What is a Christian doing using a sauna?
We have been asked this and similar questions a number of times, so we are offering some common answers to common questions. This page has been written by Paul, and I sometimes switch with little warning between taking about 'my' belief and experience and 'our' belief and experiences, speaking on behalf of Sue as well.
How do you cope with the sight of naked bodies?
Quite simply, there is nothing to cope with. The problem - whatever it is - only exists in the minds of people who have never tried any clothes-optional activity.
People imagine that the sight of naked people will be sexually stimulating and tempt them to immoral thoughts. It just does not work that way.
Of course, there is nothing to stop you thinking immoral thoughts in a naturist environment. But most people think they look much better with their clothes on. That may be the main reason why so many people worry so much about the 'need' to keep wearing clothes - it is not modesty, but pride.
Sue and I don't watch much television, but from what we have seen, almost any evening spent in front of the box is far more sexually stimulating than an evening enjoying a sauna with some naturist friends. The conversation is better in the sauna, though.
Should you be enjoying yourself in this way?
As I explain elsewhere, I do not sauna primarily for the pleasure, but for the health benefits. That said, Sue and I do enjoy a good sauna.
Some people think that being a Christian means that you shouldn't do anything to enjoy yourself. But the Bible makes it very clear that God wants us to enjoy ourselves. Many of the feasts in the Old Testament were intended to be fun, as well as being religious events.
Jesus was accused of enjoying Himself too much - of being a 'glutton' and a 'wine-bibber' in the beautiful language of the Authorised Version. We do not seek pleasure as a goal in itself, but we welcome it when it lies on the path we are called to tread.
Is it right for you to spend so much time relaxing and associating with non-Christians?
Absolutely! One of the greatest needs in the evangelical church is for ordinary Christians to spend time with people who are not Christians. Over the years, I have had some absolutely incredible conversations with people in the sauna.
There are instructions in the Bible against associating with immoral people - but this does not mean we should only associate with Christians. What it means is that we should not appear to condone activities that are clearly wrong and people who are known to practice such activities.
How do you justify wasting time and energy on leisure activities when you could spend it doing something useful?
This is a major problem for many Christians. We spend so much time in frantic activity, we join in with so many good and worthwhile activities, that if we spend any time in relaxation it feels like we are failing to live up to our responsibilities.
But God commanded the people of Israel to rest one day in seven. He also gave them numerous feasts and holidays ('holy-days') when they were to relax from their work and celebrate His goodness with friends and family.
In fact, God is so interested in us getting enough rest that one of the Ten Commandments is about making sure we rest each week. That's one of the top-ten things He wants us to be very careful about, alongside not committing murder and honouring our parents!
God wants us to work hard, but He also wants us to balance that work with rest and recreation ('re-creation'). Keeping a godly balance between the two is not easy, but failing to attempt some kind of balance seems like sheer stupidity.
And - as an aside - most of the people we know spend a significant amount of time each week in front of the television. For some reason, this does not raise the same moral question in their minds as does making time to participate in a hobby.
Is it right for you to go to places where you find naked people?
In a few saunas you are required to wear a swimming costume all the time, in some you are required to wear swimming costume in mixed sessions, in some you can wear swimming costume if you wish ('clothes-optional' or 'co' saunas), and in some swimming costumes are not allowed ('naturist' or 'nudist' saunas). Sue and I have used saunas of all four kinds.
Other things being equal, if we are given a choice between using a sauna where swimming costume is required and one where it is not allowed, we will choose the naturist sauna every time. Having a piece of damp cloth wrapped round your middle is the last thing you want in a sauna.
I would not do this if I thought that God requres us to be clothed all the time. However, the Bible never suggests such a thing - in fact, the first man and woman were naked and, according to God, this was 'very good'.
Some people claim that God was only happy with people being naked before the fall, but the Bible never says this. He did not tell Adam and Eve to wear clothes. He did not supply clothes to cover naked people: when He supplied clothes, they already had clothes which they had made. So it is clear that, whatever we are supposed to understand to be the point of His action, He was not implicitly commanding that we must cover up naked bodies. All the commentators agree that the act was symbolic, and generally point to it prefiguring Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.
We do not know what the 'covering' God provided actually covered up. We do know that Adam and Eve used the fig leaves to create loin cloths ('aprons' in the AV), so they clearly thought it was okay for Eve to go topless. And God never criticised them for that, either.
Some people seem convinced that, whatever the theologians and commentators may say, what this passage is actually telling us is that it was wrong for Eve to be topless, and the covering God provided must have covered her top. (It's the same reasoning which concludes that the wine Jesus made at Cana must have been non-alcoholic.) But, since God covered Adam too, the same reasoning would force us to conclude that it is equally wrong for men to go topless. For some reason, they never make that connection.
Putting all such arguments to one side, it is clear that what we wear matters. It is important for a number of reasons. These reasons fall into three simple groups: practical, social and symbolic.
