The eyes on my clothed body were as scorching as the sun—which is when I realized that wearing clothes at a nude beach isn’t just optional, it makes you stand out. (My immature giggles and anxious eyes didn’t help, either.)
The nudist beach of Sandy Bay is backed by steep dunes and mountain slopes. The only way to get to it is a 20-minute walk from the car park. There were three types of people. There were the “true” nudists, who have been frequenting the beach for years and enjoy the friendly, communal atmosphere; the “creepers,” who lie on their stomachs to hide their erections and stare at women as they emerge from the ocean; and the curious, who are just there for kicks. Oh, and there was also the undercover Men’s Health reporter: Me.
First, a bit about myself, this undercover reporter crowd of one. I am not someone who you would call a “naked person.” While many people enjoy walking around the house in the buff or even skinny-dipping in semi-public places, I just don’t see the point. But here I am, faced with a decision. I can observe the nudists with a judging eye and clothed body, or I could try to understand the appeal. So, I took off my top—which was weird, but a bit like taking off a Band-Aid. One swift motion and the anxiety was over.
As for the rest of the beach, telling each group apart proved challenging. Nudists are friendly and talkative, and that makes it difficult to discern the chatty nudist from the horny creep. But when I asked advice from John, a heavy-set, middle-aged nudist who had been frequenting the beach for more than 20 years, I realized it’s not all that difficult.
“You just use your judgment like you always would,” he said.
It seemed like pithy advice, but John was right. Women are often forced to distinguish between well-meaning, friendly guys and creepers all the time—often within seconds, and I didn’t lose this skill along with my bikini top. The only thing different about a nude beach is that the outgoing people are reallyoutgoing and the creepers are super creepy.
I learned a few other lessons from the nudists, too—and thankfully, not all of them applied to how a girl can I.D. skeevy guys on the Cape Coast. Here are a few simple rules that men should keep in mind when talking to any woman, even when they’re wearing clothes.
Lesson 1: Do accessorize
What Nudists Do: They never show up completely empty-handed. The sheer number of hats, visors, and fancy sunglasses surprised me—but it made sense. How do you stand out when everyone is naked? You wear a cock ring. Or an East Asian style hat. Or a bright orange watch. Point is: People will always try to express their individuality through their attire, even when they have nothing to wear.
What You Can Learn: Women notice. Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio found that women were more likely to choose Porsche drivers over Honda Civic drivers for a date. “It’s not just about cars, it’s the concept of ‘peacocking,’” says Jill Sundie, Ph.D., professor of marketing at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and author of the study. “Men buy flashy products to attract women—and it works.”
Worth noting: Flashy cars and accessories only work if you want a short-term partner, according to the study. Those looking for a casual relationship should consider a fancy watch, neon hat, or classy shoes.
Lesson 2: Do have good posture
What Nudists Do: They tend to emphasize the wrong, um, assets. Take Mr. Handsome, for example. While the nickname isn’t entirely deserved, Mr. Handsome is infamous on the nude beach. Dedicated nudists go so regularly that they become friends—or, at least, know each other by name—and sometimes, nickname. (I also met “Big Jimmy,” but that’s for another article.)
I was quite happy when Mr. Handsome approached me. He was a trove of insider dirt. I told him it was my first time at the beach, and the guy spilledeverything. He told me stories about “Big Jimmy” and his girlfriend, confessed that women in bathing suits are sexier, and laughed about the time he took pictures with clothed tourists.
His posture, though, was completely unforgivable. I’m no prude: I’d expected to see some X-rated stuff. But Mr. Handsome sat in a way that made his junk the constant centerpiece of the conversation. While his friend knelt confidently beside me, Mr. Handsome leaned back so far that his face was hardly in our field of vision. His manhood, however, remained front and center.
What You Can Learn: Don’t shove your junk in her face. (Kidding—but, seriously, don’t.) Mr. Handsome looked too comfortable. When you’re talking to a woman, you want to be relaxed, but standing tall, like Mr. Handsome’s friend—not slouched. “Straight, open posture shows authority,” says Vanessa Bohns, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto studying human interaction and social relationships. “It’s commanding and attractive.”
Lesson 3: Do know when to end the conversation
What Nudists Do: Halfway through my chat with Mr. Handsome, I was over it. Somewhere between the 90-degree weather and the unwanted view of his ball sack, I wanted out. But, like most socialized human beings, I’m just too damn polite to simply say, Please go away. Instead, I went with I think I’m going to buy water. And when that didn’t work, the classic, I’m going to go to the bathroom.
What You Can Learn: Sometimes, we actually need to go to the bathroom or buy water—even if we’re enjoying the conversation. But we’ll talk to you when we come back. If we don’t find you post-bathroom break, it was probably an escape plan.
Lesson 4: Don’t Be Too Self-Deprecating
What Nudists Do: Poke fun at their flaws—repeatedly. I saw a lot of penis at Sandy Bay, and I didn’t exactly avert my gaze the whole time. (Though it closely resembled the way you would watch a car crash.) But I swear, Mr. Handsome, I didn’t notice that your penis was small until you casually mentioned it—five times.
What You Can Learn: It’s true: Humility is hot. Research has even linked self-deprecating humor with attractiveness. But not all jokes are created equal. “It’s better to mention a flaw if it’s obvious that you’re not serious,” says Gil Greengross, Ph.D., and professor of psychology at University of New Mexico. “You don’t want to draw attention to an actual imperfection.” Think of it this way: It’s the difference between joking about your poor math skills as a Nobel Prize winning physicist—and doing so as someone who can’t add three numbers together.
Lesson 5: Don’t go straight to the “invite”
What Nudists Do: I’ll put it this way: “What are you doing after this?” is not the perfect opening line, despite the approach taken by a couple of beachgoers. (Likewise, my answer was not, “Hanging out with two strangers who didn’t bother to introduce themselves.”)
What You Can Learn: An instant invite—or even drink offer—will make the woman think you’re only hitting on her because of her looks. Even if that’s true, you need to create substance first. If you’re at a bar, avoid cutting straight to the drink proposal, which says I think you’re hot and I’m trying to get you drunk. Start a conversation first. If she’s into it, offer her a drink, which instead says, I think you’re hot AND I want to continue this already engaging conversation.
As for me? I didn’t exactly find my inner nudist, but I did agree with the “true” nudists, who argue that disrobing isn’t necessarily sexual. Sure, it’s part of sex, but once you’ve seen 100 naked people drinking beer, playing volleyball, and even arguing, you realize that the bare body is only sexual in a very specific setting—one that has nothing to do with a beach in Cape Town. I like to call it,the bedroom.