Sexuality problems

CW: direct mention of heavy stuff (no details), dick talk (penises)

This will come off, at first, as a bit moralistic. But bear with me.

I don't think the sexual orientation of an “influencer”, “content creator”, or any other sort of “creative” (kill me) who talks about nudism should be too obvious from the get-go, namely because sex is not the point.

If it is obvious (and not because the blogger has a selfie with their spouse on the About Me page), then that's an indication that that blogger – or Reddit user, or Tumblr account operator – might be doing something wrong.

My sexual orientation is not a secret. It comes up pretty often in posts I make elsewhere on the internet, and it's probably not even that tricky to guess it correctly if you've read enough of my posts here. But if this were the first thing of mine that you'd ever read, you wouldn't really have anything to go off (I think, anyway) that would indicate whether I'm straight, gay, or something else. You might not even know anything about my (relationship to) gender, either, apart from what you might have inferred from the fact that I use a naked Luigi on a dirtbike as my avatar (which is a pretty flimsy ground upon which to build any sort of theory about me).

I think this is good.

Most self-styled nudists on the naturist internet make it very obvious exactly what kinds of bodies and what kinds of sex they are attracted to. Accounts that post on r/nudism, r/naturism, and other such subreddits also post on subreddits dedicated to various genres of porn and discussions about kink. As far as I've seen, most Tumblr blogs (now long defunct) with “nudism” or “nudist” in the description focus entirely on photos of mostly skinny naked cis men or photos of mostly skinny naked cis women, presumably because one group or the other strikes the fancy of the blog operator. On TrueNudists.com, “sexual orientation” is a box that you are encouraged to fill in on your profile page.

This mostly sucks. Not entirely, or not in all circumstances necessarily. But taken together, all this paints an image of nudism as a sex thing – just another kink or fetish! This is aggravating for those who understand, in a way that others perhaps do not that, that nudism does not denote anything sexual, because nudity ≠ sex.

It's (part of) a way of life, for some people – in some cases, a way of life in which they were raised by their parents or other guardians – and otherwise it's just what people do sometimes, when they can get away with it, or when they feel comfortable doing it.

Yet nudity as a subject matter has a major overlap with sexuality as a subject matter, at least as far as the average North American is concerned. This is because, despite many human efforts to the contrary all throughout history, and certainly including the efforts of the naturist movement, it is impossible to bracket sexuality – or at the very least, some of its more innocuous and subtle aspects, such as the raw facts of attraction and hornyness – from other aspects of life.

In the current context, too, lots of people are first exposed to something denoted as “nudism” in the context of pubescent forays into pornography. Assuming they learn more about the subject, and start to like the idea of living a little or a lot more nakedly, they may form an ideal of romantic partnership that includes a shared nudist sensibility as an important prerequisite. If they ever go further, and actually step foot on a beach where nudity is normal, or onto the grounds of a landed club, they will take their sexuality (such as it is) with them, and will likely encounter the sexualities of others at some point at least.

Sexuality is, at least potentially, dangerous. It leads to people getting hurt, to one degree or another. This fact about sexuality has motivated lots of “anti-sexual” ideas throughout history, which I will not try to summarize, since the exact elaboration of these ideas has varied quite a bit. A common characteristic of these ideas, however, is to put sexuality in its place, to control it, and therefore to suppress any manifestations of sexuality outside of contexts considered appropriate.

Mainstream, liberal-to-conservative, “family-friendly” nudism-naturism exhibits precisely this approach. Sexuality is acknowledged to exist, but it is not permitted to manifest in spaces governed by naturist ideas. Unaccompanied men, in fact – that is, without wives, girlfriends, or (in sufficiently progressive spaces) other sorts of partners – are often excluded from such spaces as a matter of policy because they are, as a category of person, presumed to be sexually motivated.

I am sure this has occasionally been true. But, for lots of reasons (like being an anarchist, having typical anarchist opinions about things, etc.), I don't much care for this approach, and I have quite a bit of distaste for its worst excesses (which I won't itemize).

An approach more befitting of an anarchist approach to life, and a comfortist approach to nudity and nudism, is more akin to a radical queer politics (that is, a politics at least partially in the tradition of, or in dialogue with, the hard left wing of LGBT+ and/or queer activism in the capitalist countries, and a few places beyond the Iron Curtain, in the 1970s and '80s) than it does to the quasi-Victorian sexual ethics that predominate in at least some consciously naturist spaces (in the English-speaking world at the very least).

The radical queer position is usually accepting and often quite celebratory of sexuality, but more importantly, it is not afraid of sexuality and it never condemns sexuality as such. Instead, it seeks to understand, with the intent of providing care, and/or it attacks, with unbridled hostility, proponents of various kinds of bigotry. Sometimes (but too rarely!) it does both in the same breath.

I wouldn't want to end this post by insisting that an unqualified, probably fictive “radqueer position” on sexuality is somehow enough, though. It isn't. I don't want to go on a rant about sex-negative feminism, either, because the post is long enough already and I'm not sure I know enough about sex negativity to say much that's interesting. It seems to me, however, that most anarchists I know (and definitely the ones I want to keep hanging out with) have already internalized all the best lessons that are taught in radical queer scenes and adjacent scenes (and some folks have a internalized a few lessons that are less good). A minority of anarchists I know, but definitely including some folks I respect a lot, have appreciated texts like “The Ethical Prude” and “Against the Couple Form” – or at least parts of them. Other literatures and histories have also been influential, and could stand to become more influential still. As elsewhere, the appropriate attitude for the anarchist intellectual is to take what's useful and (maybe) burn the rest.

