Nudity in social contexts has been practised in various forms by many cultures at all time periods. In Western society nowadays, social nudity is most usually encountered in the contexts of bathing, swimming and in saunas, whether in single-sex groups, within the family or with mixed-sex friends. But throughout history and in many tropical cultures till now, nudity is normal at many sports events and competitions.

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Naturism

Naturist facilities

At naturist-organised events or venues clothing is usually only optional, with the exception of swimming pools or sunbathing lawns where complete nudity is expected, weather permitting. This rule is generally a source of controversy among some naturists. Staff at a naturist facility are sometimes required to be clothed due to regulations of health and safety.

Classifications for facilities

Facilities for naturists are categorised in various ways. A landed or members' naturist club is one that owns its own facilities, while non-landed (or travel) clubs meet at several locations, such as private residences, swimming pools, hot springs, landed clubs and resorts and rented facilities. Landed clubs can be run by members on democratic lines or by multiple owners who make the regulations. In either case, they can decide on membership criteria and the duties of members. This usually involves sharing work necessary to maintain or develop the site.

Some clubs have stricter entrance stipulations than some traditional 'country clubs', including the requirement to supply references, a sponsoring member, a trial membership, committee approval and/or criminal background checks. UK clubs are now required to have child-protection policies in place and designated child-protection officers. Many clubs promote frequent social activities.

International organisations

The international naturist organizations were mainly composed of representatives of landed clubs. Nudist colony is no longer a favored term, but it is used by naturists as a term of derision for landed clubs that have rigid non-inclusive membership criteria, and in meta-data on naturist websites.

A holiday centre is a facility that specializes in providing apartments, chalets and camping pitches for visiting holidaymakers. The centre is run commercially. Visitors are not members and have no say in the management. Most holiday centres expect visitors to hold an INF card, that is be a member of their national organization, but some have relaxed this rule, depending on the carrying of a trade card.

Holiday centres

Holiday centres can be rather small. In a large holiday centre there will be swimming pools, sports pitches, an entertainment program, kids' clubs, restaurants and supermarkets. Some holiday centres allow regular visitors to purchase their own chalets, and generations of the same families will visit each year. Holiday centres are more tolerant of clothing than members-only clubs; total nudity is usually compulsory in the swimming pools and may be expected on the beaches, while on the football pitches, or in the restaurants in the evening, it is rare.

A naturist resort is, to a European, an essentially urban development where naturism is the norm. Cap d'Agde in France, naturist village Charco del Palo on Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Vera Playa in Spain and Vritomartis in Greece are examples. Some residents use these resorts as a year-round home. In US usage, a naturist resort can mean a holiday centre.

Freikörperkultur (FKK) literally translated as 'free body culture' is the name for the general movement in Germany. The abbreviation is widely recognised all over Europe and often found on informal signs indicating the direction to a remote naturist beach.

“Naturism”

It is difficult to find exactly when naturism started as a movement. The word 'naturism' was utilised for the first time in 1778 by a French-speaking Belgian, Jean Baptiste Luc Planchon (1734–1781). It was advocated as a means of improving the 'l’hygiène de vie' (natural style of life) and health.