I was talking to a friend a while back when we were doing some home-improvement projects. It was hot out and she asked if I minded if she took off her shirt as she had a somewhat sporty bra on (which I should mention covered more than many bathing suit tops do). I didn’t care and my wife was fine with it, but that launched us into a discussion about nudity and social appropriateness. This made me think later about nudism for believers, and why it would or would not be recommended as a practice/lifestyle for followers of Jesus.
The first knee-jerk reaction I can imagine many would have is “No! That is sin!” And maybe it is. That is certainly a real possibility. And maybe it isn’t. And maybe it just depends. And that is exactly what I was pondering, so let me bring you with me to review some of what I considered and where I ended up.
First, we know that in the beginning nudism was the norm. Eden as a whole was obviously comfortable to Adam and Eve, and I would suggest the way their bodies were made that they were impervious to injury or discomfort, having the ability to regulate their temperature, etc. to meet their needs at any time, making clothing entirely unnecessary. While much of that is speculative, for the first portion of Adam and Eve’s lives, clothing simply did not exist.
In fact, even after they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, observed they were naked, and then hid out of shame, God didn’t actually complain a single time about their nakedness. He simply asked them “Who told you that you were naked? (Genesis 3:11) God was entirely unconcerned about their nakedness. What He was bothered by was the fact that they were bothered by it, especially since that was a symptom of a deeper problem—their sin.
As I consider all of the various sex and sex-related issues that exist in our world—lust, homosexuality and transgenderism, rape, pedophilia and varying other kinds of deviant sexual behavior, and more, I cannot help but consider that the Church’s stance has largely been reactionary. “Avoid all of these things and you should be able to avoid sexual sin” is typically the Church’s go-to modus operandi. On the one hand that’s not a bad idea, in that we collectively teach self-discipline, however ineffective it often may be. Self-discipline is a healthy skill to possess, so that’s not bad in and of itself. However, the problem is that self-discipline isn’t enough by itself, and that is often what the Church brings to the table. If you discipline yourself enough, talk with other people of similar gender to keep yourself “accountable”, and avoid areas where you might give in to weakness, and pray a lot about it, that should be sufficient.
Again, I’m not just bashing on the church, because most of those above (minus the accountability one) are actually really good ideas. For example, avoiding hanging out with people who do drugs because of a propensity to do drugs with them is just wisdom. Assuming people are going to tell the truth to an accountability group, however, is probably a little naive. I suggest what we need is a different approach.
What if we were to proactively teach people how to respect and appreciate their bodies in all of its nude form? If we weren’t so incredibly prude about it to the point of body-shaming when we think too much skin is shown, we might help people, especially kids, develop a healthy self-image early on which would reduce sexual problems down the road. After all, nudism isn’t about being sexual—it’s about not being ashamed of being unclothed whether alone or around other people, and preferring that state due to physical comfort. Anyone who believes pure nudism has anything to with sexuality is misinformed.
Certainly being around others in the nude gives one the ability to lust or whatever else, but that’s part of the Church’s problem—we are so focused on the potential negatives that we completely ignore the possible positives. What if, instead of worrying so much about how someone might negatively lust, we were to teach people that it’s okay to enjoy physical beauty and that it doesn’t HAVE to be sexual? As a nurse, I see naked people all the time. ALL the time. To be honest, probably around 98% of them don’t really have bodies I consider lust-worthy anyway. Another way of saying it is that most people aren’t all that attractive in the nude, so the idea that we are going to go into some sort of sexual craze when unclothed around others is silly. Furthermore, nudism doesn’t have to be a social thing.
A small portion of nudists are social; most we will never know about. For some, they enjoy simply wearing little or no clothing in the privacy of their own home and would have no intention of doing so in public. In fact, while I am not a betting person, I am sure that I would win the bet if I were to assume that a number of readers fall into that category—those who enjoy some level of private nudism but no one else knows about it because it’s just that—private.
Much of what decides this issue for each person has to do with what he or she deems appropriate. Well, appropriateness is cultural, which is something else to remember. The United States is one of the more reserved when it comes to bathing suits, especially for men, whereas in other countries, such as in Europe or South America, it is entirely normal for men to wear bikinis or bikini briefs or similar—a far cry from the nearly-shin-length board shorts that are the current trend. In some places in Europe, it is entirely normal for women to go topless, and no one thinks a thing of it because it is a cultural norm. While the Western Church is typically aghast at this behavior, again, it isn’t inherently right or wrong any more than some aboriginal dude wearing basically nothing more than a thong as his daily-wear is inherently wrong. It’s just a different culture with unique cultural norms—and in such a setting, they too have ideas of what is appropriate and inappropriate, but they would just be vastly different than what you or I might be used to.
I believe the underlying issue that many believers have with nudism isn’t actually about the practice itself, but reflect their own underlying insecurities, fear, shame, and sexual issues. I’m not saying that nudism is the solution to all of life’s sexual problems, because it isn’t. On the other hand, if I had children of my own I would seriously consider raising them in such a way as to at least be comfortable around others in appropriate settings while in the nude because I believe that minimizing the shame, fear, and insecurity of nudity growing up leads to an overall healthier perspective when it comes to dealing with sexual appetites as an adult. It is my hope that believers as a whole can stop vilifying the human body as though it were inherently evil, and I believe that if we truly want to get at some of the behavioral aspects of sexual immortality, a healthy dose of nudism might just be what some people need.
I should point out, in closing, that at the end of the day the only real solution to sexual problems is the Holy Spirit, the one who is responsible for leading and guiding us into all truth. Romans 8 explains that as we walk by the Spirit we simply will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Behavioral discipline such as that which I believe healthy nudity can provide is just a piece to the puzzle, or maybe a step in the right direction, but the transformative power of God is at the end of the day the only true solution to the issue of sexual perversions, lusts, and immorality. Regardless of how you manage your own sexual health, I encourage you to continue to be led deeper into communion with God by the Spirit of God, because as you do, you will understand and experience the true freedom found therein. Blessings!