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News » Cover Story

No Garments Needed

For one devout group of LDS church-goers, social nudism is not only good for the soul, but scripturally-backed.

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DEREK CARLISLE
  • Derek Carlisle

It's a Sunday night at a Millcreek yoga studio. In the parking lot, participants curtly nod at one another as they hurry inside to the invitation-only class. Some stare straight ahead—or look at the ground, avoiding eye contact.

Once inside the classroom, however, the secretive mood changes as they remove their clothes—all of their clothes. And among the shirts, skirts, trousers and Jockey shorts are snowy white sets of garments—the sacred underwear worn by devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That's right: A good portion of this all-nude yoga class is temple-recommend-carrying Mormons—and, what's more, they claim scripture endorses the practice.

Before the session begins, many stand up and begin milling around the studio, baring their bodies—some large and saggy, some tight and fit—without shame. The 20 or so people in attendance are split between female and male, ranging from older, single men to young attractive couples.

I'd heard about the class on a Facebook group called Wasatch Naturists, which a friend told me about during a conversation on skinny dipping. I contacted the class leader and told him the idea of communal, non-sexual nudity fascinated me and that I wanted to write a story on it. After a few messages, he agreed to allow me into their inner sanctum with one caveat: I'd have to be nude as well.

In truth, I was apprehensive. I didn't like the idea of standing naked in a roomful of strangers.

When I told my girlfriend, she was shocked and humored. She laughed at the idea of doing yoga poses naked for all to see, but also said the freeing nature of social nudity was somewhat appealing. After some convincing, she agreed to tag along.

After we arrived at the studio, our IDs and backgrounds were checked. The latter consisted of a basic Google search and a more prying sex offender registry search. Once cleared, it was time for the moment of truth. I was anxious and could hear my heart beating. The idea of a roomful of strangers focusing on my nether regions during full downward-facing "dog" pose seemed daunting. Still, there was no turning back. We set up our mats. I looked at my girlfriend, smiled awkwardly and disrobed.

A friendly older couple approached us and asked if this was our "first time." I couldn't help but stare at the two—grey-haired and exposed, wrinkled skin folding on top of itself flecked with small liver spots. We said yes, and they immediately smiled reassuringly. The man patted me on the back, shared words of welcome and struck up small talk, asking me about my life, how I heard about the group, where I was from and other pleasantries.

Soon, a bell chimed and the yoga instructor—a young, red-headed girl in her late 20s who was also naked—smiled and began the class. It was a bit cold, but I started to warm up as we went along, awkwardly noticing my exposed body during poses. I sneaked a glance to see if people were staring. They weren't. Everyone seemed to be in their own world, concentrating on their own bodies and yoga poses. Eventually, I got into the groove, and by the end of the hour-long class, felt much more comfortable and free. Being naked with a couple of dozen strangers felt oddly good. Before leaving, we said goodbye to the older couple and accepted an invite to a swim happening later in the month.

As we dressed, so did the garment-wearers. These active Mormons often come from conservative families, have been taught that modesty is paramount, and have rarely, if ever, been naked in a social setting. They're intensely private and secretive out of fear of being shunned by their religion, but many believe that God has permitted them to be nudists, and are passionate about sharing their stories.

Bare Origins
In the summer of 1999, a site called LDSSDC (LDS Skinny Dippers Connection) appeared on the web. In it, a devout church-going couple who called themselves Alan and Kathy, mused on their experiences with nudism in Utah, and "the value that chaste naturism could offer their children,"according to the site description.

What's more, Alan wrote there was scriptural backing for nudism. Although the LDS church had strict rules and definitions of modesty, he contended, there was some wiggle room for being nude in social situations with like-minded individuals. Alan wrote: "In the 13th Article of Faith we are told, 'If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.'I feel I have found something truly 'praiseworthy' and 'of good report' and now wish to share it with you. Hopefully, somewhere in the collected writings on the site you will find something that you can relate to on some level, and perhaps it will create enough curiosity for you to look into social nudity for yourself."

And thus, with a simple webpage and a new "interpretation" of church doctrine, the movement of LDS skinny dippers began.Fast forward to today, and there's a robust community of nudists who also happen to be church members. LDSSDC shuttered in 2016, but the LDS Skinny Dippers' Forum quickly emerged to fill the old site's shoes. The forum gets 3,500 visitors per month, according to admin and moderator LazerusLong. There's also a dedicated Reddit page, r/ldsnaturists, affiliated with the forum, where community members and those curious flock to talk about faith, nudism and everything in between.

LazerusLong, who requested to go by "Don" for this article, says he's found freedom and a loving community through the LDS Skinny Dipper's Forum. At first, he hesitated to speak on the record about the forum, but my tales of achieving the perfect nude warrior pose changed his mind. Since joining the forum in 2014, he and his family became nudists, and attend clothing-optional events whenever they can. So when the forum was in danger of closing due to inactive administrators in February of 2016, Don stepped in.

