Children Naturism Authors of the Papers Summarized.

These are the authors of the papers summarized.

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Paul Okami, Richard Olmstead, Paul R. Abramson and Laura Pendleton

Early childhood exposure to parental nudity and scenes of parental sexuality ('primal scenes'): an 18-year longitudinal study of outcome. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Volume: 27. Issue: 4 (1998).

(In this redaction from the source, the matter of 'primal scenes' is largely excepted as irrelevant in the context of this site.) 

Ronald J. Goldman and Juliette D. G. Goldman

Children's Perceptions of Clothes and Nakedness: A Cross-National Study. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 104 (1981). pp.163-185. The Goldmans interviewed 838 children from North America, England, Australia, and Sweden; ranging in age from 5 to 15 years old. Each child was individually interviewed and asked questions designed to elicit responses indicating the child's understanding of wearing clothing, nudity (as viewed by society), and modesty.

Show Me Yours! Understanding children's sexuality. New York: Penguin Books (1988). An interesting study by Goldman & Goldman (Latrobe University-Australia) asked children, "Do we need to wear clothes in a warm climate?" 

Robin J. Lewis and Louis H. Janda

The Relationship Between Adult Sexual Adjustment and Childhood Experiences Regarding Exposure to Nudity, Sleeping in the Parental Bed, and Parental Attitudes Toward Sexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol.17, no.4 (1988). pp.349-362. They summarise: "Although a variety of experts have provided their opinion on this issue, empirical research has been lacking. In this study... college students were asked to retrospectively report on the frequency of sleeping in the parental bed as a child, the frequency of seeing others naked during childhood, and parental attitudes regarding sexuality. The results suggest that childhood experiences with exposure to nakedness and sleeping in the parental bed are not adversely related to adult sexual functioning and adjustment. In fact, there is modest support that these childhood experiences are positively related to indices of adjustment." 

Marilyn D. Story

Factors associated with more positive body self-concepts in pre-school children. Journal of Social Psychology, 1979. School of Home Economics, University of Northern Iowa.

This research found that nudist children had body self-concepts that were significantly more positive than those of non-nudist children and that the "nudity classification" of a family was one of the most significant factors associated with positive body self-concept. Furthermore, nudist children showed a significantly higher acceptance of their bodies as a whole, rather than feeling ashamed of certain parts.


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Researched material

Early childhood exposure to parental nudity and scenes of parental sexuality 
('primal scenes'): an 18-year longitudinal study of outcome


Authors: Paul Okami, Richard Olmstead, Paul R. Abramson, Laura Pendleton

Publication: Archives of Sexual Behaviour. Volume: 27. Issue: 4

(In this redaction from the source, the matter of 'primal scenes' is largely excepted as irrelevant for the present context.)


Increasing numbers of academic researchers and clinicians have suggested that behaviours such as exposure of a child to parental nudity or scenes of parental sexuality ("primal scenes") constitute subtle forms of sexual abuse that previously have gone unrecognised.

In the present article we report results of the first longitudinal investigation of long-term correlates of exposure to parental nudity and primal scenes.

Exposure to Parental Nudity

Data bearing on the question of long-term outcomes of the variables in question are exceedingly scant, although speculative hypotheses - often framed as authoritative pronouncements of fact - are easy to come by (Okami, 1995). For example, only three empirical articles have addressed the issue of childhood exposure to parent and other adult nudity: In general, the tone of all of this work is antialarmist, representing childhood exposure to nudity as benign.

Apart from these tentative attempts to collect data, writings on this topic consist of theory-driven clinical opinion and commentaries by child-rearing specialists. In contrast to the above-mentioned empirical work, the clinical writings typically reflect the notion that exposure to nudity may be traumatic as a result of (i) premature and excessive stimulation in a manner controlled by the adult, leaving the child feeling powerless; (ii) the child's unfavourable comparison between his or her own anatomy and the adult's; or (iii) the intensification of Oedipal desires and consequent anxiety.

