Many people outside the nudist lifestyle consider a nudist and an exhibitionist to be very much the same thing. It is true that both are without clothes, but that is the only similarity between them.
In fact, there are many differences between nudists and exhibitionists. The most important distinction that helps differentiate them, though, is their intent. Unfortunately, the nudity component has led textiles to assume that nudism and exhibitionism are the same, giving nudism a very negative connotation.
How Do We Define “Nudist”?
In its purest form, nudism is the preference to be “open and free” with oneself, and encounter the liberation and exhilaration that results from not wearing the cloaks that society, which can come across as very shallow at times, forces us to wear.
It is about being:
“Open” - allowing others to view your genuine true self and not shielding yourself with artificial facades that mask who you honestly and genuinely are.
"Free" - because it feels like you are as free as a bird flying far above the horizon when you shed the shell of clothes that bind and restrict your body.
Hence, “Open and free”.
If you have found for yourself how pleasurable and exhilarating nudity is, you already appreciate how freeing it feels. If you feel fantastic while not paying attention to what others perceive, you are a nudist without dispute.
If you would like to experience how it must feel, I encourage you to accept that it is your body and is something you should be honored to have. It's what makes you unique from everyone else. We were all created equal with comparable equipment yet our shapes and sizes make us individuals.
Respect for yourself and others is a vital component of nudism. One pertinent matter to remember is that nudism is always practiced in a platonic non-sexual venue. Nudism focuses on “self-respect, respect for others as well as the environment,” states Francis Schelstraete.
We nudists want to be ourselves and enjoy who we genuinely are as human beings. When I am home, I am always nude and I enjoy the liberation and exhilaration that I experience in my life while not concerned about being seen. This is why I choose to embrace nudism while I am home alone. If I have roommates, I encourage nudism but never force anyone into it. Even so, I am forced every day to cover myself in public.
The term, nude, to me, is used for more tasteful or artistic subjects. For instance, tasteful nudity or nude art, as opposed to naked art, which I have never heard of, and there is no “nakedity.” Just as there are nudists, yet no “nakedists”.
I feel that the term, naked, is more immoral or distasteful. It tends to be used to describe Adam and Eve’s shame, or refers to erotic acts. Some see nakedness frequently as sexual with certain impure connotations to it. (For more on this, see my take on nude vs naked.)
If a person’s intent in being nude is to enjoy the freedom and pleasure of being without clothing, then that person is likely a nudist. People also participate in nudism because it helps with their sense of self-acceptance, and diminishes some of the societal pressure about body image. But whatever their reasons, nudism is typically about the personal experience of accepting your body as a complex and beautiful entity.
How do we define an Exhibitionist?
Exhibitionism, by contrast, is not about the feeling of being nude, but about the power of exposing the body to an unsuspecting stranger to get a thrill from their reaction. An exhibitionist is trying to be seen and to push their naked body onto others to shock another individual. Although some practice exhibitionism with other consenting adults, more often it is a means of getting a rise out of surprising another person. It is self-gratifying, like nudism, but can come at the expense of another person, depending on the context.
Exhibitionism is inherently self-centered; however, it has an added component that it is intended to invoke an emotional reaction from an oblivious victim. They are hoping to have comfort or satisfaction by allowing their naked body to be seen if they have their own way. In a sense, they will force others to look at them and be gratified by being seen. Some see exhibitionism as a mental/sexual disorder, however in certain communities it may not be if people consent to it. That's why there is no consensus on whether it's a disorder, mainly since there seems to be a fine line between “exhibitionism” and “indecent exposure.”
In the case of indecent exposure, the consent is always missing and the naked person gets off on the fact that it shocks the oblivious victim. That's the thrill or power trip for the naked person. It's the sexual drive behind his/her motives. It's because society conflates nudity and sexuality, that they will assume the worst when they spot a nudist.
On the same token, when different individuals show themselves on social media, it is easy to tell the nudists from the porn addicts. If they focus on the genitalia or sexually stimulate themselves, then it's an exhibitionist beyond a shadow of a doubt. That is also what porn is and what we nudists are mistaken for.
On the other hand if it's a photo or even video of the entire person including a face presented in a tasteful manner, then I will guarantee that it is a nudist or naturist, without question.
Sadly, as soon as an uneducated person sees nudity, the oblivious ones cry, “Porn!” without a second thought. People on twitter don't understand what the difference between porn and tasteful nudity is. We nudists are confused for porn all the time, that's why the textiles automatically judge us by their ignorant views of a naked person. Textiles always equate nudity = sex. It is NOT the case.
Journalist Jeff Clark has an interesting take on nudity and sexuality. He states in the Globe and Mail:
“There is nothing inherently sexual about nudity. You can be highly sexual with all of your clothes on. You can also be non-sexual with your clothes off. By not exposing our society to non-sexual-nudity, we teach everyone that nudity equals sexuality. Having non-sexual-nude events encourages a culture of consent. It's important to teach this so that people don't just touch or take what they want without permission.”
If you want to enlighten yourself on the difference between the two, porn and nudism, then feel free to go to @thenudemale on Twitter. It is a project I have been working on in which you will only ever see men in completely non-sexual poses. Images never include erections or focus on the genitalia; they only show men with their full faces. Go ahead and indulge yourself after you are done reading this article. I challenge you to find anything that is ostentatious or vulgar in any way.
It is unfortunate that textiles' way of viewing nudists is almost always sexual. They don’t even consider our actions, just our bodies. They don't consider our activities, they merely see what they want to perceive, by our exposed skin. Textiles can be very ignorant of nudists’ values and morals, that is why they can feel confusion and animosity towards us.
We, as nudists, need to educate textiles and show them that we are not doing it to focus attention on ourselves or just to offend the textile. We need to show them that our bodies are tasteful, and let them know that it is something that is beautiful, not pornographic or sexual. Textiles should learn to consider what the individual is doing rather than just what they see.
So these are the differences between nudism and exhibitionism. There’s no reason textiles and nudists can’t all unite and cohabitate. Textiles can see us nudists for who we are rather than what they perceive at first glance. At the same time, we nudists can enlighten and educate the textiles about our morals and values, and show them that we stand for respect amongst ourselves and others.
If you are not familiar with nudism or what it stands for, take a moment to chat with a nudist so we all can develop a reciprocal understanding of nudism. Also, stop and think while you check your conscious or subconscious biases before automatically assuming the worst about someone. When we have a mutual understanding, this world will have more beauty and more acceptance, and all can live in harmony, not dissension.
Before we depart, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to both Matt as well as Josey.
I could not have done this without you both.
First Matt, for allowing me to write for him and including my work on his website, and Josey, for her exemplary and abundant editing to shape this piece into what is today.
Respect to all, and may we someday all cohabitate together with mutual respect and understanding of each other.