Fancy getting your kit off in London, but not quite sure where? From nudey swimming to dinner parties — here are Londoners' top tips on where to get bare.
Naked dinner parties
"If I am lucky enough to be attending a dinner party with beautiful women, that is always going to be sexy — if they are naked, that will surely enhance that feeling." Clive is explaining to me why he belongs to the Meetup group Naked Masked Dinner Parties. Despite having over 100 members, the group is yet to hold its first event. As admin, Clive explains, "my partner and I love to be naked, but we have two lodgers, otherwise these events would happen at my house, and you would definitely get an invitation."
Naked Masked Dinner Parties is just one of the groups offering naked events on Meetup. There's Naked Meditation which advises its 30-odd members to bring a towel or sarong "for hygiene purposes" and offers, "an invitation to move beyond personal preference and ideas of sexual attraction, into a space of welcoming and appreciating everyone." Then there's the Naked Women's Healing Circle, which is about "radical intimacy" and, "using our bodies as a medium to explore the deeper aspects of our true divine nature." I've got literally no idea what this means, and as there are just six members, I don't think many others do either.
Naked dancing, yoga and work-outs
More popular, with almost 2,000 members is the Naked London Meetup Group, which arranges meet-ups at Nudity, the men-only naked dance club in Vauxhall, which is, "proud to run the UK's only naked Foam Parties." And if there's any doubt about the dress code, "everyone is naked, with no exceptions!" With a similar number of sign-ups, there's Naked Warriors, which offers naked yoga for men in Islington and Vauxhall.
But it's not just men who want to get bendy with their bits out. London Co-Ed Naked Yoga meets weekly for a 90 minute Vinyasa class in south west London. Run by Doria Yoga, prospective participants are assured that, "the studio is equipped with infrared heaters so you will experience the pleasant feeling of warmth all over your body." But why do yoga naked? According to Doria Yoga: "While our society often equates being naked with sex, other cultures have found that being naked removes many social and economic barriers. It is also very freeing to move the body without the restriction of clothing, and yoga provides a great way to deepen body acceptance." Additionally, "being naked can bring up many of our vulnerabilities. By facing these fears in the context of a safe and supportive community we naturally become more grounded and comfortable with ourselves."
OK, so far, so much spiel! Or is it? Nick's been to about 12 naked yoga classes and he says, "it's a very warm, welcoming environment. It's the kind of place where people walk in with no preconceived ideas of what size, shape, or kind of body they’re going to see in there." And are people looking at each other, or are you all oblivious to the nudity? "It depends how you define looking," he says. "You take everything in, and you notice things, but you're not staring."
I'm not as enlightened as Nick. I went to the Naturist Foundation's Jazz and Real Ale Festival and I purposely took in as little as possible. There were moments I'd have fitted blackout blinds to my sunglasses if I could. But Nick has been a naturist for 15 years, so he's probably more blasé than I am. He explains, "it started while I was at uni, as the radiator in my bedroom was jammed on full power." At this he point realised, "I'd love to do more nude sunbathing."
OK, but there's lying about with no clothes on, and there's having someone's swaying sack in your face as you do Downward Dog. There's getting an all-over tan, and there's having love-tunnels at eye level when you do your Warrior Three. But of course, that could be the attraction… Does Nick worry about getting an erection? "No," he says, "because it's not going to happen. I'm not thinking about sex, I'm thinking about yoga, so my mind is in a completely different contextual environment and an erection's not going to happen out of context." OK. Has he seen any other guys with a stiffy? "No."
While Nick's naked yoga practise may be unsullied by saucy thoughts, Clive of Naked Masked Dinner Parties insists it's not all innocent, declaring: "Don’t let anyone tell you that it's nothing to do with sex, as so many naturists will try to have you believe!" Oh reeeeally? Well, it's funny he should say that… Chiswick based NKD Training offers naked group fitness classes, gym sessions and personal training for men, and the number one query in their FAQ section is all about erections. "This question is asked more than any other," they say, confirming that, "There is sometimes an initial state of arousal in men when they first strip off in front of others, or if they are new to a naturist environment." However, they offer reassurance that: "Here at NKD Training we know that guys can naturally get hard at any time… It's quite natural and nothing to be embarrassed about."
Phew. But why would anyone want to burn calories in the buff? "Exercising naked makes you feel AMAZING!" says the site, explaining: "NKD Training is all about being free from the restrictions of clothes while we train and enables us to be more in tune with our bodies."
So far, so man-centric. But of course, girls like to get their kit off too. Emma swims naked at Student Central, which is just off Tottenham Court Road. Formerly known as the University of London Union (or ULU), the fitness facilities are open to the public, and the pool there is the largest in central London. Emma attends the Sunday Swim, a mixed naked swimming session which is held in association with Naturist London. So, what's good about it? Emma says, "it's such a lovely feeling swimming with nothing on! And of course, afterwards, you don't have to peel off a wet, manky swimming costume!"
Emma is a member of British Naturism which she describes as, "a warm, welcoming tight-knit community." Having been a naturist herself since 2011, Emma has attended the Sunday Swim for the last three years. She says, "it's predominantly male but the number of women attending is rising. It's a very established community swim, and we always reach capacity!" The two-hour time slot runs from noon to 2pm and Emma advises arriving early or late to avoid the busiest bit. "You get quite a few people thrashing up and down the fast lane, but equally, you get people who go along to catch up with friends, so there's lots of chatting — it's a very nice, relaxed swim."
Emma recommends the Sunday Swim for naturist newbies, explaining that often, to get involved in anything naturist, "you’ve got to take a barrowful of ID and fill in eight application forms!" For the swim, however, you can just turn up. "It's a good starting point for the younger demographic who like to be spontaneous and don't want to jump through a whole pile of hoops!"
