Naturists Campaigning for Naturism

A Nation of Prudes?

A bit late, sorry.

Early in November, the opinion pollsters YouGov published Britain: still a nation of nude prudes, which has been taken by many to be a snapshot of the British public’s opinion of naturism. Far from it, it came about because the European Court of Human Rights rejected Steve Gough’s claim that his nudity was a human right and most of the questions make reference to nudity, not naturism.

It should also be noted that analysis of surveys, such as this one, is a matter of interpretation and what one person says about it is no better or worse than another person’s, but I would remind readers of the old adage: there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Lets get the ‘domestics’ out of the way first. The survey’s fieldwork was carried out on 28th and 29th October 2014 and there were 1,972 respondents of which 1,016 were female and 956 were male (weighted samples). The results are sub-divided into past and present political affiliation, age, social grade and English region or nation. Each question is also divided into those who had answered to first question if they were or were not comfortable naked.

The survey can be broken down into three parts:

  • Personal attitude to nudity;
  • The British public’s opinion on matters about sex and/or nudity, and;
  • The public’s reaction to the treatment of Steve Gough (aka The Naked Rambler).

A look at the responses
Question 1 asks: ‘Generally speaking do you feel comfortable naked?’ 42 per cent of the respondents said, generally, they were compared to 50 per cent who said they were not. Looking at the results by age, surprisingly in the age group 18 to 24 the uncomfortable (52%) out numbered the comfortable (37%), while in the other age groups the advantage of the uncomfortable over the comfortable is less pronounced. Considering the same question by social group, in ABC1 the comfortable (45%) is just shaded out by the uncomfortable (47%), yet in the C2DE social groups, there is a distinct advantage to the uncomfortable (53%) when compared against the 37 per cent who are comfortable. [An for explanation of social groups used in marketing can be found here.]

Question 2 asks: ‘When no one is in, how often do you walk around your house naked?’ The answers ranged from very often to never, with the highest frequency being ‘not very often’ (41%). In total 22 per cent said either very often or fairly often (6% and 16% respectively), while 34 per cent said never. Analysing the replies by gender, not surprisingly, revealed more males would walk about the house naked when alone than females (26% against 17% respectively) but of those that replied ‘very often’ the gap is quite narrow (seven per cent male compared with four per cent female) and those who replied ‘fairly often’ 19 per cent were male compared to 13 per cent who were female. Interestingly, 48 per cent of those that had responded ‘not very often’ had also stated they were comfortable with their own naked bodies.

Question 5 asks: ‘Have you ever gone swimming nude or ‘skinny dipping’ at all?’ Unsurprisingly a thumping 73 per cent said no, compared to 27 per cent who had. Taking the results by age group again, in every group those who said no far outweighed those who said yes. The largest difference between the answers is in the age group 18 to 24, with 82 per cent saying no against 18 per cent who had swum naked. For this question, 60 per cent of those that had said no had also stated they were comfortable with their own naked bodies.

Question 4 asks are: ‘British people too easily offended by matters relating to sex or nudity?’ Overwhelmingly, the respondents agreed with the statement (65%) compared to 24 per cent who disagreed and 11 per cent who didn’t know. Breaking the replies down still further, only two per cent strongly disagreed with the statement, while those who agreed with it, most (51%) tended to agree and only 14 per cent strongly agreed. Looking at the results across the various age groups, the replies are fairly evenly spread, ranging from 43 per cent of those in the age group 18 to 24 tending to agree with the statement, to 56 per cent of those who are 60 years and over. Likewise for those who tended to disagree, ranging from 19 per cent (25-39) to 24 per cent (40-59). Considering these results by gender shows very little difference between male and female respondents (50% and 52% respectively) who tended to agree with the statement, but there was a marked contrast with those who responded strongly agreed (20% and 9% respectively). Of those who tended to disagree most were female (26%) with 17 per cent male.

Question 6 asks: ‘When analysing whether nudity should be punished in the case of naturism, lawyers try to consider both the naturist’s right to freedom of expression and the right of the wider public to be protected from harassment and distress. Which do you think is more important in such situations?’ Half of the respondents (50%) said the wider public’s interests should be protected with 31 per cent favouring the naturists, but one in five respondents (20%) replied ‘Don’t know’. Breaking the responses down by age again, the answer that the wider public should be protected from harassment and distress naturally exceeds those in favour of a naturist’s freedom of expression, but not by as much people might think from the headline figures, the differences range from seven per cent (18-24) to 25 per cent (60-plus), with the highest ‘Don’t know’ answer (26%) among the 18 to 24 year olds.

Both Questions 7 and 8 make reference to ‘the naked rambler’. After a brief explanation as to who Steve Gough is, Question 7 asks: ‘Before today, were you aware of ‘the naked rambler?’ More than half of all respondents said they were (64%), with 32 per cent saying they didn’t and just three per cent saying they weren’t sure. It is perhaps indicative of their lack of engagement with what is happening around them that 51 per cent of respondents in the 18 to 24 years age range were not aware of who Steve Gough is, compared against the 41 per cent who did, while in the remaining age groups (25-39, 40-59 and 60-plus) all had significantly higher proportion of respondents who were aware. Interestingly, of those who were aware of Steve Gough’s predicament, 71 per cent also said they were comfortable with their own naked bodies.

