M. T. Dremer is the author of four novels and received a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University.
Imagine the following scenario: You’re a 10-year-old kid watching a movie with your parents. You’re enjoying the movie and everything is going fine until suddenly your parents leap from their chairs to cover the TV screen or your eyes and find the remote in order to fast-forward.
What happened during that brief blackout is going to be of great interest to 10-year-old you—heck, it would still be of interest to present you if such a strange thing were to happen. What was it that your parents didn’t want you to see? Maybe it was a violent murder or a character getting high on drugs. In my case, more often than not, it was nudity. It didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman, a butt or a boob—it all got censored. Like anyone else, this only helped develop my curiosity for that which cannot be seen.
Why Do Americans Overreact to Nudity?
As I got older, the need to censor these things became less apparent, and when I turned 18, I was able to see an R-rated movie without having to worry about my mom jumping in front of the screen (though it is still awkward to watch those movies with her). Now that these worlds were open to me, I began to notice an entirely different form of censorship—one that was perpetuated not just by those people making the movies and television shows but also by most of us watching them.
You can blame the rating companies all you want, but just look at the old Super Bowl scandal as evidence of why nobody will touch certain material. For those of you who don’t remember: During a past Super Bowl, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performed during the half-time show. For whatever reason, Justin decided at the end of the song to rip off part of Janet Jackson’s outfit, exposing one of her breasts (though her nipple was covered . . . because that makes sense).
I was watching that Super Bowl, and the exposure couldn’t have lasted more than one second before the camera switched away. But the damage was done, and the ensuing uproar was completely out of hand. For one thing, many people didn’t even know it had happened because it was so quick. For another, it was one boob with the nipple covered; there is more scandalous stuff on basic cable every day.
But the Super Bowl incident was neither the first nor the last time America freaked out about nudity (or suggested nudity). Katy Perry’s appearance on Sesame Street caused a similar uproar. There was no boob exposure in that one, and people still freaked out about it. And if you’re reading this article when it is horribly outdated, just fill in the blanks: “Remember when ______ wore that ______ on the ______ show and everyone freaked out?”
The Hierarchy of Nudity Types
Different aspects of our media are in different stages of nudity denial. R-rated movies can show full-frontal, but generally it is quick and does not involve full-frontal sex scenes. If a character is nude for too long, a movie will probably get an NC-17 rating. Watch the movie This Film Is Not Yet Rated for a greater exploration of the movie rating system.
There also seems to be a hierarchy of nudity no-nos. For example, showing butts is pretty acceptable, followed by every part of the breast except the nipple. For some reason, a tiny circle of darkened flesh is more offensive than the rest of the boob. After the nipple comes the vagina and the penis, in that order. Those last two don’t make it into R-rated movies very often, but it does happen. However, prolonged camera time of said genitals will quickly shift the rating.
Why this hierarchy of nudity exists is a mystery to me, and the only parts that make any sense are the last two because those are actual sex organs. There is also the hierarchy of gay sex scenes, which by default are more offensive to the public than straight sex scenes. And within the gay sex scene category, lesbian sex is less offensive than two men having sex. For example, the movie Gia depicts two women having sex, and it is regarded as a teen boy’s holy grail. But when Brokeback Mountain even hinted at two men having sex, there was a whole debate about whether or not it should be in there. Granted, those two movies might not be the best to compare, but these hierarchies exist, and they’re visible in almost every form of media.
Premium cable channels tend to follow in the film industry’s footsteps, allowing for R-rated material on their original shows. Video games seem to be lagging behind. You can depict countless bloody decapitations, disembowelments, and murders, but you’re going to have to jump through hoops to get a pair of boobs in there. I would say that this is because people still think video games are for kids, but that argument doesn’t hold up—why is graphic violence okay for kids while nudity is not?
Violence vs. Nudity: Which Is Worse?
