Nude beach etiquette: Lose your clothes, not your manners

Most of us have felt the freedom and delight that comes with stripping down to a swimsuit on a sunny day and wading into a cool sea, the horizon twinkling in the distance.

But what of shedding those final strips of fabric and going nude? The birthday suit is, after all, the world’s oldest costume and one that never goes out of style.

The naturist movement emerged in Europe at the end of the 19th century and is now popular around the world. Globally, there are hundreds of clothing-optional beaches where it’s perfectly legal to drop your shorts and your inhibitions, and the number is growing.

Fans of naturism can now take nude cruises around the Caribbean or plan a naked wedding on an Italian island.

If you’re a newbie to nudity but are interested in knowing more, we have some tips on beach and resort etiquette from naturism experts with decades of unclothed experience. Here’s their dos and don’ts and what you should know before you go.

1. Do your research

“Naturism means different things to different people and the term is sometimes misused,” says Stéphane Deschênes, president of the International Naturist Federation (INF-FNI), the world’s only global naturism organization. “So you have to understand what you’re looking for.”

There’s no single naturist ideology, but typically the lifestyle is about non-sexual social nudity in a family-friendly environment.

“Fortunately, naturism has always been very well organized,” says Deschênes. The INF-FNI aims to help people find consistency and reliability when choosing naturist resorts and has been doing so for more than 70 years.

2. Take the plunge

So you’ve arrived at your chosen beach or resort and you feel like everyone’s looking at you. They’re not.

“Nobody knows this is your first time,” says Ronna Krozy, a retired professor in her 80s whose been a nudist for more than 30 years. In 2023, she showed CNN the ropes at Solair Recreation League, a family nudist resort and campground in Woodstock, Connecticut.

“In fact, it might be easier to go to somewhere with tons of people and just get on with it, or better yet, get everything off,” she says.

Like going into the water itself, sometimes it’s better just to dive straight in.

3. Keep your distance

Behave like you’re at a “church picnic,” says Krozy, who is also public relations chair at the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR), the leading naturist organization in the United States.

“Don’t park your chair or your blanket too close to anybody,” she adds. “Anything that appears like sexual activity, like plastering your body against somebody else, is not allowed.”

And while nudists are known for packing light, there’s one item you should never be without.

“Always bring a towel with you to sit on, because that is for everybody’s hygiene.”

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4. Don’t stare or take photos

Making eye contact? Starting up a friendly conversation? All this is more than welcome says Krozy. “Look people in the eye, because that might help you to figure out where to put your attention, and don’t gawk or stare because that is considered rude and impolite.”

Sunglasses are, of course, a common beach accessory – but don’t try hiding behind them to sneak a peek at your neighbors.

Taking pictures or videos without people’s permission is also a huge no-no. Just because you lose your clothes doesn’t mean you should lose your manners.

It’s simply decent human conduct to not be “too aggressive” or “make people uncomfortable by not giving them enough space,” says Deschênes. “These are all sensible things to do in all situations.”

5. Don’t comment on people’s bodies

“You shouldn’t talk about anybody’s body, even if you think it’s a compliment,” says Krozy.

While we live in an increasingly open-minded society when it comes to displaying flesh, it’s a double-edged sword, says Deschênes. “In some ways, people are less shocked by the idea of nudity, but in another, that nudity has generally been hypersexualized and objectified.”

A common misperception, he says, is that “people often think naturism is about not wearing clothes. But that’s not the objective. That’s simply the tool that we use to achieve body acceptance.”

The happy upshot of this, he says, is that “it creates better relationships between people because they are more open and honest and true about who they are in themselves.” Clothing isn’t just about protection, Deschênes says. “Mostly clothing is about rank and status and hiding who we are and trying to make ourselves look in a way that society tells us you’re supposed to be.”

6. Unwanted arousal isn’t the problem you think it is

Both Krozy and Deschênes say that one of the questions they’re most often asked is what happens if a man gets physically excited. The truth is, it doesn’t happen that often.

“It’s a great fear,” since Deschênes, “and it’s understandable since most men have spent their entire life connecting nudity and sex.”

However, the non-sexual nature of the environment in general means it’s a rare occurence, he says, and also, “when you’re very nervous as a man, it doesn’t work very well.”

Krozy has this advice, however, for any guy who finds himself caught out: “Take your towel and cover yourself. Turn over in the sand. Run into the cold water.” If all else fails, focus on dull thoughts like “taking out your garbage.”

Likewise, a common question from women is what they should do if they’re on their period. The answer is that they should do whatever makes them feel feel most comfortable.

They can wear underwear if they prefer pads, they can use menstrual cups if that’s their style, or if they like tampons, they can use those too. “You know, if somebody sees the string, that’s okay,” says Deschênes. “Having a period is a normal part of life.”

7. Don’t get your alternative lifestyles confused

In our globalized, hyperconnected world, communities of like-minded people can find each other with greater ease than ever before, making it a golden age for alternative lifestyles. But don’t be tempted to think of discrete communities of naturists, nudists, polyamorists, ethical non-monogamists and fetish enthusiasts as one big bundle.

“We always get lumped in with the sexually liberated people and that’s never been who we are and still isn’t,” says Deschênes. “There’s nothing wrong with all those other communities – my only problem is when you mix them up. A friend of mine gave a really good analogy. He said, ‘You can play tennis, and you can play baseball, but you don’t try to play baseball on a tennis court.’”

8. Enjoy the experience? Then explore more

So you’ve explored your local options and now you want to go further afield. “In terms of scale. France is by far the No.1 destination for naturism and has been for many years,” says Deschênes. “They’ve always had the advantage of having lots of nice beaches, the ocean and the sea.”

Germany has lots of great naturist opportunities too, and because of the long-standing cultural acceptance of nudity, you can sometimes shed your garments in less formal settings, such as parks. It’s also very common in spas - he recommends the Taunus Thermae, just outside of Frankfurt.

“You might not think of Thailand, for example, as a naturist destination, but there are some lovely resorts there,” says Deschênes. “It’s very limited to those resorts, because the culture generally is not favorable to naturism. But there are some beautiful resorts and the country is very accepting of them. Then of course, there are lots of opportunities in the Caribbean, and even South America.”

This advice in hand, all you need to do is start packing. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

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