"I offered to take it over. The forum is important for LDS people who are interested in naturism to begin to learn, 'You know what? It's not against the gospel,'" Don says. "It's against culture, but it's not against the gospel."

Don says challenging the idea that the church is against nudism is the site's main purpose. With topics like "Can Mormons be Nudists?" "What Does Being a Mormon Nudist Mean to You?" and "Mormon Cultural Issues and Nudity," the issue is obviously on many members' minds. Forum users often cite scripture and official writing from the church to support social nudity, like this excerpt about "shame" from page 37 of A Parent's Guide:

"Shame about the human body, its parts and purposes, is justified only when a person uses it for carnal purposes. Teach your children that they will find joy in their bodies when they use them virtuously after the manner taught by Christ."

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Despite supportive texts, I found in talking to multiple members of the forum that there's a culture of extreme discretion among Mormon nudists. Understandably, very few, if any, of the forum's members use their real names or disclose personal information. For this article, not a single person wanted their name to be used, citing worries that they would lose their temple recommend or be shamed by members of their ward.

"The fear of how [church] leadership will react is why people aren't open about it," Don says. "People worry that they'll lose their community if they're 'outed' so they choose to remain discreet."

Asked for comment on nudism by City Weekly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints referred to church writings on modesty, and included the following quote from Corinthians: "Modesty is an attitude of humility and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If you are modest, you do not draw undue attention to yourself. Instead, you seek to 'glorify God in your body, and your spirit.'"

Patrick Mason, the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, says that while the church doesn't explicitly ban nudism, the practice isn't in line with the religion's culture.

"There is nothing in LDS scripture that explicitly comments either for or against nudism per se," Mason says. "As always, scripture is a matter of interpretation."

Asked to point to specific biblical and LDS scripture that could make the case for or against nudism, Mason mentions the Garden of Eden, and that Adam and Eve were originally created naked, but became clothed after they succumbed to temptation.

"Nudists would say that nudity is our natural state, and that if we avoid any improper sexual thoughts or contact, then it represents a return to our idyllic state before the devil introduced temptation into the world," Mason muses. "The church would no doubt see that notion as naïve and suspect, saying that precisely because of temptation and the fall of Adam and Eve, God gave them clothing to cover their nakedness."

Mason says church members are expected to dress in a conservative fashion, specifically being instructed to keep their sacred garments on almost all the time—a practice that makes the LDS church different from other Christian religions. But you can't follow this admonition, Mason says, if you're a nudist.

"Adult Latter-day Saints who have been through the temple are expected to wear their garments day and night," Mason explains. "Nudism, it seems to me, would be a direct challenge to this explicit teaching and practice of the church, especially for adult members who have been 'endowed' in the temple."

The Family That Disrobes Together ...
A forum member, who asked to go by Paul Dorien, is 27, a returned missionary and was raised by devout members of the LDS church. He was taught that being naked was only acceptable when showering, at the doctor's office or changing in and out of clothing. As he grew older, Dorien began to explore nudity in a more casual way. He says he was fascinated by the human body during sex-ed classes and experimented with small acts of nudity in private, which his parents quickly tried to stop.

"There would be times that I would kick off my underwear when I was going to bed and stuff like that," he says. "My parents would find out what I was doing, and talk to me about the sacredness of the body, and the fact that it shouldn't happen."

As time went on and he got older, Dorien says he continued to experiment, but was beginning to feel guilty for behaving counter to his religious beliefs.

"Sometimes, I would wake up and I would realize that I wasn't wearing any pants or underwear at all. That's when I felt the worst. I felt that I was doing something wrong," he says. "I started feeling ashamed of that kind of thing, because I was doing stuff that I'd been told constantly over the years that it was bad."

Still, his interest in nudity persisted. When he returned from his mission, he would often lock himself in his room for hours, spending time naked while gaming or watching TV. During this time, Dorien started browsing the web, seeking information about nudism. Around that time, he came across LDSSDC, and immediately found solace in the fact that there were others like him. He says seeing them celebrating nudity diminished the feeling that something was wrong with him.

For Dorien, being naked is fun, relaxing and healthy. Nakedness, he adds, has allowed him to feel more at home in his own body and relax in ways he normally wouldn't while clothed.

"It feels good to be naked," he says, matter-of-factly. "I love the feeling of freedom that comes without having any clothes. As my weight fluctuates, tight or loose clothing can make me uncomfortable, so when I'm naked I feel much more free. It's also helped me improve my body image, because I don't hide from myself anymore. The body I have is the body I have and that's OK."

