Sex, Nudity and Science

Generally speaking, young children are more boisterous than their parents. Much of this has to do with physical limitations. My seven year old does handsprings across the living room all day long, while my seventy year old mother would likely break in half attempting the same. Doubtless there is a mental, as well as a physical component to these differences. Older people don’t do cartwheels largely because they don’t feel like doing cartwheels, just as collecting dolls or watching cartoons loses its appeal after a certain age. Likewise, when a girl in first grade asked me to be her boyfriend, I told her no, because eight year old me thought kissing was gross. I was also deathly afraid of showering in the buff in view of my classmates. Not surprisingly, puberty changed my mind about locking lips with girls, and also led me down the path to becoming a nudist.

As we move through life’s stages, chemical changes in our brains determines our perceptions, our feelings, and our behavior. Neuroscientist Sam Harris asserts that every decision we make, however innocuous, stems from brain chemistry. For this reason, he argues, free will is merely an illusion. What you perceive as choice is, in actuality, something beyond your control. Now, while I do not fully prescribe to this claim, I do believe that a great deal of our lives is dictated by chemistry. Whether you’re waving a rainbow flag at a Gay Pride Festival or holding a sign that reads “God Hates Fags,” it’s the neurons firing impulses across your gray matter that’s making it happen. And it makes sense, if you think about it. Our brains are products of our inherited DNA, and can differ widely between race, sex and gender. Consider what would happen if you could turn a KKK member into an African American, or change a Bible thumping anti-gay pastor into a homosexual. OK, it’s been said that the most vociferous anti-gay proponents are gay themselves. Oftentimes, self-hate is the greatest hate of all. But I do not doubt the old wisdom about walking a mile in another man’s shoes, or the adage that states, “nothing happens until it happens to you.” Our nation has not been this divided since the Civil War, and understanding why and how we differ is as important as ever.

I came to realize the affect brain chemistry had on my nudist proclivities several years ago, when I mysteriously lost interest in sex. My doctor prescribed Cialis, because, as I suspect, he thought I was trying to boost my performance. What he had not understood was that my problem was entirely mental. I regarded the unclad female form to be the apex of beauty in the universe, but on that day in his office, women were pretty in the way you might call a flower pretty, or a rainbow, or a painting. A part of my brain had stopped working. When I looked at a girl who was, for lack of a better word, au natural, nothing was activating, and it scared me. Beyond just a lack of libido, I felt like I had aged about thirty years, like I was closer to sixty-five than thirty-five. At about the same time, I gave up on nudism. It isn’t as if my ideals had changed. I still believed in the basic right to be nude in public, and could find nothing offensive about the human body. But on a personal level, I just didn’t feel like it anymore. The longing to visit a beach or a resort, the desire to feel the wind and sun and water on my body, just wasn’t there. And the weird thing is, while I did not quite miss being naked, I did miss the wanting to be naked. Like sex, nudism had given me a great deal of joy, and now that part of me was missing. Months later, I had an MRI and was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. The tumor was blocking production of testosterone, but thanks to a tiny round pill, the blockage shrank to almost nothing and I felt myself returning to normal. My libido shot back up, as did my enjoyment of nakedness.

For a naturist, nudity is innocent and natural. Textiles, by contrast, may see the unclothed body as crass, repulsive, or simply sexually stimulating. Scientists say DNA determines 80% of our personalities, from whether we are late or morning people to the types of foods we like to eat. In the same vein, the DNA of someone who loves being nude must differ from that of a person who dresses immediately after a shower. Genetic variations affecting behavior are manifested in the brain, but how and why environmental stimuli can alter it remains a mystery. For this reason, I would suggest that naturists themselves do not fully understand what drives them to the lifestyle, and that there is a lot more going on internally than a mere a longing for comfort.

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Naturists see things differently

Nudists have long insisted that there is no correlation between nudity and sex. I have made this claim myself. But after taking a trip down low-T lane, I am not so certain. What I do know is that the human brain is much more complex than we realize, and our sense of sexuality is equally complex. I am not suggesting that nudists are in it for the sex. This is patently untrue, as I have never seen an orgy breakout at a resort, and overt displays of lewd behavior will typically get you thrown out. But this isn’t to say that, at the level of the neuron, there isn’t something being triggered by the sight of genitalia. Sexuality plays a role in almost everything we do, from using the bathroom to our choice of swimwear to the way we dance. Subtle changes in facial expression, in body language, even in the pitch of our voices, can send signals of interest to the opposite sex without you even being aware of it. Sex is an integral part of being human and goes far beyond A + B. To suggest that nudism has “nothing” to do with sex, I feel, is either disingenuous or a symptom of mere confusion.

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Innocent but sexy

Why is it that every nakation travel brochure features young, attractive models? Even The Bulletin, the American Association for Nude Recreation’s own magazine, tends to display their more attractive members. The stars of pro-naturist films, like Free the Nipple and Act Naturally, are typically younger, and bloggers Felicity Jones and Lady God1va have many more followers than I will ever have, in part due to their sex and, let’s be honest, their attractiveness. At a naturist resort I visited with my wife in Cancun, the athletic young couple who happened to be vacationing there were treated like celebrities. That being said, I am not calling nudists out for hypocrisy. On the contrary, I am a firm advocate of the pro-body philosophy, and in fighting the harmful stereotypes of beauty so narrowly defined by Barbie dolls and Playboy. However, even nudists cannot deny the basic processes that go on in the brain, and that we all, on some level, harbor our own sexual biases.

The problem, I believe, stems from our lack of understanding how the brain works, and how it works in relation to sex. What we need is more research in this area, and while I do not have the means for it, I am calling for those in the nudist community to scrutinize the lifestyle from a scientific standpoint. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must consider the possibility that when we slip off our clothes, the parts of our brains associated with arousal also light up.

It would not surprise me if some nudists were to protest this idea, in that it may somehow derail the movement, in that textiles will say to us, “Aha! I knew it! You’re all a bunch of perverts!” But for me, honesty and transparency has always been an integral part of nudism. In going naked, we choose to hide nothing. And when it comes to our inner thoughts and feelings, we should be equally forthcoming. Doing this might even help our cause. For too long, we have pretended that we see no difference between a clothed and a naked person. Even to argue that everyone is equally attractive is, I feel, disingenuous.

No matter our beliefs, we should never be afraid of scientific scrutiny, because science does not dictate moral action. The purpose of science is to help us make informed decisions. It may turn out that there is no relation between sex and nudity, or that, what I feel is more likely, that the associations we make are largely dependent on the individual. But even if it turns out that there is a greater connection between them than we like to let on, I do not feel it should dissuade us from our core principles. Naturism is the belief that human beings, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, have the capacity to treat one another with respect. And in showing the world that nudists are, in fact, human—that we have desires and prejudices and biases like everyone else— we may become more relatable, and the movement more attractive to newcomers.

