European Naturism from a Nordic Perspective
Nudism In Norway and European Nudity
Nudism In Norway – Last summer, my family was at a beach vacationing together with another family that we have known for years. Shortly after we arrived at the beach, the father of the other family stripped his youngest child – who was maybe three years old at the time – naked and sent the kid to play at the edge of the water. Almost as an afterthought he turned to me, with a look of concern on his face, and said “You know it’s OK that he’s naked, right?”
Now, a little context – this beach was not in the United States, but in Norway. It’s customary in Norway, and throughout Scandinavia for that matter, for young children to play naked at beaches up until the age of about seven or eight.
That the father asked me if I knew it was OK struck me as odd at the time, but in retrospect makes perfect sense. Despite the fact that he and I are both Norwegian, and we were in Norway, he still felt the need to check with me to make sure I didn’t think he was abusing his child in some way. But because he and I both live in the U.S., and have spent a significant portion of our lives here, we are keenly aware that the sight of naked child in public immediately conjures images of child pornography rings and psychotic sex offenders.
The American view of nudity as sexual at best, and criminal at worst, is the single largest problem the nudist community faces. We often wish that everyone in America had the same attitude as residents of more liberal nations. But why are those countries like that in the first place? It’s often joked that many Americans can’t even locate North America on a map – let alone countries elsewhere. So we don’t expect many people to know what makes other nations tick socially.
For me, I can only speak for nudism in Norway, which is my country of origin. But many of the countries of Europe and elsewhere share certain social traits are very different from America – and that make the public’s view of nudity much more forgiving. They include:
Mandatory Sex Education
Sex education is mandatory in Norway. There is no “abstinence only” option. (Like most countries, Norway is not subdivided into states that have powers separate from the national government.) So there is no shielding children from the realities of sex and the human body. Sex educators have long argued that talking to children early and often about sex goes a long way toward removing the taboo surrounding the subject, and makes them less likely to engage in it recklessly since they know the potential consequences. It’s no wonder in America, then, that the demonization of sex and the equating of nudity with sex has made people fearful of exploring nudism.
Like many countries, Norway has a government-owned broadcast company in addition to privately-owned media outlets. The mission of the national broadcaster is to present the news – not to make money. It is funded by a small licensing that all households pay. Compare this to the United States, where media is not only 100% privately-owned, but a significant portion is owned by a small group of large companies.
To keep the readers and the viewers coming, privately-owned media needs sensational stories in addition to the everyday news. And because sex and nudity are the most-forbidden of all the forbidden fruits, they make for the best news stories – particularly when sensationalized. Nudity is rarely portrayed positively in American media, and is often presented in the context of what can only be called “Naked Crime” – stories about people committing crimes while they happen to be nude (not because they are nude, though that important distinction is intentionally obscured in most cases).
Since national broadcasters are not profit-driven, the sleaze level is close to zero. (For an English-language example of a national broadcaster, look up the British Broadcasting Company [BBC]).
Lesser Role for Religion
The nations of Scandinavia are known for their near-complete lack of religious fervor. Despite embracing Christianity near the end of the Viking Age around 1,000 A.D., religious participation has declined significantly in Scandinavia over the past few decades. Around 20% of Scandinavians consider themselves believers, compared to a much higher percentage in the United States.
Religion is perhaps the prime driver of anti-nudity sentiment, both in the United States and other conservative nations (though we in the nudist community recognize, praise and encourage the contribution of religious nudist groups who are striving to illustrate that faith and nudism are not mutually exclusive). Perhaps the most extreme example of body-shame is the burqa, a full-body cloak that is required to be worn by many Muslim women.
As for Christianity, the dominant religion in America, we need not look any further than the first book of the Bible to understand why so many adherents are nude-averse. The story of Adam and Eve is one of the Bible’s best-known stories – and possibly one of the most misunderstood. Much to the detriment of nudism, Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden fall under the “Naked Crime” category. God was not displeased because Adam and Eve were naked. Rather, they had bitten into the apple from the Tree of Knowledge – which God had expressly forbidden. He was tipped off only by the fact that the next time He saw them, they had covered up their bits. Nudity didn’t lead to the crime. But the crime was committed while nude.
These are just a few of many differences that make the struggle for nude acceptance that much more difficult here in the United States. I’m not suggesting that we can snap our fingers and transpose European societal ideals on our own, as nice as that would be. But what we do need to understand is the totality of the forces that are working against nudists.
As much as women are under-represented in the nudist community, so are young adults of both genders. Despite all of the messages they receive about how nudity is bad, many of them don’t believe it – at least not completely. Our mission must not only be to practice nudism in defiance of these negative perceptions, but to educate and provide opportunities for the nude-curious. Young and old, girls and boys. This battle is going to be uphill all the way, and none of the obstacles in our path are going away any time soon.