[noo-di-tee, nyoo-]

Nudity is the state of wearing no clothing. The term "nudity" can also occasionally be used to refer to wearing significantly less clothing than expected by the conventions of a particular culture and situation, and in particular exposing the bare skin or intimate parts, and has analogous uses. In this sense it is related to the concept of modesty.


There are many terms used to describe a state of nudity. These vary between cultures, contexts and time. Sometimes such terms are used as euphemisms, sometimes as poetic terms or humorously.

Full nudity is used to describe a state of total nudity, with no garments whatsoever, while full frontal nudity refers to wearing no clothing and facing the observer showing the pubic area, as opposed to showing bare breasts or buttocks. The term partial nudity is sometimes used to refer to exposure by a person of skin beyond what the person using the expression considers within the limits of modesty. If the exposure is within the standards of modesty (eg wearing a bikini on a beach), a term such as nudity, partial or otherwise, is not appropriately used.


Revealing bare skin or even removing clothes in front of others, even when there is another layer of clothing underneath, are at times regarded by some to be erotic or offensive, or as immodest under some people's standards of modesty.

Clothing which follows the contours of the body, or clothing using transparent materials, or clothing which sticks to the skin or become transparent when wet (as in wet t-shirt contests), is regarded by some to be erotic, immodest and simulating nudity.

Public nudity

Society's response to public nudity varies on the culture, time, location and context of the activities. There are many exceptions and particular circumstances in which nudity is tolerated, accepted or even encouraged in public spaces. Such examples would include nude beaches, within some intentional communities (such as naturist resorts or clubs) and at special events.

In general and across cultures, more restrictions are found for exposure of those parts of the human body that display evidence of sexual arousal. Therefore, sex organs and often women's breasts are covered, even when other parts of the body may be freely uncovered. Yet the nudity taboo may have meanings deeper than the immediate possibility of sexual arousal, for example, in the cumulative weight of tradition and habit. Clothing also expresses and symbolizes authority, and more general norms and values besides those of a sexual nature. It is thus not clear what society and people's spiritual beliefs would have to be like, were nudity to be regarded as universally normal.

Similar to religious traditions in which nudity symbolizes a non-recoverable state of primal innocence, there also exist secular, cynical attitudes, accusing nudism of hypocrisy and repression. Such views are rarely taken seriously, however.

Not all naturists frequently contemplate a society that would accept nudity in all situations, but when the question is put to them they do not tend to shun such a possibility. Still, their own social nudity might be viewed by some as merely an agreement of trust with others who share a rare degree of confidence and comfort in being nude.

Another common distinction, also considered by censoring authorities, is that gratuitous nudity is perceived as more offensive than the same degree of physical exposure in a functional context, where the action could not conveniently be performed dressed, either in reality or in a fictitious scene in art. The intent can also be invoked: whether the nudity is meant to affect observers; e.g., streaking can be considered unacceptably provocative, nude sun tanning viewed mildly as rather inoffensive.

Non-sexual public nudity

Some people enjoy public nudity in a non-sexual context. Common variants of the clothes free movement are nudism and naturism, and are often practised in reserved places that used to be called "nudist camps" but are now more commonly referred to as naturist resorts, nude beaches, or clubs. Such facilities may be designated topfree, clothing-optional, or fully nude-only. Public nude recreation is most common in rural areas and outdoors, although it is limited to warm weather. Even in countries with inclement weather much of the year and where public nudity is not restricted, such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark, public nude recreation indoors remains rare. One example is Starkers Nightclub in London, a monthly nude-only disco party.

Others practise public nudity more casually. Topfree sunbathing is considered acceptable by many on the beaches of France, Spain and most of the rest of Europe (and even in some outdoor swimming pools); however, exposure of the genitals is restricted to nudist areas in most regions. In the United States, topfree sunbathing and thongs are common in many areas, with a number of nude beaches in various locations.

Where the social acceptability of nudity in certain places may be well understood, the legal position is often less clear cut. In England, for example, the law does not actually prohibit simple public nudity, but does forbid indecent exposure. In practice, this means that successful prosecution hangs on whether there is a demonstrable intention to shock others, rather than simply a desire to be naked in a public place. Occasional attempts to prove this point by walking naked around the country therefore often result in periods of arrest, followed by release without charge, and inconsistencies in the approach between different police jurisdictions. Differences in the law between England and Scotland appear to make the position harder for naked ramblers once they reach Scotland.