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. Findings are at worst neutral or ambiguous as to interpretation, and there is even the implication of possible positive benefits in these studies (particularly for boys) in domains such as self-reported comfort with physical affection (Lewis and Janda, 1988) and positive "body self-concept" (Story, 1979). Although these investigations are methodologically limited, their results are consistent with the view of a smaller group of child-rearing specialists and other commentators who have stressed the potential benefits to children of exposure to nudity in the home, in areas such as later sexual functioning, and capacity for affection and intimacy. It may tentatively be inferred that under such conditions large numbers of the world's population of children are exposed to parental nudity. Finally, another group of writers stress the importance of the context in which childhood exposure to nudity takes place, insisting that outcomes are mediated by such contextual variables as gender, age of child, family climate, cultural beliefs, and so on.

The Present Study

Despite the lack of empirical support, psychoanalytic and family systems theorists continue to stress the potential for harm in exposure to parental nudity and primal scenes. Therefore, longitudinal outcome data are important in beginning to resolve this question. In the present exploratory study, 204 families were enlisted during the mid-1970s as part of a multidisciplinary investigation of emergent family life-styles. Children were followed from birth to the current wave of data collection at age 17-18. Because there was no indication in the literature that either of the target behaviours is harmful, we hypothesised no deleterious main effects of early childhood exposure either to nudity or primal scenes. We reasoned instead that if harm was associated with exposure to these events, such harm would result from interactions with specific ecological variables.

One such variable might be the sex of the child. Although most evolutionary theorizing about human sex differences in sexuality has focused on reproductively mature individuals, sex differences in sexuality-related psychological response also have been found among children and early adolescents. In a study of adolescents ages 12-18 who were asked to recall their earliest sexual arousal and sexual feelings, the reported outcome correlates markedly congruent with evolutionary theory. Sex differences in sexuality-related psychological responses appear to be present at least from preadolescence. They may also be present far earlier than previously supposed.

Outcome measures were chosen to reflect long-term adjustment in a number of areas of concern to clinicians. These areas included: (i) self-acceptance; (ii) relations with parents, peers, and other adults; (iii) drug use; (iv) antisocial and criminal behaviour; (v) suicidal ideation; (vi) social "problems" associated with sexual behaviour (getting pregnant or having gotten someone pregnant, and getting an STD); and (vii) quality of sexual relationships, attitudes, and beliefs.



The UCLA Family Lifestyles Project (FLS) is a longitudinal investigation founded in 1973 to examine emergent family life-styles of that era. Fifty "conventional" and 154 "nonconventional" families, matched for ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES) according to Hollingshead's four-factor model (Hollingshead, 1975), were enrolled prior to the birth of the target child. All parents were of European American descent and were living in the State of California when recruited. The parents ranged in age between 18 and 32 years at the time of enrolment, and the families fell between the 20th and 90th national percentile of SES and education status.

Conventional families were defined as those in a "married couple relationship" and were referred by a randomly selected sample of obstetricians from the San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles areas. Nonconventional families were recruited through physician referral, birthing office records, alternative media announcements, and referral by already enrolled participants. Nonconventional family forms included intentional single mothers, couples living in communes or other group-living situations, and "social contract" couples. During the most recent wave of data collection, target children were between the ages of 17 and 18 years. Approximately equal numbers of boys and girls participated, although the precise number varied somewhat with each wave of data collection. Attrition for the FLS sample has been minimal however, with data between 95-98% complete for the first 18 years.

Data Collection

Data were collected using multiple methods at frequent intervals during the first 6 years, and less frequent intervals for the subsequent 6 years. Data were collected through FLS staff home visit observation and evaluation, parent and child interviews using FLS measures, FLS questionnaires, teacher report, independent and school psychologists' observations and evaluations, and standard measures including objective and projective tests administered by school psychologists and independent psychologists. No data were collected after 12 years until the current wave of data collection at year 17-18. For the current study, only 17-18-year outcome data were analysed.

