Nearly 7m people in UK identify as naturists or nudists, survey suggests

Temperatures may be falling – and there is now a nip in the air – but enthusiasm for getting naked is rising at an unprecedented rate in the UK.

The biggest survey ever into naturism has found 14% of people now describe themselves as naturists or nudists: an estimated 6.75 million – or one in seven people.

The findings by the polling firm Ipsos are a huge increase on previous figures: the last survey done by the members organisation British Naturism, in 2011, found almost one in 17 people (6%) in the UK considered themselves to be naturists or nudists. That itself was a substantial increase from 2001, when the percentage was 2%.

“It turns out that there’s a huge, hidden enthusiasm for nude recreation,” said Dr Mark Bass, the president of British Naturism. “Attitudes to nudity are changing with taboos and stigma being eroded.”

He added: “Modern society is weighed down by a body confidence crisis and more and more people are discovering the benefits that nudity brings to mental, emotional and physical health by allowing us to reclaim ownership of our identities.”

The latest survey fielded responses from almost 2,500 people aged 16 to 75, and was likely to give the most accurate picture ever of naturism in the UK because it was conducted online, said Bass. “The other surveys have been face to face. I can imagine that a fair few people might not be entirely honest with someone asking the question on their own doorsteps while answering an anonymous, online survey in the privacy of one’s own homes might elicit a far more honest response.”

The survey also found that while naturism was “often perceived to be something that old retirees do”, it was in fact the younger generation who were far more likely to identify as naturists or nudists, with almost half of respondents aged 16 to 24 doing so, compared with just 6% of those aged 45 to 75.

“There’s a huge imbalance in engagement,” Bass said. “In 2011, when the survey was last done, the proportion of people who said they were naturists were equally split across the age bands.”

“Younger people really are diving into it far more than their elders have done,” he added. “That gives us a lot of confidence in the future. This is a newer, modern way of living that younger people are engaging with rather than just maintaining the status quo.”

The survey gave respondents a definition of naturists as people who engage in activities such as sunbathing and swimming without clothes in the company of people other than their partner or family – or in a healthcare setting.

Respondents were asked to select any activities they had ever done before (but not as a young child) from a list of four (swum without a costume; sunbathed without a costume to get an all-over tan; been on a naturist beach overseas; or visited a British clothes-optional beach resort or club).

Katy, 17, realised she enjoyed naturism this summer. “I think it was because we were all closed up for so long over lockdown,” she said. “A group of us went swimming in the lakes over the summer and decided on the spur of the moment, to take off our costumes. Then we just hung out afterwards, not bothering to get dressed. I realised it was so freeing. I’m definitely thinking of doing more structured naturist activities next summer. There’s something really liberating about it.”

Almost 40% of those surveyed by Ipsos said they had engaged in one or more of the four listed activities. Skinny-dipping was particularly popular, with 21% of respondents saying they have swum without a costume.

More than 20% said they had been naked in the company of people – in real life or online – other than their partner, immediate family or in a healthcare setting on at least one occasion in the past 12 months.

Bass said he was not surprised by the increase: the 9,000-strong membership of British Naturism grew by about 2.5% over lockdown, with more than 15,000 people attending organised naturist events across the country.

“We were worried that the lockdown increase would turn out to be just a Covid-bounce and would disappear but the enthusiasm hasn’t receded at all,” he said. “When we used to put on events, we worried about whether we were going to break even. Now we’re trying to figure out ways to increase capacity because activities sell out.

“When we spend time naked with others we realise that we all have scars and flaws, and that we don’t need to compare ourselves with an airbrushed model,” Bass added. “Naturism gives us the freedom to be ourselves and have a lot of fun.”