Sex at Dawn

Exploring the evolutionary origins of modern sexuality

Fear and Loathing of Nakedness

Are kids traumatized by public nakedness?

A few days ago, I was sitting in the Plaza del Born in Barcelona, having a beer with a friend. When we heard the Argentinians at the table next to us start hooting and laughing, we looked up to see a naked guy riding by on his bike. He smiled and waved, while the fifty or sixty people sitting in the cafes laughed, some of them raising a glass in his direction. Within a minute, the whole thing was forgotten. Apparently, no children were scarred for life. No parents were shocked and offended. No police were called.

If the police had been called, they probably would have hung up on the caller. It's not illegal to be naked in the streets of Barcelona.

Two recent stories in the news brought this non-incident to mind. First, New Zealander Nick Lowe has a case before the courts there because someone was offended by his penchant for riding his bike in the buff. (Video below. Totally safe for work.)

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Then there's the case of singer Erykah Badu's latest music video (below—possibly NSFW, depending where you work), in which she strips off her clothes while walking through the area in Dallas where President Kennedy was assassinated. Apparently, some onlookers were unimpressed with the performance, shouting that she "should be ashamed of herself," and pointing out that children were present.

It's always the children, isn't it?

I have to admit that I don't get Ms. Badu's artistic conception here, and the whole things smells like an obvious ploy to get free media for her new record. But can anyone explain to me the danger to children in seeing naked human beings? I'm no nudist (luckily for my neighbors), but this seems one of the most obviously baseless socially-constructed phobias around. I mean, what is the issue here? We're afraid the youngsters will realize that people have genitals, like dogs and cats?

Don't they know that already?

Seriously, I'm clueless on this one. And when I think about the anti-nudity energy coming from the Catholic church in light of the worldwide campaign of child rape and torture that's finally (FINALLY) being recognized publicly . . . well, you've got to wonder whose side you want to support in this war.

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (HarperCollins 2010).

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