The naked truth

Onsen swimming

Why does being naked make us so uncomfortable? Millions of Japanese women don’t seem to be.

I recently discovered the joy of floating naked in a pool of steaming hot, mineral-laden water. Nestled among rock formations overlooking the sea in a Japanese onsen  – I could not believe how wonderful it felt. And made me wonder, why we didn’t do it here in the UK?

You enter the women’s onsen (men & women have segregated sections) and take off your clothes, douse yourself with hot water and clean up with soap, then gently ease yourself into the almost-boiling hot water with a bunch of other women.

I can hear the collective groans of horror among my women friends, exclaiming how they wouldn’t be caught dead naked in a hot pool with strangers. So why are we so embarrassed about being naked?

But here’s the thing: no one in the onsens I went to seemed to care how anyone else looked: it was a personal experience. Young teens with perky breasts floated right alongside grandmas with floppy, droopy breasts.  There were babies floating with their mums. There were women with all manner of pubic hair, some without, some with post-pregnancy stretch-marks, young teens with flawless skin… just women of all shapes, sizes, ages. And it was OK for us all to be naked in that steamy, communal space.

It got me thinking. Being naked came so naturally to us when we were babies but now seems cringe-worthy.

So what makes our toes curl up just at the thought of taking our clothes off in public? Is it the judgement from other women about our wobbly bits? Is it seeing ourselves naked & not liking what we see?

Or is it because society has convinced us that unless you’re an airbrushed supermodel with a perfect figure, being naked is being ashamed.

I wish the Onsen trend would catch on here in London. And we’d all happily get naked, enjoy being in the body we’ve been blessed with. Perhaps, one day…


The Kamasutra doesn’t talk about nudity in particular. Because then it doesn’t need to. Being naked with your lovers, bathing with your friends in lakes and public bathing spots were the most natural things in the world and did not require mentioning.

There are passages in the Kamasutra that describe the life of the Nagaraka (man about town who is the hero of these erotic texts) which mention how he and his friends would attend horseback picnics and go swimming in summer.

“Guests swam in ponds & frolicked with each other under the trees…”

Perhaps showing off their bodies in the water, teasingly inviting their lovers to join them. There is no mention of any embarrassment about taking their clothes off. But then, in that more evolved era, that’s not surprising.

Pity we’ve lost that in our so-called liberal times…

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