This is a continuation of the comments on the original article, “Frank Answers About Swimming Naked,” that were re-posted on “Frank Answers About Swimming Naked — Commentary Part I: Discerning the Truth.” This string of comments begins at the end of 2017. It seems that a new topic began in the thread at that time, so I moved those comments to this Commentary Part II. (The other Commentary article had also become too long.) As in the previous Commentary article I added images to break up the long string of words. At the end of these comments are my concluding reflections on this string.
I have curated this commentary to focus especially on the experience of nudity and its relationship to issues of shame and honor. All comments to the original article “About Swimming Naked” can be retrieved by clicking “previous” or “next” at the bottom of the displayed comments on that post.
Among the many topics dealt with in the long (300-plus) string of comments occasioned by my article about Swimming Naked, a major topic of discussion was whether boys swam naked with women present as coaches or spectators and the reliability of photos purporting to document this on the internet. Credible witnesses report that this did happen in some places in the 1960s but (not surprisingly) there doesn’t seem to be reliable photographic evidence.
While that topic remains “an itch that wants to be scratched” (as a professor of mine used to say), this second string of comments begins with a focus on the experience of boys being naked in swimming classes and elsewhere (as remembered by adult men). How did boys feel about and react to the experience of being naked in the presence of others?
I talked to my long time friend [about swimming naked](our ww2 fathers were each other’s godfather in 2 family houses on same block and we are godfathers for one of each’s kid at 62 yr old]. We concluded we were not harmed by it.
1.)We never knew the naked requirement ahead of time and our parents did not know as we took suits each week. There was no need to tell because once they paid we could never back out(probably 2 bucks a week). Our first forays to the pool were very tentative and fearful.
2.)At this point no one had played any sports except baseball so no one had ever changed clothes in a group much less showered together. It was a big leap for a 6th grader, especially for girls who had never seen another person naked to know that 6 kids were openly nude for an hour a week in a public place, which is why it was considered very odd.
3.)I (or he) knew nothing about sex until 7th grade and the mechanics probably 8th grade. Most would not unless they had older siblings. We would have no idea why some boys were more developed. I may have only had a vague idea that girls were different but not why. Probably some girls with older sisters knew that the “weiner” would become a more important part of their life some day, which is why they were so inquisitive as to size/development.
4.)The other boys were no help as they were thrilled that nobody knew what their development was. They stayed out of it. The more developed seemed to have a little more acceptance by girls. They were dull boy scouts like us but kind of developed a little confidence, especially the traitor who told his sister which started this whole mess!
All in all what was a very passive experience (i.e. parents said get on the Y bus and learn to swim) became a somewhat disruptive experience. [Naked swimming[ did end though, not sure why. It will NEVER happen again. Young people work out now and don’t even shower at my gym.
Fig. 1. Swimming at YMCA
I’m 69 now and was among the generation that swam naked in high school. My high school senior year was ’65-’66. I was never very good at school sports, the kind played with a ball, because I could never keep track of where the ball was or where it was supposed to go; but I was a good swimmer and I looked forward to the portion of my senior year’s PE classes wherein swimming was to be taught.
Our high school was old but it had two pools, one for boys and one for girls. One a day, when we were lined up in the gym waiting for our work-out instructions, our PE teacher announced that we were going to swim that day. He sent us back to the locker room to get out of our gym clothes and form up on the long sides of the pool.
One of the boys asked, “What do we wear?”
The answer was, “Your skins.”
That came as something of a surprise to all of us but we were used to showering together and dressing in the locker room, so we did as we were asked, chuckling at the novelty and calling raunchy taunts at one another across the water while we waited along pool’s sides.
When the teacher came in, he mounted one of the diving boxes at the deep end and told us how the class would go. Swimming would last for eight weeks (we had gym class twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays). We had two weeks to acquire bathing suits. He did not say that bathing suits were mandatory but since “if you want to wear one” was not included in his instruction, I assumed that at the end of two weeks, we would be expected to wear them. I also thought it funny that we were allowed two whole weeks to get them. I had two bathing suits in my dresser drawer. Didn’t everybody?
I brought a suit to the next class but I didn’t wear it, just left it in my locker. In fact, no one wore a suit for that next class. Maybe no one wanted to wimp-out and appear girlishly modest.
The following week, two or three suits were in the line-up but most of the boys still chose to swim naked. I say “chose” because I figured everyone had a bathing suit and I thought that even the poorest fellow among us could have acquired one overnight if he had wanted to. No, I think that most of us could have admitted to enjoying skinny dipping and some of us even acknowledged it aloud.
In that class were rich kids, poor kids, black kids and white. Without suits, we were all just naked kids, however. It was a definite social ‘leveler’: our rich/poor/black/white differences – at least, to me – seemed artificial. Naked, we really weren’t too different at all.
The last class of that week, Friday, was the end of the two-week period allowed for getting swim suits. But not the way I calculated it. I reasoned that the first class of the third week should actually have begun our ‘suited’ period. Most of the other boys turned out for Friday’s class in suits; five of us did not. Nothing was said about it by any of the other boys when we lined up along the pool that day but no one took off their suits to join the five of us, either.
If I had been one of the popular kids, one of the trend-setters, I might have continued to swim naked; but I had been a social maverick through middle school, had continued to be one in high school, and had actually had to fight one or two of the boys in that class in previous years, so standing out in the crowd just was not worth it. I put on a suit the next Tuesday. So did the other four.
Personally, I regret the lamentable state we’ve come to in our culture regarding male nudity. Some of my grandsons are so squeamish about being naked that they are embarrassed to change into bathing suits in the car at the beach.
Fig. 2. Changing at the beach
In reply to Noah.
Noah’s contribution of 27 July 2017 is interesting and Frank’s reply that Noah doesn’t have a ‘frame of reference’ strikes a chord with me. In February, I posted that I attended a special school in England. This was state funded; not the privately-funded upper class school often associated with the British. But, like many upper class schools, mine was a boarding school. For us, during the 1980s, it was completely normal to have female staff in our communal showers and pool changing rooms. Even then, we knew this was not usual in mainstream schools; in fact, I recall my economics teacher telling us once that, in a ‘normal’ mainstream school, the boys would have kicked out the female staff. So why was it OK in our school?
Well, the ‘easy’ answer is because these female staff had to help the minority of us who had physical disabilities and the very young children (down to four years old), so they had a legitimate reason (even by today’s standards) to be in there (if you accept that there was no need to employ men for the task). But they also would come in as part of their supervisory rounds. There were three house-matrons to each house of 50 lads, working a rota with two of them often on duty at the same time, so we saw a lot of them and they saw a lot of us, time-wise, as well as our bodies! They were, really, part of the family and, as I said in February, once they’d seen you, there was nothing left to hide. However, when I say ‘part of the family’, I think of Noah saying that his mother hasn’t seen him naked since he was five. Well, nor has mine!
Interestingly, teachers also did duties on the houses, usually about seven of them doing one evening/overnight shift per week, so we did not see them in this context nearly as often as we did the house-matrons. The female teachers never entered the showers or changing areas, but some of the male teachers did. In the pool changing room, this was entirely accepted but, in the dormitory bathrooms, the boys frowned on this. We thought there was no need for teachers to come in.
Thinking of Noah’s comments and Frank’s reply, for us we did have a reference framework: that nudity was acceptable in front of some of the staff but, once they were accepted at all, this sub-set of the staff did not have to be providing personal care for their presence to be acceptable, whereas those staff who lacked a legitimate reason ever, were never accepted. So I can quite understand how boys and men were OK being naked in front of people of any age and gender before the 1980s; it was the circumstances that counted, not the mere fact that the males were naked.
Noah says that he would never have ‘got’ naked in the first place. Well, like so many of the people writing here about their USA experience before the 1980s, I did it because all the boys around me did it. It was not so much that ‘doing the towel dance’ would have got me bullied. It was a kind of sub-conscious peer pressure. If it was normal for everyone else, why not for me. It was a complete non-issue, provided our exposure was to the ‘accepted’ people.
Reading the posts, I obviously was living through the change: some of my teachers actively encouraged nude swimming, presumably because it had been normal for them. But we never, ever, did that with staff present.
One other thing, during the early 1990s an English headteacher did get into trouble for refusing to end nude swimming in his school. At about the same time, not all officialdom had given up on the idea that nudity could have its benefits. Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools was still publishing reports highlighting the potential benefits that showering naked together after team sports could bring to male team spirits.
Finally, I saw a few posts recently from the USA suggesting that some people think it is inappropriate for boys to be shirtless, including when playing football. It left me wondering whether, in 20 years, we might be looking back incredulously at the idea that boys could ever remove their shirts, just as so many are looking back and thinking the same about their shorts!
Fig. 3. Boys outdoor gym class in the 1950s. No shirts!
I would like to thank Gavin F for the insightful share, especially your ability to be true to yourself at the pool in the company of people of all ages and both sexes.
You mentioned that your mother was open to your nudity at home. Would you agree that her influence was largely responsible for your being perfectly comfortable being bare at the pool? Your sharing provides an important insight on how parents form positive or negative outlook on our body image and sex. Would you agree?
Fig. 4. Someone’s open-minded mother?
Thank you, AJ for your question on January 9. The topic of this blog is the experience and relative value of swimming nude, and I don’t want to send it off topic. But Yes, I agree parents can have an enormous influence on a young person’s body feeling or body image, and attitudes towards sex (both positive and negative).
In my case my mother was raised in Swedish-Finnish communities in northern Michigan, where “nudism” (nakenkultur) as a practice had some followers, and casual attitudes towards young male nudity in the home, at the lake, in the pool, etc. in particular. She certainly saw her brothers nude often when they were growing up, as well as my cousins (their sons) when we were with them. She became a clinical social worker and then psychotherapist at University of Michigan and very much followed some of the ideas of Wilhelm Reich and others (who was crazy; my mother was not). She taught me early on that “naked” means “lacking clothes,” and “nude” means “I have chosen to be without clothing.”
As her only son, I sometimes became her experiment or project. This was an ambiguous blessing and burden, and I have unpacked it elsewhere in later years. My father was first psychically and emotionally, and then literally MIA or absent at home, which magnified my mother’s influence. Because she accepted my body, nudity, genitals, and even erections as something natural and to be expected, I learned to accept them also. When others accepted me as I was (visitors, at the pool, etc.), I learned to accept my nudity and sexuality as normal and just who I was.
I am aware that these days this would be regarded as abusive and completely transgressing healthy boundaries. My only response is: it was what it was. My early experiences at a nudist camp with relatives taught me early on that aging bodies are natural, which has helped me accept inevitable physical changes in my more recent decades.
