In 1997, Girls Gone Wild erupted on the scene of American culture, at a time when there was as of yet no Internet pornography, but rather, all of the adult material was available on the DVD format. It featured young college girls, often drunk, on Spring Break vacations engaging in public nudity or private sex acts.
The phenomenon spoke to the American conscience and raised the question of public nudity and of America’s own Puritanical past: Is it ever morally acceptable for nudity to be showcased to a general audience? My argument to this question is yes.
College students tend to have more liberal attitudes to sex and see Spring Break as an opportunity to engage in revelry and sexual exploration. A study by Prevention Science interviewed 1,540 U.S college undergraduates and found that 32 percent of the students reported having sex over Spring Break, and more than half of them engaged in risky sex.
There continues to be the general perception that public nudity as displayed in Girls Gone Wild videos is morally unacceptable. As a Catholic, I subscribe to this position and I argue for a more moral vision that respects the human body and sees for the need to protect it from voyeurism and unwanted sexual attention, which contribute to the impulses of rape culture.
Yet, it is not good to suppress our affection for our bodies and as college students we ought to affirm the place for nudity. A healthy conception of the human person recognizes the value of proper erotic desire and of the need to appeal to our sensual sensibilities.
We ought to encourage a more aesthetic view of the human body that sees its beauty as a model of perfection. Nudity is defensible for artistic purposes since it contributes to what makes us human. Bodies are naturally pleasing to the eye, and a vision that disregards this artistic dimension closes the human person on the contemplation of immortality.
Greek sculptures and Renaissance paintings are regarded as the epitomes of the aesthetic eye. They remind us of the greatness of the human body that ought to be venerated. In this way, the place of sensuality is recognized and the human person is allowed to experience eroticism.
In art classes at various colleges in America, models either male or female are often allowed to pose in the nude for the purpose of teaching, sketching, and artistic mastery.
Nudity is also defensible for scientific purposes. During the time of the Renaissance, the science of anatomy actually developed out of a desire to master naturalism in artwork, from the curiosity of leading artists and inventors as Leonardo Da Vinci and Antonio Pollaiuolo.
In the anatomy classroom, nursing and medical students regularly engage in the dissection of a human corpse seeing that there is value in its nudity for scientific knowledge. In doctor visits, patients can be invited to display themselves nude in order to diagnose an illness or injury.
These are examples that show that nudity in public can be morally acceptable. A controversial case is that of breastfeeding in public. But the same line of reasoning applies as in the cases of science and medicine. Breastfeeding in public responds to an immediate health and a medical need, for that reason, it is valid.
There persists the problem of the potential exposure to children and adolescents to public or paternal nudity. This is a morally questionable practice which definitely raises the important fact that children ought to be educated with a healthy view of the human body, without at the same time, exposing them to sights that they cannot yet comprehend fully.
Our attitudes towards nudity in public have changed over the decades. In 1994, Pope John Paul II unveiled The Last Judgement, Michelangelo’s 16th century fresco showing an Apollo-like Christ judging nude bodies destined to Heaven or Hell; the work had so angered contemporaries that the Council of Trent ordered that parts showing nudity be covered.
Though even religious bodies have changed their attitude to the human body, a residuum of animosity remains. There needs to be a healthier acceptance of the human body that divests it of all its limited immoral considerations.
College students during Spring Break should take the opportunity to engage in artistic activity that actually praises the human body; whether this includes visiting museums showing contemporary works of art respectful of nudity or watching documentaries that educate on the human body or even, engaging in art classes at the local art community center.
As a final note, it is certain that public nudity is certain to arouse sexual desire and question for many, the morality of pornography in our college culture. Girls Gone Wild betrays the fundamental fact that sensuality and eroticism are necessary to a healthy human being though not to the explicit extent that pornography displays in contemporary culture.