It seems to me that sexuality is, and shall remain, a problem – at least for utopians. Sexuality is frequently generative of harm and conflict. The impulse to do away with sexuality altogether, to put it in its proper place (e.g. procreation? hedonism that you have to pay for with $$$ and access to further capital?) and otherwise not deal with it at all, certainly makes some sense to me in a nudist context or any other field of life.

But it's also sort of a managerial strategy, and I mean that in the worst possible way.

I am not a utopian and I try not to be a manager. I expect there will always be difficulties, disputes, and so on in the ways that humans relate to one another – caused in part by sex stuff, sure, but also caused by literally everything else. This is the human condition or whatever, and it's fine. What's less fine is the drive to end problems entirely through totalizing approaches.

Bad things, difficult things, or uncomfortable things are going to happen. What we need to do, then, is try to identify the causes of the worst problems with a mind to preventing them recurring. I don't know if it is possible to stop every sexual assault (keep in mind that I'm a bit of a pessimist), but I think that better practices of sex education, and different kinds of sociality, might go a long way towards that end.

But some things that are arguably or definitely bad, difficult, and/or uncomfortable are nevertheless quite as serious as, say, sexual assault.

Let's take one practical example.

Erections (aka boners, stiffies, etc.) are visible indications that a person is sexually aroused – or so it is frequently said and widely understood, despite the fact that many people get erections randomly, or simply in the morning when they are waking up, is also widely known. Many people find the inflated flesh rods disgusting to look at, which is one thing to keep in mind, and lots of the people who roam this world with dicks hanging off their lower fronts are particularly embarrassed by the idea of getting hard or even just showing a little chub in the wrong context.

It seems to me that this specific “sexuality issue” is complicated in and of itself. It would maybe warrant a dedicated post if there wasn't already enough writing from within the nudist-naturist canon that, in my view, covers the subject well enough (here are some examples, and you'll want to scroll down to “Fear 7” for that last one). Whatever categorical imperative about boners that we might sign on to, however, there is no way to “solve” this problem entirely – at least not without doing some things that are far worse than boners ever could be.

People (some of them, at least) are going to have boners, and deal with numerous other bodily phenomena that others may or may not be able to relate to with respect to their own bodies. People are going to have sexual relationships, some of which will be bad on the whole or at least end badly. People are also going to have strong opinions, and strong emotions, about other people fucking, or the possibility that other people might be fucking or might start fucking. People are going to talk to each other about stuff they have lived or things they have just heard about, and they will disagree about what is fucked up, what's questionable but not that bad, what's weird and/or funny and/or amusing to gossip about, and what's too boring or too banal to warrant any discussion at all. A lot of the time, and more often when people know more about bodies, minds, and relationships, people will deal with all of these issues with some temporary awkwardness, perhaps, but no lasting or grievous harm.

It seems to me that many sex things, if not all things, aren't really consequential problems – or maybe they are at the scale of individual lives, but not at the scale of society, and certainly not in comparison to the problems that more easygoing attitudes about sexuality might help to resolve.

More easygoing attitudes about sexuality would probably lead to more easygoing attitudes about nudity – so I think it is funny, and a little sad, that mainstream naturism in the English-speaking world seems to have created a particularly conservative environment with respect to sexuality.

They have copious amounts of policy and etiquette intended to “make everyone feel welcome” and foster a “family-friendly” environment, which is all to the good, but despite this, they have not completely gotten rid of creeps – and they probably won't be able to, because creeps can always learn the right rhetoric. They're a pest, no doubt, and I can understand the temptation to employ pesticide.

I hardly think that easygoing attitudes would get rid of creeps – and in fact, I imagine that a rapid and comprehensive embrace of easygoing attitudes might even encourage a few of them (which, alas, might provoke a reaction). But the point, for me, isn't to reform established naturist spaces anyway. I want to create new spaces, for people like me or like people I hang out with.

I would love it if these spaces emerged from the anarchist movement, which is itself besot by various sorts of sex politics (and politics about bodies) that I think are imperfect, a little too dogmatic, and maybe a bit prudish. But I don't even really take issue with the ideas, which I presume to be on point in some of their more central critiques, even if some extrapolations are off the mark. What bothers me is that, no matter their internal points of disagreement with one another, anti-sexual ideas together – and in concert with the law in most of North America, which is probably the more important factor – give rise to an intellectual and cultural climate among anarchists that serves to suppress a worthwhile practice of nudism from emerging among them.

And that practice is obviously what I want. I don't think it's the “bad ideas” that stop it from happening, either; they just provide a cover. The real obstacle is confusion about sexuality (a subject matter that, like it or not, has encompassed the subject matter of nudity), the consequent fear of sexuality (and thus, nudity too), and alongside this fear and confusion, an excess of strong opinion, from some quarters, about universal moral truths regarding an aggregate mass idea of complicated human realities.

It's not entirely insurmountable, but it's aggravating to be sure.