“In the sauna nudity is not the objective; it is simply a necessary condition for bathing properly”
– Bernhard Hillila, ‘The Sauna Is’
My wife’s cousin in Sweden told me “You don’t shower with clothes on, why would you sauna with clothes on?”
And (perhaps a bit of overreaction) from a Finnish friend: “It is greatly unsanitary to bring dirty, chlorinated swimsuits—drenched in dirt and bacteria, which are well fostered in the fabric until the suit hits the heat of the sauna and its nasty abominations dissolve and desecrate the senses of women and men, their bodies and souls, so that they return to the world sickly and diseased, and not invigorated and spirited, as they had planned.”
Something I’ve learned in numerous decades of research comparing the US and EU is that many of the ‘different things’ that Europeans do are for very good reasons. They are often more focused on real practical outcomes than hung up on the shallower and often misguided beliefs that dominate in the U.S. And they have good results to show for it. They’re healthier and live longer, kids are much more likely to grow up in a stable home with two biological parents, they have less violent crime overall and very significantly less rape and human trafficking*, they are much more law-abiding and they incarcerate about 1/8 as many people as we do. They clearly do a lot of things right.
We often look askance at European’s comfort with nudity, but perhaps we shouldn’t.
In most countries everyone enjoys sauna together naked and nobody gives it a second thought. People sauna without clothes because it is more comfortable, makes sauna more enjoyable and importantly, is more hygienic.
But not so much Americans.
Nudity is amazingly complicated. As I looked in to this and read research and analyzed statistics and talked to psychologists I found a variety of nuances that can have critical and sometimes life altering implications.
Americans have an interesting relationship with nudity. On the one hand discomfort, fear and a bit of Victorian overreaction. On the other, according to PornHub, gals in the U.S. lead the world, by a considerable margin, in providing the internet with nude porn of themselves (and these amateur nude selfies, often uploaded by former boyfriends, are one of the most popular porn categories on the internet and have spawned a minor industry of guys matching these to people’s facebook pages, jobs, and weddings).
We appear to be rather backwards from others – we’re fearful of that which is not harmful and excel in doing that which is.
In Europe and many other parts of the world there is a distinction between natural nudity such as in a sauna and sexual nudity. Not so in the U.S. where all nudity is considered sexual. And this may not be a good thing for us.
While someone in Sweden or Germany might think nothing of natural nudity on a beach or in a sauna, they’d not consider sending a nude selfie to anyone because they know the harm to their future marriage that would likely result.
Nudity itself is not necessarily bad though. Nude at a beach isn’t nor in a sauna. Nude art isn’t bad nor is posing for it necessarily bad.
Nobody, including children of any age, is harmed by seeing someone nude. It’s actually believed good for children to be exposed to natural nudity. Many cultures have a belief in children younger than puberty or early teens going nude at beaches and pools; for their own comfort with their own body, and they believe that children seeing each other naturally lessens some of the more harmful sexual nudity in teen years.
It’s also kind of fascinating. Most of us don’t care if someone else sees our hand. We walk around all day with it exposed and anyone who wants can see it. Our genitals are another story. And perhaps one of the oldest stories when we consider that nudity figures prominently in the earliest writings and was one of the first topics discussed in The Bible.
Why so different? It’s just skin. We’re all the same down there.
Just as with pre or extra-marital sex, nudity or more specifically erotic or sexual nudity can be a significant issue for marital bliss.
We know that her pre-marital sexual activities are the number one predictor of how stable a family she and her children will have. If she’s a virgin at the alter or has 0 other partners of any kind of sexual activity then she’s very likely to have a stable family. Otherwise, things begin to look not so good for her. And this regardless of income, religion, educational attainment or any other factors.
There are a few things that likely contribute to this but the core appears to be weakened commitment for making it through the struggles that every marriage faces – an underlying foundational thing, not a surface let’s-talk-about-this thing.
One key cause of this weakened commitment is her having multiple conflicting Oxytocin induced pair-bonds. Any time she does anything sexual, from mutual masturbation to oral to intercourse, she develops a pair-bond with that person and these appear to take some years to subside and likely never go away fully. Her having multiple conflicting pair-bonds appears to result in weaker commitment for she and him and frequently increased anxiety and depression for her.
Another is his being bothered by feeling like he’s sharing his wife with others – every guy she did anything sexual with before. This is apparently not an issue in every marriage but is in many. This may also have some roots in her Oxytocin induced pair-bonds. ‘Get over it’ is a popular response but as the chart above indicates and as psychologists tell me, that might not be in the realm of practical reality. Whether purely Oxytocin pair-bond based or something else there is a clear link between her sexual activity and the stability of her marriage.
