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      Mormon Hub Rules - Please be familiar with these rules before posting   04/17/08

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Vort

Ponderings on nudity and modesty

102 posts in this topic

In today's LDS culture, all public adult nudity is considered immodest and therefore inappropriate. Many Latter-day Saints even look on classic sculpture and painting of nudes as immodest, which is only logical, since time and fame do not supersede divine will.

But Adam and Eve were created naked, as are we all. In most cultures, both historically and today, little children run around naked and no one bats an eyelash. What's the real low-down on the acceptibility of public nudity?

Well...you've come to the wrong place. I can't give any authoritative answers. But I can open a discussion on the topic and see if any useful ideas surface.

From what I can tell, in ancient times adult nudity meant one or both of two things:

  • You were very poor, too poor to afford clothing.
  • You were a slave.

The mortal Lord referenced the first of these quite often when he spoke of clothing the naked along with feeding the hungry. Clothing serves the obvious purpose of protecting one's skin against the elements and preserving body heat. But why would poverty and nudity be associated? I see two reasons:

  1. Clothing was expensive. It took a great deal of work to gather material, spin it into a thread, then work that thread on a loom to produce fabric, from which you could cut and sew clothing. Even tanning, cutting, and sewing animal skins into clothing was time-intensive and not cheap.
  2. Clothing was an obvious status indicator. Fine, beautiful clothing bespoke a rich man or woman. The Lord also had a great deal to say about this, all of it negative.

As for being a slave, if you were naked -- especially given #2 above -- you were ashamed. You were either too poor to buy clothing or else you were not free to wear them.

Children are born naked. In many ancient societies and not a few modern ones, little children are often unclothed. From a financial standpoint, it doesn't make much sense to make expensive clothing for children who are just going to outgrow them in a few months. Children are also not responsible enough to take good care of their clothing, avoid soiling it, and so forth. (Modern ultracheap clothing makes these points moot for a modern society.) Since children are sexually immature, childhood nudity is pretty much of no societal consequence, assuming you don't have any significant element of society that is sexually attracted to children -- which is a separate topic that I won't explore, because I both find it distasteful and don't have any insights to offer.

Adult nudity is another thing entirely. Adults are, by definition, sexually mature, and there are all sorts of obvious physical manifestations of this. A nude adult is a sexual being. Sex implies nudity, if it doesn't actually require it. An exposed adult is an adult ready for sexual mating. This fits very well with the slavery idea, since slaves were considered the sexual property of their owners. The Hebrews and the Arabs, along with many other ancient societies, mandated that a female slave who gave birth to a master's child was either to be treated as a wife or set free. Men, too, were kept in sexual slavery by owners of both sexes, though I don't know that they ever had any get-out-of-jail-free clauses related to childbirth.

So a naked adult is a sexually exposed adult, socially if not physically. Sex being viewed by the world as a sort of animalistic thing anyway, this is an implicit dehumanization of the naked adult.

In modern Western societies, of course, these historical norms don't directly apply. Nudity is highly sexualized, even with children. It is seen as a "choice" and as a matter of "freedom of expression". Men and women demand the "right" to expose their nudity in public, and mock as "prudish" and "Victorian" those who object. I can only imagine the derisive laughter and eye-rolling that an ancient society would express on seeing modern attitudes toward nudity.

But the derision of ancient societies is of no more moment than that of modern societies. The point is that we in the modern Western world view both adult and childhood nudity much differently from ancient societies, and indeed much differently from almost any other society throughout history. It's all about titillation, voyeurism, and consensual sex.

Which leads to the topic of modesty.

"Modesty" means being moderate and unassuming in both action and self-estimation. It also means avoiding impropriety or indecency in behavior, appearance, and manners. Obviously, this will vary substantially between societies and cultures.

Is public adult nudity always immodest? In the United States, I would say the answer is probably yes, except in certain highly specific and artificial situations. But that's clearly not the case in other societies, such as those with public baths. Even in the US, I expect that most people would say that a woman "exposing" her breast to nurse her baby is not being immodest.

