Any body-part can be sexualised, but that doesn't mean they always have to be.
Thoughts on the sexualisation of body parts, taboos and mental self policing that causes, and the freedom we could have in a nudist society free of body shame.
As a nudist, and an artist who focuses on nudity, I often find one of the biggest barriers to people trying out nudism, or just getting naked in any context, is the idea that certain body parts should not ever be seen, due to the sense of specialness — or more often shame — associated with them. Commonly penises and vaginas, slightly less guardedly breasts, in particular nipples, and a little less cautiously, bums, are all routinely sexualised, and thus seen as something that should not be seen outside of a sexual context. Yet any and every part of the body can be stimulated for sexual arousal, and can be sexualised. Most of the time however you are not in sexual situations, you are not offering yourself to anyone sexually, and you probably don’t appreciate other people assuming you are. We are able to make this distinction with most body parts even though we are well aware that in a sexual context some people love the shape of legs, are turned on by feet, aroused by a hairy chest, excited by muscular arms, etc, etc.
Obviously penises and vaginas especially are explicitly sexual organs. Yet they are also quite clearly not used for sex the vast majority of the time, and have other specifically non-sexual uses.
Vaginas can be used in sexual acts, can be sexually stimulated, and they can be enjoyed as an attractive body part when viewing the body through a sexual lens. But they are also used to expel urine and period blood and other discharges. They are the route out of the body for a baby. When they are used sexually they change, and self lubricate. Most of the time they just sit there, doing nothing at all.
Penises can be fetishised and fantasised about, can be enjoyed as an attractive body part, can be sexually stimulated, and readily display when they are so by becoming engorged and erect. But they are also used to expel urine, and most of the time they also just sit their on your body, dangling about entirely innocuously.
Pubic hair surrounds these body parts, to greater or lesser extent depending on the person. On a hairy person there’s no clear delineation between pubic hair and any other body hair, yet we get ever so precious about it being seen, because it is seen as an extension of the sexual area. Public hair visible beyond the confines of a bikini bottom for example remains scandalous, even in modern relatively sexually liberal times, for the suggestion of the nearby sexual organ existing, even in entirely non-sexual circumstances.
Breasts, a physical characteristic that suggests gender and thus are seen as something associated with the female body, are often fetishised and enjoyed as an attractive body part, and can be sexually stimulated. But they also exist for the very practical purpose (should a person chose to procreate) of feeding babies. Many men also have breasts (indeed often more prominently than many women), yet these breasts are generally not sexualised. Whatever the gender, breasts too spend most of their time just sitting their on your chest doing nothing more than harmlessly jiggling.
Nipples are perhaps the oddest apparent obscenity of all. Just about everyone has them. Male nipples, with no practical purpose, are purely decorative, and can be sexually stimulated just as female ones can. Yet a visible female nipple, in some contexts a baby-feeding apparatus, is scandalous somehow; while men can in many places walk around topless without issue. Even the impression of a female nipple seen through clothing is often considered unacceptable. Perplexingly someone transitioning from one sex to the another might even have the same nipples be considered sexual or non-sexual over the course of their lifetime depending on their gender identity at any given point in their life!
Bums, universally present whatever your gender, come in many forms, some more common on typically feminine bodies, others more readily identified as masculine. Either way they too can be fetishised and sexually stimulated. But once more they have a more practical purpose; used to expel poo from your body, and fart. They are also just there to making sitting comfortable, form part of musculature of your legs, and of course often are just doing nothing at all.
Like bums, body parts really not related to the perfunctory requirements of sex can be readily sexualised, sexually stimulated, fetishised, and associated with different gender presentations. In the views of different cultural expectations many of these body parts are indeed sexualised every day. Even in the most liberal societies there are places where it’s seen as quite unacceptable to bare ankles, legs, midriffs, shoulders, etc.
We are culturally conditioned to feel shame for exposing our bodies. In different circumstances we feel able to show more or less of our skin, but the taboos around those select few body parts most strongly associated with sex persist the strongest. Vaginas, penises, and breasts especially have become sort of default sexual, even when it’s perfectly obvious they are not sexual most of the time, just like other body parts that can be equally sexualised — People have far more interactions with these “private parts” when using them to expel bodily waste, or just wash them, than having sex!
Their sexualisation is so strong that even when covered there is shame, to the extent that being seen in underwear in most circumstances in society would also be seen as unacceptable. Those undergarments mirror the positions of those offensive sections of skin, symbolising their presence, so the underwear itself becomes a taboo to be seen.
We know that some people will sexualise us however we present ourselves, because they chose to do so. We cannot control this, and for the most part it’s impossible to know if someone else is attracted to you, fetishizes certain body parts, and gets amorous at the sight of any part of your body, be it concealed by clothing or not. But we can chose not to let other people’s thoughts, which for the most part we will never even be aware of, govern how we must present our own bodies.
No one should have to put up with idiots who don’t know basic boundaries and appropriate conduct when they see some body part they find sexually exciting — Yet even in our culture of sexualised body shame, people do have to navigate people sexualising their bodies even when they are entirely covered. The act of concealing and shaming bodies is not even an effective deterrent, because it ignores the the underlying sexualisation that still needs to be navigated.
You might like lots of parts of your body and other peoples bodies. You can be sexually stimulated by interactions with many parts of your body, and enjoy doing the same to others. You can be sexually aroused by seeing a body, yet in a different non-sexual context, seeing the exact same body is not a sexual experience at all. Just because you like certain body parts in a sexual context doesn’t mean you need to always see them in a sexual context, or always act in a sexual manner if you see them, in situations where they are not being offered sexually.
Bringing about a society where those mental boundaries are what we cherish would do far more to “protect” those body parts than the act of physically concealing them. Because rather than treating them like a precious forbidden fruit — irresistible should they be discovered — we would instead treat them with respect; insisting that consent, not desire, is what permits access should anyone wish to use those body parts in a sexual context.
So sure penises and vaginas can be used for sex, and boobs are sexy, but so are lots of other body parts; so is the entire body when it’s being used for sex! But most of the time they are not doing anything sexual, they are not being offered to others in a sexual manner, and they shouldn’t be assumed to be so if they ever happen to be visible.
A clothing optional world, where no one fears any body part being visible, would be one where we can lose our shame of these body parts being seen; where we are free to live a much more comfortable and honest life, based not on taboo, but consent. Having to hide any part of our body steals that freedom from us, and makes a hostage to fear; a fear of just existing in a human body.