Libertarians & Public Nudity

Lee Jenkins April 25, 2013 20
Libertarians & Public Nudity

Defenders of liberty must be defenders of nudity

Next to property rights, perhaps the most sacred totem to libertarians is freedom of expression. Normally this manifests itself in freedom of speech, whether via the written or the spoken word. However freedom of expression extends into other areas too. It could be the art one produces, the music one makes, or the clothes on wears…or doesn’t.

Clothing, nudity and politics have a long history. Generations have signified their political allegiances through the colours and styles of their garments. Countless t-shirts have been emblasoned with ideological slogans and images. And of course streaking or nude protesting has been a favoured form of message sending since Lady Godiva. Pussy Riot in Russia being perhaps the latest high profile examples.

So can libertarians ever oppose public nudity? There seem to be five principle avenues of opposition to the idea of public nudity.


It’s harmful to children

It’s unsanitary

It will encourage rape and sexual assault

I shouldn’t have to see it

It’s just wrong


Think of the children!

Arguably the most obvious and understandable resistance to public nudity is the effect it would have on children. The idea being that children being exposed to naked bodies would somehow become distress or damaged. On face value, this makes sense. However there is zero empirical evidence for this assertion. In a 1995 review of the literature, Dr Paul Okami concluded that there was no reliable evidence linking exposure to parental nudity to any negative effect. 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.

Boys exposed to parental nudity were less likely to have engaged in theft in adolescence or to have used various psychedelic drugs and marijuana.”

The report goes on to state that “Girls were also less likely to have used drugs such as PCP, inhalants, or various psychedelics in adolescence.”

Public attitudes to sex and nudity are far more relaxed in Europe, and with access to the internet, there’s nothing British children are watching that French or Dutch teens can’t. Much like alcohol, the difference is cultural. Indeed, it’s rather telling that British and American attitudes to nudity are fairly similar, and both the US and UK have a teen birth rate far in excess of their European counterparts.

Nudity is icky and unhygienic

The most unhygienic parts of our bodies are probably our hands and mouths.  Germs are most commonly spread by our hands and by sneezing or coughing, yet no one is calling for gloves or facemasks. Nudists recognise that surfaces can by unhygienic and so usually carry their own towel to sit on. Food handling and preparation legislation would still apply, so there would be no danger of a waiter/waitresses unmentionables brushing against your meal (unless you had complained and sent it back to the kitchen, in which case, even now, all bets are off!)

Public nudity will make us all sex fiends!

This stems from the idea that because one is only nude for sex, the sight of naked people will somehow spawn a wave of sexual assaults. Yet if this were the case, wouldn’t nudist colonies or beaches be scenes of mass rape? If people were simply unable to control themselves at the sight of skin, shouldn’t we be frantically insisting on 19th century bathing suits at the local swimming pool? Of course not. If you’re wicked or disturbed enough to engage in sexual harassment or assault, a few millimeters of fabric aren’t going to stop you.

And it seems odd that the same people that say that the sight of the body is off putting and offensive could also say that nudity will cause an epidemic of sexual stimulation. It would be wrong to suggest that nobody would get off on public nudity. We call these people voyeurs.  But much of the voyeur behaviour arises (no pun intended) because of the body is hidden and associated purely with sex. Anything that is forbidden immediately becomes more desirable. It is not unreasonable to assume that a legalisation of public nudity would see a decrease in voyeurism, because it would stop being exciting. Indeed, in naturist settings and events there is a remarkable lack of sexual stimulation because of the acceptance of social nudity.

I don’t want to see all that

Another seemingly valid argument against nudity is that people should be forced to see things we don’t want to. After all, isn’t it a right of ours not to have somebody’s unclothed form imposed on our delicate retinas? But nudism is not for the benefit of the onlooker, but for the person engaged in that lifestyle choice. And who does it really harm? Seeing a naked body, even a really ugly one, does no damage. Topless women at beaches, exposed midriffs during summer, and mothers breast feeding are no cause for alarm. It is not libertarian’s responsibility, nor is it the responsibility of the state, to make sure people are safe from the sight of flesh organs. There are a lot more uncomfortable things people put up with every day, such as men in Ugg Boots or visible thongs.

It’s just wrong. It just *is*

Easily the vaguest, but perhaps the most deeply felt resistance to public nudity is this. There is a lingering, unquantifiable something that makes us uncomfortable with nudity. And like many of our national habits and quirks, it stems from the Victorians.

Regency Britain was a raucous place of hedonism and vice. It was Freshers Week, every week! But the pious and virtuous Victorians soon nipped that in the bud. Sobriety, temperance, modesty and faith were the orders of the day. If it was good enough to be rammed down the throats of the colonies, then by golly we should lead by example. Of course, these were the same Victorians who were cool with child labour and didn’t think rape within marriage was even a thing.

We finally got round to decriminalising homosexuality and the other socially conservative nonsense of that era, but many attitudes to sex and nudity remain. Sex is still naughty. The body is still shameful. Touching yourself is still dirty. These attitudes are changing, but painfully slowly.

If you are genuinely troubled by the site of human form, it’s probably worth asking yourself why, rather than insisting others cover up.

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