Nude people on a beach
Nudity is the state of wearing no clothing. 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
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 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.
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.
Nude woman hands out flyers at the Love Parade in Berlin.
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.
At Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, some nudity is a part of a festive
Public nudity or nude in public (NIP) refers to nudity not in an
entirely private context. It refers to a person appearing nude in a
public place or to be seen from a public place. Nudity in the privacy of
a person's home or private grounds or facilities is not public nudity,
nor is nudity at fitness facilities, swimming pools, saunas, or
gymnasia, nudist or naturist clubs or resorts, since they take place on
private grounds. Naturism promotes social nudity, but mostly on private
properties or officially sanctioned public areas.
In some cases, public nudity may be legal. For example, there are
many countries which have designated public areas as nude beaches, or
where nude bathing is unofficially tolerated. In those places a person
would not face legal prosecution merely for being nude.
Outside of those areas, community and legal acceptance of public
nudity varies considerably. To avoid offending the public in general,
public authorities maintain what are sometimes called "standards of
decency". What falls outside these standards are usually termed
"indecent exposure", or similar terminology. These standards, however,
vary with time and place. Most people object to public nudity in a
sexualised context, or when children are involved. People regard those
who appear nude in public as trying to draw attention to themselves. If
the intent is to draw attention to oneself, it may be referred to as
exhibitionism, otherwise it may be to draw attention to a cause. There
are also some people who disrobe in public to attract publicity to
themselves, as a career move, such as some streakers at sporting events.
There are also others who spontaneously disrobe in public, as an
expression of their freedom and the shedding of inhibitions; an example
being skinny dipping.
There are some people who object to any public exposure of a naked
human body, on moral, religious or decency grounds, and regard the
exposure of a naked body as inherently sexual. The degree to which a
person can be exposed to be considered "indecent" varies with cultural
standards. At one extreme is the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan
which considered the exposure of any part of a woman's body in public as
indecent, and required all women to wear a burqa in public. Less extreme
is the requirement for women who enter a church to wear "modest"
clothing and to cover their heads. This is not entirely analogous,
because this sort of requirement is not made in respect of a public
There are some people who consider nudity in art as public nudity,
and by analogy nudity in the media and on the internet; to which
others[who?] retort that one can always "turn off the switch" or not
enter a cinema or art gallery. However, the same cannot be said for some
advertising which contains images of naked or semi-naked people on
public highways (or which can be seen from a public road) such as
billboards, or displayed in shop windows, or magazines of naked people
on the cover displayed on news-stands.
Naked Berlin - Group of nude men among hundreds of tourists at
Brandenburg Gate; photographed by Team Henning von Berg/Marco.
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. One example is Starkers Nightclub in
London, a monthly nude-only disco party.
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
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. 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
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.
2006 Solstice Cyclists in Seattle
Model posing nude in a Budapest street
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.
Many photographers consider an art nude photograph to be a one that
studies the human body, rather than the person. A photograph of a person
that is meant to be recognized is called a portrait, and nude
photographs often do not show a face at all. Photographers sometimes use
extremes of light and shadow, oiled skin, and shadows falling across the
body to show texture and structure of the body.
Early photographers often depicted the nudity of women like those by
Félix-Jacques Moulin. Many, like Edward Weston, Ruth Bernhard and Jerry
Avenaim, preferred to depict the lines of a body as a piece of art.
Erotic photography and pornography are 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
Nude Calendars have proliferated and some have become
greatly-anticipated annual traditions. The calendars can be:
female nude calendars (mostly targetting straight males)
male nude calendars (mostly targetting females and gay males).
Nude charity calendars have also proliferated in recent two decades.
Successful charity nude calendars include Dieux du Stade (France) and
Gods of Football, League of Their Own (calendar) and Naked Rugby League
Australian sports calendars.
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.
Nude people on a beach
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. In June 2007,
Brooke Ryan was dining in a booth at the rear of an Applebees restaurant
when she found it necessary to breastfeed her 7-month-old son. While she
said she attempted to be discreet, another patron complained to the
manager about indecent exposure. Both a waitress and the manager asked
her to cover up. She handed him a copy of the Kentucky law that
permitted public breastfeeding, but he would not relent. She ended up
feeding her son in her car and later organized "nurse-out" protests in
front of the restaurant and other public locations. Most U.S. states
(40 as of January 2009) have laws clarifying a woman's right to
breastfeed in public.
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.
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.
Model posing nude in a Budapest street
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
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 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.
The Finns have the custom of the Finnish sauna, in which nudity is
routinely accepted, and sometimes even required. This is true even when
a swimsuit must be worn in the swimming pool area of the same
complex (Saunas are quite common in modern Finland, where there is
one sauna for every three people).
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.
A topfree woman
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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."
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.
Traditionally, the digambara (sky-clad) monks of the Jain religion of
India practice complete nudity as an ascetic discipline and a rejection
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, and changing
before and after sleep is often done under the covers. 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.