That brings me to my next question. Which is worse—violence versus nudity? Let’s ask ourselves this: Why don’t we want our children to watch violent shows or play violent video games? The answer, I assume, is because we don’t want our children to perform violent acts. Now let’s ask ourselves the other question. Why don’t we want our children to watch shows or play video games with nudity or sex in them? The answer here is probably that we don’t want our kids to run out and have lots of meaningless sex and risk STDs and pregnancy.
So how are these two doing in practice? Kids have access to shows like Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, Danny Phantom, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. What do these shows have in common? Violence. Now, I’m not saying they are bad shows. I’m actually a huge fan of Avatar and Danny Phantom, but it is clear to me that violence is a part of those shows, and no one is shocked to see it; it’s just part of the story.
The same is true of video games. One of my nephew’s favorite video games was Super Smash Bros, where Nintendo’s famous mascots beat the snot out of each other. It is important to note here that violence doesn’t necessarily mean blood—just any sort of hostile attack/battle between two parties (though kids certainly find a way to get their hands on the newest Mortal Kombat game).
I’ll often point out to my brother that my nephew probably shouldn’t be playing or watching certain things because of the violence factor, and his only argument is that we played or watched the same things when we were kids, and we turned out fine. I hate that argument because it is ignoring the problem, but the consensus among my family is that even with violence, kids turn out okay. I doubt every family feels this way, but the very fact that violence is allowed to have a debate shows how it is separate from nudity. With nudity there is no debate; the answer is always no. There is never a speck of nudity in children’s shows, and the mere thought of it sends a nation of parents gasping. What is it that is so offensive about nudity—specifically, human nudity? Non-human animals have been appearing nude on television for ages.
Why Hide Nudity From Kids?
I remember a time in elementary school that a lot of us probably experienced. It’s when you find that medical book in the library that shows pictures of naked people. It’s always so scandalous and exciting. But the only reason these medical pictures have any power is because of how much emphasis censorship has put on them. If children had already been exposed to naked people prior to seeing the book in the library, would that book ever get picked up? Do kids hide in corners looking at books about martial arts or do they just run home to play Ninja Punch-Fest 4?
Despite how much people try to avoid letting their children see nudity, teen sex and pregnancy still exists. Part of that is just that all teenagers are horny, but hiding that stuff from them has only seemed to make it more appealing. Other countries are more lenient with sex and nudity in the media, and as far as I know, they aren’t churning out sex-crazed adults.
Nudity and Shame
That brings me to my next point; though I talk a lot about the effects of violence and nudity on children, the truth is that this censorship doesn’t stop at age 18. Like I mentioned above, a movie can be filled from start to finish with violence and only get an R rating, but if you fill it start to finish with nudity, you’re looking at an NC-17. Television shows like Dexter glorify serial killers, and that’s seen as okay, but if a show glorified a prostitute, would it ever get green-lit?
The biggest thing that gets me about the violence-versus-nudity debate is that violence represents pain, anger, and hostility towards someone or something else. Nudity represents the truth of the human body and sometimes sexual pleasure and (hopefully) love.
Now, I understand that not every sex scene is about love, but at least it has the potential to be, whereas violence is never about love. So why is it that the human body, without any coverings, is so offensive to the American people? Why is sex viewed as more dangerous than stabbing someone with a knife? It’s no wonder so many of us are self-conscious; we’re told to hide and be ashamed of everything vulnerable and natural about ourselves. And don’t even get me started about masturbation; you might as well be punching a puppy because that’s how guilty America thinks you should feel about it.
Now, out of all of this, my message is not that we should run porno on TV twenty-four-hours a day to get everyone used to it. But maybe we could freak out a little less if a boob happens to cross the screen. Sex and nudity are a part of human culture, but you wouldn’t know it by watching our movies and television shows or playing our video games. We treat it like it is something to be hidden and ashamed of.
