Sexuality Issues At Midlife

Varadero, Cuba, 2004

I chose this photo which was taken in Cuba for a number of reasons of which the first is simply because I like it.  I took this photo in 2004 using an weaker digital camera from that time which was my first relatively decent digital camera; not a DSLR, but good enough to give some very good photographs regardless.  A second reason for the photograph is the mixture of darkness and light and the suggestion of fire, of heated passion.

Midlife is a confusing time.  With so many years devoted to making a living, raising a family and being part of a community in a socially meaningful manner; the discovery that there is something missing, a hole in the psyche, has one respond in a variety of ways.  For some men, it is a denial of the emptiness as they throw themselves further into community activity, filling every possible moment with their career or with causes.  For others it is a return to a mythical past filled with motorcycles or sports cars, sex, or being a fashionista.  Yet others try to fill the hole with drugs, alcohol, religion, some New Age spirituality or sex.  For a few, the event causes them to sit back and look at what has happened, to begin listening to the voices and studying the images that are emerging – for these, midlife is seen as an opportunity to discover self.

Sexuality is necessarily one of the roadblocks that appears in the process regardless of the response one takes to the crisis of midlife.  Responses can vary from a complete absence from sexual contact with others with its wrestling with the self that comes with the denial of the sexual component of one’s being.  The denial can push “natural” sexuality so far underground that it emerges in unconscious pathological behaviour.  Or in an extreme response in the opposite direction, one can become obsessed with sex, so obsessed that everything and everyone becomes charged sexually and have the conscious self become overly sexually active as if one needs to constantly add another conquest, another unique experience in an endless race to satiate the demanding drive.  Either of these extremes lead to a collective attitude towards sexuality that is negative.  And, the unclothed body becomes the target of these polarized attitudes.

“. . . it is almost impossible to avoidseeing it through the larger moral prism of nudity. As the historian Rob Cover (2003) has noted,“nakedness across a vast array of representations in the history of western culture has been inseparable from sex and sexuality, and has been hence located adjacent to the indecent, the obscene and the immoral” (Cover, The Naked Subject,” 2003, p. 55)

Of course, I am a part of the western culture and I have had, and continue to have at some level, some negative response to the naked body.  Some bodies get my imagination going and others are met with a neutral response.  In terms of other people, I don’t assume that seeing the naked body is an invitation for sex, nor do I assume that the person with the naked body is obscene or immoral.  What I continue to hold, somewhat, is questions about my own appearance as an obscenity or my own immorality.

If others see my body will I be judged as uglier, as lacking or as too hairy, too short, to stout?  Will others compare me to other men regardless of age, compare me to some ideal that I have never met regardless of age?  I think I am a bit fortunate in being close to the norm in body size and type with the exception of excessive hair all over my body.  I could do with losing a bit of weight and toning my body to be more muscular and less soft.  But that is not too much of a concern.  What is my one body-image concern is body hair.  And like many in the western world, I have a few strategies to ease my own angst when it comes to that body hair.  I guess, for the most part, I have accepted my body as it is and feel relatively good about it.

But when it comes to the question of the unclothed body being an obscenity if seen by others.  I don’t see others unclothed as scenes of obscenity unless there is a perceived deliberate attempt on the part of specific others to perform acts in public that are overtly sexual in nature.  Even then, I often view these as sad affairs rather than evil affairs.  Yet, I still have a worry that I will be seen as a dirty old man if I doff all my clothing at a beach or walk unclothed in my back yard.  I worry about offending others who might accidentally see me, or cause embarrassment to those close to me because of what “others” would say.  What I do affects not only myself but those in my orbit.  And so, I hide as much as needed.  And in the process, I feel as though something very valuable is missing, something that has a holistic healing power.

This blog site is more-or-less an exercise in self-directed therapy.  Here I take down barriers to the inner core of self that I manage to find in an attempt to become more authentic in my relationships with others, and especially in relationship with my own self.  With a few carefully orchestrated attempts I have included what I could best call “nude therapy” into the mix.  For several months I was able to set aside time several times a week for my “nude therapy” within a small enclosure that ensured complete privacy while in Costa Rica.  The experiments focused on being unclothed and allowing the sun access to my skin.  There was no “social” aspects, no public exposure nor fear of public exposure.  I was able to protect my ego’s fear of being seen as a dirty old man.  Now that time has passed since those experiments, I am able to reflect back on the experience and evaluate the experience as being very beneficial to my well-being.  Because of the experience, my book, Through a Jungian Lens: Sol and Luna, which was published a few months later, was able to reach dimensions my previous books couldn’t achieve.

And now, I am left wondering about the present and my growing desire to again experience nudity as therapy, perhaps as a partial way of being.  I wonder about how much of this is perverseness and how much of this is authentic need for my soul.  I don’t have the answers so I still live with the questions.

