The Fig Leaf Fetish

Someone told me recently that naturism kills eroticism; in other words, that so much constant nudity eliminates the thrill of sexual anticipation.

I don’t always agree–context is everything–but I know that this point of view is widely sustained at different times and for different reasons. Naturists – always having to defend that we’re not generally orgy enthusiasts or generally prudes, either, but somewhere in the middle, like most people. Always having to toe the line between the matter-of-fact and the tongue-in-cheek.

It led me to think about the Adam and Eve story in a new way, and I find it to be a worthwhile interpretation that I’m still spinning out, discovering more consequences. 

Otto Mueller (1874-1930), Adam und Eva

It goes something like this:

Imagine that God is going to feed you. What’s on the menu? Lasagna. You smell it: scrumptious. Your mouth is watering. God brings you the lasagna fresh from the oven, yet somehow it has instantly cooled to the ideal temperature to consume. You taste it, and it tastes heavenly: the light from a Renaissance oil painting bathes the scene, an angelic choir sustains a high G. Everything about this lasagna is a wonder. It is, after all, THE LASAGNA OF GOD. You feel like you have never tried anything so divine.

And then you reach for the saltshaker… … …

WHAT?!?!?!” roars Jehovah. (We know Jehovah to be a jealous god – he says so himself several times in the Old Testament.) “FINE! I will NEVER cook for you again! From now on, you must work the land, harvest the crops, prepare your food, da da da, etc. etc. etc.” For daring to even think about altering THE LASAGNA OF GOD in the slightest way, you have been expelled from the comforts of God’s holy kitchen.

So here’s the analogy: The saltshaker is the fig leaf. In this view, Adam and Eve didn’t so much cover themselves out of shame, as mess with the recipe out of cunning. They altered their appearance, for the sake of variety, the spice of life. But in the story, God supposedly can’t tolerate this – they have partaken of the Tree of Knowledge (none other than their own bodies) and enjoyed its fruits (their sexes) and decided to spice things up a bit with some fig leaf accesories. The fig leaf becomes the first erotic fetish, and all the rest of the variety of things we heap on our stifled bodies–from socks to scarves and sweaters to slacks and swimsuits to saris–carries on the tradition, even when these textiles may be simultaneously necessary for reasons of protection from the elements. When we see images of Adam and Eve wearing fig leaves, we see proof of the complicit partnership between censorship and eroticism, and how one often serves to support the other.

Any living organism, even the smallest microbe, inevitably alters the environment around it. But humans do this the most, for better or for worse. We use what we have at our disposal to invent things, whether complex languages or cultures or technologies. The fitting of a fig leaf onto the body was, in the context of this story, the first human invention of craft or technology, and this is what the Divine Being can’t abide. When you compare the Judeo-Christian account to other creation stories, there often comes a point in the narrative when the gods realize that their human creation is too godlike, too creative. The consequence is a divine punishment of some kind: a clouding of the eyes, for example, or, as in Genesis, an accumulation of toils and sorrows: the hard labor of farming, the hard labor of childbirth.

So, yes: variety is the spice of life, and in many ways our desire to create variety is the essence of humanity. Perhaps for this reason some nudists groove the fig leaf fetish. At some club-sponsored costume dances, the atmosphere can be more erotic precisely because the participants are not completely nude but rather minimally adorned. This kind of event would confirm the point of view expressed at the beginning of this post, that naturism kills eroticism, at least when it is a norm.

Most people’s current cultural perceptions hold that clothing is merely an everyday essential and that nudity is an erotic invitation. But the reality is that both extreme states of dress–fully clothed or fully naked–harbor the same potential for either a non-erotic normalcy or for eroticism. And it is the intermediate stages of dress–the swimsuit, the lingerie, the cheerleader outfit, etc.–that most recall the fig leaf fetish, or humanity’s inherent desire to create, to craft, to spice things up a bit for the sake of variety.

Danny C. Sillada (b. 1963), Adam & Eve

“Eroticism is the human dimension of sexuality, what imagination adds to nature.”
Octavio Paz, The Double Flame

6 thoughts on “The Fig Leaf Fetish

  1. I've heard the suggestion that regular nudity must kill erotic feelings, but never from a nudist, only from Textiles!.First they fear having an erection around all those naked women, then worry about NOT having one if they get used to it! .Nice try at the Eden analogy but it fails right from the start; nobody puts salt on Lasagna! Make it Parmesan cheese and you've got a winner! 😉


  2. \”Nobody puts salt on lasagna\”?? Well, whatever. Whether it's oregano or spicy red pepper, the analogy is about spicing things up, and that's the barrier-crossing fear your second paragraph addresses. It's about the routine of what you're used to doing, and the desire to create variety.


  3. When I was a little kid, my mother told me that salting my food insulted the cook. That's the point in your post when you nailed what the story's about for me. A&E's covering themselves — \”Who told you you were naked?\” — is about a metaphorical nakedness, a nakedness of much more than primary and secondary sexual characteristics.Here's Gregory Bateson's take on the story, quoted in my blog\”Here is 'The Garden of Eden' — the myth in biblical form (as is so often the case) upside down. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowledge, an apple high on the tree. They had to place one box on top of another to reach it. They then ate it — the sweet reward of a successful short-sighted scheme, consciously planned. This made them drunk with partial arrogance.\”The arrogance was partial in the sense that what they were arrogant about was that miniscule part of themselves which achieved the conscious plan (no arrogance is total).\”In this arrogance, they threw out all the rest of themselves — thus breaking up the total systemic thing they called “mind.”\”I. e., they threw god out of the garden.


  4. Another very interesting reading, thanks, Tom!Yes, insulting the cook – that's the sense I'm going for. Some folks take offense if you alter something they've created to be, of itself. In my understanding I don't see as much arrogance as just cunning, which I think is altogether more admirable, because it's hard to understand the story without thinking that Eve & Adam were set up to fail, that they were blamed for simply being who they are. In that light, here's another turn-the-tables interpretation of the Garden of Eden (with language some will find harsh), centering on strategies of reverse psychology:


  5. On the main focus of this: nudity kills the eroticism, I think that's true for some (can't say if a minority or a majority) of non-nudist/nudism-not-friendly-people/textiles that failed to understand the separation between being naked and getting naked to have a sexual encounter (and I'm against thinking that sex it's bad or inappropiate, that's and old, old victorian/ancient religions view), but for the nudist, naturist, whatever you wanna name it, the erotic is in the mind, in the context, in the conjuction of two (or more) special beings in the adequate time and space.


  6. That's it – I think you're right. And so this leads to the possibility that practicing naturists can have a more refined or nuanced erotic understanding, on a level not evident to non-naturists, for whom mere nudity crosses the fig leaf threshold.


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