Naked parties are bullshit.
Yet nude living, especially the naked party-also known, in my humble opinion, as grunting, sweating bodies unnecessarily sacrificing sexual pleasure-has taken off at college campuses nationwide. Naked parties are an established underground trend at Brown, Yale, Northwestern, and Pomona. At Wesleyan, one of the dormitories, West College, also known as WestCo, is affectionately nicknamed the Naked Dorm-clothing is optional. Hamilton College even has its own self-proclaimed "varsity streaking team," a group of students who can be seen tiptoeing through libraries and running down hills in flying-V formation while making "caw" noises, stark naked. They consider themselves number 1 in the nation.
Columbia, too, has joined the naked ranks. The annual naked run never fails to draw a large, excited crowd. Lingerie and full-on naked parties are becoming increasingly common. Carla Bloomberg, de facto Columbia naked party spokeswoman, featured in both New York magazine and the New York Sun, has repeatedly insisted that naked parties are not about sex. Instead, she claims they are about challenging social constructs, and more specifically, the idea that we define ourselves by what we wear.
Carla has a point. I'll be the first to confess: I am obsessed, down to the matching earrings and stilettos, with my clothes. But stripping down to your birthday suit at a designated naked party is not the same as doing so in front of a lover. In some sense, naked parties are simply another social construct: if everyone is naked, then people are likely to feel comfortable about it, and everyone can easily agree that being naked is supremely better than being clothed. And while it might be easier to pinpoint how people spend hours perfecting their outfits in order to refine their self-images, that does not preclude those people who spend hours working out, perfecting their body images so they will look and feel sexually attractive without their clothes on.
Still, defying or creating social constructs aside, I'm not convinced it is possible to think about nudity without thinking about sex. Like it or not, some wack combination of hormones and neurotransmitters that my humanities-inclined mind refuses to comprehend automatically goes off whenever we see someone we are even remotely attracted to in the nude. Boobs. Penis. Sex. Simple, really.
So what is it about nudity that makes us feel so, well, naked?
"Nudity," actress Bridget Fonda once declared, "is who people are at the most interesting part of the evening, when they take off their protective layer, when no one is watching." If this is the case, then I have been missing out. The physical specificities of my lovers tend to take a back seat to more important matters, e.g., sexual positions and continuous orgasms. I have zero desire to think about his patchy chest hair or nonexistent abs, much less how my stomach and thighs must look without clothes to hide under. Grunting, sweating bodies are best ignored in favor of assured, maximized sexual pleasure.
So much of our discomfort with nudity has to do with environment and social convention. At the beach, people feel comfortable in bikinis and Speedos, but not bras and boxers, largely because walking around in your bathing suit, even it means you are effectively nude, is socially acceptable. Walking around in your underwear is not. Same goes for locker rooms-walking around naked after a workout has little significance. Undressing someone in bed for the first time, even if you've already seen them naked in the locker room, takes on an entirely different meaning.
Maybe it gets difficult when someone we care about is watching us. Our vulnerability levels skyrocket. Going to a naked party with a bunch of random people is much easier-who cares what people you don't know think? Going to a naked party with your lover is an entirely different, excuse the pun, ball game. So is going with a close friend, for that matter. We're much more sensitive about our self-images when we care about the person (or people) observing us.
Genuine examine-every-crevice-in-my-body-and-fuck-me-with-the-lights-on nudity can be equally, if not more, erotic than sexual intercourse in and of itself. Which means it takes guts. If sex marks the shift in a relationship from friendship to something more, than nudity, in its rawest form, marks a relationship from something more to something that can't be taken any further. To the normal human eye, the most you can observe about a person is visible when he or she is naked. Even for the most serious of couples, there is nothing more to see, nothing more to explore. Everything, including those physical attributes you like least about yourself and your lover, is suddenly on the table.
But it is not just more erotic, it is more intimate. About as intimate as it gets. Because once you are mutually raw and naked with someone, you'll never look at them the same way again.