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America currently boasts more than 200 nudist resorts nationwide: a collection of beaches, camps and hideaways that allow people to shed their clothes and bodily shame while reconnecting with nature the way people did before clothing. But despite such resorts existing in America since the 1930s, Vice writer Mark Hay points out that the so-called “naturist” community has long had a hard time figuring out what to do whenever someone gets an erection at an otherwise non-sexual, family-friendly nude resort.
According to Hay, most American nudist groups will admit that erections rarely ever happen, thanks a combination of nerves and the non-erotic nature of gatherings — most gatherings feature non-sexual activities like swimming, sing-alongs and barbecues. (Though Hay only took heterosexual and mixed gender nudist resorts into consideration rather than ones specifically gay and bi men which tend to be more sexually charged.) Because most people interpret erections as “a sign of unwanted sexual attention or the result of sexualized gawking that could make others feel uncomfortable,” Hay says, the usual etiquette is to simply cover the erection with the hand towel that nudists use for sitting upon.
But here’s the problem: If nudism is all about accepting your body and reconnecting with nature, then shamefully hiding the body’s natural arousal seems contradictory to the very spirit of naturism and is decidedly inconvenient for erect men, especially since erections can occur reflexively over stress or hormonal fluctuations, that is, without sexual arousal or intent.
Brian Hoffman, the author of the 2015 book Naked: A Cultural History of American Nudism, told Hay that even back in the 1930s, when nudist communities were first forming, they felt divided about how to handle erections. Eager to recruit others into their fun-loving and clothes-free ways, they longed to maintain an air of wholesomeness, respectability and non-eroticism. Thus, most nudist resorts and philosophers decided (in Hay’s words) that “walking around with an erection ought to be no big deal, so long as no one is a total creep about it.”
However, Hoffman said, World War II soldiers abroad often used nudist lifestyle magazines as pornography, and when they returned home from the war and began checking into nudist resorts as lone individuals, resort owners and fellow naturists felts somewhat alarmed at the possibility of sex, adultery, homosexuality and pedophilia on their grounds, especially at a time in American history when such things were viewed as a threat to the wholesome (re: married heterosexual) way of American life.
As a result, some resorts banned single men, men whose constant erections remained largely visible, any physical displays of affection — like hugging and hand-holding — and erotic clothing like lingerie. However, the 1960s counterculture pushed back on these rules as outdated, hypocritical and overly conservative. Nevertheless, Hay writes:
fears about pedophilic gazes, unwanted sexual advances, or triggering memories of assault and other negative experiences of aggressive male sexual norms are all still relevant and legitimate—especially in communities where everyone might not know one another. And for spaces that might not be able to take the fiscal or PR hit of a scandal, minimizing the risk of any unwanted or unfortunate erotic exchange, misread or otherwise, is just plain prudent.
(Featured image by lolostock via iStock Photography)