Predictor Variables

To determine extent of exposure to nudity and primal scenes, parents were asked two questions in a face-to-face interview at child's age 3: "Does mother (father) go nude in front of child?" and "Does mother (father) bathe or shower with the child?" The questions were followed by 4- and 5-point Likert scales anchored by 1 (never) and 4 (regularly) or 1 (never) and 5 (daily). At child's age 6, parents were asked whether they (i) discouraged family nudity, (it) felt OK about nudity within the family but not with others, or (iii) encouraged nudity within the family and with others.

Control Variables

Control variables included participant child's sex, family SES, and family climate (troubled/nontroubled status, pronaturalism, sexual liberalism/conservatism). Families participating in the FLS project differed as to domestic arrangements, stability, values and beliefs, and degrees of commitment to those values and beliefs. On the basis of intensive case-by-case examination of family life-style, a typology of family types was developed and subjected to discriminant analysis. This analysis assigned 83% of families to the same type identified qualitatively (Weisner and Wilson-Mitchell, 1990). One of these types was termed "changeable/troubled" in the original FLS reports, and simply "troubled" in the current study for use as a control variable. Thirty-one families (16.4%) were assigned to this category qualitatively. This type was characterized by unstable family composition (defined as frequent changes of mothers' male partners and/or frequent residential changes); low commitment to whatever were the stated family values; and typically disturbed parent relations or alcohol/substance abuse and other pathologies.

At the time of enrolment, parents were assessed as to shared family values. A number of items were initially generated regarding child-rearing, the environment, and human relationships. The construct addressed by these items was termed "pronaturalism" by FLS investigators. Varimax rotation was used to derive three factors with high loadings and good commonalities (Weisner, 1986). These factors described belief in the use of natural materials, medicines, and food; a de-emphasis on materialism and possessions; a "warm and emotionally expressive" style emphasising honesty, intimacy, emotionality, and physical warmth and closeness; belief in "natural" child-rearing practices such as breastfeeding and close parent-infant contact; a loose, laid-back family style emphasizing low conflict, little punishment and aggression, conforming parenting style to the temperament of the child, and belief in the wholesomeness of perceived styles of pre-industrial peoples who are assumed to be more "naturally human." The construct "pronaturalism" was measured at child's age 3, 6, and 17-18 years and then averaged.

"Sexual liberalism/conservatism" was measured through aggregate rating by FLS staff interviewer of mother's responses to a series of items related to attitudes toward sexuality. This measure was administered at child's age 3. "Conservative" attitudes included low tolerance for childhood masturbation and sex play, restrictive attitudes toward nudity in the home (independent of actual presence of nudity in the home), highly unfavourable attitudes about children viewing parental intercourse (independent of children actually viewing intercourse), an unwillingness to acquaint children with the "facts of life," and "traditional" beliefs about the notion of gender equality. "Liberal" attitudes included tolerance for masturbation, sex play, and family nudity; more permissive attitudes about children viewing intercourse; a willingness to impart sex education; and "progressive" attitudes about gender equality.

Criterion Variables

Self-acceptance, and relations with peers, parents, and other adults, antisocial behaviour, and substance use were all measured using subscales created for the UCLA Adolescent Growth study. In the case of self-acceptance and relations with peers, parents, and other adults, the participants were given two columns of statements, one affirmative and the other negative ... The varied direction of response choices was counterbalanced. Participants were asked to circle the number that best described "the way you are most of the time."

In the case of antisocial behaviour, participants were asked how many times over the previous 6 months they had engaged in various specific instances of petty or felony theft, fighting, assaults, and vandalism. In the case of substance use, participants were first asked how many times over the previous 6 months they had used a wide variety of nonprescription, prescription, and illicit substances. They were also asked how many times over the previous 6 months they had been involved in accidents while using these substances.


To reduce the overall number and redundancy of the analyses, the drug use (excluding alcohol and tobacco) and "antisocial behaviour" items were subjected to separate principal components analyses with varimax rotation. As the goal of the procedure was data reduction, the issue of whether the resulting factors were substantively interpretable was secondary. The generated factor scores were then used as outcome measures representing drug use and antisocial behaviour.

