If you’re following the naturist news on social media, it was hard not to notice the interesting news update that came from Spain. The City Council of Cadiz in Andalucia announced that from now on, all the local beaches would be naturist friendly. This might have come as a surprise to some of you because Spain happens to be that one country in which it’s known that it’s okay to be naked on all beaches. Then why make such a fuss about a handful of beaches in Cadiz?
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The Spanish laws on nudity
According to Spanish federal law, it’s not illegal to be naked in public places. Which technically makes it legal. This is why it’s commonly known that every beach in the country is a potential nude beach. Unless there are local laws that specifically forbid it. As happens to be the case in a handful of places among which the city of Barcelona and before mentioned Cadiz.
This doesn’t only apply on beaches by the way but in every public place. If you’d like to stroll naked along the Paseo del Prado in Madrid on a warm sunny day, it’s technically not against the law. But it’s quite likely that this will get you in trouble at some point. Like this guy in Aldaia who insists to wander around his hometown without clothes. He carries an excerpt of the law that proves that he’s not doing anything illegal, but when he walked into the police station butt naked, the local law enforcers were all but happy about this.
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Activism of the Spanish Naturist Federation
But back to Cadiz, why was this change in local law so important? Are there so many naturists in the city that were forced to keep their clothes on at the local beaches? Spain has thousands of beaches, is it such a problem that you can’t get naked at a few of those?
The Spanish Naturist Federation (FEN) has been very active when it comes to protecting our right to be naked. They consider naturism (or any form of non-sexual social nudity) as a human right and as freedom of expression. Whenever this right is only slightly in danger, they are on it. One might wonder if it’s actually necessary to have an organization that protects naturism in a country where public nudity is legal by law, but the fact that some local laws prohibit nudity proves that it is.
These things can have a snowball effect. One day some town votes a law that prohibits nudity, the next day another town follows, and if there’s no federation in place that fights these cases at the early beginning, it could quickly become too late. So the Spanish Naturist Federation puts a lot of effort into maintaining the federal law, encouraging and promoting the nude use of beaches, and lobbying wherever the local law seems to be different. As what happened in Cadiz. After 13 years of talks, this change in law was a great win for the naturist federation.
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The gray zone of the law
When we were hanging out with the naturist group of Playa Cantarrijan, we met a strong activist of naturism who told us some disturbing stories. She would go to any given beach and get naked because it is her right to do so. Clothed beachgoers would come over to complain about her nudity, and she would explain that she wasn’t doing anything illegal.
Soon the police would arrive and ask her to put some clothes on. Once again, she would explain that it is her legal right to be naked on the beach and that it’s up to the authorities to protect that right instead of taking it away from her. Kindly but firmly, the police officers would insist that she either got dressed or moved away. Because she was “disturbing the public order”.
This is where the law becomes tricky. One law may say that something is not illegal, while if you look at it from another section in the code of law, it may actually be an issue. What’s needed in such situations are actual court cases to rely on. But then you need activists who are willing to go through the whole mess of being taken to court. And even that could backfire, because what if the judge decides against you? Then you might actually open a door to prohibit public nudity.
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Legally vs Socially Accepted
The reason why people complained in the first place was not that they thought that the lady was doing something illegal, but because they didn’t think that her nudity was appropriate. This is also mentioned in the article of Spanish News Today where the President of the Cadiz Association of Large Families is quoted saying that “nudist practices are not respectful when there are children around”.
We’re not going to elaborate on the advantages of family naturism here, but this is an excellent example of how some things, although legal, are still not socially accepted. And naturism is definitely one of those things. So if we want to answer the question in the title of this blog post, if you can actually get naked on every beach in Spain, the answer depends on whether you look at it from a legal or a social point of view.
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Needless to say, we very much applaud the victory of the Spanish Naturist Federation in Cadiz. On the one hand, because there are now several more beaches in Spain where you and we can sunbathe naked, but on a more important hand because the message that “naturism is legal” has once again appeared in local and international news.
We believe that if we can change the public opinion about the naked body, a lot will happen in the favor of naturists. In the end, we live in democratic countries where the voice of the public is the strongest. Although it may not always feel so, lawmakers do take the opinion of the majority into account, because that gives them the best chance of being reelected. We don’t need to turn the whole world into naturists. But if we can convince the majority that nudity is fine, we will be taking a huge leap forward.
There’s definitely still a lot of work to be done, that much is sure. And it can only be done in small steps. Through small victories. But every step forward can be a turning point.
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21 thoughts on “Can you really get naked on every beach in Spain?”
The situation is similar in England & Wales (Scotland an Northern Ireland have their own laws). Public nudity is not illegal, as such: however, causing, or behaviour likely to cause “harassment, alarm, or distress”, are offences under the Public Order Act. There are also laws against specifically sexual behaviour. If we confine ourselves to beaches, it is extremely unlikely that any charge would result purely from using them in the nude. However, if such people are reported, and asked to dress by an official, they are potentially in a position to have to defend their behaviour in court should they refuse to do so. Most will therefore comply with the request, despite the fact that Naturists are entitled to “go about their normal business” in the nude. They will win, but it is an enormous hassle.
