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Social Nudism - children & young people

Three studies ask, "Is it harmful for children?"        Related shorter items 

A couple of kids

This question looms large in the minds of nudists as some political and religious groups strive to ban social nudism, and even to classify artwork and photographs portraying mere nudity as "pornography."

Many popular child-rearing "experts" are quick to blame any number of childhood ills on a child's early exposure to nudity. Can this really be the case? One source of confusion is an inevitable discomfort of many people - parents and educators included - in respect to anything that smacks of childhood sexuality.

The researching of children's sexuality resembles a drive through the desert: long stretches of 'nothing,' interspersed with brief viewings of activity of some interest.

Alayne Yates (1979) has cited the sparse and confusing history of scholarly study of the general topic of children's sexuality, and specifically the paucity of concise reference materials for parents and educators.

In the United States, research of this nature has historically been seen as unnecessary (the mildest reaction), intrusive (a common belief among educators is that children's sexuality is the purview of the parents alone), or evil (especially among individuals and groups subscribing to certain religious codes and dogma).

The impediments to research present a special problem for families and groups that do not share the prevalent views regarding sexuality in general, and nudity/modesty in particular.

Smith and Sparks (1986) cite numerous examples of families who are nudists but who routinely hide that aspect of their lives for fear that others will find out and disapprove. They fear disapproval because they do not have any base of scholarly research to support their beliefs that the body is a normal and healthy entity, and that non-sexual nudity is not harmful for children (and in fact is beneficial).

Fortunately for nudist families, several researchers have taken an interest in the subject of nudity and children's development. Unfortunately, few others have chosen to replicate their research, possibly due to the reasons outlined by Yates.

Four relevant research studies are reviewed and assessed:

1) Paul Okami's 1998 study, "Early childhood exposure to parental nudity ... an 18-year longitudinal study of outcome."

2) Robin Lewis and Louis Janda's 1988 study, "The relationship between adult sexual adjustment and childhood experiences regarding exposure to nudity, sleeping in the parental bed, and parental attitudes toward sexuality"

3) Ron and Juliette Goldman's 1981 study, "Children's perceptions of clothes and nakedness: A cross-national study";

4) Marilyn Story's 1979 study, "Factors associated with more positive body self-concepts in preschool children."


Conclusion:  Nudity Is Beneficial to Family & Society


Children's exposure to nudity is not only not harmful, it appears to be beneficial. Children who are raised as nudists (or in nude-friendly families) grow up to be adults who are comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality.

The results of the research presented would seem to speak clearly and with force. However, this seemingly clear relationship is not at all clear to most parents, nudist or non-nudist.

Yates (1978) theorises that most parents are unaware of these studies or the patterns they reflect for two reasons.

First, nudists are still widely (and erroneously) perceived in our society as sexual deviants. Those who are not nudists generally have no direct personal experiences to disprove the fallacy; many nudists are afraid to reveal their status for fear of being ridiculed, prosecuted or persecuted.

Second, research into human sexuality provided amazing advances in our knowledge of adult sexuality in the last one hundred years and this was seen as appropriate, as adults are clearly sexual beings.

Parallel research with regard to children has advanced much more slowly, as researchers are loath to study this topic.

What little research has been done has generally not been replicated. The neglect of replication has led to a general absence of credence among those who rely on the literature for their professional opinions - and these people are the ones who directly advise parents.

Thus, we are left with the advice of Dr. Spock, who warned us of dire consequences resulting from children's exposure to nudity but who performed no research of his own - apparently his conclusions were based on one anecdotal incident involving his own son.

Dr. Joyce Brothers, who warns parents of "terrible guilts and frustrations" that children suffer from being exposed to normal nudity, also performed no research of her own and apparently based her conclusions on her work with emotionally disturbed children (Smith and Sparks, 1986).

We see from Smith and Sparks that some widely published "experts" are not experts at all, but rather individuals with personal opinions who also happen to be widely read by parents who trust that those opinions are based on formal research.