There is an obvious link between nudity and immodesty, but I think it wise to remember that the link is not always one-to-one. It is possible to be nude and still be modest, and it is very possible to be clothed and still be extremely immodest in appearance.

So there are some of my ponderings. I invite others.

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I consider any and all depictions of nudity in art to be pornography.

I consider immodest clothing and swimwear to be pornography. Even one piece swimsuits do I consider immodest but NOT pornography due to the simple fact that we have genuine sisters who are TRYING to be modest by wearing such.

The same principles of modesty apply to men.

Anyone who finds this extreme might simply underestimate the character of the devil and the manner of his influence. I call these things pornography as a matter of resentment. (Or perhaps I'm just a weirdo.)

"And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."  

2 Corinthians 6:16–18

 

Edited by Snigmorder
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2 hours ago, Vort said:

In today's LDS culture, all public adult nudity is considered immodest and therefore inappropriate. Many Latter-day Saints even look on classic sculpture and painting of nudes as immodest, which is only logical, since time and fame do not supersede divine will. ...

Is public adult nudity always immodest? In the United States, I would say the answer is probably yes, except in certain highly specific and artificial situations. But that's clearly not the case in other societies, such as those with public baths. Even in the US, I expect that most people would say that a woman "exposing" her breast to nurse her baby is not being immodest.

There is an obvious link between nudity and immodesty, but I think it wise to remember that the link is not always one-to-one. It is possible to be nude and still be modest, and it is very possible to be clothed and still be extremely immodest in appearance.

At the point in my life in which I find myself today I can in all honesty say that my own reaction to nudity is situational. In other words the circumstances dictate how I will react to a large degree. You have already pointed out some of the variety of circumstances that may affect my reaction--the most important being my own personal frame of mind and the degree to which I find myself in control of my sexual feelings at the time and based upon the intentions of others. 

Thus I am fully capable of enjoying classic sculpture and painting of nudes without resort to prurient reactions. I am fully capable of becoming sexually aroused in the presence of a given fully clothed woman, and conversely in other situations (such as going to that same woman's aid after an accident) sexual arousal would be next to impossible.  Likewise the sight of a woman's breast as she nurses is akin to the sacred in my own heart, and the possibility of sexual arousal absolutely abhorrent to me in that situation.  There are times when I am capable (and ashamed at my capability) of looking at pornography intended by its producer for sexual arousal and responding as its producer intends; while there are other times that the presentation of such pornography sickens me. 

I have been in the presence of South American indigenous men and women in various states of undress and felt no other feelings than respect. At my best (I would like to think) I am capable of approaching the human body as a temple of God, and as such I am consciously capable of looking with reverence at another person as a brother or as a sister.  

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8 minutes ago, Mike said:

(and ashamed at my capability)

I'm not sure the capability to be aroused by prurient materials is the right part of the equation to be ashamed of.

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1 minute ago, The Folk Prophet said:

I'm not sure the capability to be aroused by prurient materials is the right part of the equation to be ashamed of.

I think I see what you mean. Probably more accurate to say I'm ashamed of my behavior in times past.

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I used to be a lot more passionate on the subject than I am today.  I've basically done a 180 on breastfeeding in public.  I have no problem with folks being enthusiastic or zealous about modesty, it's just that I don't really care as much as I used to.

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25 minutes ago, Mike said:

At the point in my life in which I find myself today I can in all honesty say that my own reaction to nudity is situational. In other words the circumstances dictate how I will react to a large degree. You have already pointed out some of the variety of circumstances that may affect my reaction--the most important being my own personal frame of mind and the degree to which I find myself in control of my sexual feelings at the time and based upon the intentions of others. 