Each of the continuous outcome measures was subjected to a standard multiple regression analysis. The model included the predictors indicated above and interaction terms for Primal Scene Exposure x Sex and Nudity x Sex. For binary outcome measures (been sexually active, been suicidal, been in an accident involving alcohol or drugs) logistic regression was utilised.

Due to the extremely low dropout rate nearly all subjects provided outcome data. As such, the ns for each analysis range only from 181 to 189. In general, we deemed the data appropriate for multiple regression; no major violations of the assumption of the method were apparent. The inclusion of the interaction terms did reduce tolerance but not to an unacceptable level.

Frequencies for exposure to the main predictor variables are as follows: For exposure to parental nudity, 49 (25%) children were not exposed to any parental nudity, 86 (44%) (boys n = 41, girls n = 46) were exposed with moderate frequency, and 61 (31%) children (boys n = 34, girls n = 27) were exposed frequently. Data for 7 children were not included in the analyses to follow due to unacceptable levels of missing data.

Exposure to parental nudity predicted lower likelihood of sexual activity in adolescence, but more positive sexual experiences among that group of participants who were sexually active. Exposure to parental nudity also predicted reduced instances of petty theft and shoplifting, but this was mediated by a sex of participant interaction indicating that this effect was attenuated or absent for women. Similarly, exposure to parental nudity was associated at the level of trend with reduced use of drugs such as marijuana, LSD, Ecstasy, and psychedelic mushrooms, but again, this effect was mediated by a significant sex of participant interaction suggesting that this effect was experienced primarily by men. Indeed, exposed women were very slightly more likely to have used these drugs.


This study, using a longitudinal design, is the first to examine long-term correlates of early childhood exposure to parental nudity and primal scenes. Consistent with the cross-sectional retrospective literature (and with our expectations), no harmful main effects of these experiences were found at age 17-18. Indeed, trends in the data that were significant ... indicated primarily beneficial correlates of both of these variables. Exposure to parental nudity was associated with positive, rather than negative, sexual experiences in adolescence, but with reduced sexual experience overall. Boys exposed to parental nudity were less likely to have engaged in theft in adolescence or to have used various psychedelic drugs and marijuana.

Taken as a whole then, effects are few, but generally beneficial in nature. Thus, results of this study add weight to the views of those who have opposed alarmist characterisations of childhood exposure both to nudity and incidental scenes of parental sexuality.

Additionally, while findings of beneficial outcomes are interesting, specific findings are not predicted by any theory that we know. However, given virtually no evidence in this or any other empirical study that the behaviours examined in the current study are unambiguously harmful, the interesting question becomes: Why is it so widely believed in the United States and certain European nations that these practices are uniformly detrimental to the mental health of children? Such notions, certainly where exposure to parental nudity is concerned, are perhaps better conceptualized as myths. Whereas any of these behaviours of course may be experienced in an abusive context - and may also occasion harm under certain circumstances for certain individuals - their appearance per se does not appear to constitute cause for alarm.

Limitations of the Data

A number of methodological limitations need to be addressed in interpreting results of this study. Most obviously, although the sample contains an interesting assortment of families that permitted the predictor variables to be studied in a number of contexts, these families undoubtedly differ in a number of potentially important ways from the "average" U.S. family. In addition to volunteer bias, the sample is made up entirely of European Americans residing in California at the time of enrolment, and "nonconventional" means exactly what it says - three fourths of the sample were nonrepresentative of typical American life-style by definition. However, while not representative, the current sample was dedicated and attrition virtually nonexistent. This adds considerably to the meaningfulness of the analysis. Moreover, because the nonconventional families (whose members constituted approximately 75% of the total sample) were more likely to adhere to countercultural values supportive of free sexual expression, nudity within the family, and so forth, it is precisely in a data set such as this that one ought to expect to see elevated problems if these practices are in fact deleterious of themselves.