Fig. 5. The seated boy may be young Gavin at summer camp
I’m glad I had those early experiences, but they were very different than many of my contemporaries, and very early I had to learn to negotiate those differences between “OK here” and “not OK out there.” It was very similar to learning to live as a “gay” boy before that word had much currency or identity much acceptance. As a result, when I was first expected to swim nude in practice or in public, for me it was more a “reversion to mean” than a new experience. Because I had been nude so many times in the presence of both nude and clothed people, it was both a choice and a part of life. I think my growing self-acceptance as “gay” or “queer” was easier in the long run because of my attitude towards nudity and sexual expression. Being nude or swimming nude did not in any way make me gay, but it helped me to understand that I had always been gay.
I have always had difficulties understanding why sex is shameful, but understand well that sexuality is very powerful, and even now almost universally feared by numerous people. I really believe that different attitudes growing up might have discouraged some sexually furtive, adolescent boys from developing into sexual abusers and predators as adults. I know my point of view is not shared by many.
Again, the topic of this blog is the experience and relative value of swimming nude, and I don’t want to send it off topic.
Frank added a photo and comment 2018/10/05
Fig. 6. Are these boys at a nudist camp or just enjoying the sensation of being naked in their tent?
I swam naked in Lackawanna NY from 1968 (Saturday mornings at the High School). Never gave it a second thought, loved swimming and went voluntarily. Then in High School in 1972 swam naked in Gym Class and you would always see the door to the girls locker room opening a crack so the girls could spy on us. Joined the swim team but we practiced with speedos and the nude swimming ended for Gym Class in 1973.
I remember the first question asked (by another boy) in Freshman PE in 1978 at Morton East in Cicero was “Do we need to swim naked?” Coach’s answer was that nude swimming was discontinued in 1976. That means, of course, that Morton East in Cicero, Illinois required nude swimming for males prior to 1976. Only one of my brothers attended Morton East before 1976, but in the 40 years since my freshman year, I never thought to ask him about it. I just assumed he did and it was no big deal. Why anybody cares today whether boys swim naked is a mystery, but it may be in part because most teachers and administrators today never experienced the practice. I am a teacher today. Some boys do (rarely) mention that their “grandfathers” tell tales of nude HS swimming. It is considered a curiosity, but I have never heard stories of anything inappropriate. Unfortunately, too many people today associate the thought of the practice with indecency. That is why I avoid using my real name. I don’t see an issue with a practice that has passed, but others do. I certainly would never suggest a return to this practice under the current social climate.
Fig. 7. Boys swimming naked in school. I believe the scene is from a film about life in a Catholic school. – Frank
In reply to Platinumboy.
Hopefully this article and the comments will help to demonstrate that naked swimming in the schools and YMCAs was not an “indecent” practice and that most boys, probably like your older brother, took it in stride and have nothing to be ashamed of now. The practice won’t return to the schools or the Ys. But at the Korean Spa in the suburbs near where I live fathers and sons and young men as well as older men (and presumably mothers and daughters on the women’s side) come into the pool area where everyone is naked. Of course, most of the kids are Korean-American. It strikes me as a pretty wholesome family experience.
Fig. 8. Father and sons in a Korean spa
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
In terms of Elsa’s story, she was quite honest about the fact that she lied. She was the one who became aroused by the sight of the “magnificent Charlie.” But she said that the boys became aroused because of her presence. There’s no indication in her story that they actually did become aroused (i.e., sport erections).
I think your main concern has been whether naked teen age boys should ever be exposed to females, either as teachers and coaches or in the cheering section of the stands. I would not categorically say they shouldn’t be exposed to females because I don’t think it does boys any intrinsic harm. But I think boys should have the option of being naked or not in front of other people, including in places where other people might be naked.
However, I don’t even see the purpose in discussing this hypothetically. Today we have co-ed swim classes. Boys never swim naked—at least not in the schools or the YMCA. We will not be returning to the practice of boys swimming naked in these institutions.
However, one of the things young adolescents need to come to terms with is self-acceptance, which includes being comfortable in one’s own skin. Few of us like the body we have. Even body builders are always trying to improve their bodies. The body is a complicated thing. It is a biological given, it interacts with its environment through senses and movement, it generates internal feelings, it is regulated by society, and it communicates through cultural means (including the clothing we wear). (See “Frank Answers About the Meaning(s) of the Body” – http://www.frank-answers.com/frank-answers-about-the-meanings-of-the-body/) This is a lot for youth to come to terms with. Damage can be done to youths by imposing conditions they aren’t ready to deal with. But one way or another youths need to be helped (gently!) to become more self-accepting of their bodily selves. For adolescents obsessed with their changing bodies, this includes acceptance of their bodies in interaction with others.
I don’t have the answers for how to do this. I can only testify that as a small 13-year old who had been bullied by bigger kids and sexually fondled by the tenant in our upstairs flat, I became more accepting of my body and more comfortable with my bodily self by swimming naked at school and elsewhere when I was 13, 14, and 15. I wasn’t shy about being naked in front of other boys or even the adult male teachers and Scout leaders (who were never completely naked in front of us). Being naked in front of women might have required a bit of getting used to. But I think after the first time (maybe even after the first 15 minutes) I would have gotten used to it. I certainly had no trouble getting naked in front of females as a young adult.
In reply to Sam Polk.
I think the increased number of bathrooms is one possible reason but in this culture shift, but there are probably other reasons. The fact we have cameras in our phones and spy cams may also be a factor. The web is full of clandestine videos and photos of locker room nudity. Also the welcome and healthy new openness about homosexuality may inhibit some people from being seen nude in locker rooms. However, no doubt there were gay folks around in the old days in changing rooms and pools etc but this was kind of unknown in those days. In fact, in my youth it would have seemed strange if some guys were hesitant about being nude in such circumstances.
When I was about 8 years old and was about to start swimming lessons at the Y i did not want to go because I did not want my friends to see me naked, not thinking of the fact that they would also be naked. Once I started at the Y I got used to the nudity and I enjoyed the freedom of swimming nude. That lasted for ten years until I finished high school with nude swim practices. If today’s younger guys were reticent like I was and never did have to go nude, they may carry the reticence with them to adulthood.
In college I didn’t swim much but, as you say, dorm life in then all-male dorms was not very modest. Basically this kind of nudity was no issue and not much commented on then.
This is a cultural change, not as big as so many other cultural changes that probably has many causes.
At the Y 1952
During the middle years of the last century in the American Midwest pornography was all but unknown (to us boys anyway) and even innocent nudity was taboo. Taboo that is unless it happen to appear in the pages of National Geographic. Without fail even infants were dressed in public. However, under certain very limited conditions, boys fourteen and under were exempt from the nudity prohibition. At that young age we were thought to be sexually innocent and chaste. Grownups felt that young male children didn’t require privacy. Girls were another matter entirely. More on that later.
April 25th 1952 was a Friday and I was twelve years old. Along with my friends I stripped down naked placing all my clothing as well as my cherished St. Christopher’s medal into a locker at the Y. We had no swimsuits, no sports jerseys and no shorts to cover ourselves with. We didn’t even have athletic supporters. It wasn’t as if we were forgetful and had left those things at home, it was that any sort of clothing was strictly forbidden. My fellow swimmers and I marched from the locker room to the indoor pool completely stark boy naked, our little white bare bottoms swaying from side to side with each step. No towels, no flip-flops, no swim googles, nothing at all. It was embarrassing, I’ll admit that, but I told myself that people wouldn’t see me as an individual naked boy, but rather as just one naked boy in a group of many naked boys. There’s strength in numbers. My nudity would blend in with all the others, or so I hoped. For a devout Catholic boy, such as myself, it was actually sort of thrilling in a weird and twisted way. It was like getting to stay up well past bedtime or going out on Halloween night to toilet paper the house of a mean neighbor. The normal rules of decorum had been temporarily set aside and that was a novelty for a scrupulously well behaved boy like me. It was like an extreme case of “opposite day.” We were engaging in an activity that would otherwise have been considered wicked, even shocking, but it was all done with complete parental and church approval.
I was a handsome child, slender and athletic, but small for my age and late to develop. I was afraid that my genitals where better suited for a nine year old than for a boy who would soon be turning thirteen. No one had ever given me a hard time on this issue. I’d never been teased. But in my current state I felt that my diminutive boyhood was the first thing anyone would notice about me. I stayed close to my friend Sammy Jones because he wasn’t all that big either.
The ancient gymnasium was beyond big. It was cavernous, or so it seemed, and I felt almost lost in it. Rather than feeling like a gladiator about to do battle I felt more like an early Christian entering the colosseum to be fed to the lions. On the pool deck stood the coaches, timekeepers and race officials. About 120 other boys ages seven to fourteen were seated naked on wooded benches along either side of the pool. No kidding, you never saw so much pink flesh all at once. As a person of deep and abiding faith I believe that there’s nothing inherently obscene or wicked about the human body. I believe that God created us all and that, man or woman, boy or girl, we are all beautiful each in his or her own special way. But even so it was a pretty strange sight.
It was a family night so grandparents, mothers and father, brothers and sisters had come to cheer their progeny on to victory. However the spectators had been relegated to the balcony, the lowest level of which was a good 15 feet above the pool deck. I kept my eyes focused away from the on lookers and on the other boys. We didn’t look up at all and our family members seemed to understand why. They didn’t call out any names or try to distract us. You could almost forget that they were there and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to feel that this was just another swim practice. I felt exhilarated as I smelled the chlorine and heard the P.A. system echoing off the walls in the vast space. I was ready to go.
The younger boys raced first. Raced? Actually most of them just sort of thrashed about and avoided drowning as they laboriously made their way from one side of the pool to the other but that was good enough. They all emerged at the other end glistening and triumphant. Then I heard my group called and took my position on the assigned starting block alongside the other twelve year olds. Standing there with our dicks hanging out I felt completely exposed, but the feeling didn’t last long. With the “BANG!” from a snub-nosed blue steel Smith and Wesson 38 police special loaded with blanks we were off the blocks in a flash. The moment I entered the water everything changed. I was transformed from a little naked boy into a demon possessed. I was fast, oh so very fast, and swimming flat out felt fantastic! I forgot all about being naked. I forgot all about the females who were watching. I forgot about everything but the cool water and the race and it was simply grand. I gave it everything I had, every atom of strength, and I finish well ahead of my nearest competitor. The crowd went wild as they say and as the other swimmers came in they all congratulated me. I was spent but exhilarated. The large clock on the wall recorded my time for all to see and it was impressive,
Then it was time for me to climb out of the pool and step up to my rightful position on the winner’s dais to receive my trophy. The second and third placed boys were to my right and left and although they might have been larger I was made taller by my place on the center and highest step of the three stepped podium. Standing there as my name was read over the loudspeakers I happened to glance down momentarily at my nakedness. It’s true what mountain climbers say. Don’t look down!
