Catherine Yang

Many of us imagine it as an alien atmosphere. Clothes strewn on furniture, naked bodies gyrating. But for many Yalies, the freedom — and not just the liberation of their private parts — provided at a naked party feels like home.

The event begins. In a brightly lit residence (or, in some cases, an academic hall), discreetly revealed to a select few, students peel off their clothing. They start with their boots, untying their laces. Then they shrug off their jackets, before sequentially removing their socks, pants, shirt and undergarments.

Goosebumps appear on newly exposed bare skin. Some guests are impatient, others uncertain. Some thought to bring plastic bags in which they shove their outfits, and others carelessly toss their clothes onto the furniture. For some these events are routine; for others, this is a singular, nerve-ridden impulse. The apartment’s central room contains a couple dozen bare-naked bodies sipping drinks and dancing. The newly nude attendees hurry down the hallway to join the naked milieu.

***

Simply stated, naked parties are like any other college party, except with a lot more skin showing and more “substantive conversation than you would encounter at Woads,” according to Samuel* ’16, who has attended eight naked parties since his freshman year.

“The naked parties are pointedly desexualized spaces; that’s why they work, because we go knowing that we won’t be judged sexually or have to worry about anyone being inappropriate,” said Alexandra* ’16, a senior who has attended all but one monthly naked party since last December.

All eight frequent naked party attendees interviewed also emphasized naked parties’ particularly unsexual, heavily policed nature.

Although naked parties themselves are not unique to Yale — Brown and the University of California, Berkeley have their own naked party traditions — they are more institutionalized here. Naked parties have been occurring at Yale since the revival of the Pundits, a senior society, in the 1980s. Today, the group organizes the events via an informal panlist that includes anyone who asks to be on it.

Kira ’16*, a Pundit, mentioned that many of those who attend are not on the panlist instead find out about events through friends.

“The main rule is to respect all other partygoers,” Ariana* ’16, another Pundit, said. “No touching, no phones or cameras, no talking about anyone else’s body at the party or afterwards and if at any point are you are a threat to yourself or others, we will ask you to leave.”

Ariana detailed the naked party protocol to me. When the party starts, a Pundit gives a speech emphasizing the event’s desexualized nature and encouraging partygoers to report anything suspicious or uncomfortable. Throughout the night, all Pundits present remain sober and are responsible for maintaining a safe, comfortable atmosphere. They look out for any instances of sexual harassment or dangerous levels of intoxication. After the party is over, the Pundits gather to debrief on how to improve future parties.

Jackson* ’16, who has been to 15 naked parties, said nudity almost becomes irrelevant during the event. Most other attendees agreed.

“There’s this illusion that you’ll go and everyone is a Victoria’s Secret supermodel,” Samuel said. “[But] everyone is beautiful with different body sizes and heights. There’s a lot of diversity at Yale.”

All eight people interviewed agreed that naked parties provide a much-needed outlet for body positivity.

Kira speculated that many Yale students harbor body image-related anxieties, which naked parties can counter because attendees consistently realize that people don’t care what their bodies look like — and that, in fact, most look alike when naked. She added that friends have told her their body images have improved after attending a naked party.

Alexandra, along with three other female naked partygoers, said attending the gatherings has helped her overcome personal body image issues.

“Naked parties made me realize that people won’t treat me any differently based on my body, and seeing so many people of so many body types so free and happy with themselves made me learn how to do the same,” Alexandra said. “It was and is very cathartic.”

***

Although naked parties greatly parallel normal parties, Alexandra said, nudity’s absurdity alone erases conversational barriers.

Isabelle* ’17, who has attended many naked parties, agreed, noting that nudity already crosses so many social barriers that approaching a stranger to chat no longer feels strange — especially in such a desexualized environment. With sex out of the equation, partygoers can focus on conversation. (Multiple attendees quipped that eye contact at naked parties is unparalleled.)

Ariana added that the parties’ explicit phone ban forces attendees to talk to each other, which she said has led to new friendships in addition to engaging conversation.

Kira mentioned that she has often felt unsafe and even been sexually harassed at large parties at Toad’s or fraternities, where sex pervades the atmosphere. For her, the “absolutely sex-free” space at naked parties is both comforting and liberating.

For women especially, naked parties offer an escape from the objectification that they face on campus and the outside world, she added. Perhaps it is not the absence of clothing but the absence of fear that most distinguishes naked parties.

Alexandra, who said she’d been plagued by body issues in the past, expected to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable when she went to her first naked party. Instead, she said she had never felt more comfortable with her body than she did that night and at all subsequent naked parties she has attended. ***

Ariana mentioned that attending naked parties helped her reclaim her body after being raped and fighting an eating disorder.

“At naked parties, my body belongs to me and only me,” she said. “Other survivors of sexual assault and eating disorders have thanked me in the past for providing them with a space to reclaim their bodies, and that fulfillment drives me and the rest of the Pundits to continue providing this valuable campus service.”

Male naked party attendees also noticed the positive effects naked parties have on their female friends. Jackson said his most gratifying naked party experience came when he happened upon a friend who told him she had never felt so loose and liberated at any other party in her life.

Still, a few emphasized that, for all the body-positive perceptions and takeaways, naked parties aren’t perfect.

“Naked parties are so white. They have no power over who comes or not, so they tend to get cis-white people,” Liam* ’18, frequent naked party attendee, said.

And although naked parties are said to be judgment-free, the Pundits can only police outward expressions of disrespect. Liam said naked parties’ high energy allows for superficial judgment and private whisperings between friends.

Lila* ’18 noted a stark difference between what she heard from a female versus a male friend who attended the same naked party. While her female friend expressed joy at the body confidence she gained as a result of going to the naked party, her male friend openly commented on the pleasure of seeing that same woman’s breasts.

***

The party dies down as people slowly return to a clothed reality, slipping on their underwear, socks and shirts, bracing themselves for the cold that awaits them outside.

Partygoers take away what they choose. Many leave with newfound love for their bodies and a much-needed confidence boost. Others leave with the satisfaction of having seen others naked.

Some will come to another party alone. Others will regale their friends with the wonder of their experience, and convince them to come along for the next one.

When the clothes come off, something else is stripped away — sans the need for social lubricant or mood enhancers like alcohol, unlike most nightlife at Yale.

“One of the greatest strengths of a naked party [is] that you can achieve a raucous transcendence at a party without the need for drinks or drugs,” Jackson said.

For many other naked party regulars, bringing newcomers has become most enjoyable part of the gatherings.

Alexandra said her favorite naked party memory came when she brought three friends to their first gathering.

“I got to watch them go from on edge to disbelieving to confident as they realized what sort of space we were really in,” she said. “I got to watch them experience that freedom for the first time.”

*Name has been changed to protect individuals’ identities.