Is Nudity Psychologically Harmful For Children?

I am asking this question because almost all of the outrage being expressed against nudity, especially nudity in the home and in public, is prefaced with “My God! What if children see nude people? They’ll be scarred forever!” As a naturist and as a therapist, I obviously don’t believe that nudity in itself causes psychological scarring for children or for adults. We are all nude beneath our clothing and are born nude. We are the only species that covers up because of some sense of shame at our nakedness. But at the same time, I don’t want to let my opinions get in the way of truth, so I went out searching for answers.

Curiously, I didn’t find any scientific or psychological studies that confirmed that seeing nudity (oneself or others) was psychologically harmful in itself. Where there was harm, other factors were also present. However, I did find serious studies that basically stated that nudity was not the factor in the psychological scarring of children, studies such the one led by Paul Okami (cited below), Higgins and Hawkins (1984), and Dr. Conrad Manning. What was interesting in doing the research was the fact that few children in North America saw any adult nudity while children.

“Given the vehemence with which clinicians and child-rearing specialists often condemn childhood exposure to parental nudity, it is paradoxical that their dire predictions are not
supported by the (scant) empirical work that does exist.” [Okami, Olmstead, Abramson, Pendelton, Archives of Sexual Behavior. Volume: 27. Issue: 4, “Early childhood exposure to parental nudity.”

Another study by Lewis and Janda (1988) studied the literature and conducted a study of Seventy-seven males and 133 females to assess the relationship between exposure to nudity and adult well-being.

“The results suggest that childhood exposure to nudity and sleeping in the parental bed are not related to poor sexual adjustment. In fact, for boys, exposure to nudity in early childhood appears to be modestly related to greater comfort levels with regard to physical contact /affection.” [Lewis and Janda, Archives of Sexual Behavior Vol. 17, No. 4, 1988 “The Relationship Between Adult Sexual Adjustment and Childhood Experiences Regarding Exposure to Nudity]

Studies aside, society judges harshly. And as with all harsh responses, reality is not the issue, only the dark shadow hanging over and within a society and its constituents. Will children be scarred by the sight of nudity? If our collective shadow has its way, we will make sure that they do. Left to nature, never!

6 thoughts on “Is Nudity Psychologically Harmful For Children?

  1. Robert this is well written and thought out. Growing up I and even in adult life I have noticed there is a lot of difference in the way nudity with children is handled. My classic example is with babies. When it is time for a bay to be changed or bathed you will notice all the women and yes even the youngest of girls will migrate to that area to observe the goings on. Even when these children are older up to 5-7 years old they both girls and boys are often observed nude at bath time by the female clan of the family or even female friends of the family. What I personally have observed was that when I was a young boy, teenager and as an adult, if were to walk into that room the baby or child was immediately covered or I was ushered out of the room and told this is for the women only. At times I have seen young boys changed in front of family but young girls are always taken to another room. So early on this divide is established by what I regard as the women in the house. Guys end up being very curious about the opposite sex because they never see it. Families that have to share bathrooms and such usually see each other nude so the sight of nude bodies is a far less curiosity to them and nudity is not regarded as shameful.

  2. When I was a kid,when we were done swimming in the backyard pool (in the years when we had one,at least,lol),my sis and I would walk in the back door,which led directly to the basement laundry room,strip off our suits right there and scamper naked through the whole house to our rooms to shower and change. In the morning,when we were all getting ready for school/work,it was common to pass each other nude in the hallway as we were entering or exiting the shower. I grew up never thinking this was the least bit strange or unusual and,back in the 80s I don’t think it was. Society today is definitely too over-cautious. Being careful and protecting your children is a good thing,of course,but I think that it has lapsed over into full-blown body paranoia which can create many problems in and of itself.

    • Thank you, Mike, for adding your voice in here. Your words illustrate well the point I was making about society’s paranoia regarding the naked human body. I look forward to your return with more thoughts and experiences. 🙂

  3. Children will be scarred for life by whatever parents (and society) teach them to be scarred by. If we teach them that wearing a red hat is shameful when another person may see it, and people around play the game (other kids making fun of), people pointing their dirty finger at the child and laughing, a policeman taking the child from their parents etc. then that child will be scarred for life by the mere sight of another person wearing a red hat.

    As you can see, people won’t need any proof that red hats are harmful to wear or to see on heads of other people, in order to believe in that. Scientific research may even disproof that believe, but people don’t need any logic to create taboos and even put them into laws.

    Taboos were invented by savages many thousands years ago, to prevent THINKING. Taboos are largely at use in today’s society, with the same goal. The subjects are different, but the methods are still the same as four thousand years ago.

    • Not all wounding is negative. Parents can wound with excessive protection, with excessive love as well. Wounding, whether we want it or not, is vital for “growing up” and becoming a conscious adult. Troubling.

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