***

For this article, I wanted to reach out to two of my fellow naturists, people I have known for a long time, who have devoted much of their lives to the movement. Keep in mind, the views of two people is statistically insignificant, and does not make for scientific study.


 

Steve Willard has been a naturist for 40+ years, and is the founder of All-Nudist, an online resource dedicated to separating real nudist sites from those peddling smut.

NICK: How old were you when you got into naturism, and what drove you into it?

STEVE: Growing up, my family was pretty casual about nudity, but not serious about it. I’d always been attracted to it and got naked, inside and out, whenever I could. Real beach and club nudism began in my mid-forties with my former wife. Not long after that I started All-Nudist as a counter to the smut usually found on the Web. We’ve tried to maintain a benchmark of social nudism that folks, especially newcomers, can use to compare with other versions they run across. Not everyone agrees with our viewpoint, but we feel that a conservative approach shared worldwide is a good start!

NICK: I agree there are a lot of so-called nudist sites that do not represent the movement at all. People seem to be stuck in this mindset, that it’s either all about sex or that we belong to some anti-sex cult. There is no happy medium. It should come as no surprise that people gravitate toward pictures of younger, attractive females (and males). Even your logo, I would argue, has an element of sexuality to it. What is your view on this?

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Sexy logo?

STEVE: Mea culpa, our logo could be seen as somewhat of a sexual appearance. Or is it ‘art’? Our original one was a line drawing of Adam and Eve, but this one is more ‘attractive’ and implies more than just old-fashioned concepts. But you won’t find gratuitous pics posted just for the sake of viewing; they’re used to illustrate an article just like any other legitimate information source does. Porn is and will continue to be associated with nudity, but a greater danger comes from those who wish to be part of social nudism, but want to change it to suit THEIR desires. They dilute and weaken the bonds that have formed over a hundred years. Those folks never embraced what nudism/naturism is in the first place.

NICK: No need to apologize for the logo. I really like it. But my point is, I feel that despite our beliefs, we cannot separate ourselves from our basic natures. Let me ask you, were there ever times in your life when you doubted the whole thing? Or, maybe you just didn’t feel like being nude anymore? Or are there days you’d rather just not be nude, even if it’s warm?

STEVE: Doubted? Never. I would be naked 24/7 if I could. Unfortunately, after a surgery gone bad, my metabolism has flip-flopped and I find myself bundled up in layers, while [my wife] Angie is nude on the couch! Not fair!

NICK: So, would you say you feel as interested in naturism as you were at 40? Or when you were in better health?

STEVE: Absolutely.

NICK: OK. Now I want you to imagine this hypothetical situation: you’ve been hooked up to a brain scan, and it has been clearly determined that the part of your brain associated with sex is also associated with the enjoyment you get out of nudity. How would you feel that would affect your ideas regarding nudism? Would you be surprised? Or would you be indifferent?

STEVE: I guess the short answer would be ‘indifferent’. As we’ve repeatedly affirmed on our website, just because we’re nudists doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate an attractive person. ‘Attraction’ is inherently sexually motivated, as are nearly all things. That’s Nature at work! Attraction is essentially a desire to be closer to someone, for personality or sexual reasons. We wish to possess that person for ourselves. Nudists are just better at finding others attractive for reasons other than ‘beauty’ or sex appeal. It’s not as important as appearance is to Textiles. People are always talking about the sensual feeling of grass, wind and water on a bare body. True, and sensuality is a close friend of sexuality. There’s no reason not to let them mingle on occasion, or to enjoy the company of other nude people, but if sexual thoughts dominate the nudist experience, it may be time to find another place to pursue that and reconsider what it means to be a nudist/naturist. It’s not for everyone. As an aside, have you ever been at a nudist venue, perhaps in the pool, when a pretty young woman shows up? Watch the old men flock to make her feel welcome!

NICK: Yes! Young, beautiful couples tend to be treated differently, which seems to go against the nudist ethos, but I see nothing wrong with that. We are all products of our evolution. But what I have yet to see at a resort is harassment, or a woman being treated disrespectfully. No doubt it happens, I just haven’t seen it. Visit any nightclub and you’ll see a lot worse!


 

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Felicity after the pudding toss at the annual Northeast Naturist Festival

Felicity Jones (not the Rogue One star) is the co-founder of Young Naturists America, an organization dedicated to free-body activism. She does more than just write up naturist articles, however. Felicity helps to organize meet-ups with free-spirited individuals like herself, whom she calls ‘nudies,’ and arranges for special events like Body Painting Day, with artist Andy Golub in NYC. For Felicity, naturism goes hand-in-hand with feminism and a positive body image.

NICK: You’ve been involved in the naturist movement for a long time. When did you realize an interest in naturism? Or were you born into it?

FELICITY: I was born into it. My parents were naturists and I was raised in a naturist family. We belonged to a nudist club in NJ called Rock Lodge and so growing up I spent a lot of time there every summer.

NICK: Do you see a big difference between people introduced to the lifestyle at a young age and people coming into it later in life? How so?

FELICITY: Yes, for sure. People who get into nudism later in life tend to be a lot more enthusiastic, excited and dedicated to it. I guess that’s just the natural result of people growing up with something that’s accepted as normal, vs. choosing it for themselves later as something new and different. Beyond that, of course kids who grow up as naturists often have a more positive body image and healthier attitudes towards nudity and the human body. I believe the younger you are when you first try it, the more of a positive impact it can have on your psyche. It can work as a bit of an antidote to all of the negative messages we get about our bodies.

NICK: It has been my experience that men and women take to naturism differently. Men seem to want to be fully nude more often, and women seem to take comfort in simple accessories. I saw a lot of sarongs at a clothing-optional resort in Cancun!

FELICITY: Yes, I’ve written at length about the gender imbalance in naturism and how men seem to gravitate towards social nudity. It’s hard to pinpoint any one reason for this, but I’ve discussed a few social / cultural factors that I think are primarily to blame – body image, safety and rape culture, etc. Here’s my article about this – https://youngnaturistsamerica.com/nudist-women-why-naturism-has-lady-women-problem-today/

NICK: I know there’s a big misconception that nudists want to be nude 24/7. That being said, barring cold weather, are there days you simply prefer being dressed? If so, how do you feel your mood/self-image plays into that decision?