I realized in horror that the cold water combined with the physical exertion of the race had caused my already diminutive boyhood to shrink even smaller. Like the barrel on the starting gun my circumcised penis was a snub-nosed affair but now it seemed to have no shaft at all. It was just a little rounded pink button with a frilly collar. As for my balls they had pulled up so close to my body that you could hardly see them. I looked like a castrati. There were seven year olds present in that old gymnasium who were better endowed than I. I comforted myself with the thought that from the balcony the audience probably couldn’t make out too much detail. From that distance we all must have looked like eunuchs. I wondered who was watching. My mom and two sisters for sure and the sisters of some of my friends and schoolmates. Probably even some of the girls from my class were there as well. That possibility gave me a strange feeling like giant butterflies fluttering about in my tummy. The next thing I knew I was being reverently crowned with a green plastic laurel wreath and handed a trophy. I’d have been more appreciative of a towel.
We then returned to our bench to watch the thirteen and fourteen year olds compete. That’s how it was, the younger boys swam first and then the older boys, but we were all required to sit and watch every race. No sneaking off to the locker room early.
Fig. 11. Middle school boys at a YMCA pool?
They say that the first big growth spurt is between the legs and I believe it. Some of the older boys looked ridiculously large. Some of them had hair starting to grow in down there and big low hanging balls like men. Their equipment bounced this way and that and flapped all around as they walked. It was mesmerizing and I’ll confess to being more than a little envious. I’d been told that older boys were able to shoot white stuff from their dicks on command and that it felt fantastic to do so. I was sure that most of the fourteen year olds and many of the thirteen year olds had reached that level of development and that their fully functional dicks were capable of handling any challenge that might come their way.
But some of the older kids were still hairless even though they had really big dicks. This caused some confusion amongst us twelve year olds as we whispered back and forth debating who had the biggest balls and the most hair. Jimmy Hogan’s fourteen year old big brother Rollo had a really big one but was as hairless as any of us twelve year olds. Jimmy explained that Rollo had been able to shoot his load for a year now. We asked about the lack of hair and Jimmy said that Rollo was in fact growing hair but he shaved it all off for the swim meet. He reasoned that being bald meant less drag and would make him go faster. Jimmy also explained that Rollo didn’t want the father of his “girlfriend” to know he was growing hair. Dads of girls think puberty boys are always up to no good.
If I had hair I wouldn’t shave it. Who wants to look like a little kid forever? The big kids raced and I noted with considerable satisfaction that my time was the best of the evening. I was the fastest kid of the night, even faster than the kids who were equipped like King Kong. This fact was duly noted and I was called to return to the dais to have a “gold medal” (actually plastic) on a red white and blue ribbon placed over my head and around my neck.
After this we all returned to the showers to be reunited with our loving families. Mothers, fathers and brothers were allowed into the locker room and why not? They had already seen everything. Curiously enough sisters had to wait outside. It was felt that it was perfectly safe for girls to look at naked boys all they liked, but only under adult supervision and only from a respectable distance, say about ten feet. Being close enough for a girl to touch a naked boy (or for the boy to touch her) was considered bad. Actually I was glad for this rule. I was never naked in front family members at home and I didn’t want my sisters to see me that close. It felt sort of weird having my mom so close but there were lots of other boys around who also had their moms there. We showered off the chlorine and, like some of the other boys, I somewhat reluctantly consented to allow my mom to towel dry and dress me like she used to do when I was little. I’m sure I blushed when she fluff dried my boyhood.
Pool rules concerning nudity were vastly different from home modesty rules if that makes any sense at all. It was the same for a lot of the other boys. We wouldn’t even let our moms or sisters see us in our underwear. As a matter of fact some boys would be spanked by their dads for walking around the house in nothing but underwear. But at the pool they saw everything. Modesty is a strange thing and I think the moms enjoyed the opportunity to see their boys naked. It wasn’t a perverted sort of thing. It was more just a matter of wanting to see how their boys were developing.
Early 1950’s America believed in well defined gender roles. Boys were expected to grow up to be police and firemen, auto mechanics, construction workers, airline pilots, farmers, doctors, lawyers and engineers. Girls, on the other hand, were expected to be homemakers, or if they worked outside the home at all they were expected to be secretaries, nurses or airline stewardess. That’s to say women were expected to be subservient to men. It was a man’s world. As a result of this attitude boys weren’t just considered to be different from girls, boys were considered to be better than girls. What I’m getting at here is this. I think what was behind the male nude swimming at the Y was the idea that boys would enjoy the opportunity to show off their growing penises to family members since male genitals were a sign of superiority over the inferior females.
On the drive home we stopped at the ice cream shop to celebrate my victory over cheeseburgers, french fries and chocolate sodas. Sammy Jones, one of my best friends from school, was there having a milkshake with his parents and his sister Katie. Katie was in my class and I liked her a lot. She was probably the most beautiful girl in school. After all these years I can still remember every detail of the red dress she had on that night and her long blond hair that was so captivating. We chatted a little quite friendly but I was bashful not really knowing how to talk with girls even though I had two sisters myself. Also I didn’t want my parents to know that I “liked” Katie. If they did they would have thought it was “cute” and I didn’t like the word cute. It reminded me of bunnies. Everyone admired my “gold” medal. I would have liked to have given it to Katie but was too embarrassed to make the offer.
I was a shy kid and would have died of mortification had Katie (or for that matter anyone else at the ice cream shop) seen me naked under any other circumstance. But somehow being seen naked at the pool didn’t really count. It seemed so very odd to think that she had seem my penis not two hours ago and yet I had a hard time talking with her now that I was fully clothed. I couldn’t really get my head around it.
We returned home and although it was only 8:30 I was sent straight to bed. The following morning I was going to have to rise bright and early to ride my bike to church and don my vestments for altar boy service. Before presenting myself to the parishioners I would confess my sins to Father Johnson before receiving absolution and the sacrament of forgiveness. Father Johnson would end by saying, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good,” and I would reply, “For His mercy endures forever,” and then we would both make the sign of the cross and I’d feel very good. In case you’re wondering, I believe every word of this.
I wondered if any of tomorrow’s congregation would recognize me from the swim meet. I’m sure a few of them would but that didn’t bother me too much. In the solitude of my room I set my newly won awards on my desk and quickly stripped naked. I then laid down on my back, closed my eyes and engaged in the sin of impure thoughts as I began to fondle my erect penis. I thought about Katie. Was she, at that very moment, in bed fingering herself just as I was gently massaging the delicate pink mushroom shaped head of my penis? I liked to think she was. I liked to think that Katie was thinking about me standing there naked on the winner’s platform.
You’d think that having Katie (or any girl) see me like that would’ve been demeaning and shameful beyond words. But, as odd as this may sound, the exact opposite was true. It felt empowering and liberating. I’d beaten her brother Sammy, and all the other boys, by a country mile and everyone knew it. Sure my thing was nonfunctional. I couldn’t shoot. But I wouldn’t be tiny always. I was male and complete. Given a few more years my dick would grow. Someday it would be just as big and as impressive as the ones I’d just seen on the fourteen year olds. I fantasized that someday, at a future swim meet, Katie would see my newly enlarged dick and she’d marvel at its increased size and power. I was so young and innocent then that I didn’t fantasize about intercourse. I wasn’t even quite sure what it was. I didn’t think about seeing Katie nude for that was beyond my wildest dreams. What I fantasized about was having a really big dick and having Katie admire it from the balcony. I hadn’t yet masturbated all the way to orgasm, I didn’t know how, and I knew it was a sin. But even so I’d think about Katie as I stroked the shaft of my stiff little penis. It had been a wonderful day.
Frank added a photo and comment
Fig. 12. If it’s natural for boys to get erections, it’s also natural for boys to explore their penises and, like Jeff, begin to contemplate the potential sexual power focused in that organ. See “Frank Answers About Masturbation and Prayer.” In that article I encourage adolescent boys to develop a spirituality that emphasizes praise and thanksgiving for the gift of the vitality of life more than a sense of sin and guilt over a doctrine of “disordered sex.”
In reply to Jeff
Jeff, did you write this just for a blog comment? Well, no matter. It is a good story and a mental feat to put yourself back into your 12-year old mind.
In reply to Frank Senn.
Treasured memories. Although I was bashful and felt like I was engaged in some illicit activity I really loved the nude swimming. However whenever I’d strip down I’d tell myself that I’d only be nude for an hour, or an hour and a half tops, and that the only females who’d see me were all mothers and sisters of other boy swimmers so it wasn’t as if I had anything they hadn’t seen before.
What surprises me now is that boys ever allowed themselves to be photographed naked. Whenever anyone pulled out a camera and asked to take my picture I’d say no. On film you’re naked not for an hour but forever and there’s no telling who’s going to see you since pictures can be passed around from hand to hand.
But, having said all that, I think it’s a shame that they can’t have nude swimming, on a limited bases, for boys today. What I have in mind is family only events with no cameras. It won’t happen but if it was offered I think some of the braver boys would like to give it a try. I’d have no objections to my grandsons doing it. I think it would be good for them.
Enough time has passed, so that I can now post my Nude & Natural magazine article on nude swimming in schools at http://www.tnsprofessorsig.org/nude%20swimming%20in%20school.html. The list of schools and dates has grown considerably since publication. Further additions are welcome.
In reply to Paul LeValley.
Dear Paul, Thanks for sharing your article. While I struggled to put all the pieces together, you have told the history of naked swimming in a coherent way. The comments on my article indicate aspects of this history that are in contention, from the scandalous notion that women and girls may have been in the stands watching naked boys at swim competitions to the objection that the boys were ever required to swim naked. Apparently, as you report, there were instances of girls swimming naked in the schools. What about in the YWCA? Or did that organization maintain the tradition of modesty for young ladies? The story of naked swimming in America is not completely told until we hear about naked swimming experiences from the women. That might be harder to tell than the stories about the boys.
In 1958 or 1959 (when I was 7 or 8), my mother signed me up for swimming lessons at the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, YMCA, explaining at the same time that no bathing suits were allowed. I clearly remember walking into the locker room that first day with a bunch of other freaked-out pipsqueak nonswimmers and hearing someone say “I’m going to start with my shoes.” Seemed like a good idea! Then off we went to the pool in our nakedness. I didn’t last more than one lesson, but I don’t know if that was because the water was cold (it was) or because those of us who got out of the pool had to stand there naked until the hour was over (we did). In any case, my parents did not force me to go back, and I subsequently learned to swim in the summer at nearby Harvey’s Lake. My high school did not have a pool, so this was my one and only institutional naked swimming experience. But I think you are exactly right: I think I would have grown up with a better body image if I had been exposed (so to speak) to naked boys at all stages of development. I also never saw my parents naked as a child (or ever), and the result was a hesitation about being naked in public (and about my own naked body) that took me several decades to overcome. But I did, and now I wish I had many of those nonnaked years back to do over! Final Note: I’m mystified by the current movement among American schools, colleges, gyms, health clubs and the like to replace so-called gang showers with curtained individual shower stalls. Seems to send the old message that nakedness is somehow prurient or at least inappropriate?
