Andrew Welch, 42, is Commercial Manager at British Naturism (click here to visit its website) and lives in Buckinghamshire.
The benefits of naturism are mental as well as physical. The average human body does not get enough natural heat and light, especially when you consider that most of us work in offices with strip-lighting and air-conditioning. Skin cancer - while a very real and natural concern - has made people shun the sun, and the result is that we miss out on the benefits derived from exposure to moderate sunshine and fresh air.
Naturism therefore allows our entire body to get these benefits. It's also very liberating undressing and feeling the elements on your body, and swimming naked is exhilarating. The improvement to physical wellbeing leads to an improved mental state, simply because people feel better.
We are bombarded by advertisements promoting the perfect body, whereas naturists discover that however unhappy they are with themselves, everyone is unique. Naturists, particularly the younger ones, feel less stressed about being too fat, thin, tall, short, flat-chested or big bosomed.
There is a great social element to naturism. When one is at a naturist location there is delight at being in the company of like-minded people. We also experience a sense of relief as we are not only able to undress and literally strip away the stress of daily life, we are also able to meet other naturists and discuss naturism, which isn't something that is easily done in the non-naturist world.
Naturists feel proud to have discovered a wonderful world that gives them so much - including the health and wellbeing aspects - and allows them to experience a greater degree of happiness. Many older people who are new to naturism wish they'd discovered it when they were much younger.
I think we still have a way to go as far as the acceptance of naturism is concerned, but things are definitely getting better. Our culture is still rooted in the Victorian era which says that nudity is rude, silly and shameful.
Naturists are more mature than that and understand that we all have a body and we shouldn't be ashamed of it, nor should we wrap it up to preserve our 'modesty'. It is society that has dictated that we should wear clothes, which, for comfort reasons, is right much of the time. In 2006, though, we are finally moving away from Victorian culture and becoming more tolerant of people's interests and right to live as they want.
People are beginning to realise that naturists are just normal people like themselves, and that it is far more widespread than they imagined.
Cheaper foreign travel also means that more people get the chance to go topless or nude or to witness others doing it, and the more common it becomes the less of a problem it is to people.
Ronita Fine is 51 and lives in Bedford. She has been a naturist since meeting her husband Deane in 2004.
When I met Deane he was already a member of a club, Blackthorns in North Bedfordshire. He was keen for me to go but I was dead against the idea, I just didn't want to do it. I told him not to bother even asking me, as it was something I had never even thought about doing.
But then I went to the club and saw the environment first-hand, which was all green and natural as it's set in ancient woodland. At first I thought, 'I can't do this', but I gradually got into it and since then I haven't looked back. I think it's the most relaxing place in the world - trees, woodland, birds singing; it's so peaceful. It's difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it.
People say to me, "Why?", and the way I explain it is this. When a woman wearing high heels gets home from work she kicks off her shoes and says, "ahh". It's like that, but for the entire body. It's a sense of freedom, feeling the fresh air on your skin. It's hard to get people to try it but when they do they realise what I mean.
People are so worried about their bodies and fashion and models. Naturism is about body acceptance rather than body beautiful. Nobody thinks they are the perfect shape, and naturism makes you more confident within yourself and shows you that you are everyone's equal.
One of the major attractions is undoubtedly the relaxation aspect. When you come through the gates of the club, you leave your troubles behind. We go for a day and a weekend and feel like we've had a real break. And there is a great crowd of people at the club so you are amongst friends, which also helps you to de-stress.
Blackthorns is set in twelve-and-a-half acres of woodland and it has a clubhouse, pool, tennis and other sporting facilities, so there are plenty of things to keep people fit. The communal atmosphere is so relaxed.
I think a lot of naturists get to know each other by going abroad, where it is much more accepted and practised, mainly because of the better climate. Our beaches aren't as warm, which is why clubs like ours build up. We're not annoying anyone as we're away from everything though there are some clubs in built-up areas. Some naturists go to cinemas and pubs but personally I don't like that. I prefer being at one with nature and the majority of naturists feel the same.
Naturism in the UK is certainly more accepted than it was in the past. Just look at how the perception of topless sunbathing has changed. However, there is still an air of secrecy around it and some people don't talk about it with other people, but I do and I never get a bad reaction. Many people say they are interested and some give it a try. There's still a real mixture of people as far as that's concerned.
Our bodies need to absorb vitamin D from sunshine and naturism is one of the best ways to do that. Vitamin D protects us from more than 25 chronic diseases and keeps bones and teeth healthy. It also promotes a healthy immune system and regulates cell growth, which, uncontrolled, can be a key factor in the development of cancer. Yet around 60% of the population have insufficient levels of the vitamin in their blood. The most natural way to take in vitamin D is from the sun. It is synthesised in our skin merely by exposure to sunlight.
People often think naturists are just a lot of oldies but this is far from the truth now. We are a mixed bunch of people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Blackthorns has members ranging from children to teenagers right through to middle-age and people in their 70s. The club is family orientated, with a good mix of men and women, which makes everyone feel comfortable, which yet again only adds to the relaxation.
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