 (A printer formatted version of this page is included in the Ambassador handbook.)

Nudist Youth and Children

W. E. Hartman - Nudist Society

Some non-nudists have contended that experiencing nudism as children would lessen sexual interest as adults; we, however, are more inclined to view it as a shift in area of importance, from sex per se to that of total relationship. (p 146)

One mother said she had been a nudist as a child and that she and her husband had recently joined. She felt that nudism had been a great benefit to her in terms of her own sexual learning and ability to accept the same and opposite sex without curiosity. She felt it was important that her children have the same opportunity. Further, she and her brother were never involved in the sex games of the other neighbourhood children, and in dating there was neither curiosity nor fear of boys. (p 147)

Many parents point out that their children exhibited no shame or curiosity about their bodies. As a thirty-six-year-old mother says, "My daughter is two years old and is the only child on our block who is not 'ashamed' or curious about another's body. Hers is wholesome attitude toward her own body and others. (p 147)

A twenty-nine-year-old nudist mother who is a teacher states, "I feel like I am on vacation the minute I get to the ranch. My children boy twelve, girl three) are much happier and better behaved." One thirty-seven-year-old mother reported that the family all approved of the medical benefits her son had derived from nudism. Parents frequently mention this aspect of going to camp. (p 151)

"When we visited a public beach in the United States for the first time, we were very amazed because it was forbidden to change children's clothes on the beach. Even small babies had to run around in small bathing suits. Because of this our three year old caught a severe case of bronchitis and in spite of a doctor's care had a hard time getting rid of it. One year of nudism brought a complete cure. We all got rid of annoying colds that come from climatic changes. Also, we learned to know wonderful people and felt accepted into a large family. If one says that nudists corrupted our boys and girls I can only say: 'I have never seen boys and girls of all ages get along so well together than in a nudist camp. Here no teenagers lie under one blanket and kiss each other as this can be observed on a public beach.' We only hope that more people in America will accept our point of view and that one day public beaches will be provided for us as in Europe." (p 151)

Eric Berne points out that ... how parents feel about nudity is passed on to their children by their own behaviour regarding it. If they feel "naked and ashamed," this is relayed to their children either by verbal or non verbal means. This is true whether they are nudists or not and is a key factor in the child's perception and reaction to the situation. (p 154)

On the other hand, in regard to nudity, it has been pointed out that a great deal of harm can be done a child by the suppression of curiosity, and while parents are unaccustomed to group situations involving unclothed adults, nudity of their children is an accepted phenomena. (p 156)

There is a vast difference between the frankness and truthfulness operating in a familial setting in opposition to the over-stimulation of the mass media, which is concerned with the commercial gain, as Leon Eisenberg points out. (p 156)

Since nudist children appear well adjusted, nudism can't be a major factor in childhood trauma. (p 157)

In most areas of our interaction we can weigh fantasy with reality, but if the child has no exposure to the nude human, the fantasy - reality scale can take on gigantic proportions especially in reaction to peer group talk and the general misinformation bandied about. (p 158)

"Fanatical modesty and a phobia about being seen naked, apart from hampering medical care, may severely limit or even destroy sexual functions in adulthood. Some people cannot have intercourse unless clad. More extremely, there are some whose pathological modesty prevents sexual arousal in the presence of a partner." (p 159)

Margaret Mead has made significant observations about the effects of nudity on children in both South Sea Island and American cultures. Briefly they are summarised as follows:

1) Clothing is an alienating factor in our body image and separates us from our body. The dichotomy of the self apart from the body develops in childhood.

2) Nudity in clothed Western culture involving children and adults may provide a traumatic distortion for the child because of lack of comparative elements. In an unclothed society all ranges of humanity of varying sizes, shapes and descriptions are to be found and compared. It is significant that comparison of all anatomy be made. This involves breasts and penises in our society in particular.