FELICITY: Well, it’s a misconception that that’s what it means to be a nudist, when really there’s kind of a spectrum. Some say they want to be naked all the time, but I think the majority are fine with wearing clothes sometimes. I wouldn’t really describe myself as a dedicated home nudist. Mostly I lounge in comfortable clothing when I’m home and it doesn’t have much to do with my mood or self-image. What I really like is being naked outdoors when it’s warm, and as far as my mood, I’m definitely happier that way [in the buff].

NICK: I believe there are differences in the brain between naturists, textiles, men and women that could explain differences in our behavior, outside of cultural and environmental aspects. Unfortunately, I have no real evidence to support this claim, but it is something I think we need to explore. For instance, my wife hates to be nude at home. I think most women are like this. Me, I prefer nudity 24/7, and I think that is true for a lot of guys.

FELICITY: I don’t *hate* to go nude at home. I’m just indifferent to it, or a little more comfortable in some kind of pants at least. I do get cold very easily, ha-ha. Unless I’ve just come from outside where it was blistering hot, then I’ll go in and strip down. But anyway, there could be some biological factor that makes men want to be naked. Who knows? There do exist women who want to be naked 24/7 too, so what would account for that difference? I still think the aforementioned cultural / social factors inhibit a lot of women from participating in naturism much more so than any brain / biological difference.

NICK: Lastly, I want to talk about sex. There seems to be a lot of contention about sex in nudism, with most nudists saying the two are entirely unrelated. I’d like to get your view on the subject.

FELICITY: I think nudists have had to work so hard in past decades to convince and assure everyone that nudism is a wholesome family activity, in the hopes that it would be accepted by society. But now things are different and I think it’s disingenuous to say, “Nudism isn’t sexual, at all, ever.” Humans are sexual beings, and that doesn’t change whether clothes are on or off. You don’t stop experiencing sexual feelings or being sexually attracted to someone in a nudist setting. The difference between sexual nudity and non-sexual nudity is in the behavior. Nudists don’t act on their sexual impulses. It’s all about context – there’s a time and place for everything. That’s a lot more explaining involved than saying “nudism is not sexual,” but I think nudists today need to acknowledge these distinctions instead of loudly insisting on that simple phrase.

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Body painting day!

 

The Greek Pedophile/Pederasty Stereotype


Not exactly child porn.

Were the Ancient Greeks more homosexual than other groups from antiquity? Were homosexuals more commonly found in Greece? Was pederasty, or man-boy-love, a common expression of gay love? And is it even fair to make broad generalizations about any group of people, whether they be Greek or gay? 

This is by no means a scholarly paper. If it were, I would have done weeks of research in a university library. Rather, this is me, a history major using my blog to vent. 

Last night, I had the unfortunate experience of getting into a debate with the worst kind of debater, the type of person I like to call an informed ignoramus. Unlike your typical ignoramus, the informed ignoramus possesses a kernel of knowledge about a certain subject, and using this little bit of knowledge, they often make outlandish claims that are, for lack of a better word, utter bull-crap. What was worse for me, I once considered this person my friend, someone very liberal in his views, and very sensitive when it comes to matters of race and sexual orientation. He would never make broad generalizations about black people, Hispanics, Muslims or LGBT people. Unfortunately, I am none of those things. I am Greek, and being Greek isn’t in vogue these days. You don’t see anybody on social media speaking out against Greek stereotypes, so my friend could not understand my being offended when he generalized about my ancestors. 

Negative stereotypes exist for Greeks, like any other group, and it hurts just the same. People call us loud, rude, and egotistical. While this may be true for some individuals, it isn’t true for everyone I know, just as not all Asians are bad drivers and not all Irish are drunkards. But while making a “dumb Polack” joke or calling a Jewish person stingy is usually frowned upon, when it comes to the Greeks, anything goes. Make fun of us, the world says, our feelings don’t matter. Never mind that our country suffered one of the greatest, if not longest oppression in the history of the world—four hundred years—by the Ottoman Turks, or that, after our war of independence in 1821, we were left so poor that over one hundred thousand people died of starvation in a single year. Never mind the daily struggles for survival my own parents endured during their childhoods. Our recent history is swept under the rug, willfully forgotten, to make room for jokes that go back two thousand years. Most of these jokes, as you probably know, involve gay sex and pedophilia. To give you a taste, a friend of mine wrote in my senior yearbook, “How do you separate the Greek men from the boys? With a crowbar!” All I could do is use a black marker to blot out what he had written, leaving an ugly stain on a cherished childhood souvenir. Flash forward twenty years, and I am still dealing with the same kind of ignorance. 

Now I have nothing against homosexuality or homosexuals. I only take offense to the notion that the Ancient Greeks were pedophiles, and somehow “more gay” than any other group. We also must not confuse, as Vladimir Putin has, sexual orientation with child abuse. As someone who has been sexually molested as a child, by a Greek relative no less, this is a sensitive subject for me. 

But like all stereotypes, there is evidence to support it. Plato talked about man-boy love in the Symposium, and we know from other sources that in Athens, pubescent boys engaged in “sexual relations” with their male teachers. But how frequent and accepted was this practice? The answer is, as I often like to remind people about history, complicated.  

This is a problem intrinsic to the study of history itself, and something that came up again and again when I was in graduate school. My professors consistently chastised us for making claims based on too little evidence. I’d write a paper arguing a particular point, with a handful of references, and my professor would say to me, “Yes, but, did you read this book? And did you look at this guy? Oh, and that piece there, that’s been debunked.” The worst grade I ever got, for this very reason, wasn’t even an F. He simply wrote on the back of my paper, “You’d be crucified by any other historian!” Crucified! When I wrote my thesis on the Battle of Thermopylae, I asked my professor how many sources he wanted to see. His answer shocked me. “All of them.” And he followed that up with, “And you have it easy, in my day, we had to read every source in every language, including ancient Greek.” Shit. This is why our current Google/Wikipedia age infuriates me. YOU CANNOT SUPPLANT ACTUAL RESEARCH WITH A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH. 

Another problem with studying history can be thought of this way: Imagine a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, but we only have about one hundred pieces, and for some parts of the world, we have almost no pieces. Now let’s extrapolate this further, using the United States as an example. Imagine you are a historian living in the year 4015, and you want to know everything you can about life in the U.S. today. So, you dig through some ruins, trying to learn what you can, and what do you come across? Religion everywhere! How many churches do we have? How many Bibles in hotel rooms? How many laws have we passed discriminating against gays based strictly on religion? With this evidence, future historians could make a strong case that America in 2015 was utterly Puritanical. But wait, that’s just half the puzzle. After a bit more digging, archaeologists might find bookstores filled with the works of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, and a number of other atheists, which may leave a lot of future historians scratching their heads in confusion. 

