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 What is Gymnophobia?

Fear of nudityGymnophobia (Greek: “Gymnos” meaning nude and “Phobia” meaning fear) is the fear of being, or seeing others, naked. A gymnophobe is someone who would like to prevent others from not wearing clothes, and who finds being a naturist or a nudist to be unnatural, offensive, or obscene. A gymnophobe will demand every body be shamefully hidden or views naked bodies pornographically. Gymnophobia is a condition that manifests itself in the form of loud protests from lawmakers and from the television soapboxes of cable news. These people consider nudism and naturism to be completely outside the norm, even an abomination, and in their frenzy to link nudity solely with sexual nudity, they seem to garner public support for their cause.

But in spite of these protests, polls suggest that our society, when asked anonymously at least, might not be as gymnophobic as previously thought. A 2000 Roper poll revealed that 19% of Americans had skinnydipped in mixed company and that 18% would consider attending a nude beach or club. The percentages were higher for younger people. What’s more, 80% of Americans were found to believe that nude sunbathing was unoffensive and 97% of young Americans feel that nude sunbathers should be granted designated areas to lay out. (Link the Roper Poll where Roper Poll is mentioned above)

So, why the hysteria? For one, the “safe” viewpoint that conflates nudity with sex will win out with the sensitive public. By portraying nudists as potential sexual predators, even though there are strict codes to the nudist lifestyle, a politician or talking head can score points with an uninformed public. Also, we live in a society that passes along body shame from generation to generation. When children are very young, they are allowed to run around naked, but at some point, society says that kids must cover up. At that point in a child’s cognitive development, he or she equates nudity not with the freedom they experienced as a toddler, but as a point of shame, something that must be hidden.

As these children grow older and become more self-conscious due to societal pressures to look and act like each other or become insecure due to the onset of puberty and the scary, skewed portrayals of the body’s natural development handed down by parents and schools, they are not likely to revert to that carefree time when the naked body felt like the most natural thing in the world. By the time they are adults, for many, the idea of being naked is offensive and terrifying unless it is to shower or have sex. And then they pass these narrow-minded attitudes to their children.

Many people who try naturism remember what it was like to run free as a little kid and rarely do they revert back to the non-naturist attitude. Along with their clothes, they have shed the societal gymnophobia that they had inherited from previous generations.

Still, the prevailing gymnophobia of our society doesn’t match up to what people believe in privately. As naturists, we can combat gymnophobia by showing that being nude isn’t a festival of carnality, but a way to enjoy life unencumbered. There will always be a select few who give naturism a bad name, as there are those who give doctors, teachers, priests, and businessmen bad names. The key to combating gymnophobia is to show that the bad seeds are the exception to the rule, and not the norm as lawmakers and pundits would like the world to believe.

Only then will we be able to start scaling back the overarching gymnophobia that prevails in America.

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