to confusion or embarrassment. One could just as easily be offended by the colour of a person's clothing. In a free society, people should be free to do what they want except under certain conditions, such as causing others harm. It is difficult to understand how looking at the human body may harm anyone.
One intent of naturism nonetheless is not to offend. Most naturist organizations are working to identify areas where naturists may enjoy being nude without bothering anyone.
Depending on whom you ask, there could be no difference. In Europe, the term naturist is the most common, with nudist being the older term.
In North America, some people use the two words interchangeably. Others define two different philosophies which have nudity in common. Those who find a difference define naturists as closer to nature and more interested in free beaches, and nudists as people who practice nudity more in an urban club setting.
Not all people who practice naturism/nudism like the labels. They don't see themselves as different from anyone else. As well, not all nude people at a free beach or club espouse the naturist/nudist philosophy.
Most of the people who visit a naturist club/beach for the first time are surprised by the lack of sexuality. Some expect a sexually charged atmosphere, since in North America, we see others nude in sexual situations such as love scenes in movies, in magazines and in videos.
However, the link between nudity and sexuality is arbitrary. In Victorian times, to see a woman's knees was very sexual because they were supposed to be hidden all the time. We expose some parts of our bodies which are as sexual as those which we hide. Our lips, for example, are probably as involved in sexuality as our genital areas. Yet people walk around exposing their lips without causing mass arousal.
You will probably find that suggestively clothed people are more arousing than completely nude people. It can be more sexual to wear a bathing suit which subtly hides and emphasizes certain parts of the body.
That nudity implies sexuality is the biggest misconception that naturists have to fight. As a result, you may find them to be over-sensitive to it. This is not to say that naturists are against sexuality. They just believe, like most of society, that there is an appropriate time and place for it. It also means that there is nothing wrong with finding a person attractive, whether he or she is nude or not.
Exhibitionists expose themselves primarily to shock others. Exhibitionism does not occur in naturism. Exhibitionists find no thrill in naturist environments because of the lack of overt sexuality and their inability to shock anyone. Naturists just want to be nude. If they like to be with others, it's because humans are social creatures.
This varies greatly by jurisdiction. In Germany, you will find people legally sunbathing nude in city parks. In Denmark, all but two beaches are clothing-optional (i.e. nudity is permitted).
In most western jurisdictions (including Canada) it is legal to be nude on private property so long as you can't be seen by others outside the property. Consequently, all naturist clubs are legal.
It is the many public, clothing-optional beaches which need further discussion. There are many traditionally clothing-optional beaches in Canada which are not being challenged by the authorities.
In Canada, the courts have determined that "mere nude sunbathing is not of sufficient moral turpitude to support a charge for doing an indecent act" (R. v. Beaupré, 1971, British Columbia Supreme Court). General public nudity is also illegal under Section 174 of the Criminal Code, but the courts have found that "this offence is not aimed at conduct such as swimming nude at an isolated beach, even where the accused misjudges the loneliness of the beach" (R. v. Benolkin, 1977, Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench).
In December 1996, a female former University of Guelph student was acquitted of a charge of indecency for walking topfree in public. The Ontario Court of Appeal overturned her conviction because "there was nothing degrading or dehumanizing in what the appellant did. The scope of her activity was limited and was entirely non-commercial. No one who was offended was forced to continue looking at her. [The court] cannot conclude that what the appellant did exceeded the community standard of tolerance when all of the relevant circumstances are taken into account."
Many naturists are religious people and find no contradiction between their beliefs and nudity. Some Christian naturists worship in the nude. Some naturists feel closer to God when they are nude in nature.
Directives against nudity are generally not part of the basic philosophy of a religion. Rather, they are added to the religion out of fear that nudity will lead to indiscriminate sexual activity. Naturism shows that this fear is groundless (see "Isn't nudity sexual?").The Old Testament tells us that God created man and woman in His own image and they were naked. It is difficult to see how God's image is shameful or obscene. Indeed, the Bible does not condemn nudity itself.
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The Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN) and the Fédération québécoise de naturisme (FQN) share the Canadian membership in the International Naturist Federation (INF), which has its world headquarters in Antwerp, Belgium.