3) In many societies sex roles develop in early childhood through physical contact between parents and children. Mead feels that such paraphernalia as bottles, cribs and clothes create barriers between the bodies of parents and children and mute a significant communication process and learning experience.

4) Muted childhood sexuality is followed by puberty and the dating game of finding a mate. In this game the emphasis is on sex emphasised through clothing. Preoccupation with sex per se, rather than personality, results.

5) Because of absence of nudity in our culture, the child looses an important link in learning since he cannot observe the growth process of nude bodies at various maturational stages that his body will go through.

6) Nudity or partial nudity by no means indicates a lack of modesty among primitive people.

7) Nudity per se is not the panacea for all learning. How it is handled and what it means to the child is important. Some primitive people where nudity exists still traumatise their children through various fears and actions. (p 161)

The child needs to be aware of himself as a developing person and see nudity in adults to make him aware of what he is to become. (p 163)

A prominent Midwest doctor, writer, and counsellor dealing extensively with young people attended camp with us, and, as usual, we asked his reaction to the youth. His impression was that the children were very cooperative with each other, with no conflict situations developing in the course of the observations. He seemed to think this quite interesting because there seemed to be no concept of "mine" as found generally in the larger culture, where children seem to be very egocentric in their behaviour. There seemed to be a greater willingness to share. (p 163)

A well-known female family counsellor took the occasion after leading a weekend conference to visit a nudist park with us to satisfy her own curiosity about the effects of nudism on families and children. She was impressed with the children at play. She observed that there was no appearance of any sense of shame or embarrassment in the boy-girl relationships, and she felt it was a positive wholesome environment. Her observations and reactions to the situation were similar to ours. (p 164)

W. E. Hartman - Nudist Society


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Baxandall, L. (Ed.). (1985). Family Naturism. Clothed With the Sun 5(2), 36-45. [Various aspects of family naturism; different from 1989 CwS article]

Baxandall, L. (Ed.). (1989). Family Naturism. Clothed With the Sun 9(1)66-69. [Review of family nudism materials and publications; different from 1985 CwS article]

Baxandall, L. (Ed.). (1989). When is children's nudity 'natural'? N: Nude & Natural 9(2), 86-93. [Several articles on children, nudism/nudity, and society]

Baxandall, L. (Ed.). (1997). Clothes "R" Us. N: Nude & Natural 18(3), 424-5. [Children's nudity in YMCA locker rooms; adult reactions]

Bishop, K (1990). Photos of Nude Children Spark Obscenity Debate. The New York Times July 23, pA8. [Photographing nude children; censorship]

Booth, M. (1993). Parental influence on adult sexual anxiety. Dissertation Abstracts International. 53(11) B6035.

Bowman, P.M. (1989). When is nude lewd? Clothed With the Sun 9(1), 70-78 ['The question of lust in nudity"; much information on teens' sexuality and nudism]

Brenner, B. (1973). Bodies. New York: E. P. Dutton. [Bodies, gender differences & similarities. Intended for children]

Calderone, M. S., &Johnson, E.W. (1989). The Family Book About Sexuality. New York: Harper & Row. [Intended for parents & children]

Chamberlain, R. W. (1974). Counselling parents about children's sex games. Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality 8(12), 45-46. [Childhood sex games, parental response]

Cohn, D.S. (1991). Anatomical doll play of preschoolers referred for sexual abuse and those not referred. Child Abuse & Neglect 15,455-466. [Use of (nude) anatomical dolls in sexual abuse interviewing: pitfalls, suggestions, "false positive" responses]

Corty, J. (1992). The end of innocence: Child pornography must be abolished, but prohibiting parents from photographing their kids won't stop the real abusers. Parenting June/July, 64-65. [Nudity, children, censorship, overzealous prosecution]

DeGoode, D. L. (1985). Social nudism and body concept. Dissertation Abstracts International 45(12), B3993-94. [Body concept, social nudists]

