Why we love nude beaches (and why they can feel unsafe)

Minka: Hi everybody and welcome back to Minka Guides. This month we’re talking about nude beaches: why we love them and why they sometimes feel a little bit unsafe.

Content warning: the following discussion references sexual assault, harassment, and masturbation.

Here today we’ve got Julie talking with me. 

Hi Julie.

Julie (she/they): Hi Bronwyn.

Minka: Julie is based in Brighton. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Julie.

Nude Beaches CREDIT Minka Guides

Julie: I’m Julie, you already said that. I grew up in France and have been living for about 20 years in the Brighton area. 

I retrained a couple of years ago as a mental health nurse. Very quickly burnt out during the pandemic and so decided to quit my job and go travelling with my friend. Plans changed, so I just had time to myself and I ended up basically walking to nude beaches for a couple of months that was pretty much what my travels ended up being.

Minka: Amazing. So, as in you were walking between them there as you were travelling. Is that how you were travelling around?

Julie: Well, I ended up walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain but the coastal one… there’s one along the North Coast and it’s just beautiful sandy beach after beautiful sandy beach.

As I was walking, I started seeing that quite a few of them were nudist beaches and I always loved them in England but they’re not… they’re much much better in Spain for lots of reasons, which we will get to.

Then when I finished the walk and I got all the way to the… I actually made a little map the other day of all the places I walked.

(turns the camera and shows map)

Minka: Oh, wow! Oh, incredible. That’s amazing.

Julie: And then when I got to the end, there’s this town in the west, the very west of Spain called Finisterre, like the ‘end of the world/fin de terre.’

Minka: Okay, yes.

Julie: And there’s no more arrows telling pilgrims where to go. So everyone just kind of gets stuck there and I was like, “What do I want to do?” 

So, I took a plane to the Canary Islands and then mapped out the best naked beaches I could see and spent a month going around them.

Minka: Oh my goodness. How incredible! What a journey you’ve been on.

I’m so glad when I reached out to the Minka Guides audience and said “Who would love to have a conversation with me about nude beaches,” that you responded because honestly, I feel like you’re someone who probably has kind of explored a lot of them as well. 

But I thought it’d be a really good place to start at least to have a little chat quickly about if someone’s never been to a nude beach before they might be like, “What are they? What should I expect from them?” 

So, how would you describe nude beaches to people?

Julie: Well, it’s somewhere there is a safe contained space (in theory) where you expect people to be naked. Technically you can… well I don’t know in other countries, but in the UK, technically you can be naked on any beach. It’s not illegal. 

Minka: Can you? Oh really? That’s so interesting.

Julie: Yeah, you can you can walk down the high street naked technically as long as you’re not intending to cause offence and that’s where it gets a bit…

Minka: Oh, that’s the legal basis? How interesting that’s so interesting. That’s very interesting. 

Julie: Yeah, so if you get told off for being naked on a beach, you’re not doing anything wrong. 

Minka: That’s so interesting.

I know that when we were talking about it by message, you referred to some of the beaches as ‘naturist beaches’ and I know that some people prefer that term.

So, what do you see as the difference in those definitions being?

Julie: I actually have never used the term nude beaches until you said it. I’d have called them all, well in England, my experience of them here was that you get to certain designated beaches where there’s like a sign and it says you’re now entering ‘Brighton naturist beach,’ for example, “Expect to see naked people. No clothes It’s no clothes worn beyond this point.'”

And then when you reach the other end of it, it says, “Please put your clothes back on. You’re entering a normal beach or you’re leaving the naturist beach.”

So it’s almost like a warning to ‘normal’ people (clothed people, technically I think they call them) if you’re gonna get offended, don’t enter here. That’s how I see it.

Minka: Yeah. I don’t know a lot about the naturist community but from what I kind of vaguely understand is that they often shy away from using the word nude because it has connotations. People see it as quite sexualized and possibly quite offensive. For them, I think they’re trying to embrace that this is a natural way of being and therefore trying to desexualize it. 

Make it seem as something that’s suitable for a family to go and do (which some families are naturists) and make it something that’s destigmatized. So that’s kind of the difference but in a sense, naturist beaches and nude beaches are usually exactly the same thing I’d say. 

Tell me what do you love about them?

Julie: It’s just great.

It probably was when I started skinny dipping in the sea and you’re like, “Oh my God! The sensations are so different.” 

So, I find clothes very just restrictive. I hate clothes but I didn’t really realise that until I started not wearing clothes in the sea and you’re like “This is amazing!” 