Thus I am fully capable of enjoying classic sculpture and painting of nudes without resort to prurient reactions. I am fully capable of becoming sexually aroused in the presence of a given fully clothed woman, and conversely in other situations (such as going to that same woman's aid after an accident) sexual arousal would be next to impossible.  Likewise the sight of a woman's breast as she nurses is akin to the sacred in my own heart, and the possibility of sexual arousal absolutely abhorrent to me in that situation.  There are times when I am capable (and ashamed at my capability) of looking at pornography intended by its producer for sexual arousal and responding as its producer intends; while there are other times that the presentation of such pornography sickens me. 

I have been in the presence of South American indigenous men and women in various states of undress and felt no other feelings than respect. At my best (I would like to think) I am capable of approaching the human body as a temple of God, and as such I am consciously capable of looking with reverence at another person as a brother or as a sister.  

There is no question that each person will react differently to different stimulisituations, and frames of mind.  For instance, I never really got any reaction out of nude statues.  And there are some things that are meant to be purely technical or scientific that would generate a reaction in me.  I am of course stimulated by my wife.  But when I was delivering our last baby, that was the furthest thing from my mind.

I think that the bottom line is that the arousal reaction is what will constitute what is appropriate/inappropriate for the individual.  And that will have a lot of variables.

So, what is pornography?  What is modesty?  Those questions cannot really be answered.  

What is pornography TO YOU? What is modesty TO YOU?  While that is more likely to be answered, can most people really be self-aware enough to be honest about the answers?

Edited by Carborendum

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19 minutes ago, Mike said:

At the point in my life in which I find myself today I can in all honesty say that my own reaction to nudity is situational. In other words the circumstances dictate how I will react to a large degree. You have already pointed out some of the variety of circumstances that may affect my reaction--the most important being my own personal frame of mind and the degree to which I find myself in control of my sexual feelings at the time and based upon the intentions of others. 

Thus I am fully capable of enjoying classic sculpture and painting of nudes without resort to prurient reactions. I am fully capable of becoming sexually aroused in the presence of a given fully clothed woman, and conversely in other situations (such as going to that same woman's aid after an accident) sexual arousal would be next to impossible.  Likewise the sight of a woman's breast as she nurses is akin to the sacred in my own heart, and the possibility of sexual arousal absolutely abhorrent to me in that situation.  There are times when I am capable (and ashamed at my capability) of looking at pornography intended by its producer for sexual arousal and responding as its producer intends; while there are other times that the presentation of such pornography sickens me. 

I have been in the presence of South American indigenous men and women in various states of undress and felt no other feelings than respect. At my best (I would like to think) I am capable of approaching the human body as a temple of God, and as such I am consciously capable of looking with reverence at another person as a brother or as a sister.  

 I would argue that the reaction is not the point.

I'd like you to imagine yourself standing in the midst of a heavenly tribunal, looking God your Father straight in the face, telling him about your capabilities regarding nudity.

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5 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

 I would argue that the reaction is not the point.

I'd like you to imagine yourself standing in the midst of a heavenly tribunal, looking God your Father straight in the face, telling him about your capabilities regarding nudity.

Well, if my reaction isn't the point I invite you to explain more about what you think the point is. It isn't difficult for me to imagine myself looking God in the face and repeating what I posted above because (a) I believe God already knows; and (b) I believe God knows I am being perfectly honest. But maybe I'm missing your point again. Please tell me more if you think it's worthwhile. 

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9 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

 I would argue that the reaction is not the point.

I'd like you to imagine yourself standing in the midst of a heavenly tribunal, looking God your Father straight in the face, telling him about your capabilities regarding nudity.

You're actually self-contradicting here.  You said that the reaction is not the point.  But then you argued about honesty. 

I'd state that if we really could be honest with ourselves about our reactions, then our reactions are the point.  The problem is that we either lack honesty or self-awareness (or both) regarding ourselves and our reactions.  So, better to be safe.

