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The Clothed Body is More Sexual than the Nude

Thoughts on how clothing and "implied" nudity act as signposts for the tabooisation of certain oft-sexualised body parts.

As a nude photographer and nudist, an idea I've often come across is that of being partially dressed, or doing "implied" nudity, as a sort of safer option, or maybe a stepping stone towards eventual nudity. While I'm all for clothing optional in social contexts (allowing people to ease themselves into nudity as they get used to it), in photography it's an idea I'm very resistant to for a simple reason: Choosing to hide a body part does nothing but emphasis it, and because with nudity people are mostly wishing to hide particular sexualised body parts, the ultimate result of photographs with implied nudity or underwear is that the image becomes more provocative, not less, suggesting significantly more sexualisation of the body than if the person were simply straight up naked. As my style of photography is very much about exploring the body from a non-sexual point of view, this is something I try to stay far away from.


My view is that hiding a sexualised body part actually works to signpost it instead. The absence of a body part being visible, not by coincidence of the pose or props, but obviously and intentionally blocked from view, makes it very clear this is something you are not meant to see. Thus it strongly reinforces the taboos about sexualised body parts; that they are strictly private, and always sexual, and thus scandalous when seen. This immediately implies a sexual context even when there is none at all.

Posing in underwear especially marks out body parts as unsuitable for view; the underwear effectively doing the job of a giant arrow pointing to where you should not be looking. Especially with underwear designed to look sexy, it draws the viewers attention specifically to the covered body parts, indeed maybe even reshapes and emphasises them to look like more idealised versions of themselves.


So while it might seem a paradox, I believe a completely exposed vulva, penis, bum or breast, is far less sexual than playing around trying to hide them. Nipples just sitting there on the breast are so obviously not sexual, but hiding them makes them titillating forbidden. A penis dangling about, or flopped on top of a thigh is so clearly not sexually active, while a mysterious bulge under cloth stirs the imagination. An uncovered vulva, or mass of pubic hair is much less suggestive than inviting the viewer to imagine what lies beneath underwear; the reality is hair and skin no more notable than that found anywhere else on the body. 

This connects too to the nudist experience. For many people, until they experience non-sexual social nudity it seems impossible to separate the most sexualised body parts from sexual experiences. But of course in most contexts even genitalia are not being used for any sort of sexual purpose at all, they're just there, doing nothing more than your arm or foot. As I've written before, any body part can be sexualised, but that doesn't mean they always are or should be


In the context of social or artistic nudity, the very act of hiding a body part attaches a stigma, invokes shame, and enforces the idea that it should be sexual. But in reality, unless you're in a specifically sexual situation, there is no sexual context to concern yourself with. 


Hiding declares shame when there needn't be any, but worse still actively draws attention to the things you shamefully hide. Nudity is freedom from those taboos, and only as sexual as we ever choose to make - Which in the context of nudism or my style of nude photography, is not sexual at all.