Should Public Nudity Be Legalised?

It seems very strange that it could be illegal for someone to exist in their natural state: naked. It is not true to say that public nudity is outright illegal in the UK. There are unofficial nude beaches in the UK (such as a small section in Brighton’s beach), so these are a safe haven for naturists (or nudists) who practise and advocate social nudity. Yet while many naturists appreciate the freedom of nude beaches, they are obviously exceptions to the rule – they are small pockets where you can wear no clothes without facing any harassment or threats of arrest from the police.

Many naturists believe it should be a natural right to be naked in public, so these exceptions (which also apply to some swimming pools and music festivals), whilst accommodating to naturist beliefs and lifestyle, do not go far enough. Also, from a libertarian point of view, it is argued that any lifestyle should be tolerated so long as it does not impinge on the rights and well-being of others. Offence is not a legitimate reason to prohibit a particular way of living. So what does UK law say about public nudity exactly?

Under the Public Order Act of 1986, using nudity to “harass, alarm or distress” others is a criminal offence. If you are nude and minding your own business on an unofficial nude beach, respecting ‘nude etiquette’, then you will probably be fine. However, in England and Wales, if a policeman or a member of the public believes that your public nudity is causing offence, then you can be arrested. Scotland is even less tolerant of public nudity, so not only will you be arrested, you are more likely to end up in jail.

Steven Gough, who was known as The Naked Rambler, tested the UK law from 2003-2004 by attempting to walk nude from Land’s End, Cornwall, to John O’Groats, in Scotland. He was arrested 14 times and served 2 short jail sentences. He tried to repeat the walk with a companion in 2005, but was arrested for a breach of the peace and spent two weeks in jail in Scotland, showing how much stricter Scotland is on this issue.

Many libertarians will maintain that an act which causes offence, but which does not cause harm, such as public nudity, should not be outlawed. Similarly, many naturists share this outlook – they believe that no-one has the right to tell others or their children to wear clothes. This is a personal decision which must be respected. Some naturist writers have said that in order to get close to nature you have to exist as it does; naked. Henry David Thoreau, for example, in his essay Walking, commented: “We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.”

The problem with UK law on this issue is that someone can be arrested on the grounds that their nakedness is causing offence or public distress. But we cannot legislate about what offends people because ‘offence’ is such a relative term. Harm, on the other hand, is more easily defined and noticeable. Moreover, the fact that nakedness offends people is their problem. Admittedly, public nudity is shocking because it is out of the ordinary, but there is no reason for someone to be offended by the human body as it exists in its natural state – unclothed. Wearing clothes is the cultural norm, but just because it is the norm does not mean that it should be mandatory. Eccentricities and diverse lifestyles, so long as they don’t harm or harass the public, should be tolerated. The argument that public nudity is damaging to children is absurd – as if children will be forever scarred by knowing that people have sexual organs or have more skin under their clothes…

Critics of this argument may pose the following question: If adults and children can be naked in public, isn’t there a risk that sexual perverts or pedophiles will try and capitalise on this? Firstly, we cannot prohibit public nudity based on the assumption that some crimes could potentially follow from its legalisation. Secondly, if crimes such as sexual harassment do follow, we already have laws in place to deal with these cases. In any case, this is probably an unfounded worry. The legalisation of public nudity is unlikely to result in huge numbers of naked people walking the streets or taking public transport. The social and cultural stigma attached to public nudity would most likely restrict its popularity.

Some pressing questions follow from these considerations however. For example, if public nudity should be tolerated because it is ‘natural’ – no one is born wearing clothes – shouldn’t other natural acts be tolerated on similar grounds? Should defecating and urinating in public also be legalised? Well, these instances are slightly different since they would involve ruining public spaces and would be more of a nuisance and cause for distress than nudity.

Okay then, what about public sex? This issue is tricky. Sex, of course, is completely natural but it is believed by most people to be a completely private affair. Several laws can be broken if you have sex in public: the Public Order Act, the Sexual Offences Act and outraging public decency. Similar to laws on public nudity, having sex in public is illegal in order to protect those who do not want to see it. Many parents would not want young children witnessing such acts before they deem them old enough to be taught about them. Indeed, for some libertarians, if something is unavoidably offensive, such as public sex or some deeply offensive billboard or poster, then it is justified to prohibit it in that context.

It is questionable whether public nudity would fall into this category. It certainly isn’t as offensive as public sex, yet if it is public, it is therefore unavoidable. I doubt whether most people would be deeply offended by public nudity, although it would still seem bizarre. This is an issue which remains controversial for many libertarians. A compromise could be made in the UK by having a sufficient number of nude beaches and facilities to meet the needs of naturists, whilst restricting public nudity in certain spaces.

13 COMMENTS

  1. What about the World Naked Bike Ride held in England every year? That appears to be legal. However if a man were to cycle through a quiet village naked by himself, he would get arrested as many have been. The only difference I see is the number of people.

  2. I want to be naked in public for people to laugh at and make fun of, i enjoy humiliation and degradation – I love being forced to give men oral sex and I can’t resist and say no when men want to give me anal sex.

    I like being made to feel as humiliated and dirty and slutty as possible because i’m a cock sucking sissy faggot whore.

    I wish i could walk the streets in nothing but a wig and makeup and have strange men come up to me and tell me to suck them off – I’d love that, being able to give in to my desire to suck cock and do it in public and get my face painted with cum by multiple guys – that sounds heavenly for me.