Jeff Wilson (Geoff Arrowsmith)
I’m 73, and went to High School in Swansea Massachusetts, from 1958 to 1962. We boys all showered nude together in a single large shower room after gym class. I never went to the YMCA in Fall River, but I did go to the Boys Club, in which there was a big swimming pool, very crowded with boys from Fall River and the suburbs. Swimsuits were not allowed.
Once you got over the initial shock of being nude in the shower with other boys as a high-school freshman, it was no big deal. The Boys Club is gone now. It was torn down long ago when the Braga Bridge was built. Earlier than my time, boys doubtless went swimming nude together in the rivers and lakes. I remember our high-school coach saying once that he’d seen some of the boys swimming nude in the reservoir next to the high school. He didn’t interrupt them, of course. I know that a few boys in my neighborhood went swimming nude in the local Coles River, at a place where there weren’t any houses at that time.
Fig. 13. Boys in “reform school” taking showers Denver 1913. Talk about togetherness!
In reply to Frank Senn.
Well, Frank, I can’t help but notice you’re not getting a lot of action on this request.
If you mean accounts of females supervising nude male swimmers, you can find those. You already have a couple.
If you mean female nude swimming, lots of luck. I’ve been researching this for more than a decade, and I can find exactly three such accounts.
One was the incident Paul LeValley discussed where in Michigan in 1947, girls requested to swim nude, and were shut down by their mothers. There was an account (of recent vintage) on Experience Project in which a girl recounted that she was required to swim nude at a youth center in Alaska at the age of 11. The third is from a woman who posted on a Canadian website that when she was in a private, unnamed, school in Virginia, in 1974, the matter of swimsuits was left up to the teachers. For whatever the reason, the male teacher wanted his boys in suits, and the female teacher wanted hers nude. She claimed this was embarrassing at first, but she grew to enjoy it.
That’s it. At least in North America. Overseas, you can find these. That Burnley Grammar school website has a lot of them.
At the YWCA, the requirements were the same as the YMCA—males nude, even with females supervising; and females suited. I can point to a number of websites with those posts.
Although I admit to the same curiosity as you, I think you might not get much of a response to this because it just didn’t happen.
Whether that’s good or bad is debatable.
Frank added photo and comment on 2018/09/30
Fig. 14. Well known photo of a nude girl swimming in a lake (1942)
In reply to Thomas Mendip.
Well, Thomas, the title of the blog article is “Swimming Naked” – generic. The main tradition has been men and boys swimming naked, but if women and girls had an opportunity to do this I didn’t want to be non-inclusive. My guess is that it didn’t happen much in schools (at least in the U.S.) because there was always a deference to girls’ modesty. Also there’s the issue of girls’ monthly periods. As far as co-ed college swimming is concerned, it happened in some colleges and universities in the 1960s and 1970s (at swimming parties—I don’t know know about classes). Skinny-dipping in lakes and streams and clothes optional beaches is another matter. In any event, I’m grateful to the few women who did post on this blog and the forum is open for others.
Tom Wallace Lyons
So what can we learn from the 252 contributions to Pastor Senn’s blog, FRANK ANSWERS ABOUT NAKED SWIMMING? At present this question cannot be definitively answered. It may never be answered. But we can consider some of the accumulated evidence. Consideration of evidence may enable some suggestions. Said consideration could also identify what may be a mystery that threads through Pastor Senn’s blog.
Roughly speaking two groups have contributed to this blog. One group is the Oldsters(people over fifty). The other is the Youngsters(people under fifty). Together these groups have been involved in two debates. One is whether boys and men showered and swam together in the nude. The other is whether adolescent boys were expected, even forced, to swim naked in the presence of clothed females.
These debates are featured in two different media generations. Oldster media, the first generation, consists of print media, radio and television. Then there is the new medium that came of age along with the Youngsters. The youngster medium is of course the Internet.
When Pastor Senn toured his old high school, the tour guide referred to naked swim for Oldster generation boys as a “barbaric practice.” This sentiment bespeaks a profound cultural divide between the Oldsters(not barbaric)and the Youngsters(barbaric).
Abundant Oldster testimony about communal male nakedness(open showers, pools, etc.)is strongly supported by Oldster media. Paul LeValley(Sept 26, 2017)used old newspapers to extensively document naked swimming in schools. Newspapers also document naked male swimming at YMCAs. And there are magazine pictures of naked boys showering together. It should be noted, however, that these pictures seem carefully posed to protect genital privacy. A double standard is also evidenced in Oldster media wherein, unlike boys, girls are instructed to wear suits in female swim classes while boys are expected to swim naked.
Did this double standard ever extend to situations in which adolescent boys were expected, even forced, to swim naked in the presence of clothed female instructors or a gender mixed audience?
Oldster media makes one thing clear. Some people disapproved of boys swimming naked with EACH OTHER. In my March 23rd, 2017 entry, I quote from a newspaper that features a debate about whether boys should swim naked together. The article also indicates a consensus that boys should not swim naked in the presence of girls. Caipora(Jan 17, 2017)quotes from the BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE, Jan 6, 1928, which discusses the fact that nude competitions enabled faster swimming. The article states, “OF COURSE no spectators were allowed at ANY of the meets.”(Italics mine) Then there are a number of articles that tell how boys were chased by police who wanted to stop voluntary naked swim in outdoor places.
The strongest Oldster media evidence against boys naked swim before a mixed gender audience comes from Billy(Sept 25, 2017)who has archived a trove of newspaper articles. Billy claims that, “No one has ever been able to provide verifiable information that boys swam nude in mixed situations such as public swim meets or mixed swim classes.” Billy points out that, according to the WBEZ documentary, boys were expected to wear suits at swim meets. Billy also has “400 newspaper articles about citizens complaining of boys swimming nude in lakes, ponds, and rivers, in view of the public, and the police making them stop or even arresting them. (Most of those complaints were from women.)”
Billy is backed up by Pastor Senn(Sept 29, 2017)who cites an article “that I saw concerns boys swimming in the YMCA program. The boys ages 4-9 are instructed to bring swim suits on the last night since they will perform an exhibition for their families. So Billy is vindicated on this issue. Even these little boys did not swim nude in swim meets with mixed company present.”
Oldster media clearly documents a strong social consensus against boy nudity in the presence of clothed females. Related to this issue is the incendiary power of the controversy over female reporters in the locker rooms of male athletes; a controversy that descended to an ugly depth in the treatment of Lisa Olsen(Lyons, June 2, 2017).
But the apparent Oldster media consensus does not appear to be absolute. One need only turn to an Oldster media advice column. Ric(December 19, 2016)features a DEAR ABBY column from 1970 in which boys, one of whom was 19, swam naked at a private lake front home that was visible to other lake front homes. The girls wore swimsuits. Ric writes, “Note that while the boys were nude, the women all had full body swim suits. Even Dear Abby agreed that this was the norm at that time! This is why it would not surprise me to learn that this may have happened at some schools in the USA in those days (again, I have never seen proof of this) though it is likelier to have happened in European schools.”
With Ric’s point in mind, let us now move from Oldster media to Pastor Senn’s blog. Many Oldsters claim that they never swam naked in the presence of females. Others claim the contrary. How valid are these latter claims? The issue is complicated by apparently photo shopped pictures in which boys are naked in the presence of women. And there is a newspaper article that appears to be fabricated. This article suggests that boys should be allowed but not forced to wear suits in the presence of females during a swim meet.(See Pastor Senn’s introduction to the “newspaper clipping”.)
The above mentioned fabrications appear to be the product of serious, highly sophisticated effort. How do we know whether this type of effort undermines posts that would otherwise seem to be credible? We can’t know.
With this problem in mind, let us consider a voy forum shared with us by Thomas Mendip(August 29, 2017). The forum features a mind numbing series of testimonials about boy nudity in the presence of females. Erections are a constant in these stories. To me they read like CFNM fantasy. I believe I can cast serious doubt on one story. This is the story posted by “Tonya Beach”(Aug 14, 2017)
“When I was a young girl we would visit the beach with our cousins for 1 week. I loved going to the beach because I knew the boys would all be nude and we got to look at their wieners!” Should I believe this? In my pre-Oldster youth, there were never any naked boys on the American beaches that I visited.
Some people apparently need to float their fantasies into cyberspace, perhaps for shock value, erotic stimulation or other reasons. A lot of these stories sound bizarre. But many differ from the Tonya Beach story in that they don’t have evidentiary red flags. Unlike Pastor Senn and me, however, most people do not give their full names. Nor do they clearly identify the institutions with which they were affiliated. This doesn’t mean that all the posts are lies. But anonymity and sometimes sophisticated fabrication make it hard to determine who is telling the truth.
Elsa(July 4,8,9, 2017) writes four seemingly credible posts about how she substituted for a class in which high school boys swam naked. She did not think it was a big deal until she found herself in awe of the magnificent Charlie. She did tell the vice principle that some of the boys seemed uncomfortable.
In response to Elsa, Thomas Mendip describes what seems to have been a strong social consensus against the idea of teenage boy nudity in the presence of a female teacher. Writes Mendip:
“You may have thought the class was a non-event. I can guarantee you the boys didn’t.”(Mendip, July 9, 2017)
“——but every guy in my age group, millions of them, swam nude in high school, yet not one ever had a female teacher, even as a substitute. A woman teaching a swimming pool full of nude male teenagers is certainly rarity, if nothing else”(Mendip, July 8, 2017)
Were teenage boys forced to swim naked in front of female instructors? The answer is yes if the posts by Elsa, Honolulu(Dec 15, 2016) ,Walter Bowman(Jan 4,, 2017) and Richard(Junior High with some older boys, July 25, 2017) are true. After all their only escape would have been to cut class.
Perhaps the above described situations were so rare that they failed to gain the numerical traction that might have ensured wide coverage by Oldster media. And it was simply not a big deal to everyone. There is the above mentioned DEAR ABBY column cited by Ric. And as Elsa says(July 9, 2017), “What is the big deal, at the end of the day? Who is harmed if people see one another naked?” I believe this attitude co-existed with the strong, Oldster documented feelings others had about adolescent boy nudity in the presence of women.