Healing the Soul "Au Naturel"

Blue Bay Resort, Cancun 2006

I have gone again to the 2006 trip to Mexico to bring a new photo here.  The trip to Cancun was a two-couple affair with the other couple choosing the location as it was to be their first such experience.  They chose an “adults only” resort which meant that there was some nudity to be expected.  I was quite surprised with this choice though I don’t think that they really understood what that exactly meant.  Once there, they got to see little in the way of titillating scenes, nor did they engage in any “au naturel” experiences.  As usual, in the privacy of my own accommodations, I was able to steal a few hours of sheltered freedom from clothing.  The nudity that was present was definitely just topless young women who were proud to flash.  Experiences such as this make up the bulk of most North Americans; experiences of nudity.

Two evenings past, I got to have a cup of tea with this couple who wanted to talk about last winter’s trip to Jamaica.  While telling their stories, they mentioned that there was a scene where they got to see a poor Jamaican man taking a bath in the river.  The wife remarked that his “willy” was big.  She also talked of seeing a beggar asleep on the roadside with his “junk” hanging out.  These stories were told with a disgusted tone.

Somehow or other, the conversation shifted as she then related an experience her son had while travelling in Ontario where they came upon a long beach where the family with two young children were intending to spend a few hours.  However, seeing an older couple, likely in their seventies, they beat a hasty retreat to their car and continued their journey.  When I asked why, the response was that it was gross for older people to go in the nude.  You have to understand that this couple are basically the same age as I am, not young.  I asked why and the response was all about “body” image.  Only the young and beautiful should be allowed to go nude.  There was no chance of having them see any other way of thinking.

I made only a few more attempts to talk about “natural” and about “positive self-concept.”  In my opinion, there is a link between mental health and being able to accept ourselves for the way we are both mentally and physically.  At the stage of life I now find myself, I begin to believe that taking time to be in our own skin, to experience the world “au naturel” is very therapeutic.

Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology in the 1960s, states: “I still think that nudism . . . is itself a kind of therapy.” (Joseph Sommer)

One bares one’s soul in the therapist’s or analyst’s office in order to heal the inner wounds.  I begin to wonder if we also heal the soul with the baring of our bodies in nature, letting the sun, breezes and water wash over us.

Feeling Comfortable in One's Own Skin

Cancun, Mexico 2006

I took this older photo from 2006 in order to continue the series about naturism.  But before I go further, I want to be upfront and say that in this series of photos, judicious cropping has led to the illusion of my being fully in my own skin.  It’s not true.  I cropped the swim wear in each photo to give an illusion.  Obviously in each photo I was not alone and someone else was taking the photographs with my camera.  And because of the fact of the presence of another person, I find myself, like the vast majority of North Americans, uncomfortable in my own skin concerned about my less than perfect body.  I wouldn’t think of going “au naturel.”  And so, I ask myself “Why?”

Well, I have convinced myself that it is “selfish” of me to not care about the sensibilities of others.  I have told myself that I would embarrass those closed to me in any given situation, embarrass strangers that would accidentally see me.  Being seen unclothed in a public place, even at a beach in Mexico, Cuba or elsewhere would be an intrusion into the space of others, an assault on their own concepts of self and others.  And as I continue to think about it, there appear many layers of “reasons” for my feeling uncomfortable in my own skin when others are present.  I want to include a few words here that I found on another site while researching the psychological aspects of naturism:

“Progressively, over the centuries, society has developed the use of clothing as a mask. Clothing was originally used and designed to protect people from the elements of heat and cold, to stop themselves from getting burned or frozen. It was also used as a method of adornment to enhance attractiveness and for ritual and ceremonial reasons. In the latter centuries, people developed a cultural dependency on clothing. Clothes became a mask and a prop for perceived personality and character deficiencies.

“We frequently see people who would not be seen dead without their clothing on. Clothing is often used to portray an image that is different from the person’s perceived inner deficiencies. It is a form of artificiality or masking that they outwardly project to cover up any personality or emotional defects they think they have. People tend to feel that by hiding behind clothing they can metaphorically cover themselves and deny others exposure to the inner-self they perceive to be crippled. The need to do this most commonly occurs in people with low self-esteem.” (Naked Beneath Your Clothing)

Again, the masking of the self, the portraying of an image that would be more socially acceptable, one that would leave me safely protected from the collective.  I know that I have a lot of scars and messy aspects and I desperately want to hide them so that others will like me.  I hide my true self.  But that hiding can only go on so long before one is forced to expose one’s true self.  I have no issue with seeing others in their own skin, something which isn’t so rare in other countries such as India, and in IndoChina.  Seeing others in their own skin in North America is also not an issue for me other than me berating myself for lacking the courage these others demonstrate in being comfortable in their own skin.

The journey of individuation forces one to become honest with one’s self, and in turn, that leads to a transparency that forces one to be honest with others.  I am not really there yet though I yearn to be there, need to be there in order to feel whole, to feel a sense of real holiness.  This blog space is one place where I feel a real sense of safety, especially in allowing my inner self to be more transparent.  The journey continues.

