By coincidence — even though I believe there are no coincidences in life — I was talking with a female friend and mentioned that I am looking into nudism/naturism, with a view to go to a nudist beach this summer and a naturist resort, if I can arrange it. She got somewhat flustered, and had a hard time believing naturism was anything but a “swinger” lifestyle. She was uncomfortable with the subject, and said she would be skipping any posts I write about it.

Then a little later, I received an email from the good folks at Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park in Ontario talking about gymnophobia. What is it? Answer: fear of nudity. I confess I have never come across the term before, but it does exist (I googled it).

According to a MetTerms Medical Dictionary definition they sent me: Gymnophobia: An abnormal and persistent fear of nudity. Sufferers of this phobia experience undue anxiety even though they realize their fear is irrational. They may worry about seeing others naked or being seen naked, or both. Their fear may stem from anxiety about sexuality in general, from a fear that their bodies are physically inferior, or from a fear that their nakedness leaves their bodies–and their personalities–exposed and unprotected. “Gymnophobia” is derived from the Greek “gymnos” (naked) and “phobos” (fear). The word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek “gymnasion” (a place for athletic exercises) and the Greek “gymnasein” (to train naked).

The Bare Oaks information email, taken from their web page, says this phobia has become normalized by society, that it has become institutionalized. An excerpt:

We design our architecture to compensate for this phobia (e.g. separate change rooms, shower cubicles, dressing rooms in stores, etc…). We have created a whole set of rituals and culture around this phobia. We teach our children about “private parts” and “modesty”. We treat nudity as “dirty” in order to justify the phobia. From a very young age, children are indoctrinated into these rituals and attitudes toward the human body. There is no such thing as natural body shame. Even if parents do their best not to impart body shame, the rest of society, through customs, peer pressure, and media, will more than compensate for their efforts. Over time, the messages of fear and shame lead to the development of an instinctual, emotional reaction to nudity.

Further evidence of gymnophobia is that people often feel anxiety at the mere thought of being nude. They don’t actually have to do it – they just have to think about it. Just talking about it can cause people to feel embarrassment. Have you ever noticed that discussing nudity causes people to react emotionally? Some just turn red and giggle. Others react with disgust or anger to justify their emotion.

We’ve talked about a few other forms of discrimination in the blog before: homophobia, biphobia, transphobia. I guess we can add gymnophobia to the list. I’m wondering how often and to what extent gymnophobia translates into open, harmful discrimination against naturists/nudists — and I suspect I am going to find out.