Naturist or nudist: Is there a difference?

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While some people make distinctions between the terms naturist and nudist, for all practical purposes in the United States, the words are used interchangeably to describe the same culture and lifestyle.

Ambiguity of terms can cause confusion

If asked, just about anyone in Dallas would likely be able to explain what being a nudist means (or at least what they think it means).  Yet far fewer might know (or think they know) what being a naturist means.  Some might even confuse the term naturist with the term naturalist, which according to one definition found in The American Heritage® Science Dictionary means – "A person who specializes in natural history, especially in the study of plants and animals in their natural surroundings."

It's perfectly natural that there is sometimes confusion among Texas folk when it comes to the meaning of the term naturist since it is relatively new in this country in comparison to "nudist."  The term nudist is also more commonly used even though in this country the terms are more or less used interchangeably.  In fact, the definition given for "naturism" in the Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged is "another name for nudism."

While in other countries, especially Europe, "naturism" is the equivalent word to the American term "nudist" the term wasn't widely used here until shortly after one of the "free beach" movement leaders, Lee Baxandall, formed The Naturist Society in 1980.  According to, "The Naturist Society: A Brief History" by Mark Storey (N Magazine Issue 19.3, Spring of 2000), during formation of TNS, another "free beacher," Art Andreatte, suggested that the European terms "naturists" and "naturism" be used to describe the organization and its philosophy.

Today, The Naturist Society website acknowledges the equivalency of the terms naturism and nudism noting that both terms are "generally defined as the practice of going nude, especially in a mixed social setting."

The role of stereotypes

Whether a person chooses to be labeled as a nudist or naturist, culturally both nudism and naturism share the common belief that non-lewd social nudity is wholesome, natural, and healthful of non-lewd social nudity.  Some however insist of making distinctions between "naturist" and "nudist" based on how a person relates nudity to his or her environment.

Stereotypically, one might see nudists as individuals who prefer to enjoy social nudity at enclosed, private-property nudist parks or resorts because such sites are isolated from the general public, have established recreational facilities and organized activities.  Naturists on the other hand may be typecast as environmentally-conscious types who prefer to commune with nature by spending time naked outdoors at sites like clothing-optional beaches, hot springs, and wilderness areas.

Making a distinction between nudists and naturists based on stereotypes doesn't really work since many "naturists" typically visit an established nudist park and resort on occasion and most "nudists" spend some time communing with nature in the great outdoors away from such facilities.  Reducing things to the lowest common denominator, regardless of which label a person chooses, intentionally spending time naked, whether outdoors in semi-public areas or inside the privacy walls of a club or resort, is the whole point of the lifestyle.

A matter of labels

Some people in the culture of nudism have a definite preference for one term or the other for their own personal reasons.  Some people, who on occasion enjoy nude recreation including participation in social nudity, don't consider themselves either nudist or naturist.  They simply choose not to have the way they live defined by labels. 

Sometimes people choose the label "naturist" because it often carries less of a social stigma than the word nudist with members of clothed society.  Relatively recently, a new word, "clothes-free" came into usage for a similar reason.  The fact remains, no matter what label a person prefers or whether they prefer no label at all, when a person chooses to intentionally spend time enjoying non-sexual, non-lewd nudity, either alone or socially, he or she is a part of nudist culture.

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