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Nudity is the state of wearing no clothing.[1] It is related to the concept of modesty and is sometimes 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.


There are many terms used to describe various states of nudity. These terms may vary between (or within) different cultures and contexts, and may change over time. Sometimes such terms are used as euphemisms, sometimes as poetic terms, or humorously.

  • Full nudity is used to describe a state of complete nudity, with no clothing (or covering) whatsoever
  • Full frontal nudity refers to wearing no clothing and facing the observer showing the whole front side of the body, including the pubic area
  • Partial frontal nudity, i.e. showing only bare breasts
  • Non-frontal nudity such as showing the buttocks, the whole back side of the body, or the body as viewed from any other direction

The term partial nudity refers to a state of less than complete nudity, and is sometimes used to refer to exposure of skin beyond what the person using the expression considers to be within the limits of modesty. If the exposure is within the standards of modesty of a given culture and setting (e.g. wearing a bikini at a non-nude beach), terms such as nudity, partial or otherwise, are not normally used. If however, the degree of exposure exceeds the cultural norms of the setting, or if the activity or setting includes nudity as an understood part of its function, such as a nude beach, terminology relating to nudity and degrees thereof are typically used.


See also: Modesty

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.

However, there are occasions when standards of modesty are waived, as in the case of medical examinations.

Public nudity

Main article: Public nudity
File:MIT streaker at HarvardYale game.jpg

Man streaking at a Harvard/Yale game

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. 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.

Another common distinction 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 practiced in reserved places that used to be called "nudist camps" but are now more commonly called 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.

File:WNBR Zaragoza 5.jpg

2009 World Naked Bike Ride in Zaragoza.

Others practice 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 wearing thongs are not common in many areas, but are limited to 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[citation needed]. 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. Specifically, using nudity to "harass, alarm or distress" others is an offence against the Public Order Act of 1986. 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 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.



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[2] report that parental nudity varies considerably 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[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] Three years later, his team finished an 18-year longitudinal study that showed that, if anything, such exposure was associated with slight beneficial effects, particularly for boys.[6]

Nudity of children


Two children bathing in a small metal bathtub

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,[7] 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.[8]

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.[9][10] Though these incidents were not proceeded with and the photographs were returned, they sent a strong psychological message to the community of the embarrassment that can be caused in this ambiguous but sensitive area.[citation needed]

Out of protest the Art Monthly Australia magazine published an image of the 6-year-old Olympia Nelson taken by her mother, Polixeni Papapetrou. According to the then-11-year-old Olympia, she did not believe the photograph amounted to abuse and was upset with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's remark that he hated it. Olympia's father, art critic Professor Robert Nelson, defended it, saying: "It has nothing to do with pedophilia. The connection between artistic pictures and pedophilia cannot be made and there is no evidence for it."[11][12]

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."[13][14]

Attitudes to nudity vary substantially throughout Europe, with Scandinavia in the north being the most relaxed about it.[15]

Communal showering

Main article: Communal shower

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

Continental Europeans have generally been more insistent that all students shower communally after physical education classes, separated by gender. Fathers taking their young daughters or mothers taking their young sons into the sex separated changing rooms is mostly viewed as non-controversial, although some public baths introduced family changing rooms recently.[citation needed]

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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

Gender segregation

Main article: Sex segregation

Nudity in front of strangers of the same gender is often more accepted than in front of those of the other or both genders. 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 gender, is considered inappropriate and embarrassing.

Western culture

Functional nudity


A topfree woman

Functional nudity for a short time, such as when changing clothes on a beach, is sometimes acceptable, while staying nude on the beach is not. However, even this is often avoided or minimized by a towel.[citation needed] On nude beaches (clothing-optional) it is acceptable to be nude.

In some locations, most particularly within western societies, a woman breastfeeding in public can generate controversy. ===Topfree===

Main article: Topfreedom
See also: Toplessness

In many western countries and in appropriate settings, such as while suntanning, the exposure of women's breasts is not, of itself, normally regarded as indecent exposure. In the United States of America however, exposure of female nipples is a criminal offense in many states and not usually allowed in public (see Public indecency), while in the United Kingdom, nudity may not be used to "harass, alarm or distress" according to the Public Order Act of 1986.[19]

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.

Naturism and nudism

See also: Naturism and List of social nudity places

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.[20][21]

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.[20][21]

Nude bathing

File:RAAF 1943 swimming nude.jpeg

Vintage image (1943) of skinny dippers near Darwin

The trend in some European countries (for instance Germany, Finland and the Netherlands) is to allow both genders 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 gender, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Most German (not to mention French, Spanish and Greek) beaches and swimming pools offer Freikörperkultur (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.

The Finns have the custom of the Finnish sauna, in which nudity is routinely accepted, and sometimes even required.[22][23] This is true even when a swimsuit must be worn in the swimming pool area of the same complex[23] (Saunas are quite common in modern Finland, where there is one sauna for every three people).[24]


Main article: Nudity and sexuality

Nudity in front of a sexual partner is widely accepted, but not in all cases. For example, some partners insist on nudity 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.

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.


File:Junge Hamer in Südäthiopien.jpg

A woman wearing traditional clothing in Southern Ethiopia, where toplessness among women is normal.

Different traditions exist among, for example, sub-Saharan Africans, partly persisting in the post-colonial era. Whereas it is the norm among some ethnic 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 peoples, 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.


In Asian cultures such as Japan the public bath is very common. Bathing nude with family members or friends of the same and opposite gender in public bath houses, saunas, or even natural hot springs is popular. In Korea, public baths (Jjimjilbang) are also widespread and communal nude bathing is normal, although nudity is not permitted in unisex areas. Template:Expand section

Historical overview

Main article: History of nudity
File:Cranach - Adam and Eve 1528.jpg

The Biblical figures of Adam and Eve are most commonly shown totally or mostly nude.

