Naked Bodies = Sex

In western society, it’s generally thought that nudity is something that belongs in private, and not in public.

As a kid, running around without clothes on isn’t really frowned upon – it’s considered innocent and natural. But as soon as you hit puberty or thereabouts, it suddenly becomes less ok, unless you’re in the privacy of your own house or backyard. Suddenly nudity is only ok in very specific contexts. Some sort of shift in meaning occurs.

At some point in time, nudity becomes sexy – and for mainstream society, sexiness is the only appropriate form for nudity to take. The contexts where nudity is appropriate become inherently bound up in sex. There might be a few exceptions to this rule, such as gender-segregated public changing rooms or showers – but even there, people have issues taking their clothes off in front of other people (at least in Australia – in Germany, no-one cares about showering in front of other people). But unless you frequent naturist communities (which I’d love to be able to do one day) the idea that naked bodies = sex is pretty much inescapable.

This is also where it starts getting confusing, because there are a million arbitrary rules governing what sort of sexy is ok, and what sorts of nudity are ok. Obviously, nudity is ok if you’re having sex or engaging in any sort of sexual activity – that goes without saying. Nudity or semi-nudity are also ok if you’re selling something: take just about every advertising campaign for lingerie, alcohol, cars, clothing, food – you name it, it’s probably been sold by semi-naked women and the occasional semi-naked man. As long as you don’t show any pubic hair, nipples or penises, you’re fine. That takes us to TV and movie characters, where nudity also makes a common appearance: but only if the character is either a) engaged in a sex scene of some sort, or b) meant to be a sex object for the viewer’s pleasure. (Oh, and also only if the characters are conventionally attractive and not fat, disabled, etc.)

But deciding that it’s just too hot outside to wear anything when you duck out to get some bread from the shops? Going to a beach not specifically designated as a nude beach without swimmers on? Just not ok.

There is a lot of critique of advertising, television and other media for gratuitous nudity: take for instance critiques of the TV show Game of Thrones, where women are apparently getting their clothes off on a constant basis. (I haven’t seen the show. This is one of the reasons why.) Most of the time these sorts of critiques also focus on sexualisation and objectification, especially of women, and especially of young women. Which I am all for, right? But it’s also worth considering that such critique can also continue the conflation of nudity and sex – especially some of the more pseudo-feminist ‘we must stop the sexualisation of children!’ arguments. That’s the thinking that underpins the controversy about Australian photographer Bill Henson’s work featuring nude teenagers, for example. Because when nudity is only appropriate in sexual contexts, then showing nude teenagers is turning them into sex objects, right?

The same occurs in the sex-positive environment – it’s all about people being free to express their sexuality however they want as long as everyone consents, but also about being comfortable and owning your body the way it is. But there’s not really any separation of nudity and sex in the sex-pos world either – bodies are still focused on in terms of their relationship to sexuality rather than anything else.

So it’s really no wonder that I feel like my own opinions and comfort levels with nudity are conflicted, because as an asexual person, I just don’t DO sex or sexiness. It doesn’t play a part in my life or my relationships with people, and as such, my feelings about nudity are somewhat reversed from the norm: I’d be so much more comfortable with nudity at the beach than I would be with nudity in close quarters with someone. I don’t care about changing in front of other people; skinny dipping at the beach probably wouldn’t phase me much. It’s not shame about my body or repression that make nudity uncomfortable for me: it’s the idea that nudity is a signal of sex and sexiness.

If bodies were just bodies, everything would be fine. But as soon as naked bodies = sex? Yeah, not going there.

3 thoughts on “Naked Bodies = Sex

  1. So true. It strikes me that the populations with the greatest problems are the most religious (Christian) ones.
    Nudism is a great leveller, therefore defies big industries who are trying to sell us all those meaningless “differentiators”. Can they have an interest in nudism?
    I always find it useful to examine “who benefits” – from whatever the question is.
    Nudism only benefits individuals, typically without much clout. No wonder it’s frowned upon by anyone else.

    1. One example where this isn’t always the case is photoessays that explore the human body. For example, nude photos of people who have undergone mastectomies. Of course this can be problematic in the opposite way — it can frame the person as solely the product of their disease and hence portray them as a being who cannot be sexual. Or at least that’s my take on it.

      I guess the problem society has with nudity that does not intersect with sexual evaluations is this will make body acceptance a lot more prevalent. Large numbers of people won’t be obsessed with the idea that they must constantly evaluate nude bodies based on their personal sexual preferences. And society considers rightly this as dangerous to the status quo.

  2. I actually think that you would really enjoy GoT, or at least its female characters. I mean yes, there is a TON of nudity (though it actually tends to be more equal opportunity then people realize) but the female characters are excellent from a feminist perspective.
    Some examples:
    Cersei – (who is evil… and sleeping with her brother, but still) who managed to become one of the strongest political actors in the (very) male dominated world
    Brienne – A female knight who is considered less than attractive, but doesn’t really care, because all she really wants is to become a member of the Kingsguard, a role that only men are allowed to fill
    Margaery – who uses her very femininity as a weapon.
    Ygritte-who’s just kind of awesome, and is just as capable of a fighter as any man
    Arya – the little princess from the north, who completely ignores traditional gender rules and learns how to fight with a blade. Now she’s training to be an assassin and falls asleep each night by quoting the names of everyone she’s going to kill one day.
    And last, but certainly not least, Daenerys, who has transformed herself from the helpless victim she was at the beginning of the show into a strong, confident, warrior queen. (This transition is most visible in the first season where she goes from being the victim of her brother’s abuse in the pilot, to fighting back, and eventually killing him in the season finale.)

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