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In 1974, the International Naturist Federation (INF) defined naturism as:
a lifestyle in harmony with nature, expressed through personal and social nudity, and characterised by self-respect of people with different opinions and of the environment
Several other terms ("social nudity", "public nudity", "skinny dipping", "sunning", and, recently, "clothes-free") have been proposed as alternative terms for naturism, but none has found the same widespread public acceptance as the older terms "naturism" and (in much of the United States) "nudism".
People interested in social nudity can attend clothes-free beaches and other types of ad-hoc nudist events. At these venues, participants generally need not belong to a naturist club.
Many contemporary naturists and naturist organisations feel that the practice of social nudity should be asexual. For various social, cultural, and historical reasons the lay public, the media, and many contemporary naturists and their organisations often oversimplify the relationship between naturism and sexuality. Current research has begun to explore this complex relationship.
According to the international definition adopted by the XIV Congress of the International Naturist Federation (Agde, France, 1974), naturism is:
"a lifestyle in harmony with nature, expressed through social nudity, and characterised by self-respect of people with different opinions and of the environment."
The International Naturist Federation explains:
"Each country has its own kind of naturism, and even each club has its own special character, for we too, human beings, have each our own character which is reflected in our surroundings."
The usage and definition of these terms varies geographically and historically.[a] Though in the United States, naturism and nudism have the same meaning, in Britain there is a clear distinction. [b] [c] [d] Nudism is the act of being naked, while naturism is a lifestyle which at various times embraced nature, environment, respect for others, self-respect, crafts, healthy eating, vegetarianism, teetotalism, non-smoking, yoga, physical exercise and pacifism as well as nudity.
In naturist parlance, textile or textilist is a non-naturist person, non-naturist behaviour or non-naturist facilities. e.g. the textile beach starts at the flag, they are a mixed couple - he is naturist, she is textile. Textile is the predominant term used in the UK ('textilist' is unknown in British naturist magazines including H&E naturist), although some naturists avoid it due to perceived negative or derogatory connotations. Textilist is said to be used interchangeably, but no dictionary definition to this effect exists, nor are there any equivalent examples of use in mainstream literature such as those for textile.
Clothing optional and nude optional (US specific) describe a policy or a venue that allows or encourages nudity but tolerates the wearing of clothes. The opposite is clothing compulsory; that is, prohibiting nudity. Adjectival phrases clothes free and clothing free prescribe where naturism is permitted in an otherwise textile environment, or define the preferred state of a naturist.
The social nudity movement includes a large range of variants including "naturism", "nudism", "Freikörperkultur (FKK)", the "free beach movement" as well as generalized "public lands/public nudity" advocacy. There is a large amount of shared history and common themes, issues and philosophy, but differences between these separate movements remain contentious.
See also: labels, associations and terminology for an extended discussion and disambiguation.
By far the largest nudist library and archives worldwide are held in Hannover (Germany) by the Niedersächsisches Institut für Sportgeschichte (NISH).
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