Findings of the current study do not resolve the moral (or legal) issue of whether the behaviours we have examined represent "subtle sexual abuse." However, they do address the empirical question of whether these occurrences are harmful, at least within certain domains. Although evidence gathered for the present study is far from conclusive, at this point it is difficult to see the utility of referring to these events a priori as harmful, and even more difficult to see the utility of characterising them globally as "abusive."

Children's Perceptions of Nudity & Society

Many parents are reluctant to allow their children to be naked during play or sleep. When they explain this to the child they often do not use moral reasons, but pseudo-practical ones (such as, "You might catch a cold").

Parents also transfer their discomfort with nakedness to the naming of body parts, often using vague terms such as "it" or "down there," rather than penis, scrotum, vulva, clitoris, and anus. Frequently, the genitals and perineum are not mentioned at all.

Ron and Juliette Goldman (1981) interviewed 838 children from North America, England, Australia, and Sweden. The children ranged in age from five to 15 years old. Each child was individually interviewed and asked questions designed to elicit responses indicating the child's understanding of wearing clothing, nudity (as viewed by society as a whole), and modesty.

Researchers asked the children three questions: "Suppose we all lived in a nice warm place; should we need to wear clothes?" "Why should this be so?" (i.e., what are the reasons for saying "yes" or "no") and, "Some people feel shy or funny about [revealing] certain parts of the body; why should this be so?"

There were variations in the exact wording for younger or slower [sic] children, but after trial interviews the above questions appeared to have little ambiguity for children of all ages. The responses were coded and scored in order to assess each child's level of cognitive reasoning for the answers given. No references were made to the family nudity status, although this may have been an influential factor.

This study found that English-speaking children were the most adamant that clothes were necessary, even in hot climates; and North American children were the most insistent of all. English speakers were also less likely to advance to the highest level of moral thinking with regard to reasons for embarrassment when nude, and reasons for wearing or not wearing clothes.

The Swedish children seemed to score consistently higher, and seemed to be much less clothes-insistent although they live in a colder climate and would have more reason to expect that clothing should be worn. The Goldmans point out that sex education in Swedish schools is compulsory after age eight, and the northern European traditions of sauna and FKK ("Freik-perkultur," or "free body culture") are well established in Sweden.

This cultural difference is not as evident when examining the reasons for wearing clothes and why people might feel embarrassed when naked. The picture revealed by children's perceptions was one in which nakedness, and especially sexual nakedness, is strongly tinged with guilt.

As age increases, the need for conformity becomes more apparent to children. It was evident through many children's answers that low-level thinking was conveyed through parents' modesty training. The "pseudo-practical" reasoning mentioned above is used. Rather than revealing parental discomfort with nudity and sexuality, the parent tries to appeal to a concrete, rational reason.

It does indicate, however, that the sex education process has to overcome myriad adult mythologies and rationalisations that prevent children from understanding, accepting, and enjoying the body and its sex organs as natural and normal.

Childhood Influences On Adult Adjustment

Lewis and Janda (1988) examined the relationship between adult sexual adjustment and childhood exposure to nudity, sleeping in the parental bed, and parental attitudes toward sexuality. They pointed out that prior studies had presented conflicting findings: Some researchers had warned of dire consequences for children viewing nudity, while others had reported benefits.

A common theme was that if parents "forced" themselves to be nude in front of the child (in order to educate the child about basic anatomical differences), and the parents were not: comfortable with this nudity, the experience would likely be neutral or negative. It seems that the issue, then, is not nudity per se, but family attitudes toward acceptable and comfortable behavior.

Lewis and Janda recruited 210 undergraduate university students as subjects for their study. All subjects completed an extensive questionnaire measuring three basic experiences during childhood (defined as the period from birth to eleven years): sleeping in bed with the parents; parental attitudes toward and comfort with sexuality; and viewing parents, siblings, and friends nude. Information on current sexual comfort and adjustment was also obtained using an extensive questionnaire.

The study found a positive correlation between childhood exposure to nudity and adult sexual comfort. The authors point out, however, that some would see this as a reason to prevent childhood exposure to nudity, as their measures on comfort included acceptance of lifestyles that some would consider immoral or undesirable (such as premarital sex, or acceptance of homosexuality).

