Naked Sauna in Finland - my personal experiences

Naked Saunas in Finland are a place of physical and mental cleansing and they are almost held sacred by almost all Fins. The saunas can be mixed or gender-based, yet they have absolutely no connection to anything sexual. It's also a place where the entire community meets and interacts, and people of all age groups, except newborns and people with serious illness, visit them.

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Enjoying sauna with a friend in Finland (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

My experiences in a nude sauna in Finland

Steve opened the door with his right hand and peeked in first a little, while doing his best to cover his manhood with the other. He saw me and we smiled; he embarrassingly admitted that he had never been to a nude sauna before and hence the hesitation. This was a complete role reversal from me - my visit to an unexpected nude sauna in Germany left me mortified beyond my wits, though I eventually did come to accept it as normal.

“So you really can’t cover yourself at all in theere?”

“Hmmm...well, you will certainly be the odd one out if you do. But why don’t you get the towel to put underneath. It will save your bums from burning”, I said with a smile. I tried to make it a bit funny to make him more comfortable.

Over the next hour or so we sat together, threw water occasionally on the stones to maintain humidity, and chatted about our countries. It’s certainly very odd to think now, but we eventually also became comfortable sitting naked next to each other. Steve lived in London and was visiting Finland to ski, and was very surprised to learn that I was an Indian. He also mentioned how saunas in UK are never nude and how just like me, even he had to overcome inhibitions to give it a shot. I was not surprised at all.

The picture above is not me and Steve, but is fairly close to the setting. The sauna room was almost identical to the one above.

We talked about India, a bit about England’s history as a colonial power and I learnt something else again - they don’t actually study much about their country’s dark past in India and other parts of the world. Of course we let bygones by bygone and discussed more about today.

We also took turns taking a couple of cold showers during the session, something I had a much harder time doing. I must confess that during the second round I cheated and took a shower with luke warm water instead.

Men who do sauna together also dress up together, but we actually decided instead to go for a swim. Unlike sauna you are expected to wear swimming trunks and I think both of us were relieved to be not strutting around in the buff.

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Typically you would go for a swim in the open, we instead went to the pool (Photo credit: Eetu Ahanen/ Visit Finland)

Later I caught up with my friends over drinks. Why didn’t my friends join me for sauna? Well all of them were women and I guess a little more prude than me. I also think that guys don’t quite care about being naked in each other’s company. But I didn't quite explore this question more, or discussed about my story.

Anyway, we had some chilled local beer in a warm bar and I reached the conclusion that Northern Lights were just a myth built to fleece gullible tourists! Of course that’s not true (I saw some recently on a trip to Norway), but it’s still a running joke between me and my traveller friend Archana :)

Culture of sauna in Finland

Anyway coming back to sauna in Finland, the two are very closely linked. In fact the term sauna as well as the concept of sauna was actually first invented in Finland.

Today it’s a part of life and an almost everyday ritual, especially during winters. All the hotels have a sauna and it’s typically free to use for the guests. Most Fins also have a sauna inside their house or a common one in their apartment for use.

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A sauna get-together, clothes only for the shoot (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

Friends meet, drink beer and talk about their days. Just like how I meet my friends here over Old Monk, just that it’s all in the buff. Even though I’ve gone skinny dipping with my friends in Diu, this isn’t something anyone of us would be comfortable with. But I guess it’s completely cultural, the Fins grow up living this lifestyle and so there ar clearly no inhibitions to see your friends naked. In fact they would have seen their friends make their physical transition all the way to adulthood, something that we don’t even discuss with friends.

Coming back to Finland, it’s not at all uncommon for office colleagues to meet in a sauna to discuss work and make important business decisions. In fact if you are an outsider, and invited to join in for a sauna session, it means you’ve been accepted in the inner circle and you must absolutely not refuse the invitation.

Why naked sauna?

This is a question that’s often asked by people from other countries where sauna is common, but it’s never nude, including India. I’ve been to a sauna in India numerous occasions but never without a towel around my waist.