And then I started going to a few festivals when I was quite young with my mum. I was thirteen and I remember seeing her and her boyfriend running around naked and throwing water around and having like a water fight and having fun and genuinely being mortified.

Then a few years later going as an adult and being like, “Actually everyone else is naked and showering naked.” It was really hot and you’re in a field and I thought I’ll try it. Then you’re like this is just so liberating. You know we’re born naked and probably die naked. 

And when it is sunny and you’ve got the sun on your body and you can just feel I don’t know you’re absorbing all that energy or the cool breeze… I much prefer it to having a wet swimming costume sticking to your skin, not fitting quite right.

Minka: Yeah, it’s interesting that it was normalized to you during your teen years, which of course every teenager is probably like, “Oh my God like parents put your clothes back on.”

Julie: Yeah.

Minka: And obviously not all teenagers are like that. I know of people who have parents who were like happily and comfortably naked when they were kids and they felt totally fine about it. 

But it’s really lovely that that was normalized to you as a teenager.

Julie: Yeah, I’m so grateful for that. Definitely.

Minka: So, do you remember the first time you went to a nude beach? 

Maybe in your teens or twenties? Or was it more recently?

Julie: Definitely more recently. 

So at that festival every year I would get more and more like… I remember having that first naked shower when I was 18. Also, ridiculous when you say “naked shower” because most of our showers are. But I just it was in front of other people…

Minka: Ah, right, a public shower.

Julie: A public shower. But obviously, if you’re not wearing clothes you almost are out of the norm and almost draw more attention to you. So every year I got a bit more comfortable and would venture out of the shower a bit and whatever. 

Then probably only really two or three years ago that I started getting naked in public on beaches with friends, to begin with, and then partners and then by myself really.

Minka: Lovely, awesome! 

Yeah, it’s so interesting because I don’t remember necessarily the first nude beach I went to. I don’t know if for me it was that big a deal because I remember from teenage years onwards loving skinny dipping, particularly because I grew up in Australia and if it was like a warm night, I’d be like, “Oh my god let’s all go skinny dipping!” Jumping into a pool or something.

But I think it probably was Little Congwong in Sydney which is a very well-known queer nude beach that’s just kind of on the outskirts of town, which has a beautiful queer community feel and vibe going on there. It’s a little bit difficult to get to but even I probably went there say in my late teens or early twenties with my best friends.

I revisited there recently when I was back in Sydney and it was just so nice to feel how a beach that’s kind of a little bit difficult to get to and it’s out of town could have such an enormous sense of community. When you come onto the beach, I was spotting people I know and it was when World Pride was in Sydney and so there were lots of people there having a Monday recovery session. It was so lovely and it really made me realise how much I love these spaces and how beautiful and important and how great for communities these spaces can be.

But I think that must have been one of the first ones I went to, but it’s not like I was like, “Oh my god I’m going to a new beach! Oh my god, I’m getting naked in public.” It wasn’t something that I felt like a huge sense of self-consciousness about.

Julie: That’s how it should be That’s great.

Minka: Yes, exactly. Yeah, I think that must have been it. 

But do you have particular beaches that you’ve been to? 

You mentioned Spain and the Canary Islands part of that you’ve been to. What stands out for you as ones that you really particularly liked?

Julie: Well, the one in Brighton, it’s probably the first one I went to that was like an active nude beach rather than me skinny dipping at my local beach in the nighttime.

And that one is a bit like what you said about the community. I would meet my friend there sometimes before work to top up and get me through the day. 

I would go get the sunshine and there would be other people there so you feel kind of safety in numbers I guess. So it normalises it because you’re like, “Oh I’m not the only one that wants to do this because other people are doing this.” And yeah doing it with your friends. 

So I love that one for that respect and then the local ones around here where I am are all a bit more um… shady I’m gonna say. Even Brighton is a little bit, and so I didn’t feel that comfortable. So I just started going to my local beach here and there’s a little bit between two rocks and I will start getting naked there. 

But the ones in Spain are beautiful, beautiful ones And yeah, this is from my map that I’d already done.

(shows a list of beaches on a piece of paper)

Minka: Have you written a list as well because I wrote a list too. Oh my goodness. That’s so lovely. Oh perfect, you were all prepared for this conversation. 

But did so when you went to the Canary Islands did you go to Maspalomas? The really big one that’s in Grand Canaria because I’ve been to that one and that’s quite famous.

It’s a big queer nude beach and it’s quite famous because it’s got huge rolling sand dunes near it that are so enormous and expansive that they actually filmed part of the original Star Wars there because it just looks like you’re in a desert in the middle of nowhere and it’s quite amazing. But that’s such a beautiful backdrop for the beaches there.