I understand that our media is more sexually graphic today than it was years ago, and I also understand that sex is often used to sell products, but there has always been some threshold of explicitness, and I suspect there always will be. There will always be something that is "too far." One can make the argument that we need this threshold in order to maintain a functioning society, but if that is the case, why is there such a double standard compared to other forms of offensive content? And why do sex and nudity seem to be singled out as the worst of the bunch in America?
- When posting an article about America’s fear of sex and nudity, the advertisements were blocked by the automatic content filter (which kind of proves my point).
- Though it was completely unintentional, this was my 69th article.
- When suggesting tags for this article “Ninja Punch-Fest 4” (a made-up title) was listed above “Super Smash Bros” and “Danny Phantom,” the latter two of which are real products.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on October 13, 2013:
Juniper - Pop stars definitely exploit controversy for profit. It's a cycle where a child star goes from kid friendly to scandalous. They all do it, so I'm not sure why we're surprised anymore. Though, in defense of Game of Thrones, it is very accurate to the book series it was based on. Most, if not all, nudity was depicted that way in the book. Actually, the book was significantly more gratuitous so, if you can believe it, HBO is censoring the original material. I would argue that Spartacus (from Starz) is a lot more shameless in its portrayal of violence and nudity.
I hope that the U.S. develops a more mature stance on these issues over time, but I'm not sure what sort of catalyst is needed to make it happen. There are many conservative groups with a lot of power that would prefer to keep things the way the are (or worse, move them backwards).
Juniper on October 10, 2013:
Thanks for responding to my comment, I was curious about the Sesame Street thing. It sounds a bit in poor taste, but not too shocking. At least, not to me but I haven't actually seen the clip so it's hard to judge. The Miley Cyrus thing was just a bit sad and distasteful, yet nothing to freak out over. It's a popstar, they do crazy things to gain nedia attention all the time, nothing new there.
I was thinking about your post after commenting. Another thing we (as in, me and my Dutch friends) find hilarious is all the fuss about HBO showing nudity (I'm guessing because it's a channel you pay for?). They can, so they go completely over the top with it. To the point where it just is hilarious. I like to watch Game of Thrones, but the amount of breasts and lady bits on show there is so over the top. They do occasionally ( very ocasionally, mind you) show some male bits as well, but the ratio naked men/women is way off. It annoys me because it's too in your face, not because it's nudity. I feel like HBO is screaming at me all the time "look! boobies! we can show boobies!" Very pubescent :-)
But you make a very good point in your post, America's attitude towards sex, and the inability to separate it from nudity, is out-dated, prudish and hypocritical (just look at the huge porn industry there...) to say the least. I hope it will change, and I bet problems with teen pregnancy and std's, among other issues, will get a lot less as a result. Decent sex education is a good start here I think. Get rid of that nonsensical absinence crap and wake up to the fact that teenagers have raging hormones. It's much better if they have the knowledge and support to deal safely with issues that might arise around their bodies or sex. And while you at it, legalize prostitution as well. Much safer for the ladies in question and easier to regulate and tax by the government that way. It will never go away, so let's deal with it in a sensible way. But that's a bit off-topic here, sorry. That was my liberal Dutchness rearing it's head :-)
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on October 10, 2013:
Juniper - The Sesame Street scandal didn't create as many waves as the super bowl one. Katy Perry guest starred in a segment with Elmo and was wearing a skimpy outfit (think of a lingerie teddy and you wouldn't be far off). Parents thought her outfit was too sexual and complained. A more modern scandal would be Miley Cyrus on the VMA award show. I feel kind of sorry for the girl; she doesn't have the curves of a Katy Perry or Janet Jackson, so she overcompensates by humping a foam finger. But, the result was the same; people freaked out.
You make a lot of great points, especially about nudity and sex being two different things. The U.S. has wrapped the two so tightly together, that it's nearly impossible to separate them. There are tribes in the wilderness that spend most of their time in the nude and yet they've developed a balance with that and their sexuality. As you said, by hiding it, they've only made it more appealing. Thank you for the thoughtful comment!