The other factors (sleeping in the parental bed and parental comfort/acceptance of sexuality), while not germane to the narrow scope of this discussion, also demonstrated a positive correlation with childhood exposure and adult sexual adjustment and comfort.

For males aged 0-5 nudity was inversely related to reported discomfort about affection and physical contact; in other words, increased exposure to nudity was related to less discomfort regarding affection and physical contact. Nudity during 0-5 was not significantly related to any other adjustment variables. Nudity during ages 6-11 was positively related to increased self-esteem and knowledge about sex.

For females, nudity during ages 0-5 was related only to increased frequency of sex related to others (i.e., more frequent sexual encounters). Nudity during 0-5 was not related to any other adjustment variables. Nudity during 6-11 was positively related to an increased tendency to engage in casual sexual relationships.

These results suggest that children's exposure to sleeping in the parental bed and exposure to nudity are not related to sexual maladjustment. In fact, exposure to these events was correlated to higher self-esteem and comfort with sexuality. In addition, children whose parents were comfortable and accepting of sexuality had even higher levels of self-esteem and comfort.

These results would suggest that the anecdotal reports of "damage" caused by these childhood events are exceptions to the rule, and that commonly held beliefs and societal taboos need to be re-examined.

Nudist and Non-Nudist Perceptions At Variance

Body self-concept is an important part of overall self-concept because individuals function within the boundaries of their physical bodies. Lower or negative body self-concept scores have been associated with undue anxiety, lessened ability to enter into intimate expressive relationships, and decreases in motor abilities.

Three- to five-year-old children can validly identify body self-concept. Numerous studies involving older children have indicated significant differences between male and female responses to body self-concept tests - but no such difference has been well defined in younger children. In addition, no earlier studies had examined the role of family social nudity classification on body self-concept development. This study may be the most useful resource for nudist families, as it tries to establish a relationship between the two.

Marilyn Story (1979) interviewed 264 three- to five-year-old children and their parents. These subjects were chosen and matched based on family nudity status: social nudist, "at-home-only nudist," or non-nudist. Subjects were all North Americans, with approximately equal numbers sampled from all geographic regions in the United States.

The parents were individually interviewed to determine the children's ages, sexes, weights, and birth order. Each child was given an individually administered test, consisting of the interviewer pointing to a body part on a line drawing of a nude child the same race and sex as the child being interviewed, and asking, "Do you like your _______ ?"

This was repeated for 16 body parts (although the study did not state which specific body parts were listed). While viewing the drawings, the child was also asked, "What part of your body do you like best? Why?" and "What part of your body do you like least? Why?" The answers to these questions were categorised and assigned numerical values.

For non-nudist children, answers to the questions "What part of your body do you like best?" and "What part of your body do you like least?" showed no relationship to race or geographical location. Gender was significant, with females most often liking their hair, eyes, nose or mouth, and boys liking their arms or genitals; however, non-nudist girls and boys most often named their genitals as least liked.

For nudist children (including "at-home-only" nudists), answers to the above questions yielded very different results. Both boys and girls most often stated that their genitals were the best liked part. Nudist boys and girls also most often answered that they had no body parts they did not like (although they often expressed dissatisfaction with their skin: not because of racial colouring or deformity, but because of sunburn or too little tanning).

Story also found that nudism was a more important variable in body self-concept than were sex, race, and geographical area. The relationship between nudism and body part least liked was significant (roughly a 1 in 10,000 probability of being only a random result), as discussed above.

In the analysis of the 16 body part test, nudist males scored higher than non-nudist males and females, and nudist females also scored higher than non-nudist males and females. When nudity classification was not a variable, the differences in scores were far less significant, with nudist males scoring higher than nudist females, and non-nudist males scoring higher than non-nudist females.

Family nudism was found to have a higher correlation to increased body self-concept than did sex, race, or geographical area. Nudist children consistently scored higher than non-nudist children did in all areas of body acceptance, self-concept, and self-image.

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