Emma's observation that the Sunday Swim is predominantly male, reflects Nick's experience of naked yoga. Despite the fact that women tend to make up the majority in clothed yoga classes, Nick estimates that the naked sessions he's been to have been 70% male and 30% female. He explains, "I think this country has a gender problem when it comes to naturism, in that it's seen as a predominantly male activity — if you go to France, Spain or Germany, it's pretty much a 50:50 split." Nick sees the male majority in naked yoga as, "at least in part a reflection on naturism in the UK."
Of course, there might be other reasons why women feel wary about getting their kit off. Craig has done the World Naked Bike Ride in London four times, and says, "it tends to be slightly more guys, because photographers can be inappropriate. There used to be quite a few women in the group I did the bike ride with, but when there's photographers putting cameras up to their crotch, they don't want to keep doing the bike ride."
Craig's own experience is that it's a lot of fun. The annual event, which takes place in June, is a protest against oil dependency and car culture, as well as raising awareness of the vulnerability of cyclists. In addition to it being a worthy cause, Craig enjoys it because, "you don't often get the chance to cycle round London naked — not without being arrested!" Don't his bits get sore? "No, but when you get to the cobbles in Covent Garden you get people doing oohs and aahs — that's when people's bums get numb!" Ah, you miss your padded cycling shorts? "Yeah, but I think it's also because a lot of us hardly cycle apart from this occasion, once a year!"
If anyone's worried about the weather, Craig says, "it's always been amazing! Cyclists stop part way round to put more suntan lotion on, and try not to make it too erotic!" Um, what? "Yeah, because the law says it can't be inappropriate, so you're warned at the start, not to be sexual about it!" But what if you need to put sun cream on your crown jewels? Craig says, "I don't bother cos they're that far down!"
While Emma's never seen a stiffy at the Sunday Swim ("it's a non-sexual environment") some women prefer the seclusion of the Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Heath. Helen went there in the 80s and says, "it's lovely, because being naked without the male gaze is so freeing and relaxing. It's liberating. It makes you proud to be a woman because you can't help but appreciate the diversity of the female form." Comparing it to a naturist beach she's visited, which was, "full of single men watching," Helen says, "it's not the same vibe at all."
The City of London Corporation, which manages Hampstead Heath, states unequivocally that, "Nude swimming is not permitted at any of the bathing ponds." However, this doesn't mean it isn't happening. Helen says, "the feeling of the water on your skin is wonderful, when you're naked with no straps digging in, or bits slipping off." Helen's not the only one. Lucy remembers women swimming naked when she visited the Ladies' Pond seven years ago, and there are numerous references to it in online. A writer for Red says, "As soon as the thought of skinny-dipping entered my head, the ladies’ swimming ponds on Hampstead Heath called to me." She describes an early morning visit when, "I peel off my costume under the water and bunch it in my hand." A Tatler feature from the same year says, "Bikini bottoms were dropped, tops untied and left in a neat pile." In the freezing temperature of the pond, "our nakedness was forgotten. We were more concerned with manoeuvring into the icy abyss than with our cellulite."
A blogger on LGBTQ+ site The Most Cake, writes in 2009, "the Lady Pond isn't to everyone's taste, if you mind being around naked old people and mud you won't like this very much." While a blogger on The Toast writes in 2016 that, "Safely fenced, you can lounge around in the buff with your fellow woman without fear of spies." She adds, "although a friend of mine tells a great story about a voyeur dropping a sandwich out of his tree and having to be rescued from the butches by the lifeguard."
Perhaps the most concrete corroboration of naked swimming in the Hampstead Heath ponds, are 2012 newspaper reports of something in the water. "Swimmers are being warned not to swim in the nude in open-air ponds — because of an invasion of crayfish," announced The Telegraph, noting that swimmers, "regularly take nude dips in the two giant ponds all year round."
The City of London Corporation declined to comment on whether naked swimming had ever been permitted, and feedback from the Ladies' Pond Facebook group was mixed. "Nudity is not allowed in or out of the pond," stated one member, who added, "Just so you know, I've been swimming there for 41 years." Another member acknowledged that, "Out of hours unsupervised i.e. not allowed naked swimming may have happened..." While a third told me, "There's a legend that women used to swim naked until an inspector was brought in to check everyone was wearing at least 'bottoms'."
Sanctioned or surreptitious, it seems there's certainly been nudity at the Ladies' Pond, and looking back, Helen says, "my strongest memory is that of seeing an elderly naked woman walking across the grass, and thinking how beautiful she was because her body was brown and weathered and strong and I hadn't seen beauty like that before."
There are plenty of opportunities to run in the buff too. Streak for Tigers is London Zoo's annual naked run to raise money for the conservation of tigers and The Naturist Foundation has a naked 5K run in St Mary Cray. But maybe think twice before bounding in the buff. Naked Yoga Nick says, "I had a testicular torsion from not being properly supported while running and I found myself in the back of an ambulance. I had to spend days in hospital." What's a testicular torsion? "It's more commonly known as a twisted testicle." Ouch. Bear this in mind if you plan to get your pumpkins out in October, at the Naturist Foundation's Halloween Disco…
And if you're looking for something civilised, keep an eye out for the return of naked pop-up restaurant The Bunyadi, which founder Seb Lyall plans to bring back permanently in 2018. With candle light, high spirits and waiting staff who keep you well oiled, The Bunyadi allows the nak-urious to bare all in a woodland setting — without straying far from a well-stocked bar. Naked Masked Dinner Parties could make it their first meet-up…
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.