Docherty, J. (1986). Growing Up: A guide for children and parents. Dunstable, U.K: Waterlow Ltd. [Growth, reproduction, sexuality. Explicit: intended for late pre-teens & teens]

Douglas, J. D., Rasmussen, P. K, & Flanagan, C. A. (1977). The nude beach. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. [Sociology/anthropology, nude beaches, law]

Fraley, M. C., et al. (1991). Early genital naming. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 12,301-304. [Young children's body awareness; (lack of) parental naming of the genitals]

Gordon, B.N., at al. (1990). Children's knowledge of sexuality: A comparison of sexually abused and nonabused children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 60, 250-257. [Children's sexual/body awareness; (lack of) differences in abused and nonabused children]

Granfield,M. (1996). The Molester Within. Feedline ["The panic over child sexuality"]

Finch, S: M. (1982). Viewing other-sex genitals. Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality 16(1), 72. [Sibling nudity, modesty]

Fishel, E. (1992). Raising sexually healthy kids. Parents September, 110-116.

Fleischhauer-Hardt, H. (photography by Will McBride) (1975). Show Me! A picture book of sex for children and parents. New York: St. Martin's Press. [A controversial and hard to find book; explicit photos and captions taken from the people being photographed. Intended for children & parents]

Gardner, R. A. (1975). Exposing children to parental nudity. Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality 9(6), 99-100. [Modesty, family nudity, effects on children]

Gibson, J. T. (1990). When toddlers touch themselves. Parents February, 178. [Toddlers' sexuality; parental comfort and responses]

Ginsberg, A., & Richey, J. (1990). The Right to Depict Children in the Nude. Aperture Fall 41-49. [Photographing nude children]

Glass, D. B. (1989). Created By God: About human sexuality for older girls and boys, Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House. [Intended for pre-teens and early teens]

Goldman, R. J. & Goldman, J. D. (1981). Children's perceptions of clothes and nakedness: A cross-national study. Genetic Psychology Monographs 104(4) 163-85. [Children's attitudes to clothes, modesty]

Goldman, R. J. & Goldman, J. D. (1988). Show Me Yours! Understanding children's sexuality New York: Penguin Books. [Intended for parents, Teachers, care-givers]

Goldstein, M., & Haeberle, E. J. (photography Will McBride). (1971). The Sex Book: A modern pictorial encyclopedia. New York: Herder & Herder) [Comprehensive photo guide to sexuality. Extremely hard to locate. Intended for all audiences]

Gomi, T. (1993). Everyone Poops. Brooklyn, NY: Kane/ Miller Book Publishers. [Body functions - defecation; body-friendly. Intended for toddlers and young children]

Goodson, A. (1991). Therapy, Nudity & Joy. Los Angeles: Elysium Growth Press. [Body shame: its origins, development, and overcoming it]

Gordinier, J. (1987). Does Ann Landers have it right when she tells readers that parental nudity is seduction? Raleigh [NC] News & Observer. July 1 [Parental/family nudity; family and societal attitudes]

Gordon, S. (1979). Girls Are Girls and Boys Are Boys, So what's the difference? New York: Prometheus Books. [Gender identification, sexuality, gender roles. Intended for pre-teens]

Harris, R. H. (1994). It's Perfectly Normal. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. [Changing bodies, growing up, sex, and sexual health. Intended for pre-teens & teens]

Hartman, W. E., Fithian, M., & Johnson, D. [John Ball] (1970). Nudist Society: An authoritative, complete study of nudism in America. New York: Crown.