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Why is being naked important? (Image credit: Ville Hyvönen)

So why do Fins (and Germans and Russians, among others) prefer nude sauna?

Well, it’s everything to do with hygiene. You clean yourself thoroughly in a sauna and if you wear undergarments you will never be able to clean those regions at all. Also, if you follow the steps, by the time you leave the sauna you will be cleaner than ever before. Germs often grow in wet clothes, and that's another reason to not wear wet clothes while taking a sauna. Swimming suits are also a no-no because often the chloride which is used for keeping the swimming pools clean is left in these suits, and when it evaporates in the heated sauna, the air isn't so good for you.

I am not a nudist by any means, but being completely naked in a sauna feels absolutely great and not at all uncomfortable. Humans were created naked and that's how we lived with fellow humans for thousands of years, before we decided to cover up and become more 'decent'. Being naked in company of fellow humans is primal and very natural state of being.

The Sauna ritual

Well, sauna is almost like religion in Finland and often there is also a ritual to it, of course, with some modifications based on where you do it.

You would typically start with a shower before you enter the sauna. It's a good idea to grab a towel - not to wear it but put in under your butts to save them from burning!

While you are in there, there are two rather interesting customs. Vitha is a birch stick and whipping with one is considered an essential part of the experience. You can do it yourself, but it's better if you have a friend who can do it for you, and then you can take turns. Of course, it's a given that you need to be completely comfortable naked for your friend to do it on you.

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Whipping with birch (Photo credit: Visit Finland)

The second one is called Löyly and is the process of throwing water on the stones to keep the sauna humid and comfortable.

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The fire in the sauna (Photo credit: Elina Sirparanta/ Visit Finland)

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This to to throw water on stone and create steam  (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

You can also take a bottle of beer or other alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks with you inside the sauna. Make sure you check the rules and follow them.

It's also part of the ritual to take breaks from the hot sauna room and jump outside into an ice-cold pond. If you are not in nature, a cold shower will also do!

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Jump straight into a cold pond, or a cold shower (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

Saunas across Finland!

Well, that's an impossible question to answer. There are so many designs and almost all of them are unique. Here are some of the more interesting ones - if you end up going to Finland, make sure you try one of these :)

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Snow sauna, my favorite type  (Photo credit: Harri Tarvainen/ Visit Finland)

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In the wild  (Photo credit: Anne Saarinen/ Visit Finland)

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Sauna in Helsinki (Photo credit: Eero Ahanen,/Visit Finland)

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Can the setting get any more beautiful? (Photo credit: Visit Finland)

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Mobile sauna  (Photo credit: Visit Finland)

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Sauna in the forest  (Photo credit: Saara Kostama/ Visit Finland)

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A modern sauna (Photo credit: Pekka Keränen / Visit Helsinki, Visit Finland)

Comments

  1. What a fabulous article! We Indians still have a long way to go before we shed our inhibitions about nudity. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about the saunas and learning about the rituals. Great writing!!

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    1. Thanks Dipali. We certainly have a long way to go before we shed our inhibitions, but it's rather easy to do it in places where it's a cultural norm...despite my Indian upbringing I didn't feel awkward at all after the first few minutes :)

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  2. Travel is about pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and appreciating cultural differences, it appears you did both with your sauna experience in Finland. Morocco too has communal nudity in its hammams.

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    1. That's true...and it's always rewarding after you do push yourself. Morocco is on my list for sure...

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  3. I went to a Sauna in Canada, it was not a naked one but it had people in their bare minimals. We were given instructions to sit in hot room for 20 mins and then take a dip in the cold water. It was snowing that night and I could not even dip my toe in cold water. I wonder how people jumped into cold pools.

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    1. I tried the cold pool once in Norway and felt I would die in the icy cold water. But eventually it was ok and actually a lot of fun too :)

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  4. Saunas in Canada are definitely not naked so this would definitely be a different experience for me in Finland.