Juniper on October 09, 2013:
Interesting post, I've often wondered about the uptight attitude of Americans towards nudity vs violence and the lack of distinction they seem to make between sex and nudity (which are not the same thing). As a European (and Dutch as well, possibly one of the most liberal European countries, besides the Scandinavian ones) the American prudishness keeps baffling me. The Super Bowl drama is a bit outdated now, but I clearly remember it and also how ALL European media thought the American reaction to it was hysterically funny and over-the-top. I don't know about the sesame Street scandal, but I'm pretty sure it didn't involve a naked breast did it? I'm pretty curious now as to what caused that drama.
Anyway, I think a more open attitude towards nudity and respectful, loving sex really helps children and teens, and even adults to become more rounded people with a more healthy view of their own body and that of others. Just compare teen pregnancy and STD rates of the US and European countries; ours are MUCH lower. I attribute that fact to better sex education in schools and less hang-ups about kids seeing nudity (I mean age-approprate nudity here, I'm not advocating exposing children to sex/porn). No child has ever been traumatised from seeing a naked butt or boob on tv in a non-sexual setting, trust me. I grew up with parents who were fine with me seeing them change or take a bath. My favorite childrens movie growing up in the 80's was a Swedish film featuring *gasp* 12 full frontal naked men. I'll let that settle in for a bit....
I'm not making this up; 12 naked adult men. Willies flopping, pubes on show and everything. The scene was very non-sexual and involved the 12 men being chased out into the snow to wash themselves. It as a very funny scene and I, age 8 or so, thought it was hilarious and I still fondly remember that film. Just an example of how kids can deal with non-sexual nudity just fine.
We are all naked at least once at some point during our day. Being uptight about it only enhances the attraction. Plus making all nudity sexual totally takes away not only the normalcy of a naked human body, but also the artistic beauty of it.
I'm not saying using sexually tinted images to sell just about anything is ok. Being a woman I can certainly be offended by that at times. But that doesn't mean sex or nudity are wrong and should be avoided at all costs in the media. That's sending out the complete opposite signal. Let's find a middle ground and treat sex and nudity as two separate things and as the healthy, normal things they are. I think we all, including kids and teens, will feel a lot better about ourselves.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on October 01, 2013:
Cyn - My complaint wasn't that there isn't enough nudity, my complaint was how we react to it. What is so offensive about it? We all see nudity every day when we take a shower, so why does it become obscene when it's someone else? The purpose of this article was to highlight America's backwards sense of morals where it puts decapitation on the same level as a naked breast. Only humans have found the need to cover themselves and assign rampant negativity with parts of us that are entirely natural.
Cyn on September 30, 2013:
In my opinion there isn't ENOUGH censorship on nudity... It's EVERYWHERE!! What are you people talking about? Every "critically acclaimed" new program on tv contains nudity! I swear I have the hardest time finding a movie without at least one bare breast in it. America is obsessed with nudity and you think there isn't enough???? And of course there isn't nudity in children's programming... What is wrong with you?
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on July 16, 2013:
Sanxuary - I've definitely heard that Europe is more liberal in its views on nudity. And, I agree that privacy is an important right for everyone. It just seems silly how the United States treats it as the most offensive thing possible. Thanks for the comment!
Sanxuary on July 16, 2013:
Living in Europe it was pretty relaxed. Burlesque put strippers in America to shame and the show aired on Christmas. Nudity was just about anywhere you went and no one cared. Of course there was plenty you could have gone with out seeing. There are still plenty of sick perverted people but there are places where these people can go and leave most people alone. Honestly, a lot of Americans could not handle it and a little discretion or privacy is still a good thing. We have been taught to be to self aware of ourselves and this is why we quickly shy from the scene when your naked around strangers. It might be fun to watch on television but being naked at the swim bad you find nudity not to be all that shocking, when your the one changing in the locker room.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on June 09, 2011:
high times - I've been surprised by how much violence basic cable shows, and some network shows, have been able to get away with lately. Nudity seems to have a threshold where they won't ever show nipples or pubic hair, but there doesn't seem to be any similar threshold with violence so it just keeps getting worse and worse. It's definitely making it harder for parents to be aware of the things their children are seeing. Thanks for the comment!