Even where the general public is fairly tolerant of public nudity, it is still notorious enough to be used as a deliberate, often successful means to attract publicity, either by naturists promoting their way of life or by others for various purposes, such as commercial nudity in advertising or staging nude events as a forum for a usually unrelated messages, such as various nude biker tours demonstrating for different causes or celebrities revealing their natural state by removing a fur coat to support a campaign against fur sales.

Nudity and children

Nudity in the home

Parental nudity is a controversial issue. There are differences of opinion as to whether, and if so to what extent, parents should appear naked in front of their children. Gordon and Schroeder report that there is a wide variation on parental nudity from family to family. They opine that "there is nothing inherently wrong with bathing with children or otherwise appearing naked in front of them", noting that doing so may provide an opportunity for parents to provide important information. They note that by ages 5 to 6 children begin to develop a sense of modesty, and recommend to parents who wish to be sensitive to their children's wishes that they limit such activities from that age onwards.

Bonner recommends against nudity in the home where children are exhibiting sexual behaviour considered problematic.

A United States study by Alfred Kinsey found that 75% of the participants stated that there was never nudity in the home when they were growing up, 5% of the participants said that there was "seldom" nudity in the home, 3% said "often", and 17% said that it was "usual". The study found that there was no significant difference between what was reported by men and by women with respect to frequency of nudity in the home.

In a 1995 review of the literature, Paul Okami concluded that there was no reliable evidence linking exposure to parental nudity to any negative effect. Three years later, his team finished an 18-year longitudal study that showed that, if anything, such exposure was associated with slight beneficial effects, particularly for boys.

Nudity of children

Depictions of child nudity or children with nude adults appear in works of art in various cultures and historical periods. These attitudes have changed over time and have become increasingly frowned upon particularly in recent years, and especially in the case of photography. In recent years there have been a few incidents in which snapshots taken by parents of their infant or toddler children bathing or otherwise naked were challenged as child pornography. In May 2008, police in Sydney, Australia, raided an exhibition by the photographer Bill Henson featuring images of naked children on allegations of child pornography. Though these incidents were not proceeded with, they sent a strong psychological message to the community of the embarrassment that can be caused in this ambiguous but sensitive area.

Children seeing nudity

Attitudes toward children seeing nude people, other than their parents, vary substantially, depending on the child's culture, age and the context of the nudity.

British TV is required to avoid displaying scenes of sex from 5:30am to 9pm (the so-called "watershed") to avoid viewing by children. The Broadcasting Code requires that "Nudity before the watershed must be justified by the context.

Attitudes to nudity vary substantially throughout Europe, with Scandinavia in the north being the most relaxed about it.

Communal showering

Another issue has been the nudity of children in front of other children.

Europeans have generally been more insistent that all students shower communally after physical education classes.

In the United States and some of English-speaking Canada, students at tax funded schools have historically been required to shower communally with classmates of the same sex after physical education classes. In the United States, public objections and the threat of lawsuits have resulted in a number of school districts in recent years changing policy to make showers optional. A court case in the State of Colorado noted that students have a reduced expectation of personal privacy in regards to "communal undress" while showering after physical education classes.. According to an interview with a middle school principal, most objections to school showers that he had heard were actually from the student's parents rather than from the student.

Nudity in photography

Nudity has been used in photography since the invention of photography itself. Nudity in photography does not necessarily claim any artistic merit, while nude photography typically does. Unlike nudity in photography generally, nude photography is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. As an art form, nude photography is a stylised depiction of the nude body with the line and form of the human figure as the primary objective.

Similarly, erotic photography and pornography is typically stylized photography using nude or semi-nude models.

Photography of installations of massed nude people in public places, as made repeatedly around the world by Spencer Tunick, claim artistic merit.

Sex segregation

Nudity in front of strangers of the same sex is often more accepted than in front of those of the other or both sexes. Gender-specific public facilities (such as toilets, changing rooms etc) are used to meet community standards of acceptable nudity. In some cultures, nudity, even before people of the same sex, is considered inappropriate and embarrassing. In Japan, for example, it is not acceptable to have "open" urinals in men's toilets, nor "open" showers in change rooms. On the other hand, mixed-gender public saunas are normally acceptable.

Nudity in Western culture

Functional nudity

Functional nudity for a short time, such as when changing clothes on a beach, is sometimes acceptable when staying nude on the beach is not. However, even this is often avoided or minimized by a towel.

Breastfeeding in public may involve partial nudity and sometimes creates controversy. Most courts in western countries would not consider breastfeeding as indecent exposure.