  3. I should be able to go out in public naked while wearing a wig and makeup and be seen by men, it’s advertisement ffs. I am a bisexual sissy faggot crossdresser – and I just want to go around being humiliated and degraded by strangers who see me as this not very attractive man with a very small and pathetic little penis trying to look like a girl in public, because I like being humiliated and degraded – but I want men to know i will happily drop to my knees and suck them off or they can bend me over and take me from behind and fuck my ass as hard as they want.

    Yeah, im a fucking whore and i fantasise about being a whore who goes around visiting men to suck them off and get fucked by them lol

    I’d still like to be able to get naked and go out in public to do my everyday things and not worry about being fined/prosecuted or worse because of the many laws in regards to public nudity and what you must not do and etc etc

  4. Public nudity is not illegal.

    See the CPS guidelines:
    http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/nudity_in_public/

    These apply anywhere, not just on a beach.
    _____________

    Hostile attitudes to public nudity are the legacy of hypocritical middle class Victorian prudish values.

    Socially conditioned suppression of nakedness is responsible for many psychological and other problems.
    Why should anyone be ashamed of their body or be upset or offended by the sight of a naked body? Why should a naked body be considered to be indecent?

    It is time for attitudes to change. Acceptance of public nudity would be a huge step towards the creation of a better society which enjoys greater respect for everyone.

  5. What I don’t understand is the twin face of it all. On the one hand you will be mobbed if you try to stop a woman from getting out her breast to feed a child. Yet many of that same mob would be first to decry a woman walking around with her breasts out. I suspect if it was made legal and people got used to it then the level of offense would drop anyway.

    • But it’s not illegal for women to walk around with their tits out, unless it is done to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’, which would seem ridiculous (imagine appearing in court as a witness for the prosecution and claiming that you were harassed by a boob). This doesn’t mean, of course, that our dimwitted constabulary wouldn’t arrest such a woman. The reason women don’t routinely walk around tits out, is because they choose not to for a variety of reasons, such as social convention and inclement weather. With regard to breast-feeding, I think in the vast majority of cases it is on private property, such as in a cafe, where women have been told not to do it. The idea that breast-feeding a babe in arms could ever be offensive is bizarre. I guess some people are fucked up in the head.

      • I didn’t say it was illegal. I said people didn’t like it. More people will dislike the idea of a woman sitting down in a café and taking off her top because she is overly hot than a woman taking off a top to breast feed a child (and yes I know they don’t normally strip but the idea holds). I don’t understand the logic of it because in both cases it would be a perfectly normal, natural thing to do but we have built up this social convention that makes it right or wrong depending upon purpose. Seems silly to me because if one doesn’t offend then neither should the other.

        • You said “if it were made legal” which clearly implies that it is now illegal.

          I think you are making a dubious distinction between what is natural one the one hand and social conventions on the other. Man is a social animal and social conventions develop between people living together, so it could be argued that it is natural that social conventions exist, that it is inherent in our nature to establish them. As for taking one’s clothes off being a “perfectly normal, natural thing to do”, indeed, but so is evacuating one’s bowels, however there are even stricter social conventions as to where one may do that. I am not saying the two things are the same, only that an appeal to nature is not enough when dealing with social matters.

          In any case I think you are being slightly dishonest by refusing to acknowledge the difference between breast-feeding and stripping in public. Personally, I can’t recall ever being offended by a woman’s boobs in either scenario, but they are nevertheless different situations.

          • That was in a different sentence. The first was comparing breast feeding and taking a top off because of heat. The second was more on topic about public nudity in general. If more men and women did go around naked the shock value would wear off and people wouldn’t get uppity about it.

            Yes they are seen as different because we accept one more than the other. But in practical terms what is different? Both involve a woman baring a breast in public that can be seen. Why then do some people get offended at one but not the other?

          • “But in practical terms what is different?” One (feeding a baby) is unquestionably necessary, the other (stripping off to cool down) is not.

            “If more men and women did go around naked the shock value would wear off and people wouldn’t get uppity about it.”

            Maybe, maybe not. In San Francisco people have been going around naked for quite a while and other people are now sick of it, so the dislike of public nudity has actually increased with time and exposure. In other words when it’s one or two people may tolerate it, but if it’s a load of naked people, others will become intolerant and seek to extirpate it.

          • But that’s not a practical difference. That’s a different motive. That’s what confuses me about those who get offended. Because it means it’s not the act of showing the boob that offends them but the reason why they did it.

            And I guess you’re right on that. An area of Switzerland moved to ban naked hikers that kept turning up too. But I was rather hoping that in the longer term it would phase out. Maybe it wouldn’t but one can hope. After all tolerance to homosexuality gets better in younger age bands. Then again intolerance against other races/relgions seems to be back on the up so who can predict these things.

  6. I think a main part of the problem is related to issue of public spaces.
    On private land, at least land that is not overlooked, people are free
    to be naked, and if all land, including parks and roads, was private,
    then it would be down to the landowner as to whether nudity was
    permitted or even mandatory. But with land that is considered public,
    the waters are muddied. It can be argued that social conventions
    requiring clothing represent the views of the majority. As such the
    supposed owners of the public space, the public, wish the rule of
    non-nudity to be enforced.

    Apart from the famous Naked Rambler,
    there is an interesting case study going on recently in San Francisco,
    where a culture of public nudity is being clamped down upon.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here