high times on June 08, 2011:
I usually accompany my kids when watching TV. I change channels when they are scenes from my favorite TV shows that are not appropriate for them to watch.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on April 09, 2011:
CJamesIII - It's true that the more we censor nudity, the more curious people are going to be about it. It's like having a mystery box and telling people that they aren't allowed to look inside of it. So, naturally, everyone is going to want to know what is inside that box. If our culture was more open about sex and nudity, it wouldn't be such a taboo subject. Thanks for the comment!
CJamesIII from Minneapolis, MN on April 08, 2011:
Great hub! Very well written and I appreciate the anecdotes. I think Americans are just too uptight about nudity. The more attention people give to it and censor it, that is when things get out of proportion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating the nude human form!
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on December 04, 2010:
Lady Guinevere - Artistically speaking, sex and nudity are quite prominent. And, depending on how far the art goes, it can get away with more. For example, famous statues that depict male and female nudity can be shown on tv and in school books, but if those two statues are having sex, it's not okay anymore. If it's all art, why is some of it acceptable and some of it not? It just reinforces the double standard and the idea of a hierarchy of censorship.
Deborah Demander - I've thought about that too; despite how much America protests, we have a very large pornography market. I can't help but wonder if this censorship has just made it more popular. Either way, you're right that they have been shamed into denying it. Maybe America has no problem with sex and nudity, but instead our problem lies with admitting we like it and that it is not a bad thing. Thanks for the comment!
Deborah Reno from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on December 03, 2010:
Well written. It is true, this prurient society with so many hang ups also has a huge porn market. Human sexuality is a beautiful thing, but many have been shamed into denying that.
Debra Allen from West By God on December 01, 2010:
I watched a program on the Kuma Sultra about India's towers or buildings that had all the sexual positions engraved into the stone. I thought is was art and very beautiful. It was pretty interesting too.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on December 01, 2010:
Lady Guinevere - I think it might go back even further than the puritans (although technically that is leaving America). But I saw a show recently that pointed out a lot of sexual art on old pottery and paintings. I'm not sure if it was Roman, Greek or some other ancient society, but it was the people who found these artifacts that separated them into appropriate and inappropriate. Not the archeologists, but whoever was in power when these items were found. It's pretty interesting.
Debra Allen from West By God on December 01, 2010:
When we were supposedly in Eden before Eve supposedly ate the fruit of knowledge were all were naked--even the other tribes in the area. So who was the first to put it in our heads that nudity is evil or bad---the puritans? Then where id they get it and so on and so forth.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on December 01, 2010:
OpinionDuck - That is a good point too; where is the line between obscene and artistic and who draws it? For example, a naked woman taking a shower isn't that offensive, but make it a golden shower and red lights start flashing. But how much of the stuff we deem obscene is only thought of that way because we're told to think of it that way? After all, urine can be used to treat a jellyfish sting; is it obscene to depict someone doing that? It is interesting to think that this conversation would be entirely different if nudity and pornography hadn't been locked away as a naughty secret.
Thanks for the insightful comment!
OpinionDuck on November 30, 2010:
I thought about it and I think the nudity just comes down to good taste. When does nudity become indecent exposure, and when does it become pornographic.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on November 21, 2010:
Lady Guinevere - We did cross comments :) I posted a response to your article and the one you were making reference too. So far my comment hasn't been deleted, but it's an interesting discussion.