The exposure of women's breasts is not, of itself, normally regarded as indecent exposure in most western countries, at least in appropriate settings, such as while suntanning. In the United States of America exposure of female nipples is a criminal offence in many states and not usually allowed in public (see Public indecency).

Prosecutions of cases has given raise to a movement advocating "topfree equality," promoting equal rights for women to have no clothing above the waist, on the same basis that would apply to men in the same circumstances. The term "topfree" rather than "topless" is advocated to avoid the latter term's perceived sexual connotations. However, there was still a public outcry to the exposure by Janet Jackson of her breast during the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show. But, this may be due to the fact that that particular incident was quite intentionally sexual in nature.

Naturism and nudism

Naturism (or nudism) is a cultural and political movement practising, advocating and defending nudity in private and in public. It is also a lifestyle based on personal, family and/or social nudity.

Naturists reject contemporary standards of modesty which discourage personal, family and social nudity, and seek to create a social environment where people feel comfortable in the company of nude people, and being seen nude, either just by other nudists, or also by the general public.

Nude bathing

The trend in some European countries (for instance Germany, Finland and the Netherlands) is to allow both sexes to bathe together naked. Most German spas allow mixed nude bathing. For example the Friedrichsbad in Baden Baden has designated times when mixed nude bathing is permitted. There may be some older German bathhouses, such as Bad Burg, which remain segregated by sex, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Most German (not to mention French, Spanish and Greek) beaches and swimming pools offer FKK (Clothing optional), areas. In general continental Europeans have a more relaxed attitude about nudity than is seen in the Anglo-Saxon world. Some have attributed this difference to the influence of Queen Victoria's husband Albert, who was raised in a very restricting religious sect. (See Victorian morality)

The Finnish have the custom of the Finnish sauna, in which nudity is routinely accepted, and sometimes even required. This is true even though a swimsuit may generally be required to be worn in a pool area. Saunas are quite common in modern Finland, where there is one sauna for every three people. It should be noted that men and women generally do not use the sauna together unless they are related. Children normally stop going to the sauna with their parents by age six or seven though this age has sometimes been higher in the past and has varied regionally.

Nudity and sexuality

Nudity in front of a sexual partner is widely accepted, but there may be restrictions — for example, only at the time and place of sex, or with subdued lighting, during bathing with the partner or afterward, covered by a sheet or blanket, or while sleeping.

Nudity is closely associated with sexuality in most cultures where some level of body modesty is expected. This is evidenced by the existence of striptease in these cultures. Sexual dimorphism when depicted in the main stream media of these cultures is often seen as sexually related. In Latin cultures the common definition of modesty does not generally admit genital nudity, but the definition of what is lewd has changed and women's breasts are now commonly exposed or depicted without scandal.

Non-Western attitudes

Attitudes in Western cultures are not all the same as explained above, and likewise attitudes in non-western cultures are many and variant. In almost all cultures, acceptability of nudity depends on the situation.

Cultural and/or religious traditions usually dictate what is proper and what is not socially acceptable. Many non-western cultures allow women to breastfeed in public, while some have very strict laws about showing any bare skin.

Nudity in Africa

Different traditions exist among, for example, sub-Saharan Africans, partly persisting in the post-colonial era. Whereas it is the norm among some tribes and family-groups including some Togolose and Nilo-Saharan (e.g., Surma people) on particular occasions not to wear any clothes or without any covering below the waist - for example, at massively attended stick fighting tournaments well-exposed young men use the occasion to catch the eye of a prospective bride.

Amongst Bantu people, on the other hand, there is often a complete aversion to public nudity. Thus, in Botswana when a newspaper printed a photograph of a thief suffering lashes on the bared buttocks imposed by a traditional chief's court, there was national consternation, not about the flogging but about the 'peeping tom'.

The Ugandan Kavirondo tribes, a mix of Bantu and Nilotic immigrants, traditionally went practically naked, but the men eventually adopted western dress.

Nudity in Liberia

In modern Liberia, soldiers under "General Butt Naked" Joshua Blahyi fought naked in order to terrorize their opponents.

Nude except for lace-up leather shoes and a gun, the general led his fierce Butt Naked Battalion into battle on behalf of the warlord Roosevelt Johnson, who hired the unclothed warriors for their fearlessness and fighting skills.

Drunk and drugged teenagers and boys composed much of the warlords' fighting forces, and in their intoxicated states they would move into battle wearing flowing dresses, colorful wigs and carrying dainty purses looted from civilians.

As the war wound down, so too did Blahyi's commitment to kill. Today, he is an evangelical preacher leading his End Time Train Evangelistic Ministries on a crusade against war and warlords.

