Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

Ms. Opinionated: My Boyfriend Has Problems With Nudists.

Ms Opinionated logo

Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Andi Zeisler dishes out the naked truth to a reader whose boyfriend is surprisingly hostile toward nudists. 

Dear Ms. Opinionated, 

My partner of over 8 years has been a consistent feminist since day one. He will speak up when people say sexist things, he's pro-choice, not conservative, and treats me like his equal. He has said how he thinks it is out of line when men tell their girlfriends they can't wear revealing clothing. However, last weekend we were out with another couple and someone mentioned a nudist colony. I said being nude with another group of nude people seemed intriguing and I might like to try it. My partner seemed appalled. He said that made him very uncomfortable to think about other people looking at my naked body because nudity is part of the intimacy only we share. He also said he hates it when other guys check me out (rarely happens, that I'm aware of) and wants to protect me from it. I disagreed, I felt like he was trying to control my body. I said he doesn't like that men may be sexualizing me but that should not affect what I can do with my body. I'm not that serious about going to a nudist colony, but this seems to hit at some larger issues between us. What is your take on this?

Needs a Nude Attitude

You say you're "not that serious" about going to a nudist colony, but that's really not the point here, is it? Today's nudist colony might be tomorrow's beach day, and the issue is that you shouldn't have to be preoccupied with whether your getup (or lack of a getup) is going to send your partner into a stew. You've only got one life, and if you want to walk around naked for a few weeks of it, you should be able to. 

On the other hand, you clearly respect your partner enough to be hurt and/or confused by what seemed like an out-of-left field response. So, first and foremost, it's time for a sit-down with this guy, and some straightforward, pointed questions. Example: "You always seem so progressive and forward-thinking, so I'm confused about why the thought of me hanging out naked with other naked people got you so upset. Can we talk about that?" The onus is then on him to really consider his own emotions and beliefs—even though he might not necessarily want to. There are some very intense, knotty questions at the heart of this: Does he, deep down, consider you his property, despite otherwise feminist beliefs? Does he doubt, even unconsciously, your ability to know your own boundaries and desires? Does he believe that your body is something only he should get to see and access? All of these are important questions, and if he answers any of them affirmatively, that's something he has to own up to and deal with before the two of you can move forward.

Also, if this is the first time in the eight years you've been together that you've been struck by an attitude like this from him, that might be worth talking about, too. Has something in your relationship changed that might make him feel more concerned that he's going to lose you? Have you grown apart in other ways? Often, when one partner is by nature more independent and open-minded—which it sounds as though you might be—it can make another feel clingier and more reactive, in response. But again, this is where you have to sit down and actually have a conversation that may yield some discomfiting revelations.

To that end, it's important to you to think about what your bottom line is in this situation. Let's say your partner doubles down on his earlier statement and says that, yes, he really does feel like the intimacy implied by your nudity shouldn't be shared with anyone but him. Is that something you can live with in the long term? Even assuming that you don't have a hankering to patronize nude beaches, be a figure-drawing model, or explore nudism—is his belief that he has a claim to your person something you can be comfortable with? If you feel like there's even a slight chance that his attitude could cause you to resent him—and, furthermore, if you think said attitude might grow to encompass other aspects of your personal autonomy—you'll have to question whether he's the right person for you after all. Most relationships do necessitate compromise here and there, but it's up to you to define how much is too much. 

Do you have a question for advice columnists Andi ZeislerSydette Harry, or Nicole GeorgesSend it in! All questions will remain anonymous. Read previous installments of our feminist advice column


Want the best of Bitch in your inbox? Sign up for our free weekly reader!

 

Want more from Bitch? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

14 comments have been made. Post a comment.

This is patriarchy

Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, what an oppressive jerkwad. Eight years, schmeight ears, you should leave him. He is obv treating you like cattle. Girl, you should do whateva you want with your body.

Different people have different ideas about what nudity means

No, I disagree. It's clear that the boyfriend strongly associates nudity with sex. Not such a crazy assumption - maybe he was brought up in an environment where people weren't naked very often, if at all. Maybe he also associates nudist beaches with sex or, at least, voyeurism. Again, this is not totally far-fetched. I don't think he's trying to control or oppress you, he's just voicing fears that a lot of people would understand. If he stands up for your rights in every other way, but doesn't like you going nude in public, give the guy a break and try to understand. Nudity can be a big deal.

Are you trolling?

Or is this just really heavy-handed sarcasm? At any rate, I wholeheartedly agree with the advice given here: try talking to him about it before you put the worst possible construction on his comments...

I really hope that comment is

I really hope that comment is meant to be satire.

Based on her description of

Based on her description of her BF, he is not treating her like cattle and their relationship is fine in every other way. Leave him? Gimme a break,,,,,no relationship is 100% perfect. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices,,,,give and take,,,,maybe she could try to understand that parading his GF around naked in front of strangers makes him uncomfortable and make that small sacrifice for him, especially since she doesn't really want to go naked anyway.