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.

For many centuries in some Jainist traditions, some participants have taken up extreme asceticism that includes full nudity. For example, in Digambara, a sect of Jainism, senior Digambar monks (Acharya Vidyasagar is a notable example) wear no clothes, considering themselves to be clothed with the environment that surrounds them. Digambaras believe that this practice represents a refusal to give in to the demands of the body for comfort and private property. Ancient Greeks who wrote of nude ascetics in India called them Gymnosophists, meaning "naked philosophers".


File:Abu Ghraib 58.jpg

Prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq, including forced nudity and humiliation, was widely condemned.

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.[25]

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. [26]

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


Main article: Nudity in religion


The Catholic Church has always held that nudity, in and of itself, is not sinful, but that it is contrary to the virtue of modesty. 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."[27]


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 most of her head and body, with specific body parts, her awrah, to be covered depending upon varying interpretations of Islamic thought. In one interpretation, a Muslim women's awrah is from the elbow up to her shoulders, her entire midsection and back, and her legs down to her ankles.
  • Sharia law in some Islamic countries requires women to observe purdah, covering their entire bodies, including the face (see niqab and burqa), However, the degrees of covering vary according to local custom and/or interpretation of Sharia Law.
  • A dead body's awrah shall remain covered and not seen.


File:Naga baba.jpg

Naga mystics

Traditionally, the digambara (sky-clad) monks of the Jain religion of India practice complete nudity as an ascetic discipline and a rejection of materialism.[28]


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 cover 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, Orthodox Jews are very protective about their naked body. Under the laws of Tzniut (modesty), both men and women may not reveal any body part usually covered in that society. In addition, women must cover everything between the elbows and the knees (including collarbones), and married women must cover their hair. When answering the call of nature one must uncover as little as possible,[29] and changing before and after sleep is often done under the covers.[30] Although full nudity is permitted, and according to many, encouraged, during sexual intercourse, it must be done in the dark, at night, and in private.

Conservative and Reform Judaism generally do not follow the Shulchan Aruch and do not share the same attitudes about nudity in private.

See also


  1. nudity - Definitions from URL accessed on 2009-10-17.
  2. Betty N. Gordon and Carolyn S. Schroeder (1995). Sexuality: A Developmental Approach to Problems, Springer. ISBN 0306450402.
  3. Barbara L. Bonner (1999). "When does sexual play suggest a problem?" Howard Dubowitz and Diane Depanfilis Handbook for Child Protection Practice, Sage Publications. ISBN 0761913718.
  4. John Bancroft (2003). Sexual Development in Childhood, 146–147, Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253342430.
  5. Okami. P. (1995) ." Childhood exposure to parental nudity‚ parent-child co-sleeping‚ and 'primal scenes': A review of clinical opinion and empirical evidence," Journal of Sex Research, 32: 51-64.
  6. Okami, P., Olmstead, R., Abramson, P. & Pendleton, L. (1998). "Early childhood exposure to parental nudity and scenes of parental sexuality ('primal scenes'): An 18-year longitudinal study of outcome," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27(4), 361-384.
  7. Higonnet, Anne (1998). Pictures of Innocence - The History and Crissi of Ideal Childhood, London: Thames & Hudson.
  8. Kincaid, James R. Is this child pornography?. URL accessed on 2007-04-28.
  9. Paul Bibby. Henson exhibition shut down. URL accessed on 2008-09-02.
  10. See also Jock Sturges and Julia Somerville.
  11. AAP. Photo girl defends naked cover shot. The Age.
  12. Photograph of Olympia Nelson depicting Lewis Carroll's Beatrice Hatch before White Cliffs, 2003 from Polixeni Papapetrou's website.
  13. The Ofcom Broadcasting Code. Ofcom (Office of Communications, UK). URL accessed on 2008-01-01.
  14. Hansard House of Commons Hansard debate transcription (part 31). UK Parliament Publications & Records. URL accessed on 2008-01-01.
  15. Mapes, Terri Sexuality in Scandinavia: How Scandinavia Looks at Sexuality. URL accessed on 2007-10-17.
  16. ACLU of Washington ACLU-WA's Work for Student Rights. URL accessed on 2007-04-28.
  17. TRINIDAD SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 v. CARLOS R. LOPEZ. URL accessed on 2007-04-28.
  18. Interview with John Pleacher 2/16/87. URL accessed on 2007-04-28.
  19. What is the Law Covering Nudity in the UK? Is Nudity Lawful on Unofficial Nude Beaches?. URL accessed on 2009-10-17.
  20. 20.0 20.1 See 2002-2003 World Naturist Handbook, pub International Naturist Federation INF-FNI, Sint Hubertusstraat, B-2600 Berchem(Antwerpen) ISBN 9055838330 The Agde definition. The INF is made up of representative of the Naturist Organisations in 32 countries, with 7 more having correspondent status. The current edition is * Naturisme, The INF World Handbook (2006) [1] ISBN 90-5062-080-9
  21. 21.0 21.1 INF web page
  22. Nakedness and the Finnish Sauna
  23. 23.0 23.1 Id.
  24. thisisFINLAND - Seeking the real Finnish Sauna
  25. Devil's Mark
  26. Substantive and Procedural Aspects of International Criminal Law: The Experience of International and National Courts; by Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, Olivia Swaak-Goldman; Published by Brill, 2000; pages 280-283
  27. Karol Cardinal Woytyla (John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, translation by H. T. Willetts, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 1981.
  28. Jainworld website
  29. Shulchan Aruch OC 3
  30. Shulchan Aruch OC 2

Further reading

External links


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