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Cooperation is essential for revitalizing naturism
This applies at all levels: naturist organizations, naturist clubs and resorts, and individual naturists. Participants at each level should support the priorities of others in addition to their own.
To be clear, most of what’s said here is based on naturism in the U.S. However, for readers outside the U.S., many of the observations also apply, to a greater or lesser extent. Naturism is doing reasonably well in only a few countries, mainly in Western Europe. But even in countries where naturism is best established, there are many ways it could be a lot more successful. Nowhere is naturism as well-accepted as it should be.
Unfortunately, in many countries where naturism has any real presence, it’s doing less well now than a few decades ago. In the U.S., for example, membership in naturist organizations has declined; there are fewer clothing-optional beaches and those still existing have fewer visitors; there are almost no new landed or non-landed clubs to replace many that have simply shut down; and the average age of active naturists continues to rise while young adult naturists are increasingly scarce. All this is covered in much greater detail here: How serious has U.S. naturism's decline been in the past several decades?
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The U.S. has two national naturist organizations: AANR and TNSF. That in itself isn’t necessarily a problem, since there’s not much overlap in purpose. The main focus of AANR is on landed clubs and (to some extent) on non-landed clubs. Most landed clubs are operated as businesses that may or not be profitable, but at least must not lose money in order to remain in operation. (A few are owned and financially supported by permanent members.) So AANR is essentially a trade association for its affiliated clubs.
I don’t know what AANR’s financial arrangements are with its clubs, but individual naturists who are AANR members pay yearly dues in exchange for benefits such as AANR publications and discounts on visits to affiliated clubs. However, AANR does far less for its individual members than a considerably more effective organization like British Naturism (BN). Yearly dues for individual members of BN are actually a little less than AANR’s, but it offers much more for the money. For example: (1) a high-quality quarterly publication; (2) a number of meetings and gatherings around the country and special events such as the Great British Skinny Dip; (3) a feature-rich website that hosts discussion forums, online yoga and exercise classes, members’ photo albums, and more.
TNSF, on the other hand, offers even fewer benefits to its individual members than AANR - yet has a higher yearly membership fee. For the fee, members get a good-quality quarterly publication and reduced prices for visits to many landed naturist clubs. But that’s about it. The TNSF website is fairly spartan - it doesn’t even have an online listing of affiliated landed and non-landed clubs. However, useful features are gradually being added. There’s a good listing of links to external articles on naturism from the past several years. And an extensive bibliography going back decades. (Much of the content of each edition of the TNSF magazine is historical, and while that’s interesting, it’s not very useful for most current naturists.)
When the predecessor organization (TNS) was founded in 1980 by nude beach activist Lee Baxandall, there was a high-quality World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation, although it mainly dealt with U.S. places. The latest version of that covered much more of the world (and less of the U.S.), but it appeared in 2007 - nothing since. In 2017 TNS became a 501c3 organization in order to accept tax-deductible contributions.
Until 2021, two other organizations established by Baxandall were closely associated with TNSF - the Naturist Action Committee (NAC) and the Naturist Education Foundation (NEF). (The websites of both are, shall we say, bare bones.) In 2021, NAC and NEF unilaterally made changes to their relationship with TNSF, according to an explanation in the Summer 2021 issue (40.4) of the TNSF magazine. Whatever insider politics were behind this, all three organizations have been seriously weakened. U.S. naturism suffered collateral damage of such bickering. British Naturism has been highly successful as a unified organization. But the opposite has occurred due to failure of cooperation between closely related organizations in the TNSF case.
The information about AANR and TNSF in this section is very far from all that could be said about them. The purpose is simply to give a brief overview for the benefit of readers who know little about one or both of them. One additional fact is that AANR is divided into six independent “regions” for different parts of the U.S. Each region has its own officers and website. So a large portion of AANR’s function has been devolved to the regions. If anyone knowledgeable about those organizations would like to provide more or better details, any relevant information would be quite welcome in the comments.
Landed and non-landed naturist clubs
According to the AANR website, there are “over 180 affiliated clubs, resorts, RV campgrounds, and businesses”. Similar information on affiliates of TNSF isn’t on the website. Some are also AANR affiliates. But statistics on entities affiliated with neither AANR nor TNSF don’t exist. Also, it’s likely that many non-landed clubs are almost or completely inactive, although they may not have formally disbanded.