Years went by, and Dorien says he continued to enjoy his private love of nudity, while still actively attending church. Eventually, he met the love of his life, also a church member, and got married. Fearing it could be a deal breaker, he remained moot about his sans clothes double life. That is, until his wife became pregnant. Another kind of worry then took hold—one resulting from the fact that he'd be effectively depriving his family of the joys of nudism. So, he prayed. He recounts one day, while driving to work, he was singing hymns and listening to LDS scripture on tape, when he experienced a "revelation," and an answer from God about his nudism.

"I prayed, as I was on the way to work about it," Dorien recalls. "I wanted to be sure that [nudism] was the right thing for me. And when I prayed, I felt a good spirit. I felt what I believe to be a confirmation of the spirit to my heart that it was right for me."

Dorian shared the experience with his wife, who eventually warmed up to the idea. Shortly after, their son was born. Although he and his family have not yet attended a nudist event together, he remains an active member of the LDS Skinny Dipper's Forum and continues to believe that God has guided him to that life, and that it is not against church teachings.

"The spirit won't lie, essentially," Dorien says. "As we seek revelation from the Spirit and whatnot, the church says it is able to tell us what we can do."

Taking the Plunge
One night a month in a private indoor pool in Davis County, members of the forum and the Wasatch Naturists gather for an au naturel pool party. The event is a potluck, and for November's swim, the group was collecting canned goods and groceries for a holiday charity drive. Chili simmered in a crockpot, cookies were laid out on a tray and 80s rock music blared from a speaker, as attendees arrived, placing snacks on a table and disrobing, greeting each other with smiles and bare butts, hugs and handshakes.

"Linda," a 30-ish active member of the LDS Skinny Dipper's Forum, sits naked by the pool, casually chatting with a girl in her early 20s with bright pink hair. Linda, a social worker by day, is full figured and tall, and estimates her weight at around 400 pounds. She says she's grown much more comfortable with her body since coming across the group's get-togethers.

"I feel like myself when I'm at these events," she says. "I don't get self-conscious or weirded out because of my weight. I feel like we're all on the same playing field here. We're all here, all naked. It's better to just accept and love ourselves the way we are."

Linda, who is single, went to her first nude swim on her own. She admits she was nervous at first, but after de-robing and socializing with others, she immediately felt at ease.

"I honestly feel more connected in a roomful of naturists ... then I do in society," she says. "You'd think that we're supposed to hide our bodies or show how perfect our bodies are, but really, by showing the imperfections has really shown me how to connect with different people."

The swim goes on, with around 35 people; all naked, all chatting and laughing together. A group of younger nudists in their 20s gathers by the edge of the pool, reflecting on how this month's swim has many more people around their age. "Mark," an active member of the LDS church and current BYU student, smiles as he looks around, unbashful of his nakedness, even while sitting next to an attractive, bright-eyed recent BYU grad, who is also nude and unafraid.

"It's just nice seeing younger people get into this," Mark says. "People think nudists are just old men, but young people like this, too. There's something freeing about being naked."

When asked why nudist members of the LDS church are so secretive, Mark shrugs.

"It's just a culture thing," he says. "People want to be seen a certain way by their church community. It sucks, but nudism doesn't match the church's culture, so people don't want to mention it."

A Big Shift
According to web administrator Don, the modesty ideas that the LDS church instills leads to a culture of body-shaming. This can cause people to have poor self esteem—unfairly comparing themselves to their peers.

"There's a general fear in society of not being good enough" Don says. "We don't like our bodies, or we see a different standard of beauty out there, and that can be harmful to us, especially when we're young."

Don says the naked body is too often sexualized as well. In LDS culture, where sex is often a taboo subject, social nudity can help realign those beliefs. He says many LDS faithful are drawn to nudism in hopes it'll remedy their obsession with pornography and sexualization of the naked body.

"With those modesty ideas comes body shaming. When you open yourself up, you are able to shift the way you think about the naked body so the naked body doesn't automatically think sex," he says, "it helps you deal with your own body better, and it helps you deal with sexuality better, too."

Nudism and nudity in general seem to be a long way off from being embraced by the LDS faith, Linda points out. Despite the culture of openness and body positivity, nudism at its core carries with it a slew of negative connotations she feels the LDS church seems unwilling to examine.

"I think it would take a big shift for something like nudism to be completely accepted by the church," she says. "There's just too much stigma right now. People are too afraid to be who they truly want to be"

But churchgoing members who are also members of the LDS Skinny Dipper's Forum, say their life has new meaning, now that they've been reassured that nudity aligns with their faith. Linda feels she can sit naked at a pool and enjoy her body no matter what. Dorien says he finally found a shame-free way to enjoy nudity in private and with his family. Don says that for many others, the forum has helped open their eyes to a new path. He says he hopes his community will continue to change people's lives, one church member at a time.

"Even if we only get one new person visiting the forum a month, that's enough for me," he says. "To see people's eyes light up, and to watch them bring these ideas to their families is what this is all about."