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Nudity

Is getting naked in public illegal? If you like to feel the wind between your pubes you might want to check the law before baring all.

Man's legs with his trousers around his legs

But is it legal to pull your pants down?

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For some of us, the idea of outrageous exhibitionism stretches about as far as wearing a T-shirt with a bit of pink on it.

For others, however, it’s quite different. Whether it’s drunken revelry, nude sunbathing or serious naturism, there are some people who just can’t help wanting to put their birthday suit on in public. But is it legal?

Baring your bits

Being naked is not illegal… except when it is illegal.

Confused? Put some clothes on for now, and we’ll explain.

Public nudity and the law

There are three main laws that restrict what you can and can’t do when you are completely Billy Bollocks:

The Public Order Act (1986)

This is a general act that states it’s illegal to do anythingthreatening, abusive or insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress“.

Under this law, it’s OK to be naked in public depending on your intention and your audience’s reaction. So an organised naked bike ride is deemed acceptable, but if you decide to scrawl an angry threat onto your cock and wave it in someone’s face it’s highly likely to break all the laws.

Sex Offences Act: Indecent Exposure (2003)

This is more specific and explains that an offence is committed if someone “intentionally exposes his genitals and he intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress”.

Although penises are easier to pop out of your pants, women shouldn’t take this as a green light to spread their legs in a distressing manner whenever they please.

Despite the law stating ‘he’, sexually-motivated exposure is legally suspect, regardless of whether you have man-bits or lady-bits.

Outraging Public Decency

This law prohibits any public obscene act, witnessed by more than one person. This could potentially include getting your boobs/balls out.

But what constitutes as obscene obviously varies depending on who sees you doing it. Peter Stringfellow will probably just give you the thumbs up; the barman at your local might be less enthusiastic.

Still confused about whether your Friday night drunken antics were illegal?

As you can see, what’s important in all three of these laws is intention and context.

Clear as mud? Here are some scenarios to give you an idea how the law works in practice.

So is it illegal to sunbathe naked?

No.

There are obvious exceptions, like if you chose to do this at a war memorial or a school playground. But if your intention is to get a full-body tan and not to be provocative or shocking, then you are within your rights to do so. Specialist nudist beaches are the best place to do this. Topless rather than trouserless is likely to cause less upset. And it’s probably worth investing in a plentiful supply of sunblock, too.

How about whipping your bits out in a club?

Possibly.

Nakedness is often a by-product of drunkenness, and anyone who has been to a club on a Friday night will have seen some things that will haunt their dreams forever. On these occasions, there is a fine line between drunken horseplay and sexual harassment. If you feel compelled to expose yourself, do it amongst friends who’ll take it as a joke, not to a stranger in the toilets or the bouncer on the door.

Is it illegal to streak at a football match?

Yes.

It’s hard to argue that your decision to streak wasn’t a deliberate attempt to cause alarm when you chose to do it in front of tens of thousands of people. Remember ‘intention’ is important in nudity offences. Yes, you will briefly be on TV, but be prepared for a lifetime of awkward job interviews when you’re asked to divulge your criminal record.

And rambling in the buff?

Yes… Or is it?

The Naked Rambler is in a perpetual stand-off with the law and has been convicted 18 times. He keeps claiming he’s done nothing wrong – and judges keep throwing him into prison wearing only handcuffs and a sad face.

Nudity laws are slightly stricter in Scotland, where the Naked Rambler’s ‘offences’ have been committed. But nonetheless this case highlights the confusion over the legalities of public nudity. He has no intention to offend, but the police and members of the public are clearly being offended. So who is in the right? It can be argued either way. That’s helpful, isn’t it?

Can I take my clothes off yet?

Sure. But if you’re going to go nude in public, tread carefully.

Photo of dropped trousers by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • The Citizens Advice Bureau has a great Advice4Me page, which explains legal rights specifically for under-25s.
    • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
    • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Jamie Ross

Updated on 22-Aug-2014

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