My argument, then, when talking to my informed ignoramus friend, was that you cannot make broad generalizations about a loosely organized group of city-states, existing over two-thousand years ago, spanning centuries of time, based on the few books you’ve read. What I know about Ancient Greece, based on my studies, is that sex between a man and a boy may have been more tolerated than it is today, but that the practice was localized to a specific time, place, and social class. There is also debate regarding what these “sexual relations” actually involved. I have yet to see an image of a boy, in any museum, bent over, in the aforementioned “crowbar” position. What we do see on vase paintings is quite tame, closer to Michael Jackson-type fondling than outright sex. Conversely, there are considerable examples of heterosexual penetration on pottery, images strikingly similar to what you might find on Porn Hub. But again, ancient pornography is no more proof of depravity than pornographic websites prove all Americans have orgies in their bedrooms. While the Greeks did not differentiate between heterosexuals and homosexuals, we know it was socially stigmatizing for a male to be on the receiving end of sex. In times of war, male-on-male rape was often used, much like in prisons today, as a form of domination and humiliation. Given, then, the lack of “penetrative” artwork from antiquity, coupled with the stigma of male penetration, most historians believe pederasty went no further than intercrural sex, or simply, “sex between the thighs.” 

Now, if we look beyond Plato, to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, something as important to the Greek identity as the Torah is for the Jews, we find no mention of homosexuality. It has been suggested that Achilles, who fought at Troy, was involved in a gay relationship with his cousin, Patroclus, but I found no mention of this in the translation I read, and it makes no sense in the larger context of the story, considering that Achilles refuses to fight after his female lover is taken captive by King Agamemnon. No other hero is described as a homosexual, though their love interests are often central to their myths, with Odysseus traveling twenty years to return to his wife in Ithaca (while cheating on her frequently); Perseus heroically rescuing Andromache, a damsel in distress, from a giant sea monster; and Heracles, who was killed by his jealous wife after his infidelity. None of the gods engage in pederasty either, but for Apollo, and Zeus, who seduced 112 mortal women and Ganymede. In the comedy by Aristophanes, Lysistrata, the women of Athens and Sparta refuse sex with their husbands in an effort to end the Peloponnesian War. One must wonder, if male on male sex was as rampant as some stereotypes suggest, why this would have been such a problem.  

This isn’t to say that homosexuality did not exist in Ancient Greece; it certainly did and it was probably common, but no more so than anywhere else, and it is an affront to the LGBT community to claim otherwise. Homosexuality is a natural occurrence, not a social aberration. If we limit it to just one part of the world, we suggest it has nothing to do with biology. While the Hebrews strictly forbid homosexuality in Leviticus (which only goes to prove its practice), we know next to nothing about the Celts, the Saxons, or any other European group at the time, nor do we know anything of the habits of the people in Asia, the Russian steppes, or China. The Roman historian, Plutarch, on the other hand, asserts that the Persians engaged in pederasty with boy eunuchs, and modern historians debate how common gay relationships were in Egypt. If anything set the Greeks apart, it may be their propensity for expressing matters of eros, and their tolerance for differences in sexuality

The only thing we can say with certainty about the ancient world stems from the writings that survived, and when compared to more recent history, it is a puzzle with far too many missing pieces. For all we know, Plato and his ilk may have been the Greek equivalent of NAMBLA. Modern historian, Enid Bloch, suggests that Socrates may have suffered trauma from early sexual abuse. Are we to assume, then, that such abuse was both rampant and prevalent, in a society that gave us science, mathematics, medicine and philosophy? 

Even if we were to agree that Plato and Herodotus reflects a large part of Greek life, the writings themselves are suspect, often failing to corroborate with archaeological evidence. Herodotus states, for instance, that 5 million Persians (500 ten thousands) invaded Greece, which we know to be untrue, based on simple logistics; he also claimed that the city of Babylon was 10 miles by 10 miles square, also untrue. When it comes to sex and sexuality, Herodotus writes that “a woman cannot be raped,” and that there exists a country where “the men pee sitting down, and the women pee standing up.” Thucydides, all the while, who is considered a much more reliable source, says almost nothing about sex or pederasty. Based on Herodotus alone, our impression of the invading Persians may reflect the film 300, but a closer look at Persian art and architecture reveals a much less violent and more sophisticated society. The same can be said of the Vikings, who were no more violent than their European neighbors, but were vilified by the writings of early Christian monks. My friend, incidentally, is Norwegian, but I would never suggest he is the descendant of rapists.  

Not such an evil looking door, is it?


So, where does all this leave us? Were the Ancient Greeks a gay people? No more than anyone else. Were they all pedophiles? No more than anyone else. Were they overly fond of man-boy-love? No, but perhaps, at a specific time and place, were more accepting of it. Does this stereotype carry any weight? Nope. But if we must generalize, let us not say that the Greeks were more or less gay, but like much of the modern world, that they were more tolerant and enlightened. 

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The Devil’s Advocate: Why Nudism is Wrong

After a lifetime of promoting nudism, have I finally thrown in the towel? Or in this case, thrown on the towel? Sorry, textiles, today is not the day. But as a lover of philosophy, I feel it necessary to follow the example of Socrates, and examine what I feel most passionate about in as objective a way as possible. Too often, nudist bloggers will profess their beliefs without fully thinking about them. But for me, critical thinking is crucial, the only way to determine whether the nudist way of life is truly the best way to live. 

My wife is a champion of pragmatism. On more than one occasion, after my droning in defense of some philosophy, she has shot me down with just a few words. She is, in other words, utterly immune to bullshit. In just such a way, my wife has forced me to reevaluate my most cherished notions. As a true pragmatist, she isn’t quite opposed to the idea of nudism, but neither is she enthusiastic about it. But the objection she most often brings up is this: all of the pro-nudist arguments people make, and many I have made myself, can be dismissed by a single fact. 

The genitals do not have to be exposed for that to work.




On Women and Beauty Standards

Felicity Jones, founder of Young Naturists America, bases her free body philosophy on feminist principles. In her view, public nudity helps women feel good about their bodies, by exposing the “flaws” that 99% of “real” women have. Before frequenting nude beaches and resorts, my only exposure to the female body was Playboy, where less than 1% of women are represented, most of whom have had plastic surgery, breast augmentation (paid for by the magazine) or whose photos were airbrushed. After visiting clothing optional resorts, I learned how unnatural the Playboy ideal was, and how much more I appreciated the real thing. No doubt, if more women (and men) were exposed to the nudist perspective, society’s concept of beauty would change. One nudist slogan goes so far as to state, “all bodies are beautiful.” But here we have a problem. Couldn’t the same thing be achieved without exposing the genitals? Most women who hate their bodies focus on their overall weight, and only rarely on the condition of their vaginas. While there is a new trend in plastic surgery that does, in fact, reconstruct the labia and repair the hymen, this is an aberration, and not much of a concern for textiles, who never expose themselves but to their partners. It’s enough for women to simply visit a beach (or any water park) to discover different body types. Perhaps, instead of encouraging women to go naked, we should be encouraging them to hit the beach, and conversely, discourage magazines from altering photos.