On the other hand, his pre-marital activities do not appear to have any effect on his marriage – statistically nor for the most part based on counselor and psychologist experience. This partially or perhaps primarily because he does not develop pair-bonds as she does.
And yes, it may seem unfair that the stability of a family for her children is all up to her but that appears to be the human package that, at least for now, we have to live with.
So, how does simple nudity fit in?
We know that prior nudity, just like prior sexual stuff, can negatively affect her marriage. We don’t, or at least I don’t, fully understand why. We know for instance that if she went skinny dipping with some friends, guys and gals, in college that in the future her husband might be bothered by this and it might affect his depth of commitment to her and their marriage. Not outwardly with him saying anything but at a foundational level that he may not even connect.
I don’t really know why this is though. Why would he care if those guys saw her nude? I’ve asked a LOT of guys this question and the majority said that they’d be at least somewhat bothered by it and many that they’d be very bothered by it. None really knew why though. Some say that it’s jealousy but I’m not sure that makes sense as those other guys got to see her nude once or twice and he gets to see her nude frequently. What does he have to be jealous of?
And, why is this such a one-way thing? Why are guys so bothered by other guys seeing their wife nude but gals mostly couldn’t care less who sees their husband nude?
There appear to be two key bits to this. First is that for guys sex is purely a physical thing. No emotions or oxytocin pair-bonds or romance. No relationship necessary. This is one reason why guys will so willingly pay a prostitute $200 or $2,000 for sex and gals say ‘that just doesn’t do it for us’. Psychologists are fond of saying that she goes home after sex wondering when he’ll text, he goes home and begins flipping through Tinder while wondering when his pizza will come.
The second is that guys are extremely visually oriented, her genitals in particular, when it comes to sexual arousal. Oh, and variety. This is visual sex. There’s a reason that Playboy was astoundingly successful and Playgirl flopped or that we have 17 strip clubs in our city for guys to see nude gals and 0 for gals to see nude guys (and the business is down over 85% since the introduction of phone cams) or why he really really really wants her to send him nudes of her and she’s not quite as interested in nudes of him.
One rather honest guy once told me “I don’t like the idea of other guys having visual sex with my wife, whom they don’t love and don’t care about. I don’t like that they used or are using her body …the way I did with gals in real life or on the internet. And, I don’t like that she invited them to do this.”
Perhaps he should indeed just get over it. Man up!
We can debate if what he’s feeling is right or wrong. Should he be bothered that a bunch of their college friends saw her nude when they went skinny dipping together? Or not a thing and he should man up and get over it? Or that she sent a nude photo to a former boyfriend who later shared it with others and so now it’s out there for guys to use to jerk off? I don’t know the answer to these questions. Or if there is an answer. And, some of this goes against my rather libertarian tendencies which makes it even more complicated for me.
What we do know is that this does appear to be an issue and does in some or many cases lead to a weakening of his commitment. Rather than coming out strong on the other side of a disagreement thanks to a deep strong commitment they come out somewhat damaged, or they don’t come out at all. There’s a probability for her that the guy that she falls deeply in love with and who she wants more than anything to be her husband and the father of her children will be at least somewhat like this guy. Marriage or cohab can be tough at times. The less baggage brought in to the relationship that people need to deal with the better and for many guys this can, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason that I still don’t understand, prove to be some surprisingly serious relationship weakening baggage.
What’s risky for marital stability and what not so much?
First, anything up through perhaps early teens is a non-issue. Playing doctor is not going to affect anyone’s marriage (and may help it). From mid teens on it’s a different story.
If guys getting aroused by seeing her nude is a purpose, even if not her intent, then let’s call that erotic nudity. This will likely to have some negative effect on her marriage, some weakened commitment, though the extent varies considerably from nothing to an underlying element of divorce. Skinny dipping, nude runs and games such as strip poker may fall in to this category.
On the other hand, if guys getting aroused is not a purpose and there is a practical purpose for being nude, then it’s natural nudity. Sauna and sunbathing at the beach are generally both natural nudity. Some guys will be bothered by this, especially if other similar age guys were present, and some or most not.
Finally there’s sexual nudity (or Partner Nudity) – acts that may result in her developing an Oxytocin induced pair-bond. These are typically things involving her and one other guy and in particular a guy she’s romantically interested in though that’s not necessary. Showering or skinny dipping together or perhaps even a group skinny dip if there’s one guy she’s romantically interested in. This largely falls within the Tech Virgin category and will have similar effects on her marriage.
