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This answer tends to vary a lot across autistic people. I’ve known autistic people who have disliked the sensory input of clothing and find nudity liberating, and I know many who are uncomfortable with the idea of being naked simply because the clothing acts as a buffer between themselves and strong sensory input. I’ve known autistics who grew up in cultures where nudity isn’t taboo, and others which are much more modest. A good portion of how we feel about our naked bodies when we are alone (or with a partner) speaks volumes I think about how comfortable we are with ourselves and our sexual identities, at least in my experience. I’ve gone on a roller coaster ride in terms of sexual and bodily issues, and how comfortable I was with nudity was a good barometer for those feelings.

Nudity has never been a strange thing to me. I grew up in a house where my mother and my father were both not shy about being naked, and since our house had a large Japanese-style ofuro bathtub, we bathed together, and that was perfectly normal in our predominantly Japanese American neighbourhood. I also bathed in the ofuro with friends of both sexes at slumber parties, so I wasn’t shy about being naked with people who weren’t relatives.

As a result, I’m very comfortable with my own naked body. When I first entered puberty, I got a hand mirror and used it to examine my breasts and genitals, so I observed my breasts growing (even if it wasn’t much, I’m not very well endowed) and I noticed my labia becoming thicker and changing colour, as well as the hair sprouting. It was all very fascinating to me, and there wasn’t much of a sensual element to it, so much as it was curiosity and excitement, after all, I was becoming a woman, as my mother put it. I was perfectly comfortable being nude, and even slept naked, since I enjoyed the sensory pleasure of the clean, soft sheets against my skin, and found nightgowns hot and scratchy.

After I was molested though, it took away a lot of the comfort I had with my body. I was fourteen/fifteen years old when it occurred, and I saw my body in a new, shameful light, because I blamed myself for having not stopped the molestation, and felt deep down that there was a part of me that deserved it* With that came new awareness of my body that was more negative and miserable. I refused to go out in public without wearing a bra, I wore a t-shirt over my bathing suit at the beach, and lived in t-shirts and baggy pants.

I also put on a considerable amount of weight, partially out of depression, and partially out of a desire to hide the development that I had so previously welcomed, wanting to be shapeless and somewhat androgynous. During that period, the only time I was ever naked was when I was taking a shower, and had an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude towards my body in a sexual sense.

This changed when I was about sixteen, and entered a serious relationship, but rather than becoming what I could characterize as “better”, it entered a stage that was more the flip side of the coin. The relationship was a long distance internet based one, and my boyfriend at the time enjoyed webcam interactions, and tried to tell me that I was beautiful and desirable. Unfortunately he didn’t know how to go about it properly, and rather than letting it develop properly at its own rate after battling with the depression and trauma, he tended to shove self-esteem down my throat, demanding that I see myself as beautiful, criticizing me during my moments of depression, and belittling me when I fretted about doing things like webcam sex.

Rather than liberating, I found it equally oppressive and dangerous to my self esteem. I obliged him with lots of sexual poses and pictures, but I was doing it purely for him, the part of me that had previously appreciated my body’s wonders was completely dead during that period. I was doing what one might call the 21st century equivalent of “close your eyes and think of England”. I was comfortable being naked, but I was on autopilot, and didn’t appreciate my body for what it was doing for myself, but using it as a tool to shut my then boyfriend up so he would quit bugging me. That’s very unhealthy and psychologically unsound. And I was still uncomfortable with my naked body outside of interactions with my then-boyfriend, because I could no longer be casual about nudity, with my mother’s new boyfriend and his son living there.

The relationship ended, and I found myself interested in experimenting with my sexuality in a way that involved my own pleasure, rather than pure exhibition, and tried to rediscover loving my body because it was a wondrous, sexual thing, not because someone was barking orders at me, telling me to do so. I’m still trying to do that, four years later. Now that I live away from my family and have a partner who loves me and doesn’t force me into anything I am uncomfortable with, it’s been a much smoother process.

The biggest test for me on becoming comfortable with nudity was going to an Onsen the last time I was in Japan. The Onsen I want to was sex-segregated,  but I was still slightly anxious about being nude in the bathing area, partially because I would be the only foreigner and partially because I was worried about breaching etiquette in some way, and there’s nothing quite as awkward as etiquette breaches in a foreign culture when naked (Which makes me wonder what will happen if I ever go to Finland) But I ended up enjoying it greatly, and the nudity was a non-issue, even though it was the first time in my adult life that I had the biggest breasts of anyone in the room. After that experience, I felt ready to get more comfortable with my body again, and I have.

I can wear as little clothing as I like when we’re at home together, and embracing my sexuality, and coming to terms with my queer identity have been greatly liberating. I wear clothing which is appealing and sexy for me with comfort and personal impunity, am comfortable with the hand mirror once again, and do not fear going out braless if I’m having a casual day. The process isn’t complete yet, but I think that learning to get 100% comfortable with my body again, every scar and flaw and stretch mark, it will be a sign that I’ve reclaimed one aspect of my life that the molestation robbed from me.

What are your thoughts, readers, on nudity in your own home and your level of comfort with your body? Do you find it liberating to be naked around your house, or do you prefer to keep your clothes on, and why or why not? Were you raised in a culture that was open to nudity, or more clothing-inclined? There are no right or wrong answers for this.

* More on the events that went on which led to that attitude later.

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