Nudism’s feel good philosophy is wishful thinking, as we will never reach a point where all bodies are considered beautiful. To be certain, beauty is a difficult thing to define, and has been debated by philosophers since the Ancient Greeks. And yet, one thing is agreed upon, that by its very definition, beauty is selective. If we are all beautiful, nobody is beautiful. It must exist as an exception, stand out from a crowd, if it is to mean anything. But beauty is also a social construct, something that exists “in the eye of the beholder.” My wife tells me that I only see her as beautiful because I love her, which I admit to being true, in part. In cultures throughout history, what constitutes beauty widely differs. During the Renaissance Age, people preferred women who were, for a lack of a better word, “plus size.” These were known as “Rubenesques.” 

Beauty circa 1600s


In modern times, supermodels starve themselves to achieve the ideal bony physique. Nudists love to point out these changes, to show the transitory and illusory quality of beauty, but they rarely question it further, as to why these changes in perception occur in the first place. From an evolutionary standpoint, beauty is a measure of health, a way for an animal to determine the viability of a mate. Species avoid intercourse with those that are too young or old to produce offspring. For a rhino, a long horn is beautiful, and sexy, as it is a sign of good health and strong chromosomes. Peacocks find colorful plumage beautiful, whereas other bird species find a male’s singing voice arousing. During medieval times, when food was scarce and disease rampant, being too thin was an indication of poor health. Today, with our overabundance of calories, heart disease is the #1 threat to our survival, and so “thin is in.” The media, however, exacerbates this quality to the extreme, and so we have teenage girls also dying from bulimia and anorexia. While nudism helps broaden our perceptions as to what constitutes beauty, it can never be defined in such a way as to divorce it from its evolutionary function, which is why we will never see boys sexually aroused by grandmothers (beyond the occasional fetish). In short, beauty can be measured objectively, not with a tape measure, but within the parameters of health and procreation.  

Nudists also contend that public nudity acts as an equalizing factor, that in sharing our flaws, we somehow cancel them out. But I think the opposite is true. Clearly, a woman with a double mastectomy would prefer, given the choice, to have breasts. I have seen women who have undergone the procedure at nudist resorts, and have always admired their courage, which is its own beauty, I admit. But who could blame a woman for wanting to conceal such a surgery? Clothing may have been invented, in part, to make the body more appealing, by hiding what in that culture was deemed unattractive. While I personally believe we are far more beautiful the way we are born, when we are naked, our differences are more pronounced. A prehistoric person, born into a world without textiles, would not have the option to accentuate their better features, or draw attention away from others.     

Twiggy started the “super thin” trend.


Nudity and Objectification

Another position embraced by nudists regards equality of the sexes, characterized by the Free the Nipple campaign, which postulates that men and women’s nipples are no different, so that criminalizing one and not the other is tantamount to sexism. Forcing a woman to cover her nipples, however, cannot be compared to paying her less money, or taking away her birth control. The latter speaks of a woman’s value, and deeply entrenched prejudices that view women as worth less than men. The former has everything to do with sexual stimulation. Men’s nipples have never aroused women, which is why they are deemed permissible. Free the Nipple, therefore, has less to do with equality, and more to do with objectification, and sexuality. There is, of course, some overlap, as objectifying women can also be viewed as a form of inequality. But the issue I am making is this: for the vast majority, a man’s nipple differs significantly from a woman’s, if only in perception.

In other cultures, however, the female nipple is a common sight, as it is more associated with feeding infants. In Morocco, for instance, public breast feeding is legal, because the role of mother in Muslim countries is given greater respect. But in Puritan America, the nipple has long been divorced from its biological roots, becoming a commodity, for titillation and male gratification. But if tomorrow, every woman on the street was to go topless, all this would change. So far, I am in agreement with Free the Nipple. But here’s the problem: if Free the Nipple hinges on the fact that the nipple is not inherently (by its nature) sexual, what of the genitals? Are they not, by definition, sex organs? If so, how can nudists make both arguments? Or does Free the Nipple not represent the nudist view? Display of sex organs in public is either acceptable or not acceptable. 

Accepting that the function of the nipple is irrelevant, we must consider how a woman’s body is used to objectify her. Conservatives have long maintained that to remain dignified, women must dress modestly, but nudists see this as damaging, as any single image, taken at an inopportune moment, can be used to ruin someone’s reputation. It also places unfair constraints upon women, to dress the way society dictates, and to be defined by the clothing they wear. Public nudity, nudists argue, frees women from objectification, by eliminating the shame associated with the body, and the sexual implications that go with it. A woman was once thought a “slut” for wearing a mini-skirt or short shorts. In some Muslim countries, women endure the same type of shaming for not covering their faces. But with nudity becoming more commonplace, nudists contend, the body loses its power to arouse, and therefore, its capacity to objectify. While I agree with this, in part, in that women should not be judged for what they wear, I do not accept the notion that arousal is synonymous with objectification. It is in our natures to be sexually stimulated. We could never, in a thousand years, make the female body so common a sight as to eliminate desire altogether. I have been a nudist for most my life, but I would be lying if I were to say that I see no difference between a naked girl and a clothed one. Admittedly, I prefer girls who go au natural, because no outfit can compare in beauty to the naked body, and because it sometimes arouses me, and any heterosexual man with healthy testosterone levels who says otherwise is being disingenuous. But this does not mean that scantily clad women are any less deserving of respect. Only when we regard people as things, and little else, can we claim objectification. This is why I take issue with Cracked.com and Upworthy, and sites that cry sexism whenever a female heroine is depicted in a skimpy outfit. I do not consider a female character, like Thelana (who never wears clothes) to be an affront to women, as long as that character is portrayed with emotion, intelligence, and soul. Sexuality is a big part of who we are, and by reflecting this aspect of ourselves, we add to our humanity, rather than detract from it. Conversely, it is possible to objectify a person in non-sexual ways. Consider the racist caricatures of Germans and Japanese used during World War II. Given no inherent connection between sexuality and objectification, then, the argument that nudism can somehow eliminate this trend is dubious. If every man and woman were to strip down to their bare skin, we would still find ways to objectify our neighbors. The best that nudism can achieve, is to make it so that women are judged by their actions, and not their appearance.



