The legal situation in France regarding simple naktiviites like nude hiking or outdoor sports is characterised by widespread uncertainty. This is due to the unclear definition of the relevant section in the Criminal Code:
Penal law, section 222-32
L'exhibition sexuelle imposée à la vue d'autrui dans un lieu accessible aux regards du public est punie d'un an d'emprisonnement et de 15 000 euros d'amende. [en: The sexual exhibition in a public place is penalised with imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to 15,000 EUR.
The term of “sexual exhibition“ is not clearly defined and is therefore interpreted inconsistently. While in Germany, for example, “sexual deeds“ or the existence of a subjectively “desired gain of sexual pleasure“ is mentioned, “exhibition“ can also be understood as simple non-covering of the sexual organs without sexual motivation. The (older) legal history also contains examples to this.
Also to mention is yet the municipal regulative law, accordding to which it shall be for the mayor of a responsible municipality, to
admit or prohibit naturist activities on a beach.
to allow naturist activites by authorization or by toleration.
Section 222-32 concerns according to common legal opinion and practice:
- Simple nudity outside naturist grounds (i.e. taking a sunbath in the nude on a car park).
- Sexual deeds in public (i.e. masturbation at a beach in front of minors).
Due to the very few cases that have arisen in recent decades, Frédéric Picard, lawyer and naturist in France, describes on his website under the title “Droit et Naturisme“ [en: Law and naturism] two prerequisites as mandatory nowadays for an actual sentencing according to section 222-32:
- Non-covering of the sexual organs (which, however, does not include the feminine breast),
- A certain intention to cause provocation.
He cites examples as evidence for his assessment:
A The acquittal of Femen activists who appeared with bared upper body with painted slogans.
B The condemnation of a Femen activist with bared upper body, who has laid a bloody animal liver as a symbol of a miscarriage in the crib on Christmas Eve in a church. Here, in the opinion of Frédéric Picard, the fact, that the act took place in a church and touched on the faiths of the Christians present, contributed significantly to the condemnation.
C The acquittal of a car driver, who got, totally nude in his car, into a stop-and-search operation, but said in his defence, that he had followed the need to take off his clothes due to physical addiction to sweat. Even a deliberate intention of provocation could not be assumed, since he did not voluntarily go into the stop-and-search operation.
D The acquittal of a car driver, who took a clothes-free sunbath on a little frequented parking lot on a side street.
The website of the media company LCI describes in an article “Où avez-vous le droit de vous mettre tout nu ? (Et où ça peut vous coûter cher)“ (lci.fr) the case of a nude hiker, who hid himself aside the track in 2013, to spare an approaching woman the immediate sight of his nude body. The woman filed a complaint anyway, but the court did not condemn the nude hiker. Again, the intent to trigger a provocation was also in this case apparently absent.
LCI also made it clear on the same page, however, that nudity at home or in one's own garden may fall under criminal law section 222-32, if that nudity is observable from the opposite apartment or from the neighbouring property or from the street.
Summing up, Frédéric Picard notes on the subject of nude hiking / nude sports on his website:
- There is no complete absence of risks. That is, according to the tendency of the present case law (which can only be stated without sharing the point of view) the offence is constituted, and there are no reasons, to distinguish between nude hikers, nude swimmers, nude sunbathers etc. Scene of events are “publicly accessible" in terms of section 222-32.
- But the risk of punishment seems to be limited: To our knowledge there was no case of a published decision or newspaper article on “Randonue“ [or: “Randonnue“; both coinages for the title “Randonner nue“; en: “Hiking nude“], but rather the topic seems to develop quietly over the years.
This lack of litigation can perhaps be explained by three reasons:
- A certain change of mentality, so that hikers, who are horrified enough to complain, become less and less frequent.
- Perhaps a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of the police to pursue people who do not disturb public order too much.
- Finally, the precautions taken by hikers themselves: To appear only at less frequented places and to avoid peak periods, or even to carry clothes with you, so that you can dress when meeting other hikers in cases of need.
In summer 2009, for example, a hike around Domaine de la Sablière called the gendarmerie onto the scene. After discussions with the protagonists, the gendarmes finally decided not to intervene. The hike proceeded trouble-free. This does of course not mean, that there is no longer a risk of intervention, but it is a precedent, that deserves to be mentioned.