Julie: For Gran Canaria, I didn’t go there but I would like to and I definitely remember reading that there was more. What you’ve touched upon around the whole community thing that I definitely remember seeing when I was just looking at naked beaches that there were some more specific queer ones or intentionally gay ones is really lovely. But I didn’t make it a Gran Canaria. So I’ll put them on the list for next time.

Minka: Yeah I definitely recommend that one and I think it’s interesting because for me in terms of my favourite ones, they kind of stand out often because they’re so very specifically queer spaces. 

So I wrote some down here. There’s Zipolite in Oaxaca in Mexico, which is actually the only legal nude beach in the whole of Mexico apparently. It’s quite a different space and we can talk about that in a minute because it’s legal from some of the ones that are not legal.

Then in Australia, you’ve got Little Congwong and Obelisk in Sydney. Then there’s Alexandra Bay near Noosa and Samurai Beach near Port Stephens. But of those, the only queer ones are the ones in Sydney.

Nude Beaches - Samurai Beach Australia CREDIT Minka Guides
Samurai Beach, Australia.

Then in Spain, there’s Mar Bella in Barcelona and the one in Sitges. And also the one we just mentioned in a Gran Canaria. 

But so for me a lot of the time it’s not even about feeling more comfortable in those on those beaches but it’s more also knowing that I’m surrounded by lots of lovely queer folks at those spaces as well. And increasingly I’m seeing a shift from it being predominantly cis gay men to being a bit more gender diverse as well in those kinds of queer beaches which is really nice. 

But even so, I remember being in Zipolite and I was chatting to this woman who was staying at the place I was staying and she was in her fifties. She said that she’d come to Zipolite specifically because she wanted to learn how to be comfortable with her body naked. She thought that by coming to a beach that was predominantly gay men, she would feel a lot more comfortable there being able to explore that, which I felt was really interesting. I also really love that journey for her in her fifties, being like, “This is something that I need to do for me. I need to find a way to do that.” I really love that those spaces exist where people can go to and try and explore that. 

But um, there is a key important thing here is that there some beaches that are very much legal, specifically like this is zoned as a nudist beach. And then there are some that aren’t necessarily legal but people have just kind of slowly made them into those spaces.

Have you experienced both of those?

Julie: Yeah well being topless is a lot more accepted in Spain anyway, so even on the clothed beaches, no one’s gonna blink. It’ll just be your discomfort. I don’t think any of them would blink if you were topless which is a good portion of the way to being naked. 

Then yeah I started off looking for or I was looking for accredited naturist beaches, I mean official beaches and because I just feel like you don’t get this at home, I want to make the most of it. 

But I remember there was one where at the very end there was a separate beach that was officially naturist and then a long long long beach. It was separated by a little few rocks a little cove that was officially naturist and then like one or two miles of beach. This was in Tenerife and at the end that was closest to the naturist. Basically, it was like a spectrum and by the time you got to the other end, people were more clothed than not clothed, but the whole way along, people were getting less and less clothed. 

So it wasn’t officially a naturist beach but people were very comfortable. It was quite nice then because there was no pressure. Either way, you could literally have your clothes on or not depending on what felt good for your body in that moment. 

Minka: Yeah, but it’s funny how that happens. It’s almost like everyone collectively agrees that you know if you don’t want to take your clothes off, you’re probably going to stay off this end and if you do then you’re going to and everyone who’s kind of like semi-inbetween is going to be sprinkled in the middle and stuff.

Julie: Yeah, and you can one day go that way or you know depending on because it does take a lot of for me. It’s definitely work to have to ignore all the stuff that you have learned around shame and body image and all of this stuff.

Some days are too hard and some days, it’s really easy. So it’s quite nice that you can see how you fit in it and how you’re feeling that day and what the people around you are like. I went to one beach twice because I loved it so much and the second time I went back, I didn’t feel comfortable with the people there.

Minka: How interesting.

Julie: So, you’re not going to make yourself vulnerable in quite that same way if you’re not comfortable.

Minka: Yeah, have you had some bad experiences on nude beaches in the past? 

Whatever you feel comfortable talking about. We don’t have to.

Julie: Yeah, thank you. 

So in England, there’s definitely been a lot of men walking up and down. Brighton Beach has a bit of a queer… well it’s Brighton and so it’s a gay capital, which again like you said about the woman in Zipolite, it’s like going clubbing in a gay bar.

Minka: Yeah.