Aya_Hajime - I completely agree, women can enjoy the sight of other women naked and men can enjoy the sight of other men naked, without it being considered bi-sexual or homosexual. Our bodies are a work of art, but not everyone is able to see it that way. And you're right about people calling pervert in order to not look like a pervert themselves. This is true of a lot of things; not just sex. A lot of homosexuals get treated very poorly by people who are determined to prove that they aren't homosexuals. And politicians love to accuse their opponents of doing the bad things they are doing. It's a sad and frustrating system of "nuh uh, you did!"
David 470 - You're right, rape depicted in a movie is much different because it blends both sex and violence. Like I mentioned in the article, violence is never about love and I would categorize rape under violence, just like someone getting shot with a gun or stabbed with a knife. But I agree that it is still awkward to watch sex or nudity in a movie with parents/grandparents. A part of you is always wondering if their going to tell you to turn your head away, haha.
David 470 from Pennsylvania, United States on November 20, 2010:
I also think that nudity is not as bad as violence.(in most cases)
Sex usually means love and pleasure(except rape).
It is far worse for someone to get there throat slit in a movie than to show a girls nipple. I still feel weird around my grandmother when theres a sex scene though. Probably cause most of the adults tried to hide it away from me. (except my mom when I went to her friends house ironically)
We as a society, are lead to believe seeing boobs is generally worse than violence and blood. Logically, seeing a breast is a very minuscule thing.
Of course, rape in a movie is bad, however, sex that is done in passion in a movie should not be looked as taboo
Oh and that Katy Perry on sesame street controversy was ridiculous ...
Aya_Hajime on November 20, 2010:
Yeah - one of those things. In fact, people turn all weird as soon as they see sexy women pictures even if there is nothing exposed. Straight away they think porn and uh-oh I am not supposed to like porn so I am going to condemn it.
There is also this notion that only men can appreciate the female body, nude or otherwise.
Ultimately, nobody wants to be the pervert. Therefore, they shout "Pervert!" first before someone shouts it at them. :D
Debra Allen from West By God on November 20, 2010:
I seen you comment on Brie's hub and this is the one that I wrote in response to hers. Your comment may get deleted and my hub explains that she will delete anything she doesn't find goes in with her belief.
Here is the hub that I was talking about above: https://hubpages.com/hub/Why-Pornography-is-Bad-fo...
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on November 20, 2010:
Pcunix - I don't think it is something that can be changed either. I'm not sure where this taboo began, or why it began, but it certainly has latched itself onto our culture and refuses to let go.
Lady Guinevere - Its hard to bring up the subject of sex or nudity without getting harsh comments in return. (I fully expect hostility to materialize on this hub at some point during its life span). Your mention of religion is interesting because of the whole idea of being born with original sin; and we're born naked. It seems cruel to say that a newborn baby is inherently a sinner, so I suppose some of the blame can be placed on religion for our current censorship. I'm still trying to figure out why early religion would want to condemn sex and nudity. The only thing I can think of is that when a man got caught cheating on his wife, he could say the devil made him do it.
Debra Allen from West By God on November 20, 2010:
It IS rediculous. I wrote a hub on Pornography and the advertisements were also taken off of it. Though it is funny to watch the comments a they get uglier than the ugliest human body there can be and then they become attacks on myself for even bringing the subject up. Porn ( pictures and video's of the human body)is fine if used in the right way and people just can't get their eyes around that when we are born we have no clothes on and the minute that we put them on for the purpose of hiding the body, not because of the functions of such, we censor God's work. I realize that just saying the word GOD will bring controversy, but I am not meaning as in a religious sense, just a sense as to what we all have and it is beautiful. Religion is the one that is making that which is given to us to cherish into something evil. When we are born we have no idea that our body is an evil thing---not until someone PUTS that notion into our minds.
Tony Lawrence from SE MA on November 20, 2010:
I know. It's idiotic, but I don't think we can ever change it.
By the way, my wife and I spent many summers at a clothing optional resort - it's too far for us to travel now, and we miss it. It's ridiculous that simple nudity is taboo.