Dear Needs A Nude

Dear Needs A Nude Attitude:
Your boyfriend has a right to not like things that you like. If your exhibitionism overrides your love for him, get a new partner that shares your craving for nudism.

Nudism is not Exhibitionism

Of course couples aren't going to have mutual interest in all the same activities. But it's not just that this guy doesn't like nudism himself. He also feels like he owns her and doesn't want to "share" her body with anyone else. It sounds like jealousy and trust issues to me. Also, please don't use "exhibitionism" as another word for nudism. Those are 2 separate things.

feminism or relationship boundaries?

I don't know if challenging this guy's feminism is the right knife to apply to this bird. The guy did say something pretty sexist sounding when he claimed that these other guys seeing her naked would be like them possessing her, while only he should be able to possess her. But people often say things badly when they have to respond unexpectedly to something that they have strong feelings about.

Maybe for him the idea of her being naked around other men would make him feel jealous and insecure. Possessiveness is often a knee-jerk reaction to that kind of insecurity. If he has time to think it over, he might be better able to express himself or he might even warm to the idea.

The real issue seems to the boundaries that he assumed existed in their (presumably monogamous) relationship. Negotiating the boundaries of your commitment is important in relationships of any kind. Hopefully they can find a compromise that makes everyone happy, otherwise, as other commenters noted, it might be time to say goodbye.

Reactions

So there were a number of interesting reactions here. His reaction was a resounding, jealous "no". In his reaction, the concept of "intimacy only we share" elicited a reaction of "he's trying to possess me". In my experience, we all have our knee jerk reactions, but those reactions don't define us - what's more important is what we do with them. Rather than jumping to "you two are not compatible, so separate", I would recommend having a conversation about what values and life experiences are behind those reactions. What is the basis for the jealousy - is it fear, and if so, fear of what, exactly? Where did the fear of being possessed come from? Discussing these questions can lead to a deepening of the relationship, as the two of them really learn what makes each other tick, and the question of whether or not to try naturism will be of lesser importance.

[ A nudist responds... This

[ A nudist responds...
This article was reposted in a nudist forum. I responded, and I'd like to share what I wrote: ]

This might be a little controversial, but here goes:

In the article, the girlfriend describes her boyfriend of 8 years as a consistent feminist, speaking up when people say sexist things, being pro-choice, treating her like his equal, etc. At the offhand notion of her being socially nude, however, he seemed “appalled”. He admitted to being uncomfortable to think about other people looking at her naked body because nudity was part of the intimacy that only they shared. He also said he hates when other guys check her out and that he tries to protect her from it.

First, let's not pass over the fact that she describes him as a consistent feminist who treats her with respect and respects women their right to choose, from clothing to abortion. Second, let's give him kudos for honestly communicating his thoughts and feelings. Third, she's painted a picture of a good man who's expressing an initial, personal boundary when confronted by an opposing view for the first time. It would be wrong to demonize this man.

Next, let's take a closer look at the discussion she had with her boyfriend. She said being nude with another group of nude people seemed intriguing and she might like to try it. (Of course, we nudists are all for it, but let’s shelve that for a moment.) His responses focused on the intimacy they shared and he expressed a desire to protect when guys check her out. She disagreed, feeling like he was trying to "control her body". I say that her interpretation of his feelings is wrong.

People interpret events and concepts through their own worldviews, the “glasses” through which we see and judge. Sometimes, our own deeply held convictions can erroneously skew our perceptions of reality. A child who’s been abused, for instance, might see all adults as threatening, no matter how kind their actions. In this particular case, framing his response as a feminist issue distorts her perception.

*** Wanting to protect a relationship is NOT the same as controlling a woman's body. ***

He’s not saying she can’t get a tattoo. He’s not saying she can’t choose her own hairstyle, clothing, fingernail polish, or perfume. He’s not saying she must shave her legs or armpits to be considered sexy. Further, he’s not saying she has to walk a certain way or act a certain way or believe a certain way.

What he’s saying is that her (and his) nudity is something they’ve always reserved for themselves. He’s saying he considers the reservation of it is a sign of their intimate bond as a couple. There is nothing wrong with the desire to protect that intimacy, for at its essence it is a desire to protect and maintain their relationship. We nudists can disagree with the notion that nudism is something she or their relationship needs to be protected from, and feel that his concept of social nudity is flawed, but let’s not allow that to skew our perception of his motivation.

The response in the article, at first glance, seems positive and empowering. I agree that a women (and man, by the way) should be able to have their own desires, make their own choices, and be able to communicate about it. But I’m also struck by how the desire to set boundaries in a relationship is automatically an infringement on the rights of the female. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Opinionated would have given the same response if, hypothetically, the girlfriend had expressed a discomfort with the boyfriend wanting to visit strip clubs. Nudity isn’t the only thing often reserved for couples, so is lust… Plus, Ms. Opinionated framed the boyfriend’s responses as if he were treating her as a “possession”, rather than a respected equal. Who is objectifying who?