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    1. And it would be highly unusual to have saunas which aren't naked in Finland...I guess they do have some in very touristy hotels where you are can wear something. But then that won't be an authentic Finnish experience :)

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  5. It would take quite a bit for me to work up the courage to visit one of these saunas. Well after reading your article, if I get invited to a nude sauna in Finland I will accept the offer. The Snow sauna is unique, it seems like the ice on the outside of the building would melt from the sauna. Now I am intrigued and would like to try a sauna, even if I have to strip down to the buff.

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    1. It took me also a bit of courage to try it out the first time, but frankly it isn't at all a big deal to be naked - especially when practically everyone around is naked too :)

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  6. I think it's not a big deal to be naked among the same gender as you. And while it might be totally normal and no one would blink an eye if you grew up with naked sauna as your culture, for other cultures it is not normal and often comfortable. As an American woman, I don't feel comfortable in mixed gender situations nude. What should be a relaxing experience just isn't. And I certainly don't want to be nude with colleagues or friends and their spouses.

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  7. What a fun experience! I know how big saunas are in Finland, as I experienced them in Sweden as well. I love that this is a ritual and it sounds quite enjoyable in the winter once you get past the initial fear of being nude!

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  8. I have to admit you are much more braver than I am. While I enjoyed reading about the experience and I totally get the health benefits of a sauna...however going naked is at another level. Great read and experience though!!

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  9. I love the whole sauna ritual. I've done the nude saunas in Switzerland and Germany, but usually wear a towel. I found your reasons why many European saunas are clothing free fascinating as I'd never thought of chlorine evaporating in the sauna before. Thanks.

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  10. This looks like so much fun. I'm from Australia and we don't have saunas like this. On my next trip to Finland I'm so doing this.

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  11. I think I am going to be really really uncomfortable in such a set up but having said that with like minded people I might give it a shot.

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  12. Saunas are indeed cleansing and beneficial. Great that you could experience this! As for me I would be happy to photograph that's about it!!!

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  13. My only experience with a nude sauna was a bathhouse in northern China, and I've gotta say this looks like a more enjoyable experience. I'd never heard the rationalization behind the nude saunas and it does make sense. And a chance to whip your friends with a birch stick? There's nothing leaving a blistering hot sauna and jumping into a cold pool, I'd love to try it in a frozen lake! New cultural experiences!

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  14. You know, I have often wanted to experience something like this (I was tempted in Germany too) but I've never really been brave enough to do it, which is crazy really because it's only body parts and it is such a natural cultural thing to do! However I'm not sure I'd ever be up for the whipping!

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  15. Fab! Naked sauna sounds good to me, if doesn't sound so sensual but appreciation of your body and hygiene. Finland is such a cold place, I no wonder why so many saunas even at your own home. I also wanted to experience something like this but probably of course when a man and woman are separated while doing it. I 've done nude photoshoots on a waterfall and that's quite an experience. Naked Sauna here in Finland sounds very fun and calming . Will surely soothe your body and soul.

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  16. this is interesting! I have never read anything about a naked sauna before but now I want to go! I see this as being a way to get clean, clear toxins and chat with your company - naked!

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  17. I went to saunas in Germany a few times, but there was a naked half and a dressed half. I always stayed in the dressed half. I understand the reasons for being naked, I just don't think I can do it though.

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  18. Certainly as an American this is not the norm. We have some pretty huge hang ups about nudity and the human body. I haven't made it to Finland, but I did a nude spa shower in Iceland and it's pretty freeing to realize no one cares about your body. I wish more of the world thought that way.

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  19. Was expecting more NSFW photos :P
    But it is an awesome experience, considering the snow and the landscape. Hope we have a more lenient attitude in India too. Someone should start someone start saunas in winter Ladakh. That will be epic...

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  20. Siddharth Sir, this is a beautiful piece that you have written. Talking about a subject that is taboo in India, your writing covered all your experience so aesthetically and gracefully and made this an engaging read. Kudos to your courage, spirit, I admire you as a person, traveller and your work really evokes a lot of passion and precision.

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