I don’t know that there is necessarily a right or wrong here – for who does what nor for anyone’s reaction. Erotic and sexual nudity both carry some risk and possibly considerable risk to her marriage. Natural nudity none or not so much. What’s important in all of this will vary from person to person – one size does not fit all. Someone who will not have children has a lot less to think about than someone who will.
On the flip side, none of these appear to be a risk for his marriage though that might not be totally true. Usually, even if she is bothered by something, his having played strip poker in college for instance, it’s not something that undermines her commitment to him, as opposed to her having done so appearing to frequently undermine his commitment to her.
For guys being bothered by others seeing their wife nude and how it affects his commitment to her there’s no indication of why it’s an issue for one and another not. It appears to largely be innate and not a choice nor anything he can change though it does sometimes change over time.
No Magic Switch
Whatever she does before marriage appears to have about the same effect on her marriage as doing so during her marriage – there’s not a magic before/after switch that switches off her prior activities. The likelihood of divorce is about the same, ± 84%, whether she has sex with another guy before she gets married or an affair after. Similarly, if her participating in a World Naked Bike Ride after they’re married is OK then her having done so before is likely not an issue. If her playing strip poker or going skinny dipping with some guys after marriage would be an issue then having done so before will be as well.
Time may make a difference though. A significant time period between her pre-marital activities and anything with her husband does appear to somewhat lessen the likelihood of a failed marriage. This may be, or likely is, related to Oxytocin induced pair-bonds with prior partners subsiding over time and that they may subside faster in the absence of new Oxytocin releases. It would not be unreasonable to posit that those marriages that survive her pre-marital activities are cases where there was a several year period of no activity at all with anyone prior to any activity with her husband. More study is needed to understand this better though.
Nude photos are their own category with their own complications and generally carry higher levels of risk. However, this is still rather new so we don’t yet have good data.
Her having sent nude selfies to a guy appears to have a similar affect to having had intercourse with other guys – much weaker commitment and a higher likelihood of a failed marriage.
The causes are complex. She may have developed a pair-bond with the guy she sent the photos to which creates a number of problems itself. Psychologists and counselors have reported problems of increased anxiety over the possibility of revenge porn and more so if it happens. Husbands being irritated by the idea that at any time other guys are jerking off to nude photos of his wife, having visual sex with her, can be or often is detrimental to a relationship.
On the other hand gals who’ve done nude modeling for artistic paintings, statues or photos do not seem to have negatively impacted their marriage though they also say that there are a limited number of guys who are comfortable enough with her past (or present) modeling to marry her so she is also being more selective in mate choice. Guys will also say that this is less of an issue for them than if she’d sent a selfie to someone or let a boyfriend take photos of them.
There are a number of elements that play in to all of this.
The more similar in age the more of an issue there seems to be. Sauna, skinny dipping or anything else with guys of similar age is often more of an issue than if they are much younger or older. This regardless of her having any romantic interest in them. This is particularly an issue if she or her husband know them in some way.
One example is a gal who spent a couple of years in Europe as an exchange student. Her fiancé knew that she’d been nude at beaches while there and said that it wasn’t a big issue. Some time later he learned that on one of those days she’d run in to some university friends of theirs and chatted for a bit. He told himself that it was not a big deal but it gnaws at him that these other guys had seen her nude. He said that it was definitely an issue in their relationship (though as of this writing they are still together and I expect that they will remain so).
Or a sauna example – a gal in Sweden who has grown up with sauna, usually mixed gender family and friends. In her teens, thinking about her future marriage, she decided that she’d not sauna with guys who were close in age until she got married and knew what her husband would be comfortable with. “Why take chances” she said.
One interesting bit about all of this is that single guys will fairly consistently say that they’d never be bothered by any of this. Ask the same guys after they’ve gotten engaged or married and the answer changes. Part of this is their not wanting to interrupt the gravy train. They’ve got the greatest thing in history going – free sex, free porn of gals they know and variety of both – and don’t want anything to cause any hesitancy on gals part. Another is that it’s not macho to be bothered by any of this and most guys are deathly afraid to let on that they’re vulnerable in any way. And, they’ve perhaps not yet experienced true love (if you’re imagining a scene from ‘Princess Bride’ you’re not alone…). Gals have largely been friends and sex toys, nobody they planned to devote their lives to, and then they suddenly fall in love with ‘the one’ – this is a whole new experience and they find their outlook changed.