Health and Social Benefits

Other pro-nudist arguments involve the health benefits of sunshine and air to bare skin, which again, fails the genital test. Must we expose our genitals to produce enough Vitamin D? No. Bathing suits allow enough of our skin to breathe. Another argument involves social interaction. In nothing but our bodies, we cannot judge social class, and so the boundaries that separate people dissolve. But again, could this not be achieved by everyone meeting in their underwear? How different is a rich man’s underwear from a poor person’s? Besides, it doesn’t take much to learn whether someone at a resort is a doctor or a lawyer. Nudists will often wear their Rolexes or engagement rings in the pool, or can be seen walking out to their Mercedes’ in the parking lot. Conversely, it’s rare, in this day and age, to determine someone’s social standing simply by looking at them. The wealthy of the world no longer dress like aristocrats. Bill Gates, sitting at a Starbucks, doesn’t come across as a billionaire. Only the people wanting to make their social standing known do so, and that can happen at any venue.



Nudity and Children

Finally, nudists need to address the elephant in the room: children. At one point in time, sodomy and oral sex were illegal (and in some states still are) but the right to privacy made such laws irrelevant. The problem with reversing the naked taboo, both in perception and with regard to the law, is that public nudity is just that, public, and cannot be defended by privacy rights. People morally opposed to nudity would be forced to accept it, and the opposition’s ‘ace in the hole’ has always been, and remains, the protection of children. If the primary function of our genitals is intercourse, detractors argue, exposing genitals to children is one step closer to pedophilia. Of course, a curious thing about our species, that goes largely overlooked, is a quirk in our evolution which gives our genitals multiple purposes, sex being the lesser function. For children, genitals are for waste removal, nothing more. Still, I worry about kids at nudist venues, because resorts are not colonies. Nudism exists as a sub-culture within a much larger culture, one that almost universally equates nudity with sex. While the vast majority of human beings, nudist or textile, would never think to take advantage of a child, we cannot account for everybody; we can never know the reasons a person chooses to be naked around naked children.

Being an author, as opposed to a philosopher, I do not have to commit to the ideas I explore in my work. I cannot say with any certainty that the world would be a better place if we were all to go naked. There exist Amazon tribes that have never seen clothes, who’ve never felt the need to hide any part of themselves, but this is the exception. Other tribes, that have never been influenced by Christianity, or the taboos of western society, have come to the same conclusion, that hiding the penis and vagina is necessary. From China to India to Ancient Greece, public nudity was and remains taboo. Perhaps, it is human instinct to think of sex in sight of genitalia. A society like the Ilmar, who live naked 24/7 without thinking of sex, is a fantasy. The Ilmar are no more realistic, in this regard, than elves or dwarves or any other imaginary race.

Or are they?

Total nudity is rare even in the Amazon

I do not have all the answers, but I feel it is important for nudists, like myself, to examine each of these issues carefully, and address them honestly. First and foremost, we need to admit the reason we choose to be nudists, and it can be summed up in three simple words:

It feels good.  

Being naked feels good, really good. I am naked right now even as I write this. Why not just walk around in my underwear? Why does my penis have to be exposed to the air? Because underwear, for me, is like wearing a wool sweater on a hot summer day, like swimming in jeans, like going to bed in roller skates. If I could live in a world without having to look at another pair of underwear, I’d jump at the chance. Not everyone feels this way, of course. My wife has tried nudism at home and admits to feeling nothing special. But whatever nudists write in defense of nudism is a rationalization for how they feel. This is not, however, to dismiss the benefits of the lifestyle. Women who feel good freeing their private public parts, are also helping to minimize the objectification of their sex, while creating healthier concepts of beauty. Whether this can be better achieved through other means is a moot point. Though we may never divorce nudity from sex, lust in and of itself is not a bad thing. Rather, we should celebrate human sexuality, and regard as taboo only our inability to control our behavior. A man who rapes a drunk girl at a party, or a pedophile who exploits a child, or a drunk guy who kills someone in a bar fight, is driven not by reason, or any sense of rightness, but by their animal urges.

Ultimately, people do not make decisions based on what is rational. If that were so, nobody would ever drink alcohol or smoke tobacco. If news broke out that a ring of pedophiles had been caught at a nudist resort, textiles would blame the lifestyle, but Catholics have yet to abandon the Church even after the many sex scandals involving child molesting clergy. No matter the risks, we are comforted by what is familiar, and so most people are made uncomfortable by nudity not because of its implications, but by its strangeness. But why is nudity strange? If anything, we should be overly familiar, and comfortable, with our bodies.

Looking back through the ages, perhaps it is not that we have been too civilized to accept nudity, but not civilized enough. As a member of the human species, I would like to believe we’re better than that. I would like to believe that someday there will be no nudists, because men and women will realize we don’t need to hide to treat one another with respect and compassion. Perhaps, as in the Garden of Eden, true nakedness is a state of purity we have yet to live up to.

Nakedness: A Human Ideal?



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An Open Letter to Google: Naturism is Not Pornography

Dear Google,

As you are more than likely aware, the Internet is the greatest advancement in human communication since the printing press. What sets this new technology apart is its capacity to disseminate information throughout every corner of the globe, instantly and without censure. This advancement has resulted in the sharing of ideas between people of disparate beliefs and philosophies, and has provided people who were once without a voice, like Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a platform upon which to stand against the injustices in their culture. 

Only by adhering to principles of free expression can we hope to achieve social progress and equality. As chief purveyors of this newest and most influential communication technology, Google is uniquely obligated to champion free speech, and likewise, has a moral responsibility to remain neutral in matters of religion, creed and ideology. Google must never stifle creative thought or weigh in on matters of morality. 

I express this view as a concerned naturist/nudist. For decades, nudists/naturists have been stigmatized, marginalized and mischaracterized by the media. Depictions of the naturist lifestyle, which include innocent portrayals of the human body, are erroneously equated to pornography. The same mentality once compared the LGBT community with rapists and pedophiles. Naturism is not pornography, but a movement consistent with feminism and the promotion of a healthy body image. As you probably know, we live in a culture where both women and men are continually objectified in magazines, TV, and in other media. This continued objectification, coupled with unrealistic standards of beauty representing less than 1% of the population, and which now includes Photoshopped models, has a considerable role to play in how young people see themselves, and is a contributing factor to low self esteem, depression and suicide. The Internet, for the most part, offers little by way of contrast, and more often exacerbates the problem by providing curious teens access to countless depictions of unrealistic, unhealthy, and abusive sexual practices. 