Good generalization about all these clubs and organizations is difficult, due to the great diversity. At the small end of landed clubs (perhaps 10 to 30 acres in size), many are run as acts of devotion by naturist couples or families, and each is unique. At the large end are upscale resorts that may be 200 or more acres in size and feature modern hotel accommodations, several swimming pools, plenty of recreational facilities, and possibly a private lake or a portion of a public lake. The larger places are usually affiliated with AANR and sometimes with TNSF too. The smallest places may not be affiliated with either national organization and could be essentially unknown to any but long-time visitors.
Nevertheless, there are many things that such places could do to better cooperate with both national organizations and individual naturists. The only exceptions are places that cater to a small number of regular members while remaining “under the radar” of everyone else.
Giving meaningful figures about how many “naturists” there are in the U.S. is essentially impossible, because there are such a diversity of ways that people choose to enjoy social nudity. At one end there are the “home naturists” who hardly, if ever, participate in any form of organized naturism. Many of them don’t even consider themselves to be naturists (or “nudists”). They simply like to be naked at home when possible and convenient. At the other end are people who frequently participate in naturism at clubs, resorts, clothing-optional beaches, naked hiking and/or camping, etc. Many of these are quite open about their enjoyment of social nudity and don’t try to conceal this from friends and relatives.
However, no matter how much individuals enjoy social nudity, there are quite a few things they could easily do - yet don’t do - to promote naturism to others and support national or regional organizations and landed or non-landed clubs. But a large part of this non-support is because naturist organizations and clubs don’t do enough to better use the enthusiasm of active naturists. In other words, much more cooperation between all three levels could result in far greater acceptance and popularity of naturism within the general public.
How better cooperation could work in practice
Let’s consider individual naturists first. A significant majority prefer not disclosing their interest in naturism to anyone (except maybe members of their immediate family). Considering how poorly understood naturism is in the U.S., this isn’t too surprising, though it is quite unfortunate. However, there are still many naturists who’re not afraid to discuss their interest in social nudity with at least some people in their social network. The future of naturism in the U.S. depends on people like that.
As explained in previous newsletters (here and here), the first and most important step is to discuss naturism with people one knows who seem open-minded and possibly interested in learning more about it from an active participant. There are two separate but related objectives here. The first is to find other currently active naturists with whom one can share naturist activities of all sorts - home naturism, visits to clubs and resorts, naked hiking and camping, etc.
But even more important than that - at least for the promotion of naturism - is to persuade others who might be interested to learn about and explore naturism themselves. That’s the main - and most effective way by far - for an individual to grow participation in naturism. I also have a couple of blog posts dealing with the same ideas - here and here.
OK, so let’s assume that you, as an active naturist, have found other active naturists whose company you enjoy, as well as others who might seriously consider becoming naturists. This important thing at this point is to cooperate with each other in promoting naturism. The most effective way to do that, probably, is to form an informal naturist group or club of your own - or even a formal organization that might affiliate with AANR or TNS. Within such a group, you can not only enjoy naturism together but also take cooperative action to promote naturism and its values.
What could such action involve? There are many possibilities. Your group could organize camping trips in suitable areas like U.S. National Forests or BLM land, where discreet nudity is often possible. Invite others along who aren’t yet sure about naturism but aren’t uncomfortable among naked people, whether or not they choose to get naked themselves. In this newsletter article: Gateways to naturism, I’ve written about many other naturist things a group could do together. The key here is that cooperation in the group is required to plan and organize such activities.
What about online social media as something individual naturists could use for promoting naturism to others? That has really serious problems. To begin with, most online social media are quite hostile to naturism, often out of not entirely unreasonable concerns that even benign naturist content - especially with any “explicit” naturist pictures - could attract pedophiles or others who’re interested mainly in sexual content.
Prominent social networks - especially Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram - have terminated accounts of genuine naturist “influencers”, even if any actual rules haven’t in fact been broken. That’s not really as much of a loss as it might seem, since Twitter has always been a poor choice for serious discussions, and has only gotten worse. Facebook has a few naturist discussion groups, but most are almost useless for real communication, since participants have little actual knowledge of others in the group, And Instagram has always had a visual emphasis, so genuine naturist images are simply off limits. The average users of such “services” probably assume there are good reasons for the suppression of naturist content.
It’s true that other online social networks have been more tolerant of nudity. There’s MeWe, for instance. However, the very minimal moderation that happens on MeWe does allow a lot of non-naturist imagery through. And that gives people who might be curious about naturism a very inaccurate impression. There’s now a proliferation of other online social media, thanks in part to the Twitter debacle. But one big problem is that most people who aren’t naturists simply aren’t interested in naturist discussions and never see them. And social media are in real flux now. It’s chaos out there.