Ah, that “public order.” In a sane world, if anyone was arrested for creating public disorder, it would be the ones being disorderly, not we naturists who are only being in our most natural normal state of being. But too many people believe falsehoods about us and simple nudity.
We think that it’s a lot about common sense and giving and taking. We’ve learned that if we move away from the crowds, few people bother that we are naked. Some will be surprised and turn around if they see us, but (knock on wood) nobody ever filed a report yet. If we would get naked in front of a beach bar or where there are many other people, we’re quite sure that we would run into trouble eventually.
Likewise in New Zealand. We have no laws forbidding public nudity, but do have laws against “offensive behaviour”. This, of course, is open to interpretation of what constitutes “offensive” in the mind of a reasonable person. The benchmark for this is very high and you would be most unlikely to be arrested for simply being naked on any beach, lake, forest trail, etc. – but probably would for being naked in a busy shopping precinct.
It’s interesting, if I read this correctly, that in Spain a local authority can ban nudity in spite of the federal law permitting it. Some years ago a local authority in Auckland tried to do that, but discovered that, although they could enact the bylaw, it was ineffectual because they could not impose a penalty greater than that allowed by National Statute. And since the law does not forbid nudity, the local council could not prosecute anyone for disobeying the bylaw!
In England & Wales merely “offensive” behaviour is not illegal, because taking offence at something somebody says or does is not sufficient to criminalize that person. As regards bye-laws, the general principle is that they are appropriate only if the local authority perceives a genuine problem which cannot be controlled by the application of national legislation, and of a type which that authority has statutory ability to make. The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 removed their power to make bye-laws governing clothing for public bathing.
We think that the reason why local authorities can ban nudity is that there is no federal law that allows it. There just isn’t a law about nudity, so there’s nothing that says that it is legal (or illegal).
Laws don’t “allow” anything. Laws specify what constitutes an offence, not what things are allowable. There are no laws that allow me to eat cornflakes for breakfast! But there are laws that stop me from ingesting illicit drugs.
If there are no federal laws dealing with a certain matter, e.g. public nudity, then local authorities shouldn’t be able to enact a by law that enables prosecution of such a matter. It makes no sense to punish someone for breaking a law that doesn’t exist.
In the UK there are no laws preventing one “from ingesting illicit drugs”; the law proscribes possessing or supplying them. NZ law may differ. What is true for both jurisdictions is (a) what is not prohibited is permitted and (b) local authorities are not permitted to create bye-laws without authorization from Parliament. In Spain, this might be different, or legally contentious. I did once read that there is a constitutional right in Spain to be naked. If this is true, I would agree that no local authority should be allowed to enforce any local ban on nudity. However, if, in Spain, certain local administrations have a right to establish their own laws without national Parliamentary authority, then they can do so. It would require an expert in Spanish constitutional law to sort this out.
My own, inexpert, view, is that if there is a constitutional right in Spain for individuals to go naked, then it follows that no local authority can curtail that. If there is no such individual constitutional right, then local authorities can exercise the legal rights they possess to ban nudity. The problem arises (as with all written constitutions) if both such rights exist. Then how this is sorted out is all up in the air.
How we understood the Spanish law (but we can definitely be wrong) is that it doesn’t say that public nudity is illegal. Which makes it legal by default. As far as we know, it does not say specifically that nudity is legal. So when there’s no federal law, it is possible that local laws are being put into place.
How we see it (at least on our side of the world), is that if there isn’t a specific law that allows or does not allow something, there might always be another law that applies. The law against “disturbing the public order” is infamous for this. Although there isn’t any law that dictates whether or not we can eat cornflakes, if a lot of people would be offended by us eating cornflakes at the beach, we would probably run into trouble anyway.
I’ve enjoyed three local beaches on the Spanish Costa del Sol, between Marbella and Malaga. Different rules (not laws) seem to apply at each. At Cabopinho, there is a long narrow sandy beach backed by sand dunes. At the West end, casual nudity seems to be perfectly acceptable. There used to be a beach café with umbrellas out front. Clothing was worn only to go to the café. The café was removed to help preserve the sand dunes, so the umbrellas have also been removed 🙁
Further East, there is a new (2013) official ‘Playa Nudista’ at Playamarina; right beside the A7 highway, a bus stop and a pedestrian bridge. There are hamacas, toilets and a ‘chiringuito naturista’ all run by the local Mijas council. I was one of the first customers there, during construction.
Then at Benalmadena, there is a small gravelly urban beach beside a bus stop (but down a bank). A local association looks after it and also runs the café. They won’t serve you if you wear more than a hat, sunglasses and sandals. The locals don’t tolerate potential gawkers, so they insist you remove your clothing as soon as possible on the beach. What’s not to like about those choices? (The tobacco smoke).
The only thing I don’t like about those choices is the mandatory nudity in the last place you mentioned. Forced nudity is just as bad as forced clothing. It’s my body and I get to decide what, if any, bits of textile gets hung on it! If it’s a public beach I’d be surprised if they were able to legally enforce that rule anyway. Probably a good place to avoid.
