Nudity In Finland

Your indispensable guide to understanding nudity in Finland

The concept of nudity in Finland and Finnish culture is a topic that often interests foreigners — do Finns really go to the sauna naked in front of everyone else? The answer is not as clear cut as one might think; yes, Finns and other Nordic people are typically very comfortable being naked in a sauna, even if they are in a larger group, but they won’t pressure a nervous foreigner into taking their clothes off.

Nudity in Finland bypasses all hierarchies and social statuses; when companies host sauna evenings for their employees, the CEO will sit as comfortably in the nude as the rest of the staff. All pretense is stripped off, quite literally, as Finns return to what they consider the most natural state for a human: in the nude.

Why is nudity in Finland so common?

Foreigners who are acquainted with Finnish culture may notice the discrepancy in how Finns generally act and how comfortable they are with nudity. Finns are known to be quiet, reserved people who balk at the thought of a stranger striking up a conversation on the street or on public transportation.

How is it, then, that most of them are completely fine with stripping down to sit in a hot room with friends, family, and even strangers? The reasons stem back to the history of Finland — spending centuries as a pawn between two neighboring monarchies meant that holding on to true Finnish customs was vital for maintaining a sense of identity. The sauna is at the core of Finnish culture, and nudity is irrevocably connected.

Growing up Finnish means nudity is so normal that later in life, Finns may be surprised by how much other cultures differ in their views of the topic. Many countries where religion is prevalent or the general culture is conservative see nudity as always sexual and, in some cases, wrong and dirty.

Although the popularity of the Lutheran church has fallen in recent years, roughly 70% of the population are still part of the church and the figure was at 85% in 2000. Nudity, however, has never been viewed as inappropriate or otherwise bad in the Lutheran religion. Instead, it is seen as a pivotal part of being human.

Finnish children grow up going to saunas with their parents and other family members at home, at summer cottages, and at public swimming pools. Gender is not an object either; if a little boy is with his mother at a public pool, he will join the ladies’ sauna with his mother, and vice versa.

Another popular Finnish pastime is the palju, which is a typically wooden hot tub that many houses in Finland have in their yards. Due to the ease of the heating process, many Finns like to step into the palju even during wintertime.

Similar to the sauna culture, Finns grab a beer or a cider and enjoy the heat of the palju either in silence or while calmly chattering. The palju is, like the sauna, most often enjoyed in the nude — although, if the weather is particularly chilly, Finns often put a knit hat on before getting in.

Contrary to what some foreigners might believe, Finns do not just walk around naked constantly. After all, it is quite cold for most of the year! However, nudity is a vital part of Finnish culture in ways that can be surprising.

When the Finnish national hockey team has won the world championship in past years, exuberant Finns have gathered on the streets to celebrate and at some point of the evening, it has been common to see people strip to their underwear or be completely naked and dance around in the water fountains in the city center.

One might even wonder if the most natural state of a Finn is in the nude and, in moments of celebration, some sort of primitive urge to be naked kicks in.

Nudity In Finland
Credit: Fetmano

Isn’t it uncomfortable to be naked in Finland in front of other people?

Everyone has their own personal views on this, but most Finns would likely say no. At lake houses and cottages around the country, Finns enjoy summer evenings by heating up the sauna and taking a dip in the lake in the nude. When neighbors or strangers row their boats past the skinny dippers, they either ignore them or give a friendly wave. No one will bat an eye!

It is worth noting, however, that Finland is a very sparsely populated country and many nude sauna-goers will not come across anyone on their nightly swims. Privacy is highly valued and rarely interrupted unless necessary.

Since saunas are so prevalent, those hoping to find one will not have to look for long. If you do not have one inside your house or apartment, look no further than a public swimming pool. Nearly all pools require attendees to use swimwear — although there are some exceptions, of course — but the saunas inside the premises typically forbid the use of bathing suits or towels.

Inside the locker rooms of the public swimming pools, people chat calmly with each other while standing around naked. Kids run around in the nude, unaffected by the naked adults around them. Doesn’t get much more Finnish than that!

Does hygiene have anything to do with nudity in Finland?

It does — in fact, some Finns would say that hygiene is one of the biggest reasons for being naked in Finnish saunas. Underwear is not acceptable attire in a Finnish sauna or a palju since the fabric can carry bacteria into the premises. A bathing suit, while not ideal, is fine as long as the person takes a quick shower before stepping into the sauna or palju.

Some Finns do believe that the fabric of the bathing suit may release fumes into the air when coming in contact with hot air and steam. Most Finns believe that a nude body that has been given a quick rinse is the best and most natural form of a human being who wants to enjoy a sauna.

What if foreigners worry about the safety of nudity in Finland?

Some foreigners visiting Finland might wonder about the safety of being nude among strangers. While the concern is understandable, most Finns would likely find it a bit odd. Finland is among the safest countries in the world, and harassment or abuse inside public saunas is not a common occurrence.

That is not to say that it does not happen, of course, but it is rare enough to not be a prevalent issue or something to fear constantly. If a foreigner does feel uncomfortable inside a sauna, however, Finns won’t balk at them if they express discomfort and leave the premises.

Nudity In Finland

If I feel uncomfortable with being naked in Finland, can I wear a bathing suit or a towel?

In a word, yes. Finns would not want their guests to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. However, if you are trying to take part in Finnish traditions in their most natural form, skipping the bathing suit or towel is a good idea.

Chances are that you will not come across Finns who would judge your body or even take a look at it — to locals, Finnish nudity is so natural that it is almost mundane.

If being in front of members of the opposite sex is what bothers you, keep in mind that most public saunas in Finland are separated by gender, meaning there is a sauna for women and another one for men. In co-ed situations, it is more common for even Finns to use bathing suits or towels, although some are comfortable with nudity in all sauna situations.

Approaching nudity in Finland as a foreigner

Finnish children grow up surrounded by the sauna culture, and since they are taught from an early age that nudity is the most natural thing in the world, that mindset usually carries on until adulthood. Foreigners who grew up in different cultures but are fascinated by Finland may have trouble adapting to the laidback approach to nudity.

Most Finnish children go through phases with nudity: they grow up accustomed to it and see it as no big deal. When they reach their pre-teen years, they often start to crave more privacy and opt to go to sauna alone or with friends within the same age group, instead of adults or family members.

Other Finns will respect this since it is a common and understandable part of growing up. When the teenagers grow into adults, the cycle is often complete and they go back to not caring about nudity.

Approaching nudity in Finland as a foreigner can be tricky, but it may be a good idea to approach the topic from the viewpoint of Finns: follow your gut, and if you’re uncomfortable, don’t force yourself!

Perhaps after a while, you will circle back to feeling like nudity is the most natural and comfortable state of a human being. You may even take a page out of a Finn’s book and say: “What’s the big deal? It’s just a body!”

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