Hentoff, N. (1984). This Is Child Porn? The Washington Post August 2, A15. [Photographing children; censorship; societal debate]

Hunter, J. E. (1997). The Curiosity Book. Plymouth, VT: Five Corners Publications, Ltd. [Positive attitudes, healthy habits, and useful information about the human body; body-friendly text and photos; intended for toddlers to late pre-teens/early teens]

Ingoglia, G. (1987). Look Inside Your Body. York: Grosset & Dunlap. [Anatomy; gender differences and similarities. Intended for young children and pre-teens]

Jackson, S. (1982). Childhood and Sexuality. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell Publisher, Ltd. [Intended for parents, teachers, and caregivers]

Jaeger, E. (1989). The Regulation of Non-Obscene, Nude Photography of Children. Boston College Law Review March, 614-620. [Photographing nude Children; censorship; societal debate]

Jennings, D. A. (1994). Baby Brendon's Busy Day: A sexuality primer. Tallahasses, FL: Goose Pond Publishing. [Sexuality education, naming body parts; intended for toddlers and young children]

Katz, L. (1989). Nudity at home, Parents May, 208

Klass, P. (1994). Decent exposure. Parenting May 98-104. [Breastfeeding in public]

Leight, L. (1988). Raising Sexually Healthy Children: A loving guide for parents, teachers, and caregivers. New York: Avon Books.

Le Valley, P. (1997). All-American Boyhood. Naturally 25 [Winter 97-98], 11-13. [A review of children's nudity in classic American literature and art]

Lewis, R. J. & Janda, L. H. (1988). The relationship between adult sexual adjustment and childhood experiences regarding exposure to nudity, sleeping in the parental bed, and parental attitudes toward sexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior 17(4), 349-362. [Parental/sibling nudity, parental bed, communication about sexuality, sexual attitudes]

Loam, J. (Ed.) (1987). Body / Self Appreciation. Los Anselee: Elysium Growth Press. [Body self-concept; nudism education; family and social nudism]

Lonberger, C. (1997). The Benefits of Social Nudity. Naturally 25 [Winter 97-98], 6-8. [A lay review of the literature on the psychosocial benefits of social nudity]

Markey, J. (1987). The Teens & Nudity. Clothed With the Sun 7(3), 45. [Teenagers and social nudity]

Montagu, A. (1971). Touching. New York: Harper & Row. [Sensory development, sensuality, society]

Montagu, A. (1992). Nudity & body acceptance. N: Nude & Natural 12(1), 13-21. [Nudity and touch throughout the human lifespan]

Morton B. (1995). Kids banned from Austin's Hippie Hollow. N: Nude & Natural15(1). 92-97. [Local officials bend to reactionary "conservatives" in banning children from a popular nude beach]

Myers, W. A. (1989). The traumatic element in the typical dream of feeling embarrassed at being naked. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Asso?ciation 37(1), 117-30.

Nanao, J. (1995). Contemplating Your Bellybutton. Brooklyn, NY: Kane/Miller Book Publishers. [Anatomy - navels; basic sexuality; body-friendly. Intended for toddlers and young children]

Noble, E., & Sorger, L. (1994). The Joy of Being a Boy. Harwich, MA: New Life Images. [Intact (uncircumcised) penis "primer" for boys and their parents; body-friendly text and photos]

The Nudist Notebook FAQ: children, health, religion. [Online resource]

O'Brien, P. (1992). Abuse of children. N: Nude & Natural 11(3), 104. [Fallacy of nudist children being more at risk for abuse]

Owsley S (1997).FamilyValues. Naturally 25 [Winter 97 98] 40. [A short inspirational article on unconditional love and children]

Pacer, B. (1997). America's Nudist Poster Dad Experiences the Horror of Singledom. N: Nude & Natural 16(3), 72-76. [Nudist single parents' difficulties]

Perry S. K (1992). I'll show you mine. Parenting October 187. [Children's sexuality; sex play]

Pomerleau A, et al. (1990). Pink or blue: Environmental gender stereotypes in the first two years of life. Sex Roles 22, 359-367. [Infants' clothing; gender stereotypes; environmental variables]

Quindlen, A. (1993). Where's Waldo's Breast? New York Times. Saturday, April 10. [Attitudes toward nudity censorship, children]

Quindlen, A. (photography by Nick Kelsh) (1996). Naked Babies. New York: Penguin Books. [Photo book: naked babies! Intended as a picture-/gift-book for expecting or new parents, but also a book to share with children]