And then some genuinely aren’t bothered and couldn’t care less who’s seen their wife nude or had sex with her.
This is all focused on her actions, not his. Unfair? I don’t know. This doesn’t perhaps fit well with what U.S. pop culture says but it does appear to be the reality of the human package. We can wish it were different all we want but I’m not sure that’s any more realistic than wishing that we’d never grow old or get cancer. This does not appear to be something that can be socialized away, oxytocin induced pair-bonds in particular.
It’s important to keep in mind, especially regarding that chart above, that some marriages do survive all kinds of stuff that would be predicted to end it. While 87% of marriages may not survive her having had multiple sex partners, 13% will and some or many of these will be strong solid relationships. Not great odds but not totally hopeless either.
One final point that will likely get me in trouble with some folks. If she’ll not be having children then this all may be totally mute. She can likely do whatever without fear of major negative side effects. For what it’s worth I’ve known women for whom this was the case and they’ve seemed to live a good, happy and fulfilled life.
We finally get to sauna.
People sauna without clothes because it is more comfortable, makes sauna more enjoyable and importantly, is more hygienic
It is more comfortable in the sauna because swimsuits or towels wrapped around you keep your skin from breathing and create uneven heat across your body.
It’s especially more comfortable outside. Skin dries fairly quickly with our without a towel making it enjoyable to stand outside, swimsuits not so much. A wet and dripping swimsuit just isn’t comfortable, especially when it’s cold or breezy. The time spent out of the sauna cooling down between rounds is as important as the time spent in the sauna and an uncomfortable cold wet swimsuit can make this time less enjoyable, not relaxing and shorten the amount of time you want to stay outside.
This also makes the routine of showering with soap before sauna and then rinsing well afterwards and before getting dressed a lot easier and more pleasant.
For hygiene there are two elements. First is that having all of your skin exposed to air reduces or eliminates any bacteria growth that happens any time we sweat. One of the great things about sauna is that we get rid of all of this bacteria that has built up since our last sauna – and that’s good and healthy for body and our skin.
Cloth that is not freshly cleaned with unscented detergent can also transport unappealing scents and bacteria. This is why most saunas actually forbid any swimsuits, not just recommend not wearing them.
Scandinavians will also say that not having clothes on makes everyone more equal.
There are two exceptions. Finland’s default is separate male & female rather than everyone together but mixed if all agree. You will also find public tourist saunas in Finland that require swimsuits. In the U.S. and somewhat in the UK and Canada people often wear swimsuits though that is slowly changing.
The default for our sauna is everyone wearing a swimsuit or towel. However, if all agree then it may be swimsuit optional. We can also setup separate male/female/family times if people want to give it a go in private.
The sunken patio is fairly well protected so there, the lower level of the house and of course in the sauna you are welcome to wear whatever you do or do not want. Beyond these a towel, shorts or swimsuit is a good idea.
Oh, no jewelry or electronics. While watching someone who’s just realized that their earrings are getting very hot very fast is entertaining it’s also a bit painful to see.
As much as I prefer being nude for sauna, I enjoy being with friends and family more so I always have a swimsuit ready.
For those who choose to wear a swimsuit in the sauna and for what to wear for a jump in the lake…
For both guys and gals the two important things are to leave as much skin as possible exposed to air and for your suit to be fast drying and non-drip.
For guys; briefs (‘speedo’) are best but a tight fitting square leg, square cut or boxer (three names for the same thing) is a bit more modest for sensitive U.S. eyes and works well to avoid uncomfortable cold drips. Jammers are probably third best with loose trunks or board shorts the worst.
* Rape and human trafficking rates are both highly correlated to the criminalization of prostitution. Countries with legal prostitution have lower rates of both. Sweden since 2000, Norway since 2009 and France since 2016 have all seen continual increases in both after enacting ‘The Nordic Model’. In light of this some proponents of using the Nordic Model in support of women’s rights have begun to re-evaluate. The U.S., the only other developed country to criminalize prostitution, has consistently had the highest rates of rapes and was only recently passed by Sweden with Norway and France close behind. Similarly, the U.S. is believed to have the highest or among the highest rates of human trafficking of developed countries. (Australia is an outlier in being the only country to have legal prostitution, high rates of rape and possibly high rates of human trafficking.) Increasingly, human rights organizations including Amnesty International are calling for full decriminalization/legalization of consenting adult prostitution.