A preamble to Question 8 stated that the naked rambler had been convicted for indecent exposure several times with his sentences increasing with each subsequent conviction. It then asked: ‘Generally speaking, do you think this was…?’ The overwhelming response (49%) suggested that the justice system had been ‘Too harsh’ on the naked rambler, followed by 30 per cent, who thought it had got it ‘About right’. Only five per cent of the respondents thought the justice system had been ‘Too soft’. Looking at these results by how the respondents voted in the 2010 General Election, shows that 43 per cent of those who thought the justice system had been too harsh had voted Conservative, 53 per cent Labour and 59 per cent Liberal Democrat. Those who thought it had dealt about right with the naked rambler was fairly evenly spread across the political spectrum (36%, 30% and 25% respectively), with ‘Don’t know’ evenly spread at 14 per cent (Conservative and Labour) or 13 per cent (Liberal Democrat).

Conclusion
So, what have we learned? We have learned that roughly two-fifths of the population say they are comfortable with their own naked bodies but only one-in-five walk naked around the home, and only when they are alone and that less than a third have ever been skinny-dipping. We have also learned that almost seven out of 10 of us think we are too easily offended when matters relating to sex or nudity arise. But overall, most of us think that Steve Gough has been treated too harshly by our justice system, even if the ECHR says it has been just and proportionate in its actions.

Can Steve Gough take any comfort from this survey? It gives very mixed results but overall, it does not bode well for Gough. A surprising number of people (32 per cent) said they had not heard of him before completing the survey, which means that his story that has featured in the national press for the last 10-years or so has not registered with a significant proportion of the public. Even so, almost half of the all respondents had said the treatment metered out to him had been too harsh, but that does not mean Gough can assume that they also agree with his views. YouGov had asked about an individual’s own nakedness, not that of another person, which is a different thing entirely. They also asked respondents if the justice system should protect a naturist’s freedom of expression or the public’s right to be protected from harassment and distress, having given a brief explanation about naturists. The question, as posed, quoted directly from the CPS website [http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/nudity_in_public/index.html] and naturally most wanted the latter.

Malcolm Boura, in his analysis of the YouGov survey for British Naturism, said this question started from ‘a false premise’ and therefore flawed. I agree it is flawed but for a different reason. The quote from the CPS website is taken out of context because under the next section: “Recommended Approach to Naturism” it states:

“In the absence of any sexual context and in relation to nudity where the person has no intention to cause alarm or distress it will normally be appropriate to take no action….”

Any actual harm or distress will have to be proved and that will not be an easy task for a prosecuting barrister. It should also be added that Gough is not a naturist. He has never claimed to be one and will not thank you for applying that tag to him. The question as written seems to suggest that ‘nudity’ needs to be ‘punished’, naturally people will respond appropriately, but in a contradictory way to when asked if matters concerning sex and nudity too easily offended British people. It reminds me of the old “Yes, Minister” episode where Sir Humphrey Appleby explained to Bernard Woolley how easy it is to get the desired answers from an opinion poll, even from those who oppose your position, just by wording the questions in such a way, they could not possibly disagree. It would appear that that is what has happened here.

Are there any wider implications for naturism? Yes, I believe there is. In his analysis of the YouGov survey, Boura noted that only a minority of the British public strongly disagreed with the statement that matters relating to sex and nudity offended us to easily. True, but there was still 22 per cent that mildly disagreed who may become more entrenched in their views unless naturism opposes with equal vigour the ‘anti-nudity’ brigade. What naturism needs is a plan and perhaps taking a leaf out of the LGBT book is part of the answer?

Another part might be the publication of surveys of our own. Boura quoted from the 2011 Ipsos MORI poll carried out on behalf of British Naturism but as this survey has never been published, we don’t know what it actually says. We can surmise from his words that it comes to a different conclusion from YouGov. What YouGov also wrote is: ‘It would be difficult to tell if British people’s attitudes to nakedness were unusual without a comparison.’ The Ipsos-MORI poll would have been a perfect comparison, even if the answers provided gave a completely contradictory result because statisticians would then look to find why two polls essentially about the same subject could return results so markedly different.

I have said in the past that one of my goals for Naturist Action Group is to commission polls looking at different aspects of social trends related to naturism to understand more fully the number of naturists there are in the UK and what we are like as a market segment. We have the will; we just lack the means to do it.

The YouGov survey may be a disappointment, but lets take it and turn it around. Fight fire with fire, and not just dismiss it as something of no consequence.

2 Responses to A Nation of Prudes?

  • A very interesting survey. I like your reference to ‘Sir Humphrey’ from Yes Minister, and his comment on statistics.

    There are some useful bits to be taken from this survey, which NAG could use in its campaigns.

  • There is another aspect to this survey- people’s prejudice held “with permission”. Compare the race situation now with the 1950s, back then people had the tacit “permission” of others to bar black and Irish people from lodging houses, bars etc., thankfully that has changed. Much the same can be seen with women in society, then it was acceptable for comedians to tell wife jokes or mother-in-law jokes in a way unheard of now, women were expected to stay at home and tend to their husband’s needs. Again that has changed for the better (but not enough to eliminate the problem, at least not yet). Had a survey been taken then on whether blacks should be allowed to stay anywhere or women have equal pay etc. there would have been a significant block of responses showing prejudice and many others would have seen these responses as “normal”, the valid opinion of people in society.

    So if we take the question “Generally speaking do you feel comfortable naked?” and change it to “Generally speaking do you feel comfortable working alongside other races”, it is clear that people no longer have the old tacit permission to answer no but they do still have such permission to answer yes to the question on nudity, i.e. it is not acceptable to “show” racial prejudice but it is acceptable to show prejudice against nude people.

    It is this acceptability to show prejudice that needs to be changed, the actual prejudice will then diminish as it has quite rightly with race, gender and a range of other topics. This is different from genuine political beliefs like the balance between private and state funding of health, defence policy etc. they are issues of politics not of prejudice. The survey gives the display of prejudice the same weight as a political belief; it should not, that aspect needs to be highlighted to law makers.

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