There may be Oldster media stories that await discovery. Elsa(July 8, 2017) says that, at a school board meeting, a mother discussed the propriety of female supervision of naked boys during swim. News coverage of school board meetings was routine when Oldster media reigned. This doesn’t guarantee that the reporter would have noted the mother’s question. Even if the reporter did note the question, there is no guarantee that the paper still exists. Or it might be mouldering in some obscure archive. Keep looking Billy!
There are two contributors to Youngster/Internet media who are vouched for by Pastor Senn(11/9/2017)because he knows them personally. They are Bob Raines and Al. Bob Raines(Aug 20, 2016)writes, “As for the fact that there were areas of the US that allowed for women, family members etc to be present at nude swim meets…honestly, THAT LEAVES ME A BIT FREAKED OUT—”(Italics mine). Apparently Raines does not claim to have witnessed or participated in naked swim meets in front of women and girls. So what is his evidence that it happened?
Al claims to have personally swum naked in front of women and girls(Oct 24, 2017/Oct 29, 2017). Having read Al’s posts, it is not entirely clear to me that this practice continued through his teens. Al is specific when he describes swim lessons in primary/elementary school years. During these years Al was basically a little boy. I would be grateful if Al would clarify the age issue. It would also be interesting to know what Al thinks of the stories some posters tell about boys who sprouted erections in the presence of female instructors(Richard, July 25, 2017; Gavin, Aug 30, 2017; Lena, Sept 4, 2017). These stories really surprise me. But the writing is credible.
Al seems to critique(Oct 29, 2017) the type of surprise Thomas Mendip expresses at Elsa’s story(see above)when he writes, “The problem comes when we take our personal, local experience and try to project it onto others, elsewhere…” He has a point. But part of life is learning the dos and don’ts. These dos and don’ts form the architecture of our conscience. They govern our sense of propriety and endow us with the sophistication we need to negotiate our way through social and career situations.
Al’s critique brings me to what I consider a possible mystery: People tell conflicting stories about whether older boys went naked in front of women. But I am surprised that Pastor Senn’s blog does not seem to have any Oldster era posts in which the pros and cons of this issue are seriously debated(A partial exception may be stories about female reporters with naked men in sports locker rooms). Whatever the reason, some issues do not rise to the level of controversy. Perhaps it’s just chance.
Pastor Senn’s blog makes one thing certain. Nudity is for some people an emotionally fraught and BIG issue. There may have been policy differences over time(think the sexual revolution); policies that were differentiated courtesy ethnicity and geography. Yet these differences seem to have remained invisible in a society that is highly mobile and opened. This adds to the mystery.
Jeff(Feb 18, 2018)writes about swim meets in which boys up to age fourteen were expected to compete naked in front of women and girls. At the same time these boys might have been spanked if they appeared before their families in their underwear. If this practice was widespread, it is perhaps surprising that we do not hear about resultant feelings of home programmed embarrassment in nude competition.
Maybe I make too much of the mystery. Maybe there is no mystery. Let me make some suggestions. Could future posters give their full names; identify the states in which they lived and the institutions with which they were affiliated? Could they name the years in which their experiences occurred and attempt to identify the ethnicity and religion of the culture in which they participated? That might help. My sense, however, is that confusion will reign.
The issue remains important because of how we define ourselves. We define ourselves and our interpersonal relations in part through the circumstances under which we are seen naked by others.
Tom Wallace Lyons
Frank posted this comment with photos 2018/09/22
Here are two photos of the same swim meet with boys swimming naked and women monitors sitting behind them. They are taken from several angels and with different boys on the platforms. Our gimlet eye photo critics need to tell us how they’re fake, if they are.
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
Yes, Tom, there are a variety of testimonies in the 250 comments. I would qualify your analysis by noting that one of the issues is whether boys swam naked at swim meets. It is a further issue whether females were present if they did. Pastor Bob Raines testifies that he participated in swim meets on a Catholic high school team in which public school teams swam naked, but apparently without female spectators (in a New York City natatorium). He didn’t say he witnessed meets with female spectators. He said he had heard that female spectators were sometimes present and the very thought of that freaked him out. Pastor Al did not participate in swim meets but did attend high school meets in which teams swam naked with females present (in Central Michigan). He also reported that some students (girls as well as boys) spilled out of the adjacent lunch room into the stands to eat their lunch while the swim team practiced. This lends credence to Gavin’s testimony which comes from the same time and geographic area as Al’s (1960s Central Michigan).
Why should it be surprising that Gavin and Lena reported boys getting erections in the presence of females? Is that shameful? Getting erections when blood flows into the penis is a normal part of male biology. Boys get erections for all kinds of reasons, even in the middle of the night or when they wake up in the morning. Not all stimulations are sexual. Even so, I don’t remember erections being an issue. Gavin also admitted that they were rare occurrences.
Some people today regard the fact—and it is an established fact!—that boys swam naked in American schools as scandalous. The idea that boys could have swum naked in front of females (teachers, spectators) is beyond the pale. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen at some times and in some places, as our witnesses testify. I agree that some CWNM web sites post fantasy stories. I also agree that some photos on the internet are photoshopped because I’ve seen the evidence. It’s too bad because it makes getting at the truth of this issue really difficult. I would also suggest that the perennial standard of males swimming nude, females modestly attired presents a CFNM situation anytime there is interaction between the sexes. So it has been for centuries. Maybe the titillation on voyerist web sites derives from the fact that it is so seldom experienced any more in reality.
Fig. 17. Photo of a boy on the beach by German photographer Konrad Helbig (1950s). Why does the boy have an erection? Is he looking up at a nude woman on the beach? – Frank
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
As someone who straddles the divide–well over 50, but still relying primary on digital information–it seems to me that it’s pretty much all digital anymore. Even newspapers barely exist on actual paper, and they’re disappearing as fast as institutions can scan them. One group may prefer print media (newspapers and magazines) over blogs and forums, but when I used the Sheboyban (Wisc.) Press for the Oct 31,1940 article, I downloaded it from newspapers.com. Unless you presume a subscription site is going to fake back issues of a newspaper, it should be considered, and is, real. Would it be any more real had I traveled to Sheboygan and got an actual paper or microfiche copy of it? There are other, equally reliable sources, such as academic journals.
Example 1: May, 1963 Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation entitled “Swimming Classes in Elementary Schools on a City Wide Basis” and written by a Channing Mann. It was an overview of the swimming program in the city of Troy, New York. Eight paragraphs in, it says “Boys swim nude; girls in one piece tanks suits and bathing caps.” https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00221473.1963.10621677
Example 2: Journal of Counseling and Development June 1973. “In the Field Programs, practices, or techniques Orienting Junior High Parents”. The following is cut and pasted: “ERNA EVANS is a counselor at Central Junior High School, Rochester, Minnesota. This article is the result of a team effort made during the summer of 1972 in which two of the counselors planned and carried out a project that they hoped would alleviate the anxieties of the parents and subsequently of the students. The counselors expected to supply general information about the school. Although the counselors attempted to answer all questions, they could not find a satisfactory solution to the question “Why must boys swim nude?” They turned that one over to the principal. We are not sure he has a good answer.” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/j.2164-4918.1973.tb05326.x
I could keep this up all night, I suppose; the point being that there are all kinds of sources out there with which to research this. For a really robust discussion, try the Facebook page “You Know You Are From Manitowoc If…” https://www.facebook.com/groups/frommanitowoc/search/?query=swim
Photographs, however, aren’t going to be one of them. Aside from Photoshop altered images, the problem is that such pictures are by their nature, rare. Consider that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of photographs have been published in newspapers and magazines in the last century. (And in the last 24 hours on the internet!) How many are of naked males swimming in school or the YMCA? Anyone who researches this can tell you, only a handful. The why of this is fairly obvious–except for the handful already mentioned, which are exceptions, it was a fairly taboo subject; and, there was little interest in it. It only shows up in newspapers on those occasions when it stirred some controversy, which was rather rare.
The problem, it seems to me, does not lie with the actual veracity of the information, but its source. We have a preference for written (official pronouncements of policy) or photographic evidence, the presumption being that this has more objective validity than oral testimony. But this isn’t an archeological dig. We’re not pasting together 3,000 year old shards of pottery in order to understand the daily life of ancient Phoenicians. The participants, in this case, are mainly still around, and we need only ask them what happened. Or is no one here familiar with the term solipsism?
So, why do we not simply believe them? I find that question difficult to answer. Having endured six decades on this rock, I’m not so much surprised by how quickly things change, as what that rapid change does to our memories of the past. What is unacceptable now was acceptable just a few years ago. The usual term used to describe this is “appropriate”, and that is the most correct word because the term is entirely contextual, defined as “suitable or proper in the circumstances”, the circumstances being the dictates of the culture around you. And the culture changes quite rapidly. Nude swimming ended because of a convergence of ideas, not for a single reason–Title IX; the pedophile panic of the 80s; a misplaced societal squeamishness concerning homosexuality; ridiculous body norms propagated by cultural icons like Schwarzenegger.
What does that do to memory? You live long enough with a new set of norms and begin to ask yourself how we could have ever lived with other norms. Did that stuff really happen? Even if you lived through it, you might question your own memories. It was fifty years ago that my tender bare ass was dragged through a swimming pool, and even though I experienced it will all five senses, even though I know it was real, I still have to ask myself if it really happened, if only because it seems so outrageous by current norms. (It seemed outrageous to me, even at the time; but there was no point to complaining, no one listened to us, so I just shut up, got on with it and finally survived high school, albeit by flunking out, but at least I made it over the fence.)
Reduced to its simplest, the comments here pose these questions:
Did boys/men swim nude either by choice or mandate in schools and YMCAs in the past?
Were female teachers/lifeguards present when they did?
Were there such things as nude swim meets and were females present during them?
Tangentially, we might ask if girls/women ever swam nude under similar circumstances.
I think we’ve pretty much tackled that first question, beat the crap out of it and buried it. It happened, whether the doubters wish to believe it or not. It happened, and in the proper time frames, was nearly universal. Deal with it. (A more interesting question is why did we so quickly forget it?)
Well, we do have several credible accounts above, and as I mentioned, I knew a woman who lifeguarded at a YMCA pool full of nude male swimmers. I can’t find any real, unquestionably authentic photos of this, but quite a lot of testimony. The question I always pose myself in these situations is how well would such a thing fit into the tenor of the times? The fact of the matter is that it fits fairly easily. It’s obvious that the powers that be were absolutely dismissive of boys’ feelings on this matter. And women/girls at that time were considered almost asexual, certainly no threat to boys. It’s only recently that you read almost on a daily basis stories about female teachers molesting their male students. (Just now, I read about a 30 year old female teacher running away with her 16 year old male student.) Imagine allowing a female teacher to supervise nude boys now!
