Friday, May 10, 2013

Nudity and the Christian Worldview

In an article I published last year with the Chuck Colson Center, I explored some of the implications of nudity in public spaces, such as the television airwaves. I argued that, ironically, nudity in public space tends to desexualize us in an important sense.

To argue this, I pointed to the example of nudist colonies. Those who have decided to go the whole hog and embrace a nudist lifestyle have testified to experiencing a type of desensitization. In 2003 the New York Times ran an article about one of the many youth nudist camps that are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Kate Zernike quoted a 15-year old camper as saying, “It makes me a bit freaked out that people would think of nudity as a sexual thing.” These words are significant since frequent exposure to nudity does tend to trivialize the human body, emptying it of its implicit eroticism and making public nakedness seem merely common and non-sexual.

Similarly, in their book Sexual Attitudes, Myths and Realities, Vern and Bonnie Bullough have testified to the desexualisation process that occurred among the early advocates of nudism. “Early advocates of nudism put high on their list of goals the demystifying of the human body and the reintegration of the sex organs with the rest of the body. The emphasis, however, lay not so much on sexuality as on desexualization. Nudists of the time never tired of pointing out that the complete and unabashed practice of nudism was not an erotic experience…”

Demystifying the human body

We do not need to travel to nudist colonies to see this process of demystification at work. All we need to do is to listen to some of the common defences women give for wearing skimpy swimsuits. In discussing modesty with young people, I often get a response that goes something like this: “Women who wear bikinis are not trying to be provocative. This is just what women wear for swimming suits these days, and you shouldn’t import sexual connotations onto it.” Although I think this is often na├»ve and wishful thinking, my response is to take the young people at their word and to assume, for the sake of argument, that there really is nothing sexual in the minds of those women who strip down to a bikini, or those men who defend the practice as “not having anything sexual about it.” I then point out that if the female body can be almost entirely revealed without the presence of erotic overtones than this only shows how desexualized we have become. Indeed, if a woman can strip down to a bikini in the presence of men without having any thought of the sexual overtones, then this only shows that she has let her body become demystified, that her God-given barriers have been lowered, and that her bare flesh has been evacuated of its inherent eroticism. And this is exactly what early advocates of nudism hoped would happen. (Incidentally, it is also what early advocates of sex education desire to occur, a topic I have explored for Salvo magazine.)

I suggest that we are drifting towards being neuter when the signals of our sexuality are treated as anything less. If we reach the point where attire which conceals less than underwear (e.g. contemporary beachwear) is anything short of utterly erotic, disarmingly sexual and totally provocative, then we have actually repressed an important part of our sexuality. Being in a condition of undress has been unnaturally disengaged from the sexual connotations that ought to accompany it. It follows that the line “there’s nothing sexual about this” is as much an indictment against immodesty as it is a defence of it.
 
Perhaps God never intended for the naked body to be demystified like this. At least that is what I argued in my Chuck Colson Center article. Drawing on the example of Adam and Eve, who covered themselves after the fall when they realized they were naked, I explored the implications of public nudity, including nudity in television and film. To read the article, click on the following link: 

2 comments:

L Smith said...

An objection to this argument comes from those of us who work in the medical field and who observe human beings in their fragile, beautiful bodies, without sexual connotation.

It is not "demystification" so much as it is an enlarging of perspective. The human body is sexual, yes, but it is not *only* sexual, or even primarily sexual. We can and should strive to see each other without the onerous load of sexual responsibility: massage, chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture are all therapies that involving touching as well as seeing, but not sexual touching, and they are the better for this enlargement of perspective. The converse example is the humiliation of modern OB/GYN practices, where women's bodies are only seen in their sexual light.

I am of the opinion that modesty is an aspect of one's own character that has little to do with actual dress. I've seen immodest women in head-to-toe formless army BDUs, and modest women in swimsuits. Putting the responsibility for modesty on women's dress will eventually lead to burkas--- because culture dictates the appropriate levels of dress, and the local Mennonite farm boys are scandalized by the sight of an ankle, or a white bonnet instead of a black one.

I disagree that nudity leads to a general demystification and loss of eroticism. Adam and Eve were arguable the most perfectly erotic humans ever, and totally naked until the fall.

We are stewards of our own eyes. I would be careful of confusing your ideal of eroticism with simple, old fashioned lust.

L Smith said...

An objection to this argument comes from those of us who work in the medical field and who observe human beings in their fragile, beautiful bodies, without sexual connotation.

It is not "demystification" so much as it is an enlarging of perspective. The human body is sexual, yes, but it is not *only* sexual, or even primarily sexual. We can and should strive to see each other without the onerous load of sexual responsibility: massage, chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture are all therapies that involving touching as well as seeing, but not sexual touching, and they are the better for this enlargement of perspective. The converse example is the humiliation of modern OB/GYN practices, where women's bodies are only seen in their sexual light.

I am of the opinion that modesty is an aspect of one's own character that has little to do with actual dress. I've seen immodest women in head-to-toe formless army BDUs, and modest women in swimsuits. Putting the responsibility for modesty on women's dress will eventually lead to burkas--- because culture dictates the appropriate levels of dress, and the local Mennonite farm boys are scandalized by the sight of an ankle, or a white bonnet instead of a black one.

I disagree that nudity leads to a general demystification and loss of eroticism. Adam and Eve were arguable the most perfectly erotic humans ever, and totally naked until the fall.

We are stewards of our own eyes. I would be careful of confusing your ideal of eroticism with simple, old fashioned lust.

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