Now, Mike might be absolutely honest here.  I currently have no reason to disbelieve him.  If he simply lacks self-awareness, then he needs to work on that.  If he's being dishonest, then he needs to work on that.  If he's being accurate, then your challenge is meaningless.

Edited by Carborendum

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7 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

You're actually self-contradicting here.  You said that the reaction is not the point.  But then you argued about honesty. 

I'd state that if we really could be honest with ourselves about our reactions, then our reactions are the point.  The problem is that we either lack honesty or self-awareness (or both) regarding ourselves and our reactions.  So, better to be safe.

Now, Mike might be absolutely honest here.  I currently have no reason to disbelieve him.  If he simply lacks self-awareness, then he needs to work on that.  If he's being dishonest, then he needs to work on that.  If he's being accurate, then your challenge is meaningless.

 Let me rephrase, what he said reminded me of a discussion me and my friend had a while back. Where he claimed that he can "handle" women in bikinis "i.e. not become aroused" (though I didn't believe him)  I told him that his reaction to nudity is not the point. (everything I say  in the next sentence is directed at my friend only and not Mike) I told him his complacent and prideful tolerance of immodesty and nudity was the point. 

So I will rephrase the "thought experiment" (this isn't a judgment scene, though I called it a tribunal.) Imagine explaining to God the reasons you tolerate things that are contrary to his kingdom. 

Please don't take anything I saw personally, Mike. My response is more or less directed at the attitude my friend had on a similar issue. Which attitude I assumed from your post based on a superficial reading.

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25 minutes ago, Mike said:

Well, if my reaction isn't the point I invite you to explain more about what you think the point is. It isn't difficult for me to imagine myself looking God in the face and repeating what I posted above because (a) I believe God already knows; and (b) I believe God knows I am being perfectly honest. But maybe I'm missing your point again. Please tell me more if you think it's worthwhile. 

 Please read my reply to Carborendum.

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7 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

So I will rephrase the "thought experiment" (this isn't a judgment scene, though I called it a tribunal.) Imagine explaining to God the reasons you tolerate things that are contrary to his kingdom. 

Please don't take anything I saw personally, Mike. My response is more or less directed at the attitude my friend had on a similar issue. Which attitude I assumed from your post based on a superficial reading.

No, I don't take it personally (I've been working on *that* particular aspect of my self-control, too, hahahaha). :)  

But I'm still having a challenge being able to relate to the idea of even needing to explain things to God. There's nothing to explain, as far as I can currently see. As for my tolerating things that are contrary to His kingdom it seems this whole planet is in a sense contrary to His kingdom insofar as what people do in it. I don't tolerate such things as much as I learn to deal with them. I learn where the metaphorical cliff edge is and I learn to stay away from it whenever possible and how to seek rescue when I find myself thrust to the edge not of my own choosing. 

I'm still open to learning more about your viewpoint. My own viewpoint at the moment is that I am growing and have improved in some things (and have a long way to go in some other things). One small example is seeing photos of naked African women in a National Geographic magazine when I was 14 and seeing such photos today. As a 14-year old having recently entered puberty my responses were different than they are today. I should hope that even without exposure to religious instruction a real man learns such skills as self control to one degree or another as he grows up (and grows old). So, tell me more about your viewpoint.

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9 minutes ago, Mike said:

No, I don't take it personally (I've been working on *that* particular aspect of my self-control, too, hahahaha). :)  

But I'm still having a challenge being able to relate to the idea of even needing to explain things to God. There's nothing to explain, as far as I can currently see. As for my tolerating things that are contrary to His kingdom it seems this whole planet is in a sense contrary to His kingdom insofar as what people do in it. I don't tolerate such things as much as I learn to deal with them. I learn where the metaphorical cliff edge is and I learn to stay away from it whenever possible and how to seek rescue when I find myself thrust to the edge not of my own choosing. 

