I think of all the creations of God the human body is by far the most wonderful both in its male and female forms. When the artist known as God finally finished his creation with mankind he changed his observation from ‘God saw that it was good’ to “God saw that it was VERY Good”. I think for all the debate on the subject the one thing that is significant is this idea that the human body as a creation of God is a very good thing that should cause us to like the psalmist exclaim – “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.
The real problem in nudity and spirituality is that across the board of religion, society, theology and culture is this inability to see the wonder of God’s creation in the human body but all they can see is that being naked equals sex. Many people ultimately assume that if you are naked you must be having sexual thoughts at that same time. This is why perceiving nakedness or nudity as being a spiritual discipline is so hard for people because to equate sexuality and spirituality has long been even more of a problem for people.
Adam and Eve did not seem to have this problem in the beginning. Adam worked the land naked and was unashamed to do so. There is nothing sexual about his tilling the ground. Eve seems to have had her own work to do as well and she did it with no thought at all that she was naked. I am not going to say that Adam and Eve didn’t engage in sex before the Fall as they probably did, but being naked had nothing to do with it because nudity was normal. My point is there was in the ideal state of mankind a complete separation of the ideas of naked and sex. Mostly because both were normal and natural and completely separate from each other.
The change was sin began to blur things over time as nakedness and sexuality became in some cultures unified in the thoughts of many. I would however say that not all cultures had or still have this problem. One of my new understandings from my missions trip to Romania is that in certain contexts partial nudity was not considered abnormal. Women there breastfeed with little or no notice either from themselves or even men of the culture. Romanian men took little notice. It was us Americans that made notes. When many of the people swam, clothing was often optional as swim trunks were often absent in peoples’ wardrobes.
This is not the only example I could use as many tribes all across the world had varying degrees of nudity including full nudity. These peoples very rarely had a problem with it before westerners showed up. You can’t make a theological case that sin always causes nudity to lead to shame between human beings because of nakedness on a practical level. This actually usually results from western viewpoints being imposed on other cultures. Nor could you cite natural law because there really is no across the board universal standard of what nudity is or shame because of it. Ultimately we have the views we have on it because we live in a certain culture and we have been taught certain things by our parents.
It is ultimately theology, religion and society that form our viewpoint on nudity and its place with us and we get our start from our family in these matters. We are taught to be ashamed of our bodies and often the first teaching of this comes from parents. It is probably easier to see this in girls as even before they have breasts they are taught wear two piece swimsuits and underwear. Why when there are no breasts to cover? Ultimately this covering up causes many girls to start thinking there is something shameful about their bodies If young children streak in front of guests, parents become mortified and punish the child so the child quickly learns there is something to be ashamed of by showing their body to others. When pressed later in life parents often tell children you should not be naked with someone unless you are having sex and in a Christian context this is even more pronounced as sex should not be done until after marriage. The equating of sex and nudity starts early and continues all through development but the message in the end is clear – being naked is ‘naughty’ and it means you are being sexual.
The reality is even in this context the teaching is inconsistent and does not play itself out in life. I am fairly sure that a three year old streaking through the house naked is not thinking sexual thoughts, but this goes for adults as well. As I have pointed out that even in our restrictive society we are naked in private, alone or in family, many times but the thoughts are not always on sex. We are showering, getting dressed, or just living our daily lives in some way and being naked at the same time. I ask each person: ‘when you are doing these things is your mind always on sex?” I think we would all say -‘no’. So if we are not always thinking about sex ourselves while naked, why does it then follow that to be naked is to be sexual?
I suppose one could argue the sexual part comes when we look at the nakedness of others, but I don’t think this is true either. For those that have in the course of their lives seen their parents naked or siblings, there are certainly not in many cases any sexual thoughts. The fact is that incestuous thoughts, contrary to Freud, are rare and they are certainly not 100% of the time we are naked with family members, even spouses. Stepping outside the family do we see something different? I have already pointed out that we have all had locker room, doctor visits and other situations where we have been naked with others and this has not always lead to sexual thoughts. Being naked with the opposite sex? At this point I think we have to look somewhat at the differences in men and women.