We may make much of the national magazine covers such as the ones from Life, but it’s their scarcity that proves the rule. Photographs of male nudity were exceedingly rare and confined to bare buttocks at best. That fact wasn’t a concession to boys’ modesty, but rather the sentiment of an easily offended public that might have deemed “cute” a shot of bare boys’ buttocks, but not their genitals, and certainly none of bare girls. I believe I have elucidated my opinion on this, that the whole phenomenon had to do with the inculcating into children their future gender roles, as we now call them.
If we have no objective data, the only way to advance the conversation is to rely upon personal testimony. And I grant you, some of it seems fantastic. But isn’t that because we’re looking back at through today’s perceptions? Was it fantastic then, or a banality? How do we see the past through the lens of the culture that existed then? What might indicate a fantasy post is the excessive exuberance of the poster, but then again, the same event seen through different eyes yields different perceptions, known to psychologists as the Rashomon effect.
I’m of the opinion there were female teachers and lifeguards and coaches. (Though I can’t possibly imagine it; if my teacher had been female, I would have freaked. Nor can I understand how the women thought this was no big deal.) The accounts cluster in the upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota), but I can also find them in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and a few other places.
Nude swim meets present another problem. Again, no written evidence, no unquestionably real photographs. So, was this impossible? I can find lots of blogs and forums where people attest to this.
The Voy forums on nude swim meets (https://www.voy.com/223876/685.html) seem to cause a bit of controversy because so many of them are written by adult women who recall their youthful experiences at nude male swim meets. Admittedly, a lot of them are rather breathless, but isn’t voyeurism the whole point to that forum? It appears that what shocks people is the presence of younger females, as though the idea of a group of nude boys competing in front an audience isn’t itself shocking! Most of them assert that they were family members watching their brothers compete, but am I missing something here, or how does that matter? Given the unquestionable, deeply entrenched double standard of that time, I don’t find this difficult to believe.
What I find more compelling is the testimony from the boys. That is definitely not a fantasy. These kids were deeply humiliated by this, and their posts reflect that. There is no humor or even attempt at such. One Canadian boy had to undergo psychotherapy. (Some fun, hey?) And before anyone mentions the humiliation sub text of the CFNM paraphilia, just go read the posts and see if you think they’re fiction.
I have little doubt this happened, I just don’t know how widespread it was. Never heard of this before I read these forums, certainly not where I grew up.
As for female nude swimming, I await any accounts of this. Overseas, yes; here, no.
(For future reference, I think we should realize a couple of things about fantasy vs. reality in forums.
1) Fantasies are, actually, usually identified as such. And most often show up at fiction websites. I even wrote one myself on Literotica. That’s usually because the author would like his writing abilities to be recognized, not mistaken for non fiction.
2) They usually end with a sexual episode.)
Fig. 18. Vintage photo of boys swimming naked. Are they with a suited girl?
Frank added a comment and photo 2018/09/30
In his comment below this article Paul proposes that the suited swimmer is a boy in a 1920s swimsuit. Here’s a vintage photo of boys at a pool in the 1920s.
I want to give a different perspective on the “photoshopped” pictures. It is not only photoshopped pictures that can lie.
I went swimming naked several times age 12 and 13 with my Boy Scout group on campouts, but I do not remember pictures ever being taken. But at the Y there were pictures taken. i learned to swim at the Y at age 7 or so and swam naked there a lot until I was well into my teens. This would have been around 1955 to 1963 or so. Mostly the boys swam naked but occasionally they would have an open house, or visiting VIPs or whatever, and the guy who ran this Y, Old Sam would pull out of his storage closet 10 or 15 pairs of swim trunks and hand them out. So parents would come for open house and take pictures of their son swimming in his borrowed swimsuit. And one day a reporter from the local newspaper came and Old Sam gave suits to four or five boys and they got photographed for the paper swimming and wearing swim suits. Of course when the reporter left, the swim suits were collected, washed, and went back into the closet until they were needed again.
The same thing happened at my summer camp. It was an all boys camp and I went there ages 10, 11 and 12. It was optional to wear a swim suit but the boys basically never did. About half way through the 2 week session, they had parents day and all the parents and brothers and sisters came. For parents day, all the boys wore swim suits. Parents would take lots of photos. About ten years ago I talked to the guy who now ran the summer camp and told him I used to go skinny dipping there. He said nobody ever went skinny dipping at that camp and he had the pictures from the old days to prove it. I said let’s see the pictures and he showed me some old photos from the 1950s of boys swimming at the camp and wearing swimsuits. You could see the big WELCOME PARENTS banner in the background of one or two of the pictures, proving they were made on parents day.
I think everyone who read the newspaper articles in the 1950s and all the parents who went to parents day knew that the boys usually swam naked. But 60 years later the pictures can mislead you. Boys would dress-up for the camera but they usually swam naked.
Fig. 20. The way boys swam at camp, but not on parents’ day.
Tom Wallace Lyons
Thomas Mendip(May 2, 2018) questions our preference for written documentation over oral pronouncements. By “oral pronouncements,” I presume Mendip refers to statements filed into cyberspace. Specifically Mendip writes –
“The problem, it seems to me, does not lie with the actual veracity of the information, but its source. We have a preference for written (official pronouncements of policy) or photographic evidence, the presumption being that this has more objective validity than oral testimony. But, this isn’t an archeological dig. We’re not pasting together 3,000 year old shards of pottery in order to understand the daily life of ancient Phoenicians. The participants, in this case, are mainly still around, and we need only ask them what happened. Or is no one here familiar with the term solipsism?”
I believe there is good reason to give more credence to what I call “oldster media”(See TWL, April 17, 2018). A person does not even have to use his name when he shoots a story into cyberspace or onto somebody’s blog. He need not designate the time of his experience. Nor must he name the institutions with which he was affiliated. A total lie will never redound to a person’s discredit.
Oldster media was a known source for the information it generated. Mistakes were made by its writers. But essential accuracy was necessary to maintain credibility. I worked for oldster media back in the days of the typewriter.
So let’s imagine that I am approached by fourteen year old Jimmy. Jimmy tells me that his parents force him to swim naked at a YMCA type institution; that women and girls are present; that he knows some of the girls from school and that the instructor is a pretty young female. Jimmy says he wants me to expose his situation, but he is afraid he will get into trouble with his very strict father if I use his name.
I am very moved by Jimmy’s story. But I am also very surprised. Suppose Jimmy is making things up. I don’t want to compromise my credibility and the credibility of the paper courtesy a story that turns out to be untrue. I NEED VERIFICATION.
I ask Jimmy to bring a couple of boys to confirm his story. Jimmy brings two other boys. Not only do the boys confirm Jimmy’s story: They also make it clear that they are as hurt as Jimmy. I take extensive notes so I can write about the psychological issues that result from the naked swim.
My next step is to contact the people responsible for naked swim policies. If the policies are acknowledged, I try to get interviews with the responsible parties. I would hope even to be able to talk to parents to see what they think. And I might try to interview a psychologist for a professional opinion about how teenage boys are likely to be affected. I WOULD HAVE A STORY.
Suppose, however, the swim personnel refuse to confirm what I have been told. Suppose I am also denied access to the swim meets where I could see things for myself. I would point out that I had three witnesses, but I would be careful not to say that the witnesses were boys. Preservation of anonymous sources is important. Despite the witnesses, nobody will budge.
My next step, before writing the story, would be to try to prove that I had contacted the pertinent institution.
I would send my request for an interview via certified mail. The return receipt would prove that I had attempted contact.
Now I would be ready to write my story. I would not say that the boys swam naked in the presence of females. I would only say that this is what I had been told and that those in charge had denied me access to the swim meets and had refused my written request for an interview.
Whatever the truth, my credibility would be intact. Hopefully my story would start a dialogue about how young people should be treated. Oldster media was in a very good position to investigate contemporary events. The same cannot be said about current blogs that purport to tell us what went on when the typewriter was king.
Thomas Mendip submits a Voy forum through which he inspires discussion of a true enigma, the strange co-existence between the privacy taboo and its suspension. It is a story about teen age boys who find themselves thrust briefly into a parallel universe in which all respect to genital privacy is suspended. The forum is a mind numbing orgy of anecdotes supposedly from adult males and females about swim meets during which naked teenage boys sprouted embarrassment driven erections in front of girls and women. Mendip does not vouch for the posts allegedly submitted by females who claim to have enjoyed themselves thoroughly at the boys’ expense. But he writes
“What I find more compelling is the testimony from the boys. This is definitely not a fantasy. These kids were deeply humiliated by this, and their posts reflect that. There is no humor or even attempt at such. One Canadian boy had to undergo psychotherapy. (Some fun, hey?).”
I believe the pain, allegedly suffered by these boys, testifies to the power of the taboo as regards teenage boy nudity in the presence of girls and women. Suppose teenage boys were always naked at beaches(they weren’t); suppose they were generally naked in co-ed swimming pools(they weren’t); and suppose women and girls were allowed into teenage boy locker rooms to help young sons and little brothers(they weren’t). Suppose further that teenage boys normally went naked in front of mothers, sisters and female family friends(I believe many did not). Under those circumstances, swim meets would not have been the focus for embarrassment driven erections.
My point about taboo is fortified by at least three female posters in the forum.
Gabby: “Most were supporting erections and as an 11 year old I was getting to see things I WASN’T SUPPOSED TO SEE.”(Italics mine)
Bambi: “I was experiencing FORBIDDEN FRUIT as their erections slowly stuck straight up—–.”(italics mine)
Josie: “I couldn’t believe they were really nude and would stay that way for better than two hours.”
As regards the above described erections, it is hard to believe that mothers would have considered the display an acceptable treat for their daughters. In this context, I once again quote Elsa(July 4, 2017)who argued that it was not proper for her to preside over naked swim for high school boys. Elsa writes, “and I shamefully lied about some of the students becoming aroused as I looked on.” It is safe to say that Elsa would not have wanted HER son to have to flash erect penile eye candy at a swim meet.
I believe Elsa’s post allows me to put a question mark on the current idea that, back in the day, boy modesty was unmanly. Yes parents wanted their boys to grow up to be men. But the focus was not always on an unrealistic Davy Crockett/John Wayne machismo that equated bodily embarrassment with lack of masculinity. And, at risk of shocking today’s youth, there were many parents who were very affectionate and deeply sensitive to their children’s feelings. It is hard to imagine that June and Ward Cleaver(of Leave it to Beaver fame)would have forced their older son Wally to swim naked in the presence of girls and women. Would they have allowed it?
But boys did swim naked in front of females in at least one high school. Pastor Senn writes(April 17, 2018), “Pastor Al did not participate in swim meets but did attend high school meets in which teams swam naked with females present (in Central Michigan).(April 17, 2018)” Given the source, this testimony is reliable.