I'm still open to learning more about your viewpoint. My own viewpoint at the moment is that I am growing and have improved in some things (and have a long way to go in some other things). One small example is seeing photos of naked African women in a National Geographic magazine when I was 14 and seeing such photos today. As a 14-year old having recently entered puberty my responses were different than they are today. I should hope that even without exposure to religious instruction a real man learns such skills as self control to one degree or another as he grows up (and grows old). So, tell me more about your viewpoint.

 I can't say I disagree with what you said. I'm not sure I can explain my viewpoint. Because it's more of a feeling or assumption about someone else's intentions than a viewpoint.

The best way I can explain it is by explaining the attitude my friend seemed to have.  I called women in bikinis nudity and expressed something of an aggressive feeling towards it.  He assumed that I felt this way because (I'll say it politely) "I was aroused by them"  and then proceeded to tell me that he himself is not and can "handle it." It seemed like he was implying a virtue or righteousness in his "ability" to not be "bothered" by women in bikinis. Obviously, this is pride in the gospel sense.  I told him something like "whether or not you are aroused by nudity and pornography or any other unclean thing is not the point."

In short, it didn't seem to be a concern of his whether or not he avoided Women in bikinis, because he could "handle it." Such an attitude annoys me.

The best way I could define my attitude would be this: everything which isn't the Church of the Lamb is "founded" by Satan.(according to Nephi's vision in 1 Nephi.) Along that same principle, anything in the world which would not be acceptable before God must be ultimately Satanic, in opposition to the very Father which made you.

I heard a sectarian say that it's OK for him to watch Game of Thrones because he's not affected by the nudity.  I'd say, well that's not the point.

 

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I remember watching documentaries about tribes out in the jungle who had little to no clothes and often times the only thing covered was their genitalia, and not even always. Never once had I ever felt uncomfortable. But when a nasty scene (immodesty or nudity which is almost always sexual in nature on tv) pops up on tv it in movies I get a little squirmy and turn away.

These aren't thought through reactions where I'm deliberately choosing how to react... those are gut reactions.

I think it all goes back to the Lawbif Chastity in that we should stay away from things that arouse us (except on marriage and with your spouse).

2 hours ago, Carborendum said:

 

So, what is pornography?  What is modesty?  Those questions cannot really be answered.  

What is pornography TO YOU? What is modesty TO YOU?  While that is more likely to be answered, can most people really be self-aware enough to be honest about the answers?

I love this answer to the extent that all sexually explicit media (sex scenes, sexually endured nudity\immodesty and the like) is pornography. But beyond that it is up to interpretation and forte individual to know where his temptations lie . I mentioned before in an older post that I have friend that told me once that images of Adam and Eve (including in the temple) where they have no clothes brings pornographic thoughts to his mind (which brings another question... are depictions of Adam and Eve pornographic in nature? @Snigmorder seems to suggest that in his opening statement).

Edited by Fether

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14 minutes ago, Fether said:

I remember watching documentaries about tribes out in the jungle who had little to no clothes and often times the only thing covered was their genitalia, and not even always. Never once had I ever felt uncomfortable. But when a nasty scene (immodesty or nudity which is almost always sexual in nature on tv) pops up on tv it in movies I get a little squirmy and turn away.

These aren't thought through reactions where I'm deliberately choosing how to react... those are gut reactions.

I think it all goes back to the Lawbif Chastity in that we should stay away from things that arouse us (except on marriage and with your spouse).

I love this answer to the extent that all sexually explicit media (sex scenes, sexually endured nudity\immodesty and the like) is pornography. But beyond that it is up to interpretation and forte individual to know where his temptations lie . I mentioned before in an older post that I have friend that told me once that images of Adam and Eve (including in the temple) where they have no clothes brings pornographic thoughts to his mind (which brings another question... are depictions of Adam and Eve pornographic in nature? @Snigmorder seems to suggest that in his opening statement).

The church should be careful about Adam and Eve. Internet pornography has changed everything. Even how one might see a relief of Adam and Eve.