So clothing - or the lack of it - is not a moral issue in itself. That is to say, clothing is not a moral issue, apart from the morality involved in the reason for its use. To give you a few simple examples:
We are expected to be modest, but this does not mean when we are sitting on the beach we need to be covered up like we were in a blizzard!
The basic meaning of 'modest' is 'harmonious' or 'appropriate'. What is appropriate on the beach is not appropriate in the office; what is appropriate at a party is not appropriate at a funeral. What is appropriate in a bath, shower or sauna is not appropriate when representing someone in court or spot-welding.
How do you reconcile your clothes-optional activities with your Christian faith?
This question can be approached from a number of different directions... But, firstly, a quick word about the terminology used.
'Clothes-optional' is used to describe an activity or a place where clothes are, well, optional. These are often places like beaches, swimming pools and saunas, where the clothes which are optional are generally swimming costumes - possibly the only garments in the world with no useful function whatsoever (but see a more recent Note on this subject).
'Textile' is used to describe activities and places that are not clothes-optional. These are the places where people get upset if they see the 'wrong' bits of people's bodies, although the same people who get upset are quite often willing to pay money to see pictures of these 'wrong' bits of bodies.
'Naturist' and 'nudist' are generally used to describe people who don't mind, in appropriate circumstances, being without clothes. Some people distinguish between the two terms, while for other people they are used interchangably. We tend to use 'naturist' purely on the basis that the corresponding noun, 'naturism', is less clumsy than 'nudism'.
Now we agree on the words, it is probably useful to say that Sue and I do not call ourselves 'naturists'. Accepting that label seems to imply that we are committed to something, or believe in something, while for us it is almost the precise opposite.
We do not share in clothes-optional activities because we believe in something. We take part in these activites because we do not believe something - several things, in fact. We do not believe that nudity is in some sense 'right', or that it is wrong to wear clothes. We do not believe that swimming costumes should be banned. But we also do not believe that wearing them is a moral duty.
We share in clothes-optional activities for a number of simple reasons.
We also have a few thoughts on the subject which touch on the area of morality.
Hopefully, it should now be obvious that there is no need to reconcile naturism with Christianity because the two are entirely consistent.
Nudity is entirely acceptable, according to Biblical morality - within a few obvious limits. There is not a single commandment against nudity as such in the Bible. There are a few times and places where it is inappropriate, but if you try to ban everything which the Bible says is sometimes wrong, you will find there is very little left to life - especially as you would not be able to eat anything!
So, to be clear about this: naturism is not condemned or forbidden in the Bible. If it was wrong for people to be nude, do you think God would have created Adam and Eve that way? If the human body is somehow offensive, why did God choose to walk with a naked Adam in the cool of the evening?
Naturists do not believe all nudity is bad (of course!), or that people ought to be clothed whenever possible. Naturists do not believe these things, and neither do Christians. At least, the Bible does not teach either of these ideas.
If you equate nudity with sex, then you will understand anything promoting nudity as encouraging promiscuity. But once you realise the two are quite distinct in the Bible - as they have been through most of history - then nudity becomes a practical, not a moral issue. In other words, not an issue at all.
I have had a few very strange conversations with Christians on the subject. They tell me the Bible condemns nudity. I ask them where. They give me a passage. We look it up. I point out what the passage says. They tell me there is a better passage somewhere. We look it up...
A good example of this comes in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. Jesus tells us that God knows we need both food and clothes. To make a few obvious comments on the passage...
We need food so that we can eat it when we are hungry; we need clothes so that we can wear them when we are cold. It's really very simple, and very straighforward.
Perhaps it would be helpful to look at things from the opposite direction: why do some people think that we ought to be clothed all the time?
When I talk to people about this, it comes down to three things - they believe that the human body is ugly, dirty or shameful; or some combination of all three. And they believe this despite what the Bible teaches, not because of it.
How do your Christian friends feel about your clothes-optional activities?
Most of the people who have raised these questions have done so via the Internet. Many of our Christian friends have used a sauna. None of them have shown any interest in identifying any possible conflict between the sauna and our faith; to date, only one has seriously questioned the morality of nudity (you can read about this on the eczema page), and one person we know has questioned the wisdom of publishing these pages.
Our friends all know we sauna together every now and then. We have asked various people if they would like to join us, but nobody has yet taken us up on the offer.
Sometimes, when we lived in Guildford, people would ask where we sauna. We would then describe the various places, and explain that one advantage of Bracknell and Alton is that we can sauna together and don't have to wear costumes. This seems to have answered their questions, and the conversation moved on.
We also make sure that anyone who could be caused difficulty by someone complaining about our clothes-optional activities knows about what we do. Again, there have never been any problems.
So our strategy is to be open about what we do, but not push it. We do not hide any of our activities or lie about them. But neither do we push naturism as something important, because in our scale of priorities it is pretty minor.