Historical overview

Anthropologists logically presume that humans originally lived naked, without clothing, as their natural state. They postulate the adaptation of animal skins and vegetation into coverings to protect the wearer from cold, heat and rain, especially as humans migrated to new climates; alternatively, covering may have been invented first for other purposes, such as magic, decoration, cult, or prestige, and later found to be practical as well. For men and women, public nudity was at least permissible in ancient Sparta, and customary at festivals.

In some hunter-gatherer cultures in warm climates, near-complete nudity has been, until the introduction of Western culture, or still is, standard practice for both men and women. In some African and Melanesian cultures, men going completely naked except for a string tied about the waist are considered properly dressed for hunting and other traditional group activities. In a number of tribes in the South Pacific island of New Guinea, the men use hard gourdlike pods as penis sheaths. While obscuring and covering the actual penis, these at a longer distance give the impression of a large, erect penis. Yet a man without this "covering" could be considered to be in an embarrassing state of nakedness. Among the Chumash Native Americans of southern California, men were usually naked, and women were often topless. Native Americans of the Amazon Basin usually went nude or nearly nude; in many native tribes, the only clothing worn was some device worn by men to clamp the foreskin shut. However, other similar cultures have had different standards. For example, other native North Americans avoided total nudity, and the Native Americans of the mountains and west of South America, such as the Quechua, kept quite covered.

In the ancient culture of Southern Asia, there is a tradition of extreme ascetism that includes full nudity, from the gymnosophists (philosophers in Antiquity) to certain holy men (who may however cover themselves with ashes) in Hindu devotion.

Nudity as punishment

During the witch-hunts the alleged witches were stripped to discover the so-called witches' marks. The discovery of witches' marks was then used as evidence in trials.

Nakedness (full or partial) can be part of a corporal punishment or as an imposed humiliation (especially when administered in public). In fact, torture manuals may distinguish between the male and female psychological aversion to self-exposure versus being disrobed.

Nazis used forced nudity to attempt to humiliate inmates in concentration camps. This was depicted in the film Schindler's List.

In 2003, Abu Ghraib prison earned international notoriety for allegations of torture and abuses by members of the United States Army Reserve during the post-invasion period. Photographic images were circulated that exposed the practice of posing prisoners naked, sometimes bound, and being intimidated.

Nudity in religion


One may note the comments of Pope John Paul II in this matter: "The human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendor and its beauty... Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness... Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person...The human body is not in itself shameful... Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person.


In Islam the area of the body not meant to be exposed in public is called the awrah, and while referred to in the Qur'an, is addressed in more detail in hadith.

  • For men, the awrah is from the navel to knees, which means that in public Muslim men have to cover themselves at least from the navel down to the knees.
  • Some Muslim women wear the hijab, which covers the entire body except for the hands, the feet, and the face.
  • Sharia law in some Islamic countries enforce women to observe purdah, covering their entire bodies, except the face (see burqa). However, the degrees of covering vary according to local custom and/or interpretation of Sharia Law.


Traditionally, the digambara (sky-clad) monks of the Jain religion of India practice complete nudity as an ascetic discipline and a rejection of materialism.


In some parts of Judaism and in some Jewish communities, men and women (separately) use ritual baths called mikvot for a variety of reasons, mostly religious in the present day. Immersion in a mikvah requires that water covers the entire body (including the entire head). To make sure that water literally touches every part of the body, all clothing, jewelry and even bandages must be removed.

At the same time, conservative Jews are very protective about their naked body. Under the laws of Tzniut (modesty), both men and women cannot reveal the body parts considered to have sexual connotation (including upper arms, collarbones, legs, and — for married women and all men — hair, which is covered completely or partially). It is postulated in the Shulchan Aruch that one must uncover as little body as possible when in the toilet room and even when changing before sleep (trousers are often taken off and exchanged for the pajamas under the covers). Although full nudity is permitted, and according to many, encouraged, during sexual intercourse, there is a law that it can not be done in sunlight. This does not mean it must be done in the dark, merely not outside during the day time.

Conservative and Reform Judaism do not share the same attitudes about nudity in private.

See also


Sources and references

  • Rouche, Michel, "Private life conquers state and society," in A History of Private Life vol I, Paul Veyne, editor, Harvard University Press 1987 ISBN 0-674-39974-9
  • Brandom, Robert, "Critical Notice of Blind and Worried", Theoria 70:2-3, 2005.
  • Etymology OnLine- various lemmate &

External links

Further reading

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