Women are not sexually stimulated by what they see as much as what they feel. This means that being naked with a man does not necessarily translate into arousal for them. I am not saying it can’t but usually when women have sex it is not just because a guy shows up naked. Sometimes this is actually a turn off for some women. Not because they think being naked is bad, but they would like to have some sort of feelings for a guy before they have sex with him or have some other motive to do so besides the visual nakedness.
Men are a different story. Men are visually aroused by women and I think in large part this is biological. I wrote a long time ago on this phenomena in Curve Addiction – Why Men Stare. What Georgia Gwinnett College proved in their study was that there is a pleasure for men in looking at women’s bodies. It also should be noted however that this pleasure took place regardless of being clothed or unclothed and that means this takes place regardless of the woman’s state of dress. What I would also like to say at this point is this pleasure CAN lead to arousal sexually, but not necessarily. I have done my share of girl watching in my life, but I can also say that not every girl I took pleasure from in my mind I wanted to have sex with. I can also say that I was not ‘physical aroused’ many times during the activity of girl watching, it was mostly a psychological pleasure. Just because you like how a woman looks does not necessarily mean you want to sleep with her. Even the idea of a woman dressing sensually to be sexually arousing to men is not much more than emphasizing the curves to a greater degree. What a man choses to do about this is still the product of whether he choses to cross the line from admiration to lust. We are human beings, not animals.
I can also say that familiarity can bring boredom (in the case of pornography for example) or simply acceptance. If you spend a lot of time with something it becomes normal to you and it means you can start to make choices about it instead of just being led by base impulse. I think this is where nudists and naturists prove something to the rest of us. They live and act in nudity and they are not out having orgies or engaged in sexual activity any more than rest of us in our clothed lives. I think this ultimately demonstrates that nudity does not necessarily lead to sex. The idea that nudity equals sex is actually more fostered in the world where nudity is rare, not in a place where it is common.
The great shame of this from the standpoint of our relationship with God is that we have trouble recognizing one of His greatest works of art – the human body. We cannot appreciate his handiwork like many other things in creation. The culture, religion and other forces make this a taboo item and so we are left to find ways to do this without raising the ire of our community around us. Largely this is simply the product of the effect of sin which blurs the line between nudity and sexuality. The challenge for many of us is that it takes a great deal to reverse this understanding in our minds and realize that nudity and sexuality are separate concepts. They may be present at the same time but not necessarily so. The great work ahead is to get people to realize this in a culture and society who have made a choice to blend them together.
For those that want to practice spiritual nudity in the context of spiritual disciplines, this reality must be recognized and the real challenge is to use a great deal of wisdom in how and with who you practice spiritual nudity. The reality is that until sin is finally eliminated, there will always be cultures and societies that will use the inability to distinguish nudity and sexuality to control people or make life more difficult. Just because some may have liberty in this area does not mean they have license do as they wish for a multitude of reasons. There are still many other factors to consider including being a peace with all men and women and the level of negative effects this can have on you and your family. “Be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.”
I think the main force in overcoming this may be the spiritual disciplines themselves in the context of nudity as a spiritual discipline. It may be the act of getting alone with God and being naked before him that causes the transformation in a person to have greater understanding that it is not God who has caused us to be ashamed of our nakedness but ourselves. It is we who are responsible for the blending of our ideas of nudity and sexuality and it may be the practice of naked spiritual disciplines that may start to change our understanding of the relationship between nudity and sex. Not just for ourselves, but for those around us as well.
The main study is concluded, but I have two appendices to add as two more posts. Appendix A will deal with objections that people raise to the content of this study. Appendix B – Will be my own personal testimony regarding naked spirituality.
Next: Appendix A – Objections to Spiritual Nudity