If one of our friends regarded nudity as a 'big thing', they would probably react when we mention saunas and question the morality of such activities, or something. Of course, if we knew that social nudity was a problem for someone, we would not suggest they join us for a naturist sauna, any more than we would invite a tea-total friend to join us for an evening in a pub.
I (Paul) was once stuck in the middle of an argument between two Christian friends. One of them was saying that nudity was always sinful; the other was saying that if you couldn't take off all your clothes with someone, then either you didn't know them well enough, or you had a problem in your relationship with them. They asked me to say which of them was right, and were both distressed to discover I considered them both mistaken. (You can read more about this time here.)
So nudity is an issue for Christians - when is it appropriate, who with, and so on. But it is an issue on about the same level as the eating of chocolate bars. And if either nudity or chocolate bars is a serious issue for someone, I suggest this points to a pastoral problem which should be resolved for the sake of the individual concerned.
Some thoughts on the strange problem of people being caused offence by the sight of a human body.
You come across some really odd things when you start to explore the reaction people have to simple nudity. For example, perfectly rational people try to explain that people should not be naked in public because they have (or 'the public has') the right to not be offended.
Even if we wanted to, we could not draft a law to prevent people from being offended: people can be offended by so much - or so little, depending on how you look at it.
And if we look at the laws we have in England, do they make any sense from the point of view of preventing offence?
In particular, compare what happens with sights and sounds some people find offensive.
All those affected by these sounds cannot choose not to hear. They cannot switch off their ears, or listen in the other direction (I know that's a daft phrase, but bear with me).
People affected by these sounds have no choice but to suffer the noise or the language. Technically, much of this behaviour is illegal, but how often does anything actually happen? Almost never. In general, nothing can be done; occasionally there is a gentle telling off and asking the offenders to be more considerate in future. Very rarely does anything more happen.
On the other hand, when it comes to what people see, we are not permitted to just be ourselves - not without covering bits up - even though the human body is not offensive, and even though everybody has a body (while not everybody has loud music blaring out of their windows).
And anyone who does not like what they see has a simple and entirely adequate remedy: just look somewhere else. We cannot listen in the other direction, but we can look in the other direction.
If someone does not like what they see and complains, the Police will frequently go way beyond their authority, only backing down when they are forced to admit there is no criminal case to answer.
(To be precise, in the UK it is common for a naked person to be charged under the Public Order Act for "disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby" because one person complained to the police, even if a thousand other people are present and are not offended in the slightest. Sometimes the Police even go round and ask people if they are offended, which is certainly against the spirit of the law if not the letter. But if the vast majority are not offended, it is clearly not the case that people are likely to be caused distress, so no offence was committed. And on the few occasions these cases reach court, this is always the outcome.)
So... with noise and verbal abuse, which you cannot avoid hearing, even when it is clearly breaking the law, nothing is usually done; with the human body, which you can avoid looking at, there is frequently a response even when it is clearly not breaking the law.
But still people get arrested for simply being naked, while nobody is ever arrested for playing loud music at night and keeping the neighbourhood awake.
How does this make sense?
For years, I have described swimming costumes as "possibly the only garments in the world with no useful function whatsoever". But in March 2008, I was sent the following message:
On your site you state "swimming costumes - possibly the only garments in the world with no useful function whatsoever", so I thought I would let you know they do have useful functions.
I do enjoy swimming naked when I get the chance, but there is a significant difference. Naked swimming feels very pleasant as long as one is doing slow relaxing swimming. However, I also like to swim fast and energetically for my cardio-vascular exercise, and this is simply not possible naked. I have large breasts (F cup), and when I swim front crawl (freestyle) they flop around all over the place, bashing into each other and into my arms. This is not at all pleasant, and so I need that bit of cloth to hold them still. I am told that it is not just us busty types, but also the case with women of average breast size who like to swim vigorously.
Another issue is the water currents around and between the legs, especially when doing breast stroke. Again, not a problem when swimming lazily, but at higher speeds the currents can send water rushing towards the vagina, and that bit of cloth again prevents discomfort.
I hope you did not find my explanations offensive.
It was certainly not offensive, but it was a bit of a surprise. I have heard many people, both male and female, describe how swimming naked feels so much better than swimming with a costume: many people feel, once they have done it once, that they never want to use a swimming costume again in their lives. I feel that way myself. But, clearly, when some ladies are swimming energetically, it's not that simple.
Some related links within our site:
There are many web sites published by people who believe there is no conflict between Christianity and naturism. Of course, we do not agree with every thing they say - just as we don't agree with everything most other Christians say! So please don't bother asking me to defend something that somebody else says on one of these sites.
You should also be aware that web sites run by people who believe that nudity is morally fine may well contain pictures of naked people. Personally, I encourage the sites which do not publish pictures to remain picture-free: naturists already know what the human body looks like, and there are already more than enough sites where non-naturists can go to find pictures of naked people. But it's a personal decision by the web site owner.