Julie: Even before I identified as queer, I felt safer there because the objectives are not the same as how you feel in a straight bar. But then you start getting yeah people walking around in clothes on nude beaches, kind of parading up and down looking and you just feel very objectified.

There’s always other people there so it never feels kind of targeted, but when I was walking through Spain and in the Canary Islands… more on Tenerife because it was less isolated than the other islands I went to. I had quite a few instances of men wanking at me

Minka: Oh my goodness.

Julie: I’d be the only person there and then suddenly I realised there was someone behind the rocks and I’d go out to sea and yeah.

The really uncomfortable part that I’m still struggling to understand is that they kind of get off on it. People would want to bring me into the game. Like it wasn’t enough just wanking over my body while I’m doing my own thing. It was when I reacted and saw them there that they would kind of get excited. Then if you walk away or you say no, that heightens the energy or whatever. 

Yeah, so that was really sad and I’d had a really negative experience when I was walking… not on a beach. But I went for a massage and the man assaulted me. So I was really super aware of the whole effed-up dynamic and patriarchy and all of that. So, to begin with, I’d be like, “No this is my space.” 

The first time I remember being like, “I’m not going to leave. I’ve walked two hours to get to this nudist beach. I want to be here. I have every right to be here. It’s just my body. I’m a human. I’m not going to leave.” And then after while you’re like, “But this is totally ruining my enjoyment because I can still see he’s there and it’s this weird game and I just really didn’t like it.” So I started leaving and to begin with I would try and say like, “What are you doing. Stop,” but then it’s just so much worse when they don’t stop. So I would just walk on.

Minka: Oh Julie, I’m so sorry all of that has happened to you. I completely understand why you want to try and still retain that sense of owning that space for yourself. But then also being like, “What the fuck?” 

Yeah, it’s interesting how much an experience outside of being in that naturist beach can then actually impact how you are actually feeling in that space as well.

Julie: Yeah, but it was such an important part of reclaiming my body. Of being, “It’s so natural. It’s the sun and my body and it’s just when I feel my best and it was topping up and doing something for myself.”

Actually sorry have one more experience I’d completely forgotten about until you just mentioned that. When I was in Ibiza and I was staying on a campsite and there was a little pontoon and there were lots of naturist beaches in Ibiza, pretty much every other one was naturist. Although they were quite strict about not being naturist on the other beaches.

There were some other women who came and joined me. I was lying on this pontoon. The water was beautiful. I’d been doing painting and snorkelling and three other ladies came. They were Mexican so there were four of us and a baby on the pontoon and one of them was like (I’m not going to do the Spanish now) but, “That guy’s masturbating,” and we looked around and he had a camera and he was filming himself masturbating with us in the background.

Minka: Oh god.

Julie: The ladies, they were like we should go. One of them shouted at him to stop so he kind of stopped and then he started again.

He was only about twenty meters away and there were four of us and the fury I just felt and at that point, because there were four of them there. She was like, “I’m just gonna leave because I’ve got a baby and I just don’t want to fight this fight you know,” which is totally fine and I just thought this is BS.

These random women I don’t know but they were like in their fifties, these gorgeous Mexican strong energy women. So I was like, “Do you mind just staying for a few minutes whilst I go and I am going to tell him to stop because there’s four of us we shouldn’t move because of him.”

Minka: Yes, of course.

Julie: And then he started saying… like he wasn’t a native Spanish or English speaker…. They start saying, “You’re discriminating against me. I’m at work.” So I don’t know he was doing videos or content or something. And I was like, “How are you turning this around?”

He only stopped when another man came along and got involved in the conversation and told him to stop. And all the time he’s just standing there with his (indicates masturbation). 

Minka: No, oh my god.

But also you were not consenting to be in his content.


And opted out nor asked him to start. It was just yeah, it’s all power stuff. It’s just bad.

Minka: Oh my goodness exactly and I think that’s a lot of what comes into it.

Julie: I had some amazing experiences on other naked beaches. But yeah, not at all. 

Minka: I do wonder how much those experiences are common for other women or people assigned female at birth trying to just have a lovely time on a lovely beach and have some sunshine.

I haven’t had any experiences like that. I have had people try and come and chat to me, particularly men come and chat to me on nude beaches. I think I just get very like, “Yep. Cool. No, thank you. Bye” Or if they’re being chatty almost like desexualize that energy. Do you know what I mean? It’s not like I have control of that conversation but being like, “Yeah, I’m just talking to you like you’re a mate,” and then I’m gonna be like, “Cool that conversation’s over. Bye”

But yeah. I’m very sorry all of that has happened to you. 

