The fight is on inside British nudism between the hedonists and the disciplinarians, the radicals and the conservatives. At issue, among other things, is what Leslie Bainbridge, editor of Health and Efficiency, calls the “feast of the crotch” – the lavish and obsessive display of male and female genitalia in imported nudist magazines, particularly those from the United States.
A consignment of such American magazines – which bear the stamp of approval of one of the leading US nudist associations – was confiscated earlier this week after magistrates ruled that some of the magazines were obscene.
It is not simply that the magazines are already unretouched, there is already an unretouched British nudist magazine which you can order from your local newsagent. In the US magazines, legs are nearly always apart or spread wide, camera angles nearly always low, the subjects nearly always young and attractive.
The issue has arisen before in the dispute-wracked history of British nudism. At one stage hostility reached such a point that members of one nudist group reported another to Scotland Yard for importing obscene publications. The magazine which triggered that off was discretion itself compared with the US magazines, and was, in fact, the predecessor of the unretouched British magazine which now circulates quite freely.
Mr James Wrate, editor of this magazine, Sun and Health, is also the importer of the US magazines. He defends their concentration on the crotch as being the “final stage” in a long process. “A few years ago,” he says, “what was being revealed was the breasts, then the navel and finally a bit of pubic hair. Now we’ve got women with their legs apart and it’s the end of the road. Once that is exhausted, it’s the end of false excitement about secret parts of the body.”
The magazines, though, are just one part of the struggle within the nudist movement. The recent AGM of the Central Council for British Naturism, which represents Britain’s 80 registered sun clubs, broke up in confusion and uproar. The basic dispute was over the alleged dictatorial control exercised over the CCBN by the North Kent club, bastion of the conservatives and also the headquarters of the council.
But lurking beneath the surface are quarrels over the place of sex in nudism, over ease of access to the clubs, drinking in the clubs, over the magazines, over the propriety of such things as dances and parties. Leslie Bainbridge explains: “There are people who wear their nudity like a hair shirt and believe that by as doing they are moving toward a sort of Nirvana. They see nudism as a regimen, a discipline.” The conservatives, he says, demand high standards of personal morality.
The radicals, on the other hand, freely admit that going naked is a “sensual experience” and that in “the sharing of one’s nudity with others… sensuality has limited but real associations with sexuality.”
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