If you are a “couple”, then by definition you are no longer merely an individual. You don’t lose your personal identity, but being a couple means agreeing to consider both parties as a single unit – you “claim” each other. Whatever activities are engaged, whether by one or both, determines whether the relationship is strengthened or weakened. Some activities are irrelevant; others have stronger positive or negative repercussions. It’s up to the individuals to decide whether activities will help or hinder their relationship, through honest communication and mutual respect.

Personally, I hope they both can learn that social nudity isn’t harmful to relationships; it doesn’t dissolve bonds of intimacy or diminish desire in the bedroom. Quite the opposite: It often results in improved body-image, higher self-esteem and emotional health, and promotes healthier social interactions, all of which strengthen relationships. If we can keep from demonizing those who don’t understand, we improve their chances to engage and reap the benefits.

Community nudity is for either visual or tactile expression.

Community nudity is for either visual or tactile expression, or the consumption of such expression. It is not for the smell or taste, or sound, surely, there is no real difference when clothed for those senses.

If it is to create a sense of community somehow, it takes a concerted effort to repress or redirect socially conditioned responses, those of embarrassment, sexual attraction/repulsion, or the effort to affect completely self-absorbed denial of the validity of any conditioned response.

Humans evolved to wear clothes for protection of the reproductive organs, hence the standards of human dress. Very little productive human activity related to survival can be accomplished consistently while nude. Logs are rough to crawl over, fish bite tender dangley bits. Hence, nudity merely serves as a social instrument in a social experiment.

The independent variables are the population size, density, and physical comfort of the participants. The dependent variables are the degree of social friction or amity resulting.

Unless of course it's just for an art class.

Public Nudity

mettleurg seems to have a significant misunderstanding of the naturist community - people who engage in social nudity.

Social nudity is not about what you see or feel. It is not about the other people: it is about the freedom to be comfortable, to be yourself. It is about being with people who accept you as you are, and give you the freedom to wear as much or as little as makes you comfortable, without imposing upon you the need to wear clothing when there is actually no reason to wear it.

Another nudist's opinion

As a nudist for the last 24 years, this is quite an unusual situation as it is a woman who is taking the first interest and the boyfriend who objects.

It sounds like that he has some trust issues which he needs to deal with. Relationships require synergise so that each partner gets what they want in order to be happy.

Nudism is about personal freedom and to commune with the natural environment. There are times when being socially and publicly naked is sexual and times when it is not.

My advice would be for the boyfriend to at least give her the benefit of the doubt and go with her to a local camp, club or beach to see what it's all about. I would like to recommend you all check out the film Educating Julie on YouTube about a teenage uni student doing a thesis on nudism for her siciology degree and how she deals with her ostensibly insecure boyfriend who fears losing her to another guy who helps her with her research.

Finally, true love knows no jealousy.

The start of a conversation, not an order

Unless I'm reading this wrong, he didn't say "no you can't", he said "that makes me very uncomfortable". Sharing your feelings is really important if you yourself are to be able to deal with them, and also for partners to decide how to adjust to one anothers' needs. For me, this is the start of a conversation, and continuing the conversation is the right way forward.

He evidently genuinely has these feelings, so what are his other options, than expressing them? He can hide them, let her do what she wants to do, but risks becoming resentful and jealous and poisoning the relationship. Alternatively, he can decide he just doesn't want to be with someone who might do that, and throw away an 8 year relationship. Against those alternatives, expressing himself seems like far the most mature option.

Where the conversation, and their reflections, need to go now is into their perceptions of each other and their motivations. What does she feel about guys checking her out? Are they taking something from her? Does she feel the need to be protected? Does she appreciate the sentiment? Why is nudity with others intriguing? What does she imagine the experience will be like?

And for him. what is it that makes nudity something that's reserved for their intimate relationship? What are the other lines that make him uncomfortable? How does he react to seeing the nudity of others? What about his own nudity, is that problematic?

These two people are having immediate reactions to something which is, for most of our society, taboo. That's really not unreasonable, but what would be unreasonable would be if they were unwilling to examine their reactions. She understandably feels that it might be interesting and liberating to experience the freedom of nudity. He understandably feels that nudity is inherently sexual and that they would lose something through her being naked in front of others. They need to reflect on those things, and discovered their lines; can he cope with her trying a visit to a naked venue without becoming hurt and angry? Is the feeling that she has to factor is feelings into decisions about her body and clothing or lack of too limiting for her to live with? Only then will it be time to think about what it means for their relationship. His prior behaviour means he deserves a chance to confront and examine his spur of the moment knee jerk reaction, which, imo, wasn't repressive anyway.