Julie: Thank you.

Minka: I was going to ask, in terms of what you were talking about around the shame and all of that. It’s interesting because one of the reasons I wanted to have this conversation was because I sometimes wonder how much that shame is coming from this whole idea that it’s shameful to be naked or it’s shameful to want to be naked or to be comfortable being naked comes up in the way that the spaces of nude beaches themselves. 

In terms of a lot of the time unless they’re a legal beach where they have a certain level of accessibility and they might have lifeguards and all of that. A lot of the ones I’ve been to are incredibly difficult to get to and this is as someone who isn’t disabled. 

So if someone has a disability that means that they would struggle to kind of access a space like that. You have to climb over like big rock faces or through bushes or go down these tiny tracks and so they’re very much not disability-friendly spaces.

A lot the time they don’t have any kind of lifeguards.  

Julie: Or wifi or signal

Minka: Yes, exactly.

So, there’s almost a shameful energy about these spaces. Like you’re going to something that’s hidden, away tucked away and that’s because you don’t want to people who don’t want to consent to seeing other people naked. You don’t want that to be necessarily forced upon them. 

But at the same time, it’s like there is an intense sense of shame wrapped up in those spaces which can feel very unpleasant and it’s like we need to destigmatize being naked in what is a zoned area. Where we should feel comfortable and it should be an okay and lovely thing to do.

Julie: Yeah, literally hidden away I guess. I hadn’t thought about it that way. But yeah, thinking about it. They were all completely inaccessible which also from a safety point of view… I mean, in the beginning, I loved it because it was like a challenge to get to and I’m yeah able-bodied and walking was just a really regulating tool for me then. 

So I was like, “Right. I’m gonna walk two hours for this beach and then be isolated and be away from the world.” But yeah, then when I started having more negative experiences. You’re also isolated and away from the rest of the world

That being said, this one story because it feels a bit negative but there is one that was really isolated in the Canary Islands. It’s called… there’s an island and the newest Canary Island… I did write it down called La Graciosa.

Minka: Okay.

Julie: So it’s the newest island. A tiny one, and you have to get a ferry to get there. It’s got no roads, so it’s just completely like a little piece of rock and there’s a nude beach, right at the northern bit. 

You walk for two hours across. It feels like you’re walking across Mars. And you get to a beach and there were some clothed people at one end and an official nude bit at the other end. It just feels like you’re on your own and the entire planet and it’s beautiful. But yes I hadn’t thought about the isolated part before. Yeah.

Minka: Yeah, but that’s okay.

So if we’re going to dream up what our dream nude beaches would be, our ideal, what would they include? 

Nude Beaches - Obelisk Beach sign Sydney CREDIT Minka Guides
Sign at Obelisk Beach in Sydney, Australia

Would they be somewhere that’s signed so people know that they are spaces if they don’t feel like seeing other people naked that it’s giving them almost like a content warning? So there’s that clarity.

Julie: But maybe the way of doing it in not a shameful way. Not like, “Warning! There are naked people,” but almost you could label the unclothed beach and a clothed beach. Almost you know I’ll just separate their spaces: one is clothed, one is naturist. There doesn’t have to be an assumed norm. Maybe that’s unrealistic, but this is a dream beach.

Minka: Yeah, almost like a clothing optional, for people who don’t necessarily feel as comfortable getting completely underdressed don’t have to. But as you say you don’t want people who are just cruising around.

Then we would have like try and… I know beaches probably aren’t the most accessible spaces anyway, but try and have as much accessibility available as any other beach would have, if not more.

We’d have good wi-fi signal and we’d have all like data.

Julie: And an ice cream stand so that you don’t have to pack up your whole day’s water supply.

Minka: And lifegueards or a patrol or something like that. So there is that sense of safety there. So that it feels like a space that we can go into and feel like there’s no shame around this. We are doing something that’s lovely and normal and natural. 

Julia: Yes, exactly and we would have lifeguards there just as any other beach would have.

Minka: Yeah, exactly.

Julia: We’re just going to the beach but you just happen to be wearing a swimsuit that is you know your birthday suit rather than from H&M yeah.

Minka: Exactly.

Well, Julie thank you so much for having this conversation with me and sharing your stories with me.

I hope this summer (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) that you’ve wanted to try a nude beach then go out there and see what it’s like to dip your toe in the water of somewhere without all of your clothes on for once right?

Julie: Definitely. 

Thanks, Bronwyn

Minka: Thanks, Julie.

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