Jeff(Feb 18, 2018)writes about his 1952 naked swim in the presence of women and girls. Specifically he states, “Pool rules concerning nudity were vastly different from home modesty rules IF THAT MAKES ANY SENSE AT ALL(Italics mine). It was the same for a lot of the other boys. We wouldn’t even let our moms or sisters see us in our underwear. As a matter of fact some boys would be spanked by their dads for walking around the house in nothing but underwear. But at the pool they saw everything.”
Jeff explains that for boys fourteen and under, “we were thought to be sexually innocent and chaste. Grownups felt that young male children didn’t require privacy. Girls were another matter entirely.” REALLY? Does this mean that early Fifties fathers had never masturbated before they were fifteen; that, prior to fifteen, they had never danced with or kissed a girl?
I don’t know whether Jeff’s story is true. But, in light of Pastor Senn’s testimony, it cannot be dismissed. It sounds credible. It captures the strange attitudinal volatility about boy modesty.
It must be noted that Jeff and Pastor Senn do not say whether boys were forced to participate in nude swim meets. They do not mention either the erection driven embarrassment or the pain remarked upon so sensitively by Thomas Mendip.
Hence the enigma: How is it that Thomas Mendip and I grew up without any knowledge of the events reported in the Voy forum? The answer may be that there were thousands of swim situations in the United States. Perhaps the Voy forum events, if they occurred, were more aberration than routine.
Nudity is a hot topic in our culture as evidenced by the fevered controversy over female reporters in the locker rooms of male athletes. So it is hard to imagine that sexual humiliation of a vast number of boys would not have become controversial. Aided by oldster media, the issue would have eventually metastasized into general consciousness. Or so one might think.
Another possibility: Could it be that most boys did not object; that the boys were from parts of the country whose culture differed from the culture in which Thomas Mendip and I were reared? Could it be that this culture remained unknown outside its parameters? Whatever the case, I don’t believe swim meet nudity should have been forced on adolescent boys who did not want it.
One final thought: I believe Thomas Mendip is right to give credence to the boys whose obvious pain cries out for belief. But there is a reason why we cannot be certain about their testimony. It has to do with vicarious grief. A person sees a movie about somebody who loses his dog. Even though this person has never had a dog, he feels a deep, vicarious sadness. It is possible that some readers of the Voy forum may have vented vicarious empathy at the expense of truth? This is pure speculation. And I certainly appreciate Thomas Mendip’s contributions.
Fig. 21. Naked boy, suited girl at swim meet. See the swimmers in the background, also naked boys, suited girls.
I’m in my early 30s and never experienced organized nude swimming. Part of me thinks that I would have have hated it, and yet part of me thinks it might have helped me develop a better body image..
I’ve read about the topic quite a bit and have two thoughts about it. First, the discussion of whether women were ever present isn’t terribly interesting to me. I think it misses the larger point, which is that our culture had a different understanding of the male body 40-50 years ago than we do today. Its really unfortunate how our contemporary culture has equated nudity with sexuality. Swimming nude was not seen as sexual 50 years ago, or the practice probably would have died out sooner than it did.
Second, I wonder if the enduring popularity of this topic indicates that American men have a secret desire to participate in social nudity of some sort . Although I never swam nude, I did twice as an adult pose nude for a college drawing class. The experience was not at all sexual and yet felt thrilling at the same time. (For those who are wondering, yes, there were both male and female artists present for the drawing sessions, and no, I never became aroused). I wonder if that’s what nude swimming felt like to those who were more comfortable with it.
Yes, I think the popularity of the topic DOES indicate a desire to participate in social nudity. I think there is something within in us, especially men, that cries out for openness, integrity, acceptance, the ability to relate without posturing: nakedness, in a word.
Fig. 22. Social nudity among men in a common shower
In reply to Hunter.
Hunter, there’s also something sensuous about connecting our body to Earth’s body and feeling the elements on our skin: the ground, water, air, the warmth of the sun. When I was a youth in the late 1950s/early 1960s I enjoyed being naked in the natural world and sensing myself as part of it. See my latest blog article: http://www.frank-answers.com/frank-answers-about-getting-back-into-nature/ I discuss my experiences of swimming nude in rivers and lakes with accompanying pictures for illustrative purposes.
I’m a yogi and interested in what’s happening in the world of yoga. Interestingly, while more men are wearing long pants rather than shorts today, there’s also a growing number of men’s naked yoga classes in urban areas. Admittedly, they attract a gay clientele – but not exclusively, and they are real yoga classes taught by qualified teachers. Yes, many men look for venues to experience social nudity.
Frank adds a comment and photos
Bathing in lakes, rivers, and streams provides a way of connecting with the natural world, like this beautiful photo of a boy who is showering in a pure jungle stream.
Fig. 23. Connecting sensuously with Earth’s elements.
In reply to Mark.
Rev Senn: i mentioned in my message that i learned to swim at a YMCA. Here is a picture i found on the internet of the Sioux city Iowa YMCA boys swimming class. It reminds me a whole lot of how i learned to swim and of the Y where i learned to swim. The lifeguard is wearing a suit but if you look close the boys are naked under the water. this was how it was when i learned to swim and it even looks a bit like the Y where i learned to swim
I read your column, and many of the comments afterwards, and it reminded me a whole lot of my own boyhood. Particularly the two photos posted a week or two ago by “Mark” reminded me of when I learned to swim at the Boys Club (which required naked swimming, just like the YMCA). I sat down to list the occasions in my childhood in which I was exposed to “skinny dipping”and it ended up being a lot longer list than I thought it would be.
I listed events in more-or-less chronological order. This happened between about 1953 and 1960 or 1962.
(1) At about age 7, my parents signed me up for swimming lessons at the local Boys Club. The night before the first lesson, my parents set me down and explained to me that “little boys don’t wear any clothes when they swim at the Boys Club”. They told me it was perfectly OK to go in swimming naked with the other boys. There were maybe 8(?) swimming lessons over a period of weeks. There were about 20 boys in the class, all about age 7 or 8. Several college-age lifeguards were instructors, and they all wore swim trunks. I remember that I was kind of nervous taking off my clothes the first time in front of all these other boys and I think the other boys were pretty nervous too, but after the first few minutes, we were all fine. And I don’t think I (or the other boys) had any problems undressing for subsequent lessons. The Boys Club required nude showers before swimming. Judging from my later experiences at the Boys Club, the boys probably had to take showers before the swimming lessons, but I cannot specifically recall doing so on this occasion.
(2) At about age 8, I went swimming at the same Boys Club with my cub scout den (is “den” right? I cannot remember the word). About a dozen boys all about age 8 or 9 or so were involved. We went swimming there 4-5 times; I think we were working on a swimming badge. I definitely remember taking showers with the other boys on this occasion. All the parents of all the boys clearly knew what the Boys Club rules were, and were not troubled by it, because each boy was sent to swim with only a towel, and no swim suit.
I think we stayed for about an hour on each visit, with one of the lifeguards working with 3-4 boys at a time on the merit badge requirements, while the other boys simply splashed about and played. The only non-lifeguard adults present were several of the fathers of the boys in the den. They drove the group in car pools to the Boys Club, supervised us in the showers and in the dressing room, then watched us swim from seats near the pool (they remained fully clothed).
Frank interjects a photo and caption
Fig. 24. Swimming nude at Boys Club pool in 1922.
(3) At age 9, during the summer, I went for approximately a 5 day stay at a scout camp with the same cub scout group. We stayed in cabins — this was not a wilderness camp out. We went swimming each day in the lake. We swam while wearing swim trunks. Wearing a swim suit was the normal practice at the camp. However, we changed into our swim suits together in our cabin. We also had to take a shower each day, and the showers were taken by the entire den together in a group shower (kind of a pavilion with a privacy screen around it – from outside, you could see the lower legs and upper torso of the boys who were showering).
(4) At age 10, again during the summer, I made a second visit to the same Boy Scout camp with my Webelos group – I cannot remember for sure how many days it was, but I want to say it was a bit longer. We might have stayed a week. Otherwise, activities were similar to the previous summer – we swam as a group in swimsuits, but showered as a group naked. Most of the boys would have been the same ones involved in the cub scout group.
[Frank interjects a photo and comment
Fig. 25. Could be a Webelos camp studying Indian lore. I wore a loin cloth for Indian dances in an Order of the Arrow induction ceremony at Boy Scout Summer camp in 1959 and 1960. [- Frank]
I do remember, however, on one occasion at the boy scout camp – and I cannot recall which year it was – coming back from an activity with my den, and as we passed the swimming lake we observed a score or so of slightly older boys (i.e. 12-13 year old scouts) skinny dipping, diving off the dock, etc. They were in the normal swimming area, and the ‘normal’ camp practice was to wear swim trunks. It was clearly an authorized and supervised swim, but why they were not wearing trunks on this one occasion is not known to me.
(5) Again at age 10 during that same the summer, but not in the same time frame as the visit to the cabin camp, I went on a hike with the Webelos. About 12 to 15 boys, all about age 10, were on this hike – five or six of their fathers were also present. We hiked for several hours then came to a creek, and the fathers suggested that we might want to take a break and swim. The boys quickly peeled out of their clothes, hung them on tree branches or laid them on rocks, and went sprinting into the water. The initial impact of the water took your breath away – the boys whoops and hollers turned to squeals as we entered the water and realized how cold it was. For about 30 minutes we went skinny dipping . The creek was mostly very shallow – a lot of the time we were actually wading in knee to waist deep water (knee to waist deep in relation to 10 year old boys) and splashing and dunking each other, rather than actually swimming. However, there were several deeper holes where we could get all the way in and paddle about. The fathers sat on the bank of the creek but did not undress and did not swim themselves – this was similar to what happened at the Boys Club about two years before.
After about half an hour, the fathers told it to get out and start drying off – we had several miles to go to get back to where we had left the vehicles. We had no towels, so the boys spent another 20 minutes or so sitting nude on the bank while we dried off. The fathers got impatient with how long it was taking us to dry off and finally told us to use our shirts as towels, then just put on our trousers and carry the wet shirts.
I might add that modern Boy Scout rules absolutely prohibit skinny dipping but in the 1950’s I believe it was fairly common, judging not only from my own experience but what other boys told me. At the scout camp I went to, boys normally wore swim suits, but I heard that at other scout camps skinny dipping was normal. I dropped out of scouting after Webelos but I believe that had I stayed in, I would likely have gone skinny dipping as a Boy Scout.
(6) At age 10, I started fifth grade in the fall, and also started “dressing out” for PE and started daily showering in PE class. I probably took group showers after PE about 150 times per year, from about age 10 until age about 14 – 15 (9th grade). I did not take PE in 10th, 11th or 12th grade.