Rubin, I & Kirkendall, LA. (1970). Sex in the childhood Years. New York: Association Press. [Intended for parents, teachers, and care-givers]

Schatz, H. (1996). Newborn. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. [Photo book: naked newborn babies. Intended as a picturebook/giftbook for expecting or new parents, but also a good book to share with children]

Schloss, M. (1989). Growing Up. Clothed With the Sun 8(4), 36. [Review of the book "Growing Up" by James Docherty; listed in this index]

Schoen, M. (1990). Bellybuttons Are Navels. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. [Naming body parts, body comfort. Intended for young children]

Sendak, M. (1970). In the Night Kitchen. New York: Harper and Row. [Illustrated children's book. Body-friendly: the hero is nude in much of the book, in a natural and positive manner]

Shelley, S. I. (1981). Adolescent attitudes as related to perception of parents and sex education. Journal of Sex Research 17(4), 350-367. [Correlation of parental liberality and adolescent liberality]

Shop Talk: Collection of parenting experiences. (1987). Nursing: Anytime, anywhere. Number 7.

Shop Talk: Collection of parenting experiences. (1988). Nursing in public. Number 16.

Smallman, C. (1986). Outside-in. New York: Baron's. [Anatomy; naming body parts; body-friendly. Intended for young children]

Smith,D.C., Sparks, W., & Kurstin-Young, C.(1986). The naked child: Growing up without shame. Los Angeles: Elysium Growth Press. [Effects of being raised in nudist families]

Smith, H.W. (1980).A modest test of cross-cultural differences in sexual modesty, embarrassment and self disclosure. Qualitative Sociology 3(3), 223-241. [French nudism, German nudism]

Smith, H. W. (1980). Does shedding one's clothes imply shedding one's culture? A cross-cultural test of nudism claims. International Review of Modern Sociology 10(2), 255-268. [French nudism, German nudism]

Stinson. K. (1986). The Bare Naked Book. Toronto: Annick Press. [Body comfort and acceptance; naming body parts. Intended for toddlers & young children]

Story, M. D. (1984). Comparisons of body self-concept between social nudists and non-nudists. Journal of Psychology 118(1), 99-112. [Body self-concept, adult nudists]

Story, M. D. (1979). Factors associated with more positive body self-concepts in preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology 108(1), 49-56. [Body self-concept, preschool children]

Story, M. D. (1987). A comparison of social nudists and non-nudists on experience with various sexual outlets. Journal of Sex Research 23(2), 197-211. [Adult social nudists, sexual experience]

Udesky, L. (1990). When Innocence is Called Obscene. The Progressive September, 13. [Photographing nude children; censorship; societal debate]

Underwager, R., & Wakefield, H. (1993).Antisexuality and Child Sexual Abuse. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations 5(2), 72-22.

Online: [Antisexual attitudes in society; effects on children, families, society]

Vingerhoets, A., & Buunk, B. (1987). Attitudes towards nudist and public beaches: Some evidence of dissonance reduction and gender differences. Journal of Leisure Research, 19(1), 13-21. [Nudist attitudes toward wearing bathing attire]

Vivona, C. M., & Gomillion, M. (1972). Situational morality of bathroom nudity. Journal of Sex Research 8(2), 128-135. [Reactions to nudity in dorm bathrooms]

Waxuian, S. (1976). What is a Girl? What is a Boy? New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. [Gender identity, anatomical differences, sex roles. Intended for pre-teens]

Wise, N. (1991). When kids take it all off. Parenting December/January, 145.

Yates, A. (1978). Sex Without Shame: Encouraging the Child's Healthy Sexual Development New York: William Morrow and Company. [Intended for parents, teachers, and care-givers]

Young, T. (1991). Empower the youth: How to start a naturist youth group. N: Nude & Natural 10(4), 97-101. [Children's naturism/nudism in organised groups]