Through Blogger, my constituents and I have fought to provide an alternative to pornography, expressed through literature, art, and innocent depictions of the human body. Naturist sites offer young and old alike a chance to see themselves as we all truly are, in our most natural state, with all of our variations and flaws. More importantly, naturist photography, which celebrates this free-body philosophy and lifestyle, depicts women as genuine human beings, not as sexually charged body parts or pin-up dolls that only satisfy male fantasies. This is what naturism is all about, and what it has represented, for nearly a century. Since its inception, Blogger existed as a safe haven for naturists to express this healthier alternative, and in so doing, has allowed for social progress in areas of feminism and body image. However, your new anti-nudity policy, which begins March 23rd, 2015, takes a great leap backward. While pornography will continue to thrive in your search engines, greatly aided by Google’s “incognito” feature, naturist bloggers fighting objectification and hyper-sexualization will forever be silenced. 

Egyptian born Aliaa Magda Elmahdy used nudity to make a powerful statement against the sexism inherent in her country, and the harsh dress code imposed upon women, by posting a nude image of herself on her blog. She received many death threats as a result, and was eventually forced to move to Europe, but the awareness she raised and the importance of her cause, I believe, was well worth the risks. Under Google’s new policy, Aliaa’s blog would have been made private, and therefore, silenced.

While your position regarding artistic and educational nudity is to be commended, I urge you to amend your policy to include images of innocent, natural nudity, since, as your policy itself states, naturism is unarguably a “substantial benefit to the public.”

Sincerely,
Nick Alimonos
Naturist Author


SHARE TO FIGHT CENSORSHIP!

—–



UPDATE: It looks as though, thanks to the efforts of like minded bloggers everywhere, Google actually reversed their decision to change their nudity policy, and will NOT be forcing blogs with nudity to shut down! “We’ve had a ton of feedback, in particular about the introduction of a retroactive change (some people have had accounts for 10+ years), but also about the negative impact on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities”, Jessica Pelegio, a social product support manager at Google, wrote. I’d like to think that, of the 500+ readers who clicked on this letter, one of these may have had some influence with Google. Even if this post was just one of the million straws to break the camel’s back, I am thrilled. Hurrah for Free Speech! 

—–

Dear Blogger User,

We’re writing to tell you about an upcoming change to the Blogger Content
Policy that may affect your account.
In the coming weeks, we’ll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually
explicit or graphic nude images or video. We’ll still allow nudity
presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or
where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking
action on the content.
The new policy will go into effect on the 23rd of March 2015. After this
policy goes into effect, Google will restrict access to any blog identified
as being in violation of our revised policy. No content will be deleted,
but only blog authors and those with whom they have expressly shared the
blog will be able to see the content we’ve made private.
Our records indicate that your account may be affected by this policy
change. Please refrain from creating new content that would violate this
policy. Also, we ask that you make any necessary changes to your existing
blog to comply as soon as possible, so that you won’t experience any
interruptions in service. You may also choose to create an archive of your
content via Google Takeout
(https://www.google.com/settings/takeout/custom/blogger).
For more information, please read here
(https://support.google.com/blogger?p=policy_update).
Sincerely,
The Blogger Team

Sex, Marriage, and Morality

What is marriage? How has it changed between cultures, time periods and individuals? And what, if anything, does it have to do with love? However we choose to define it, morality is the glue that holds marriage together. 

For decades, I have passionately argued that nudism does not = sex, and clubs like AANR (the American Association for Nude Recreation) have supported this philosophy, giving their stamp of approval only to those resorts that cater to a family atmosphere. Unfortunately, the promise of sex is a much better marketing tool, so places I once loved, like Caliente and Paradise Lakes, now openly promote a free sexual lifestyle. Other resorts, like Hedonism in Jamaica, were built specifically with sex in mind. This is a real sign of the times, when sex has become less of a taboo than simple nudity, and groups like AANR, comprising mostly of people with one foot in the grave, remain set in their antiquated anti-sex, pro-nudity ways. But changes in resort policy has had a harmful effect on traditional nudism. Parents with children feel less inclined to vacation at such places. While there may be just as much sex at Disney World, you don’t see Mickey Mouse in skimpy lingerie advertising itself as a retreat for daring couples. But a growing and vocal number of young nudists are embracing the change, believing that part of nudist philosophy is accepting all behavior between consenting adults. My attitude is this: for nudism to remain innocent, something for families and children to enjoy, there can be no stance on sexual mores one way or the other. Surprisingly, nudists come from all walks of life. There are Christian nudists, atheist nudists, and everything in-between. Some resorts feature chapels and Sunday sermons. If we are to remain inclusive, our position on sexual mores needs to be mum. While swingers may feel free to “swing” in the privacy of their hotel rooms, they should feel no greater inclination to do so at a nudist resort. If swingers can be permitted into the movies, they should be permitted into Paradise Lakes. It only becomes a problem when the movie theater starts to advertise pornography and parents go elsewhere to watch Frozen.

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A typical add for Caliente “naturist” destination.

But this begs the question: Why should parents care what goes on at a nudist resort? If the proverbial movie theater is playing Debbie Does Dallas down the hall, why should it matter, if the kids don’t see it? It’s not as if swingers invite the kids into the act. This is where I bring up a controversial, and for some, offensive word: morality. Lately, when people bring up morals, what follows is a litany of hate directed at homosexuals. Historically, people have acted atrociously in the name of morality, castrating and murdering gays and lesbians, and stoning adulterers. But as a concept, morality is not to blame, no more than science can be blamed for killing people with bombs. Some people think that all we need is ethics, which can be argued from an objective position, but whether you grew up in a religious household or not, we all abide by the morals set by our society. Even the most sexually “progressive” person has boundaries. Most swingers do not advocate prostitution, or if they do, draw the line at public orgies, or if they are accepting of that, draw the line at children having sex. Incidentally, there are a number of psychologists who find that children can engage in consensual sexual activity (with each other) without harm. In the dystopian novel A Brave New World, Aldous Huxley predicts a future where sex between children is common. Shocking? Perhaps. Immoral? Maybe. Point is, the way we feel about children and sex is no different than the way people once felt, and still feel, about masturbation and homosexuality.

Is this love?

Now this is not to make a slippery slope argument, but to show that morality is always in flux, as it is determined by outside sources. For instance, the Prophet Mohammed said that it was better for a man to take four wives than for a woman to enter into prostitution (a common practice for unwed women at the time). In small African villages, where males greatly outnumber females, polyandry, or one woman marrying multiple husbands, is the norm. What is interesting about marriage is that, contrary to popular belief, it is the most successful social construct in history. There is no place on Earth where some form of marriage does not exist. While Free Love societies have been tried numerous times, often in the sixties, they never last, because human beings are inherently jealous and territorial. There are always rules as to who gets to fuck whom.