However, there’s a far more serious problem for use of online social media by naturists. It’s because for the vast majority of people in most countries - the U.S. especially - social nudity just seems very weird and scary. That’s especially true for women these days. (Obvious, no?) There are, of course, very knowledgeable and reputable naturists who’ve tried to use social media to promote naturism.
The real problem, though, is that hardly anyone who follows such “influencers” actually knows much about their background, experience, and agenda. So why take risks based on what they say? Going to a nude beach may sound enticing, but what are the possibilities of encountering unsavory characters or even getting arrested?
This isn’t a big problem when the subject is food, sports, movies, or musical preferences. But it’s a whole different matter with social nudity - which seems rather scary to most people - women in particular. Even people who might see some value in naturism are inclined to be very cautious about following through with what naturist influencers advocate.
The situation is totally different when people discuss social nudity with a naturist they actually know in “real life”. The naturist advocate may be a friend or extended family member who’s considered sensible and trustworthy. Although the advocate’s opinions may be met with skepticism initially, it’s much easier to pay attention to what the advocate says and take him or her seriously.
The result is that others who know and like the advocate will be more inclined to become comfortable around naked people, and perhaps experiment with naturism themselves. Then before long they may accept Joe’s invitation to visit a naturist place with him, being reassured that they won’t have to get naked themselves. Just a few good experiences like that will greatly increase the chances they actually get into naturism.
So how do these considerations fit in with the idea of cooperation to promote naturism? Think first about cooperation with landed and non-landed naturist clubs. Nearly all clubs do some sort of background check on potential new visitors or members. Landed clubs generally require formal background checks for any criminal behavior of prospective visitors. Non-landed clubs occasionally have events where new people are welcome. That gives members an opportunity to get to know the new person and assess whether he or she would be a good addition to the group. Even better is if a current group member recommends a new person or persons.
Once a club admits a new visitor, more should be done to make the new person feel welcome. For example, two or three visits for reduced (or no) fees could be allowed - maybe even a 50% discount on fees for the first year. Perhaps one free meal at the restaurant if the visitor returns. Even more perks might be offered if a visitor is recommended by a current member. Give people incentives to return. Think of how airlines reward frequent fliers. The more time newbies spend socially naked, the more comfortable they become and want to continue. Successful businesses know that repeat customers are the best customers.
Cooperating with the recommendations of current members helps grow the club’s membership faster. And why not give the recommending person “points” for every new member they bring in - points that go towards fee reductions or benefits such as priority in reserving parking or camping spots? This makes their members allies in helping the club become more successful.
There are good reasons, too, for national and regional naturist organizations to cooperate with individual naturists. Consider TNSF and its former partners, NAC and NEF. Currently, the featured content of the TNSF quarterly magazine is typically half (or more!) historical in nature - what naturism was like 40, 50, or even more years ago. Maybe that’s because most current members are old enough to remember some of that history themselves. (Fact: the current NAC/NEF newsletter is actually named “Pages of History”! Clueless much?) Would publications like The Atlantic or The New Yorker be satisfied making half their content about stuff that happened 50 years ago? Why would potential young naturists care much about that? Usually, they simply wouldn’t.
How about if the naturist organizations invited more naturists who now write for online social media to instead (or in addition) write for the organization publications - and even pay them or offer some other benefits. What benefits? Perhaps waiver of fees for participation in organization festivals and gatherings. Or even invite them to attend to offer their perspectives on naturism. Or - Heaven forbid! - help plan activities at festivals and gatherings, and promote the events in what they write online. Normal business organizations want to hire the best talent available to work on their key products. Why don’t naturist organizations think similarly?
Last, but not least, how could naturist organizations and naturist clubs cooperate better? Clubs do get some benefits from the organizations. At least AANR (if not TNSF) provides a good online directory of affiliated clubs. But they also charge clubs for advertising in the organization’s publications. Why not let each club have a dedicated page in the online website to describe their facilities and announce upcoming events? Web pages in a standard format cost the organization almost nothing extra to host on their website. A little serious brainstorming could come up with lots of other ideas for how organizations and clubs could cooperate better with each other.
Thanks for reading. My apologies for this newsletter edition running longer than usual. There’s really a lot to say on the topic, and the surface has only barely been scratched.
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