LIKE OTHER Irish people my age, I was brought up in a conservative society.
There were rules of decency to live by, and any group deemed to be outside the social norm – members of the LGBT communities, hippies and people with different faiths – were very often looked upon with disdain.
I carried these kind of conservative views with me into adulthood. Taught to fear my body and alternative ways of life, I never imagined I would eventually come to embrace naturism.
I began to appreciate the benefits of a naturist lifestyle much later on in life, once my wife and I had children. Every June, we holidayed in a caravan by the south east coast.
The weather was often sunny during these breaks and the nearby beach was usually deserted, especially during weekdays. After swims, I would take my soggy togs off under my windcheater, enjoying that exhilarating feeling of the sun and air on my bare body.
Gradually, I became braver and, when no-one else was in sight, often ventured to the water naked, hiding back under my windcheater when others appeared.
I enjoyed the experience so much that I started only visiting very quiet beaches, so I could feel the water all over my naked skin without disturbance.
To my surprise, there were other like-minded people who enjoyed the freedom of a clothes-free lifestyle.
The first meeting of the Irish Naturist Association I attended was in an indoor swim and sauna facility.
I knew once I removed my clothes in the presence of other members that there was no going back. They accepted me in all my flaws.
In naturism, there is no body shame. Nakedness is accepted regardless of your shape, size or scars.
Because we are all naked, we see only the real person, not their status or looks.
As a committed naturist, I now live this lifestyle whenever it is appropriate to do so. Embracing naturism has made me feel more relaxed, less anxious and altogether more comfortable with my body.
Being naked in a non-sexual way, and learning to accept your body in all its flaws, is one of the most life-affirming experiences you could ever hope to have.
Benefits of naturism
What are the other benefits? Naturists get more vitamin D from exposing their skin to the sun.
Being naked can improve fertility in men because most modern clothing, like tight underwear and jeans, reduces sperm count by killing nerve receptors.
Nudism also reduces the risk of certain infections, as the clothes we wear on a day-to-day basis are often a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria.
Young people who grow up in naturist environments are more comfortable with their bodies, less likely to get addicted to porn and develop a healthier attitude to the opposite sex.
But don’t take my word for it: go to a beach this summer and try it yourself. Just don’t forget to use sunscreen.
Pat Gallagher is the president of the Irish Naturist Association.