Couchsurfing relies on trust. It’s about relying on a stranger’s hospitality and a willingness to lend yourself to a new lifestyle. But staying with a nudist host adds another level of trust. The formal aspect of interacting with a stranger disintegrates, and there is no room for reservation. Adding nudism into the picture tests your barriers of comfort.
“A naturist host is like a barefoot host with just shorts and shirt—but without the shorts and shirt. It truly is just that simple.” Sensa Nostra speaks with Garry, a naturist Couchsurfing host living in Orlando, Florida. He explains his introduction to the naturist lifestyle, what naturism means to him, and his experiences hosting travelers, from around the world, who are looking to experience social nudity.
I went to my first nudist beach when I was 16. That summer of 1981 was when England’s first legal public nudist beach opened in Brighton. Since it was very easy to get to from my home on the southern outskirts of London, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to exhibition myself. As a teen voyeur, I was definitely intrigued. But I thought it was only fair—and therefore more legitimate—if I were also one of the nude beachgoers being ‘exhibited.’
The reality was that there was far less blatant viewing—except for a couple of old men conspicuously wearing raincoats. The overall atmosphere, although less stimulating than I would have thought, was thoroughly liberating. From then on, I didn’t want to stay in clothes, so, as a first step, I immediately started to sleep nude until I was able to visit other beaches.
When I started hosting on Couchsurfing.com, I didn’t automatically associate hosting with nudism—even though I knew I would host ideally in the nude. I initially wanted to host because I have space which would otherwise go unused. This, I later thought, could also be an ideal way to introduce others to naturism, whether it be by observing the simple living of a nude host, fully participating in the lifestyle, or by merely skinny-dipping in my pool.
Naturism is the freedom of nudity, freedom from clothes, and freedom from judgement. I do genuinely believe that naturists are more open, probably more honest people because they literally have nothing to hide. They’re also fairly confident that being nurtured within such a non-judgmental area of society they’ll be accepted. And one doesn’t even have to be weird to be accepted. Beautifully average will suffice.
The process of being approached as a host on Couchsurfing is the same as with any host. I make my naturism obvious throughout my profile, so surfers immediately see the signs when looking at my page. It was during that earlier time when I began hosting that I had received my one and only request from Iran. This was also my only request to stay clothed.
She didn’t end up staying. I genuinely wasn’t available, but I truly admired her honesty. In rare cases when I am asked to stay clothed, I probably won’t host for long stays. It wouldn’t make sense if I were permanently hosting guests and became a clothed captive in my home.
It is a choice to stay clothed though, so now I elaborate that point to my guests, “If you genuinely prefer me to stay clothed, please plead your case.” I decided that just letting me know was not really enough of a reason to force me to stay clothed.
When I reply to requests, I choose to not bring up naturism immediately. I don’t feel I need to actively warn potential guests about my naturism, or even justify it. I do hope that they have properly read my profile and understood everything, or at least they’ll be engaged enough to ask.
The first issue I usually find is how they would feel about seeing me naked, since observing is 50% of the psychological barrier to communal nudity. The negative attitudes toward public nudity are entirely due to a relatively modern, post-liberation-era pseudo-puritanism. This backlash is a result of mistakenly associating the naked body with sex. There is no logical basis for this in history, which, for centuries, never linked procreation with nudity.
One man I hosted wrote: “As for nudism, I’ve never done it myself and don’t know whether I’d try it while there, but what you do in your own home is your own business.” I always find those requests the most endearing. It is who I am at my most natural, and, therefore, the most me.
As a cultural exchange, naturism is the purest form of open-mindedness, a celebration of diversity, which results in the discovery of similarity. Since the naturist lifestyle is a way of living, I see it as more of a societal and, therefore, cultural phenomenon—not even a movement as such, anymore than perhaps vegetarianism, for example.
Women usually find my nudity more confronting. I had two women who recently stayed with me who wanted to stay clothed. I think I detected a slight change in one of the women’s demeanor once I was actually naked. But she was no less kind, and it didn’t seem to bother the other at all.
One 19-year-old girl from China wrote to me about her apprehension towards the idea of nudity, saying that she always wants to try new things, but that she finds the concept tough to grasp because of Eastern culture and the way she was brought up. We discussed the concept, and she was immediately okay with it. Subsequently, I had eight wonderful days hosting her.
I would love to see more people realizing the simple aspect of the naturist lifestyle.
The most tragic aspect is that the sexualization is so selective. It’s based on scathingly sweeping subjective judgement of which the naked body is sexually appealing, and that is sexually appalling. Those very decrees are always what cause the most harm, I think. Perhaps a growing concern for the environment might also encourage a desire for oneness with nature, and therefore a simpler approach to living—including no clothes. Consequently, a less harsh society, in which natural body acceptance instead of widespread body shaming, can become the norm.