Although we are huge fans of clothing optional and freedom of choice, we disagree in this case. Here’s why: nudity is legal on every beach in Spain, but on many beaches, it’s not socially accepted. Then we think that it’s only fair that there are also beaches where clothing is not socially accepted. In an ideal scenario, both worlds will slowly grow towards each other, but until that happens, we think that this situation counts as a middle way.
I get what you’re saying, Nick & Lins, but all the “slowly growing” is in one direction – not both. It’s inaccurate to portray nudity and clothes-wearing as moving towards each other. Wearing clothes is socially acceptable everywhere already. It’s nudity that is doing all the “moving” – educating the clothed majority of the benefits and wholesomeness of being naked. And while we are trying to convince the clothed community that it’s unfair to force people into wearing clothes, it becomes hypocritical of us to then force them to be naked. We are then just as guilty as them of impinging on people’s right to choose. I believe we can further the cause of “clothing optional” far more effectively by allowing clothed people to intermingle with us, rather than pandering to the same exclusive mindset as them. We have clothing-optional forest hikes, cycle rides , beach days where naturist folks can freely invite clothed friends to accompany us in public locations. And it works.
Very wise words, but we need to look in both directions. On one hand, educating the clothed and inviting them to join our community. On the other, maintaining our community and making sure it doesn’t decline.
Another major problem that naturism in Spain has, and what NZ maybe suffers less from, is mass tourism. During the summer months, the main beaches (where nudity is never accepted) run totally full. So people move towards nearby beaches where nudity is normally quite accepted. But because they come in masses, they make it daunting to take off your clothes.
We know a beach in Spain that gets about 90% naked people on any given sunny day. Except during the summer months, then it’s 90% clothed people. So in this case, welcoming the clothed does not really help normalize nudity, because the few naked people that still come are seen as the awkward ones.
As mentioned before, we’re fans of clothing optional, but we’ve also learned that a balance is important for it to be sustainable.
Good point, Nick. We probably don’t have anywhere near the tourist numbers as seen in Spain. Hopefully the tourists will start returning now that the borders will soon be opening. What we have found here, though, is that overseas tourists readily adapt to seeing naked people! Even Americans, who come from such a puritan conservative culture. But, sure, we are certainly not overwhelmed by overseas tourists.
I know there are some places in Spain (like the Canaries) where it seems fairly common for nudes and textiles to mingle comfortably beyond the confines of traditional naturist beaches, but how often does it happen in other parts of Spain?
And do the local naturist associations encourage nude use of non-traditional beaches or not?
It really depends on the beach and the time of the year. Especially the south of Spain is super touristic and many beaches run full during the summer months. If you go naked on the far ends of a beach or pick the less crowded beaches, it’s normally not a problem. But if you would get naked in the middle of a beach full of textiles, you’re likely to run into trouble. People might complain about your nudity or call the authorities who often take the side of the textiles. Even though it’s legal to be naked.
The good news is that there are plenty of “official” nude beaches in Spain. We believe about 450. So even if the main beach is not comfortable for nude use, there will often be nude beaches quite nearby.
Local naturist associations are often connected to an official/traditional nude beach. They too feel the warm breath of mass tourism in the sense that textiles also crowd the traditional nude beaches. So their main focus is on keeping “their” beach nude rather than on encouraging nude use of other beaches.
Thanks. My question, though, wasn’t so much “What would happen if … ?” as “How many people actually do it?” I presumed the answer would vary among different places in Spain, but thanks for pointing out the variations in season as well.
It sounds as though the situation is very much like nudity on any beach in Denmark or England: not illegal, but you’d better not try it, and hardly anyone does.
Although we are not Spanish and have quite limited experience, we would indeed say that it’s not common to find naked people on beaches that are not defined as traditional naturist. We can imagine some reasons for that. One is that there are plenty of traditional naturist beaches, so why would you get naked on a beach full of clothed people when there’s a nude beach nearby? Second is the fear of the reaction of textiles, even though you’re not doing anything wrong. Additionally, beach nudism tends to be male dominant, and single male nudists are much easier labelled as creeps or pervs if they would mingle with textiles.
The Canaries have a long tradition of beach nudity, but that’s mostly because the beaches are huge and rather empty. If you go to the touristy beaches like Costa Teguise on Lanzarote or Playa de las Americas on Tenerife, you won’t find any naked people either. Because of mass tourism, many beaches in southern Spain turn into lookalikes of Playa de las Americas during the summer months.
It seems the situation in Germany is a bit similar. Technically there is no law that forbids being naked in public, however it can be seen as “Ordnungswidrigkeit”:
There is no direct translation, let´s say “disturbance of (public) order”(which is up to subjective view of course!).
Some years ago there was the case of Peter Niehenke, a psychologist from Freiburg.
While he took it a bit to the extreme walking around nude in the city, his prosecution with hefty fines was still questionable. It showed how imprecise laws can be. A judge said the sight of a penis can be “offensive and cause disgust”. While it can be debated if a stroll in the buff is the right thing to do in a city IMHO this is still a narrow-minded thought. Niehenke said people are ashamed by the wrong things, and I agree with him on that.