Naturism – Stripping Away the Final Mask

Playa Jaco, Costa Rica 2010

This image was taken at Jaco Bay in Costa Rica in January 2010.  While in Costa Rica, sunset photos became a frequent activity with an occasional photo of myself making it into some of the photos.  I chose this photo in order to continue on with the theme of naturalism, being whole in one’s own skin.  As I write, I do understand that many in the world do not see the naked body as a moral issue as it is understood in the North American collective.  Naturalists exist in both Canada and the U.S.A. and have gathered together at private campsites, private resorts or isolated beaches.  North American society grudgingly gives in to these isolated pockets while maintaining as much pressure as they can to push the fundamentalist, Victorian ideology/morality as far as they can in terms of public freedoms.  Strange for me how the focus in on having citizens keep their clothes on rather than real issues of sexual exploitation and violence.

I am a naturalist in a quiet and private manner.  Of course that means that I pick and choose times for liberation from my clothing, at least finding sleep as a time, space and place for being natural.  Interesting to me that I honour this with the belief that in doing so, I allow the portal to the dream world to be as transparent as possible with the idea that in putting my body fully at ease, I am more receptive to whatever is attempting to be heard.

In doing my research for this post (and yesterday’s, I cam across a few interesting thoughts that I would like to bring forward here.  The first is from Walt Whitman, taken from his work, Specimen Days.  I have just quoted a few of the words from this section (133) called A Sun-bath – Nakedness:

“Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me… Nature was naked, and I was also… Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! – ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.” (Whitman, Specimen Days, “A Sun-Bath – Nakedness,” 1892

Another one of my early influences on a number of different levels was Henry David Thoreau who wrote a three part essay called walking (available now in various ebook formats from the Gutenberg project) written in 1861 from which he offers his thoughts on being “natural”:

We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.” (Thoreau, Walking, 1861)

I know that I have found peace in nature, especially when clothing is set aside for a brief time.  I have found this peace in lakes and in gentle pools along various rivers, walking through a Yucatan estuary, on protected areas along seashores, in isolated fields and meadows and while walking down remote trails in the wilderness.  This is not about social activity or about sexual gratification.  This is about being honest with oneself, stripping away yet one more mask and exposing all the flaws so that they can be accepted as natural aspects of self rather than as deficits.

Nudity: Sexual Deviancy or Natural Authenticity

Dziblchaltun Mayan Ruins near Merida, Mexico

Again, I return to the topic of transparency and authenticity, something I have talked about here before.  I want to talk about “natural” man as distinguished from “civilized” man.  This is a relatively old photo taken in March, 2009 while spending the winter in a Mayan fishing village.  I chose this photo because it is “safe” and reader friendly.  The image is symbolic to me of times long past that are more about young adulthood than about midlife.  I am reminded of how over the years I celebrated naturalness in the water.  In today’s world there is an element of fear attached to being natural.  I admit that I am quite conflicted about the being at one in a natural state, in the world.  I am a naturist at small, private moments yet I must choose with care these moments because of the impact it has on others in my life.  When I was younger, I didn’t care that much.  Isolated beaches, forest meadows, in the privacy of home naturalism was present in small doses.  My children grew up knowing the freedom of skinny-dipping and moving from bath to bedroom without body shame.  We never passed a camping trip without at least one skinny-dipping night swim.  Somehow, for some reason, the freedom has gone, at least in North America.

The world has changed, become more charged with sexuality.  With the growing ascendancy of the right, fear is reacting badly attempting to criminalize sexuality, especially when it comes to young people.  Who in today’s modern world would take a photo of their children playing in the bathtub with cousins or siblings or parents?  Should someone dare this photo, it risks the photographer or owner of the photograph being charged with a criminal offense and being put on a registry of sexual offenders.  Walking in the buff in one’s own home is risky as any passerby who chances to look in a window and see a nude body risks being charged with indecent exposure and being placed on a sexual offender registry.

Many psychologists say that clothing is an extension of ourselves. The clothes we wear are an expression of who we are. The Naturist’s comfort with casual nudity, therefore, represents an attitude which is comfortable with yourself as it is in its most basic state, without modification or deceit. (Indiana Naturists Blog)

Naturism.  It’s a word that is not held in high regard in the western world for the most part.

Johann Lemmer, in his work, Introduction to Sexology, discusses CG Jung’s concepts in terms of sexuality and suggests that the moral issues that confront modern man are often centered around sexuality and points to the masculine and feminine images and archetypes discussed by Jung as psychology’s attempt to deal with the issues. One needs to remember that Jung’s work was built on the foundation of Freud’s work which has a significant focus on human sexuality.

“FKK” (Frei-Körper-Kultur) or “Free Body Culture”. FKK derives its roots from the philosophical works from Carl Gustav Jung (one of the founding fathers of modern psychology) and Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (German physicist and philosopher), who maintained nudity was a form of returning to nature. Specifically, it was a form of returning to the natural state of mankind, before clothing dictated our social status, and set standards of how much respect we pay to people based on the clothes they are wearing.  (Celeste Neumann)

Good information, but how does that solve the moral dilemmas faced by men, women and children in both Canada and the U.S.A.   And more importantly for myself, how do I navigate to liberate myself from the attitudes of those around me?  I know it is my choice, that I can find the space, place and time for naturism.  Yet, my choices always seem to have an impact on others, others who have meaning for me.  Regardless, little by little, I am pushing back the straight-jacket that would have me wear clothing even when sleeping.