On a recent visit one aspect of Austrian life I realised I knew nothing about was their spa mentality – or to be precise, that their spas are all naturist.
While in Alpbach in the Tirol I visited the sauna at my traditional Alpine hotel and was surprised to see a ‘no bathing costumes allowed’ sign. The spa was mixed-sex and as people went between the different saunas and steam rooms there was a lot of naked flesh around. I only saw two people wearing costumes and they stood out as a bit of an oddity.
For my part I take quite a liberal view to social norms and conventions, so I was content to remove my clothes and go with the flow. But as I sat among my fellow naked sauna users, I started to think about social norms in different countries and wonder if everyone would be comfortable going au natural.
It’s usual to wear swimming costumes in the UK, and in most other countries. So what was it about Austria, a country at the heart of Europe, which differed?
For them it wasn’t out of the ordinary, but for some it was a step too far to strip off and get down with the locals
Over the next few days I visited a number of mixed nudist spas at various hotels and spoke with fellow bathers. How come Austrians were so relaxed about their naturism? Were other nationalities equally unperturbed? According to a succession of Austrians – mixed nudist spas are simply a way of life and completely natural. For them it was nothing out of the ordinary, but for some visitors stripping off and getting down with the locals was a step too far.
I was told three nationalities are most reluctant to strip off in mixed nudist spas - Americans, British and Italians. I wondered what is it about these three nationalities that caused a more reserved response to Austria’s spa-going ways.
One Italian tourist thought it was “wrong to display the naked body”. I asked gently, trying to better understand her thought processes: “Is there virtue in body modesty?”
“It’s probably because of what we’re taught,” she said. “But I’d find it impossible to show myself like that.”
Yet by no means did all tourists have difficulty with Austria’s mixed nudist spa culture. A Swedish ski instructor said her first mixed naked sauna was a surprise but after a couple of visits it became very natural. While another local couple said when people visit mixed nudist spas for the first time they may look at others but after the second or third visit they just treat it as normal.
People from 18 to 88 used the spas, each at ease in their naturist surroundings. It was a relaxed environment where no-one stared at fellow users, easy conversations took place in a surprisingly social setting.
So what are the arguments for and against mixed nudist spas? In a future story we’ll explore views against, but for me mixed nudist spas are an improvement on clothed spas because:
- You don’t have to wear sweaty swimwear.
- We’re all born naked – it’s completely natural.
- We all know what the human body looks like – so what’s so shocking?
- Only learned behaviour causes us to be embarrassed about showing our bodies.
- Naturist spas promote equality. We’re all equal when naked – be you a millionaire or a pauper – all look the same without clothes.
- It reduces body consciousness and many of the hang ups falsely propagated by today’s celebrity culture.
- The more you see something the less impact it has.
- Liberation – it offers up a true sense of freedom.
- This is not a definitive list and I would love to hear your views, so please leave your thoughts on mixed nudist spas below…