• Paloma McKim

Nude and Naked

Updated: Jan 20

In 1972, John Berger commented on the distinction between being nude and being naked. When nude, your own skin is a costume: a costume worn for someone else, observing you. But to be naked is to have no disguise, to be simply as you are without poise, stance or even gaze to make you appear a certain way to that someone else. To be nude is to alter your undressed behaviour, witnessing someone else witnessing you. Berger was discussing this in the context of art history and how the undressed person is painted, but I believe this distinction steps outside of the painting and into the sexual persona.

It is natural to be somewhat conscious of the self and your unclothed appearance in sex. You want to feel and appear sexy for both yourself and the other person. However, this tendency can expand into unhealthy ways. You become nude in sex when instead of being in the body, you are in the mind, and thought pervades over sensation. This is characterised by engaging in a sexual act not for mutual enjoyment but to appear sexy for another, despite not entirely enjoying the act yourself: exaggerating sounds of pleasure or mimicking a face of satisfaction that doesn’t actually pertain to your internal feeling. When nude, instead of pleasure being reached from mutual sensory satisfaction, it is obtained mostly from the validation of being experienced as desirable. To be naked in sex is to be present in the body and in sensation. You are naked when you are not performing but truly experiencing with a goal of mutual pleasure and satisfaction. Of course, being nude and naked in sex is a continuum. We all have moments of self-consciousness and desire for validation. These feelings occur when we are vulnerable, and sex is vulnerable: it is when the nude overrides the naked that issues may arise.

In a climate of highly accessible pornography and articles in magazines about “keeping him interested” and increasing your appeal in the bedroom, it’s understandable that sex can feel like performance, with the end reward being a seal of approval that you are an object of desire. Being nude does not only apply in the context of one individual performing for another but also the joint nudity of two people for an unspecified observer. This nudity occurs when you do something in sex not for the joint satisfaction it may bring but to be able to relay the experience and be validated by others as exciting or adventurous. This may involve persevering through an uncomfortable position, behaviour or use of equipment, not because it is actually enhancing the experience, but for the goal of having done it and then feeling accomplished as an exciting, adventurous partner or couple. It is healthy to try new things and see what works and doesn’t in the bedroom--sometimes you can be surprised by what is stimulating. It is also normal to discuss experiences with friends. This is not the same as persevering with something for the sake of having done it or enduring feeling uncomfortable emotionally and physically for the anecdote on your sexual CV: “Look! I am exciting and adventurous because I did this!”

Let it be clear: the distinction between nudity and nakedness made here does not aim to be judgmental or invoke insecurity about sexual experiences. Instead, it aspires to bring into needed awareness a damaging dynamic so that we may instead facilitate empowerment in our own nude/naked balance.

You can find Paloma on Instagram @poetrybypaloma.