But marriage is not a part of our DNA. There is no commitment gene. In fact, humans are naturally promiscuous. We have evolved to seek multiple partners to better spread our seed, which was beneficial thousands of years ago, when infant mortality was high and the average lifespan hovered around thirty. King Solomon’s thousand wives can be largely attributed to this fact. Like morality, marriage is always being redefined, based on the needs of the society. Most recently, U.S. courts broadened the definition to include interracial couples and same sex couples, because denying rights to people was deemed unethical.

Before continuing, allow me to clarify a few things which has some people confused. I do not intend to equate the word immoral with unethical. While often used synonymously, they can have different meanings. According to Wikipedia:

  • In its descriptive sense, “morality” refers to personal or cultural valuescodes of conduct or social mores. It does not connote objective claims of right or wrong, but only refers to that which is considered right or wrong. Descriptive ethics is the branch of philosophy which studies morality in this sense.
  • In its normative sense, “morality” refers to whatever (if anything) is actually right or wrong, which may be independent of the values or mores held by any particular peoples or cultures. Normative ethics is the branch of philosophy which studies morality in this sense.

When I refer to morality in this article, it is not in the latter, objective sense. I do not equate swinging, for instance, with murder or rape. Rather, I am referring to the term in the relative sense, based on the cultural values within a (in this case our) society.

As a social construct, marriage is determined by morality. It includes cherishing, loving, and respecting my partner (this was not always the case, as in ancient times, wives were more property than companions). But for the past century, commitment to a single partner has also been a fundamental part of marriage, and this is what makes modern unions so remarkable. When it comes to human desire, lust is second only to hunger, and people will risk prison time (in cases of rape) and the dissolution of their families (for infidelity) to satisfy it. The fact that our society elected to forgo this most primal instinct, in favor of greater emotional and spiritual aspirations, is a testament to our species. Throughout the ages, chastity was synonymous with being “true” and “virtuous”. While the Ancient Greeks and Romans venerated Aphrodite, goddess of love, whose priestesses engaged in orgies; it was the virgin goddess, Athena, whom the Greeks most revered, and named their capital city after. In Christian times, Athena morphed into the holiest of holy women, the Virgin Mary. During the medieval age, chivalry forbade knights from fornication, which is why Sir Lancelot du Lac, in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, remained undefeated in battle, until having drunken sex in a tavern. He was then defeated by his virgin son, Sir Galahad, who found the Holy Grail and ascended to Heaven.

Personally, I can think of no greater proof of love than to remain committed to the same woman for life. But marriage doesn’t always work out the way it should. Fifty-percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, and the reasons are many, but a lot of it has to do with sex. Swingers argue that resisting our most basic desires is unrealistic and unnatural, even harmful. In my father’s time, it was common for a man to cheat on his spouse, and for the woman to knowingly “look the other way.” But for the wife to do likewise, would be to risk violence, and even death. This is an outdated, sexist system, and I will admit that swinging is preferable to infidelity in that it is, at the very least, honest.

Perhaps someday, society’s mores will shift, and swinging will become the status-quo. But monogamy remains the most successful of social constructs. Ultimately, people will say it is nobody’s business what people do behind closed doors, and I agree. Condemning others is anything but moral. But we should not trade one freedom for another. We must not censure the right to set moral boundaries for ourselves in favor of sexual freedoms for others. My right to define marriage as a moral construct does not infringe upon those who think and act differently. I believe in monogamy, with all its traditional and religious implications—that true love can only exist between two people— and belief makes marriage what it is.

Call of me old fashioned, but love is between TWO.

 

Sexism and Warrior Women?

 

Susan J. Douglas argues that despite the recent surge of powerful female characters in fiction—she talked about Xena, La Femme Nikita, Dark Angel, Alias, Charlie’s Angels, and Lara Croft, that sexism still exists. Her premise is that:  a) These women are tough and can take care of themselves but  b) They’re still seen as sex objects and their primary virtue is beauty. 

While I agree that sexism, like every other ism, still exists and will probably always exist, I have never agreed with the feminist position on this issue, mainly, that female heroines are somehow degrading and holding women back from equality, and this book did nothing to change my mind. Real sexism deals with women’s rights to reproduce, attain health care coverage for contraception, and of course, get equal pay for equal work. But Susan J. Douglas’ can’t find it in her heart to champion this modern era of kick-butt females. 


Times have changed and sexism in the United States is no longer the status-quo. No longer are women in books and film relegated to damsels in distress. Certainly, the last 10,000 years has shed an unfavorable light on females in myth and history, and no doubt there are still plenty of backwards men who could use a good lesson in equality. But in the past century, women have moved up in the world, due in part to the enlarged roles of their fictional counterparts. In the world of fiction, there’s not a single role or attribute beyond a woman’s reach, and little girls the world over should be thankful for it.

In the chapter dedicated to this issue, “Warrior Women in Thongs,” Douglas admits to this new empowerment, but finds fault in that these heroines have to be sexy—or as she puts it, a size 0 with 34d breasts and showing lots of skin. For me, I do not see any bias in Xena. Just like her male counterpart, Hercules, Xena needs to be beautiful. This is human nature—design by evolution. It would be dishonest for men to pretend that they are not more interested in beautiful women. After all, it is hard coded into our DNA. While beauty standards differ widely between cultures and time periods (ala Rubenesques) beauty remains a universal selection process for breeding out, albeit subconsciously, genetic defects. The same standards apply for women who watch men. I have yet to see a balding actor play James Bond and I don’t think I shall ever see one. I have also never seen a fat Superman, a scrawny Batman, or any other unattractive male superhero. While women are typically less concerned with beauty, they all, on some level, are influenced by it. And yet, men do not cry foul that no unattractive men are chosen to play Bond. Traditionally, the fact that women are the fairer sex was viewed as part of a woman’s strength, not a hindrance. If Susan Douglas wishes to attack something, better to point the finger at the magazine and clothing industry for so narrowly defining what beauty is, whose chief consumer, incidentally, are women.   

When writing Thelana’s character, I thought a considerable deal about sexism. I made certain that she wasn’t the only character without clothes on, and I also made certain that Xandr never got a free pass in the beauty department. He is, in every way, her male counterpart. But I also wished to avoid 20th century beauty standards so commonly and narrowly imposed on women in magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Maxim. Whenever I ask an artist to draw Thelana for me, I always instruct that she not be too thin or busty (one artist called her fat). I have noticed that recently, the very busty physique has gone out of fashion in some respects; consider how Neytiri might have looked if Avatar had been released in the eighties. 

So I hope that, should Ages of Aenya ever get published, I won’t get feminists mad at me for being a sexist. Certainly, my heroine enjoys leaving her clothes behind, but that is not a trait unique to her, and I have known many real world women that enjoy nudism just as much as men do. And if that aspect of her persona helps in some way to push book sales—well what can I say? That’s evolution.