I should add that my attitude isn't a straitjacket. It's discernment on a moment to moment basis. I honestly don't know where a tribal documentary fits in my views. It's definitely nudity, but is it pornography? I would probably choose not to watch it regardless of which.

When I call things pornography, I do it in an attitude of dislike for the world.

Here's two facets of my attitude.

#1. Don't tolerate nudity or pornography for the sake of entertainment or art. (that's not to say depictions of nudity in the arts aren't masterful)

#2. Don't pretend you're unaffected by the world.

Edited by Snigmorder
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Vort, you done good on this post.

1 hour ago, Snigmorder said:

I honestly don't know where a tribal documentary fits in my views. It's definitely nudity, but is it pornography?

Is this so hard a question to ask? When you're defining pornography as nothing but a way to stick it to the world, you're really watering down the meaning. No, I don't think a tribe agreed to be filmed in hopes of titillating scholarly viewers.

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16 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

I thought this was funnier than I should have.

And now we question the motives of every non-Westerner out there...

:D

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1 hour ago, Backroads said:

And now we question the motives of every non-Westerner out there...

:D

Ya... No wonder the gospel was restored in the west x)

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A third consideration is the covenant we make to wear the garment correctly. To be naked outside of the appropriate setting, or to wear the garment immodestly would be sinful. So there is a component of "knowing better" with the covenant, as well as with the appropriate mastery of nudity and modesty. The Church typically introduces into our lives a Zion culture where clothing standards are preparatory to and consistent with wearing the garment. For example, a nudist convert, who sees nudity in a perfectly modest context, would probably find himself lapsing more and more in the practice of nudism.

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23 hours ago, Snigmorder said:

 Let me rephrase, what he said reminded me of a discussion me and my friend had a while back. Where he claimed that he can "handle" women in bikinis "i.e. not become aroused" (though I didn't believe him)  I told him that his reaction to nudity is not the point. (everything I say  in the next sentence is directed at my friend only and not Mike) I told him his complacent and prideful tolerance of immodesty and nudity was the point. 

So I will rephrase the "thought experiment" (this isn't a judgment scene, though I called it a tribunal.) Imagine explaining to God the reasons you tolerate things that are contrary to his kingdom. 

Please don't take anything I saw personally, Mike. My response is more or less directed at the attitude my friend had on a similar issue. Which attitude I assumed from your post based on a superficial reading.

I don't see how that changes the thrust of my point.  Change the "Mike" to your friend and the issue is still the same.

You mention something "contrary to (God's) kingdom.  You're assuming wearing a bikini is inherently immodest.  My position is that what you wear is only immodest because of how you feel about it and how others react to it.  If no one were to become aroused by it and if your intent has nothing to do with arousal, there is nothing immodest about it.

While it is a fact that 99.999% of heterosexual men will become aroused at seeing a shapely woman clad in a bikini, it is only the fact that arousal exists that makes it immodest,not the bikini wearing itself.  And while I believe you when you say your friend was deceiving himself, it still doesn't change my point.

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I'm pondering the inutility (for me personally) of what I perceived to be the original objective of this thread if it was merely to discuss the link between nudity and immodesty. After re-reading @Snigmorder and @Carborendum (as well as my own remarks) I'm now pondering the differences I perceive between normal sexual desire, arousal, and lust. I'm of the opinion that the differences are real and significant; and that the most important thing I can take away from this thread is a renewed determination to be the master of the passions I understand are part and parcel of occupying a mortal body in this particular sphere. Maybe this is (partly at least) what you meant, Carborendum, when you alluded to self-awareness?

I bristled at the 99.999% statistic cited above. But I realized my discomfort may have been an unwarranted knee-jerk reaction to having my normal sexual desire lumped in with men who suffer from uncontrollable and/or aberrant desires. I don't believe mine are uncontrollable, and I think I'm a better man today than I was a boy in this area if you can consider what I mean. 

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