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It’s a cover-up! Hot tub high jinks prompt change in clothing-optional policy

SANTA FE, N.M. — Call it the death knell for the Age of Aquarius in Santa Fe: Ten Thousand Waves has dropped its clothing-optional policy for its all-genders communal tub. Visitors now must at least keep their bottoms on.

The reason for the change in policy? People behaving badly. Mostly men.

“Exhibitionism, inappropriate comments to female and male guests, innuendo, inappropriate touching and sexual activity,” said Mary Johnson, who handles public relations for the spa, in listing the offenses. “That says it in a nutshell.”

How often did workers hear complaints? “Every day.”

Actually, she said, the complaints had been coming as long as the tub existed. Workers would try to identify the culprit and tell him (or her) to never come back, but no one was arrested, Johnson added.

At the same time, she said, many visitors reported a perfectly tranquil experience and encountered no trouble in the clothing-optional public soak.

I had never visited that tub. I’ve been content to keep any hot tub nakedness limited to the women-only tub or in private tubs with friends.

But I do recall a friend telling me many years ago of a visiting friend who went to the communal tub, was blissfully soaking away her cares, only to have a man approach and ask, “May I touch?”

Well, at least he was polite enough to ask. But still. Creepy.

It’s the kind of thing that can ruin the intended purpose of the spa, as described in its website: “Ten Thousand Waves is dedicated to providing a Japanese sense of serenity and relaxation.”

There was no “final straw,” per se, that caused Ten Thousand Waves to change its policy, Johnson said. But it had been shut down for a couple of months for renovations to make it bigger and more beautiful, she said, and its reopening the first week in July seemed like a good time to put the new policy in effect.

Besides, the property had gone increasingly upscale since it was founded in 1981 with eight outdoor hot tubs and one massage room. Any funkiness from those early days pretty much disappeared with the expansion of types of massages, spa treatments and skin care, along with the blossoming of rooms for overnight stays and, most recently, a fancy new (and very good) restaurant.

The overnight guests, by the way, still will have an option to access “a mixed bathing, clothing-optional experience before business hours between Nov. 1 and June 30,” according to the written policy.

For a baby boomer, though, there’s a certain whimsical regret in the passing of a non-threatening, non-clothed atmosphere, part of a generational, ideal fantasy that sometimes was realized. Musicals such as “Hair” linked the shedding of clothing with the rejection of outdated restrictions, prejudices and expectations, along with a willingness to embrace openness and vulnerability.

But now, people are going on social media saying, “Let’s hook up at the communal bath at Ten Thousand Waves,” Johnson said, adding that “hook up” in this instance can mean a whole range of things.

“It’s amazing how people who take their clothes off can’t behave in public,” she said.

As Ten Thousand Waves’ written policy change explanation notes:

“There has been a cultural shift since we first established the clothing-optional policy. Back in 1981, our clientele was generally comfortable with mixed nudity, and those not familiar with it found the experience non-threatening and enjoyable.

“Younger people (and the majority of our guests over 40) now feel uncomfortable sharing a clothing-optional environment with strangers.”

It goes on to add: “Our new tub is so spectacular that we really don’t want to deny its use to the large number of people who found the former policy uncomfortable.”

As for any reaction to the change, Johnson wrote in a follow-up email to our telephone interview:

“Some regulars (usually 60+) do not like the policy. Some regulars … are understanding and love the new bath and its features. People who have never been to the bath before also are loving the bath and having a wonderful experience.”

So, soak away your cares. Just don’t flaunt your nether regions to strangers.