(7) My parents decided I was old enough to go to the Boys Club after school when I was about 9. From about age 9 to about 15 or 16, I was a regular at the Boys Club. I seldom if ever went alone – I usually went with 2-3 friends, and we frequently ran into other friends at the Boys Club. I think I swam about once a week at the Boys Club during this period, either after school or on weekends. I usually swam there in the months that school was in session, but not in summer. There was a municipal swimming pool that was open in the summer and it was more convenient to my house than going to the Boys Club. You had to wear a swimsuit at the municipal swimming pool. I think I actually preferred to swim naked at the Boys Club or at Tim’s house (see below) because it was more comfortable.
There were other activities at the Boys Club, and when I went I usually stayed for several hours, but spent at least part of each visit swimming. For example, I might arrive, shower and go swimming first, dry off and get dressed, shoot basketball or engage in other activities, then perhaps shower again and take a second swim before leaving.
Going to school in the morning, you could always tell which boys were planning to go to the Boys Club after school – they were the ones bring swim towels to school and storing them in their lockers. The boys planning to go to the Boys Club could spot each other, and make plans to walk/bicycle together after school.
This was in a “golden age” of American childhood – my parents thought nothing of letting me walk or bicycle from school to the Boys Club, then afterwards go home sometimes after dark. Frequently, I was with friends, but I would sometimes be traveling alone after dark with only a flashlight – what modern parent would allow a 9 or 10 year old that much latitude?
(8) From about age 11 to about 15 – I had a friend named Timothy who had a backyard pool, a privacy fence and hedge, and no neighbors within about 100 yards. His family moved away when I was 15 or so. His family had serious money – his father was a doctor. Anyway, back yard pools were not too common in this era, so I was lucky to have Tim for a friend. I went skinny dipping in his backyard pool at least 10 times per summer, usually with not only Timothy but also with other friends from school.
Both Tim’s parents worked, and he was home alone during the afternoon, so we frequently had several unsupervised hours together. We could swim several times, and frequently sunbathed, or simply ran around nude between swims – on some days we spent several hours together nude, with only part of that time being spent swimming.
[Frank interjects a photo and comment.
Fig. 26. I couldn’t find a photo of American young teens swimming naked in a backyard pool like Paul did, but here’s a photo of young Indian boys swimming in their “backyard” pool. [- Frank]
Conclusion: I never observed any of my peers (either the boys in my scouting group or the boys in the school PE class etc,) who ever seemed to be perturbed, uncomfortable or self conscious about being nude together. In the late 1950’s, the boys I knew had a very matter-of-fact attitude about taking a shower after PE, going swimming together nude, etc. Peer group nudity was viewed by the boys as “no big deal” and as perfectly normal. In contrast to modern teens attitudes to nudity with friends, our view of nudity was non-sexualized (modern kids would say boys being nude together is “so gay”). Likewise, during the 1950’s, I cannot recall my parents, or any parents of any of my friends, having any concern about us showering after PE, or swimming nude at the Boys Club etc. This was simply expected and normal for a boy. The attitude of the parents was, basically, that boys had always gone swimming together nude for hundreds of years at the “old swimming hole”, and it never hurt them, so nudity with the other boys was seen as an accepted aspect of boyhood.
By way of example, I remember an incident that occurred when I was about 12-13 years old. The normal practice at my school was to strip naked at your locker, stroll to the shower nude, take your shower, grab a towel off the rack, towel off, toss the towel into the laundry bin, then stroll back to your locker i.e. making no attempt to “cover up”. Similar behavior was customary at the Boys Club. But I remember one occasion at the Boys Club, when I was 12-13, there was a boy of about the same age there who was not a “regular” – he was someone I had never seen before. He wore a towel like a kilt when walking around the locker room, and when walking out to the pool. He “covered up” with his hands while he was in the shower. The other boys noticed and snickered behind his back at his “sissy” behavior but, fortunately, I do not recall any taunting of him over this behavior.
I never saw or heard of females supervising, or being present, when boys were skinny-dipping, showering etc. I don’t think it would have gone over very well in my part of the country.
Finally, I never saw or heard of any inappropriate comments or behavior by adults toward the boys. No PE coach ever loitered around the showers, no lifeguard at the Boys Club ever seemed to leer at the boys, no man in the YMCA dressing room ever tried to touch a boy, and no other adult ever did or said anything that would suggest a sexual overture towards a boy. I may have just been “lucky” to have never witnessed pedophile behavior, but I personally think it was much more rare then than it later became. My personal opinion, for which I have zero scientific evidence but which I nevertheless believe is valid, is that (a) there is more pedophilia now than then; and (b) there is a modern hysteria about pedophilia that makes it seem even more common that it actually is; and (c) one factor in the increase in pedophilia may have been the end of school showers and other healthy forms of peer group nudity to which boys were traditionally exposed. I do not contend that the end of peer group nudity among boys would be the only factor in increasing certain aberrant sexual behaviors, but no one has ever studied the developmental and psychological impact of transitioning from a society where children and teenagers are exposed to and comfortable with peer group nudity in a non-sexualized context, to one where children and teenagers are never exposed to any non-sexual nudity, and whose children and teenagers tend to have hypersexualized, uncomfortable and hypermodest attitudes towards nudity with peers. In essence, in all of human history, up until 40 or so years ago, society tended to encourage or allow non-sexual peer group nudity among kids, but for the first time in human history, we have embarked on a social experiment in which nudity under any circumstances is shameful, sexualized and scandalized. What the long term consequences of this experiment will be I do not know.
Fig. 27. Vintage photo of boys emerging from shower at a YMCA. Towel kilts undoubtedly worn for the sake of the photo.
In reply to Paul.
Paul, thanks for sharing your experiences of swimming nude. Your story parallels mine which I told earlier in this blog. Instead of Boys Club, we swam nude at the YMCA for both swim class and recreation. Also at the Y camp that I attended, like you twice, for about week. We did swim nude in the pool and lake. Instead of the backyard pool, we went naked at a friend’s family cottage for several summers. In high school we also went nude for swim class and swim team practice. At competitions we wore swim suits. However at the Y, camp and swim practice, coaches and instructors were nude.
Never in those experiences did I ever hear or see anything inappropriate. Like you I feel these kind of experiences were non-sexualized and may have led to a comfortableness with our bodies. Too bad there is such a distorted sense of modesty now.
Thanks to Frank for keeping some of my comments in the new Commentary blog.
Fig. 28. Vintage photo of boys “dressed” for swimming at summer camp.
In reply to Old Swimmer.
Reverend Senn: I am curious about your initial comment at the beginning of your blog entry. You spoke of a tour of your old high school during which a tour guide described the practice of nude swimming as “barbaric”. I assume this tour occurred in about 2016? About how old was the tour guide (I am wondering about when he or she was born) and what gender was the tour guide?
Old Swimmer: I have gone back and re-read your comments with interest! You are correct that our histories have a number of parallels. You may have noted that, in my posting above, I made one oblique reference about going to the YMCA in the last paragraph, without any explanation. I actually went to the YMCA a couple of times growing up. I did not like going to the YMCA – “the guys” that I knew were all at the Boys Club, where I was buddies with all the regulars, but the crowd at the YMCA tended to come from other schools and other neighborhoods across town, so I knew no one there.
My initial swimming lessons at the Boys Club also closely paralleled the experiences of Jeremy who posted on February 26, 2018, when he learned to swim at the Y.
Reflecting on my recent posting, several additional thoughts have crossed my mind:
While I mentioned in my earlier post that I could not remember any inappropriate behavior by an adult, I also cannot remember any (serious) inappropriate behavior by any of the boys. If you had been a fly on the wall at my friend Tim’s backyard pool (for example – this same assertion would apply to other places, such as the Boys Club locker room), you would have seen me, Tim, and probably several of our friends playing, swimming, sunbathing etc completely naked – but ignoring our nudity, our conversation and activities would have been 100% rated “G”.
By the way, as I reflected on swimming at the home of my friend Timothy – his parents worked, as I mentioned, so he was home in the afternoon alone. I did not mention in my first post, but his parents had a rule that he could NOT swim when they were not present, unless he had “x” number of friends with him. I do not remember how many friends were necessary for us to swim. Tim’s parents’ idea apparently was that there was safety in numbers – several boys could rescue one swimmer who had a cramp or otherwise got into trouble while swimming. Tim’s parents clearly knew that Tim and his guests went skinny-dipping and were not concerned – I remember an occasion when his mother came home from work unexpectedly and called out from the back door for us boys to “get decent” because she was coming out in the backyard in a few minutes.
Tim’s mother’s actions brought another thought to mind. I know there have been a number of posts on this board about women or girls being present when boys swam in the nude or were otherwise undressed. When I was growing up, I never witnessed such a thing or heard about such a thing happening. The boys club pool, locker rooms at school or at the boys club, etc. were strictly “no females allowed” areas.
My recent post got me to thinking, in another vein, and I realized something startling that I had always somewhat known but never really contemplated: This would not apply during the summer months, but during the school year, at any time between 5th and 9th grades, I showered at least 150 times per year in PE class (I am assuming a 180 day school year and allowing for absences and days that the class did not shower for one reason or another). Also, during the school year, I went at least once a week (sometimes twice) to the Boys Club and showered there. At home, in this time frame, I always took a Saturday night “get ready for church” bath, plus I would have bathed on one or two other nights each week at home. But the big majority of my washing during the school year would have been communal showers with my buddies and only a minority of the time would it have been done privately.
In reply to Paul.
Paul, my class of 1961 alumni reunion visit to Bennett High School was in August 2016. The teacher who led our tour was male and recently retired. I think he had been a student at Bennett. I was 73 at the time. Let’s say he was 10-12 years younger. That would have put him at Bennett in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Naked swimming was still required into the 1970s. So he could have experienced it. But to my reply, “It wasn’t barbaric,” he responded, “Well, I thought it was barbaric.” So if he experienced it he didn’t like it. I have argued in my comments that a different cultural attitude about required institutional nude swimming developed during the 1960s than existed in the 1950s and before. Yet ironically skinny-dipping in backyard pools and wilderness streams became popular in the 1970s. There was also more nudity in films at that time, and it was much more sexualized.
Fig. 30. Bennett High School pool today. Diving board removed, ceiling lowered (perhaps to cut loudness).
Francis S Torchio
I am in favor of continuing boys swimming nude in school but it should also be restricted to a single sex environment. This will be problematic because there will be charges of gender discrimination. Also I wonder if there has ever been any instances of sexual abuse by any of the adult instructors?
In reply to Francis S Torchio.
Are there any places, schools that is, where nude swimming is still practiced?
Haven’t heard of any if there are. I could certainly support it being allowed on a volutary (only) basis.
I’m curious about the sex abuse, too. I never saw any intimation of such from my teachers, but they were all male. All they seemed to care about was discipline; sex, in general, would have been too human for them. And, for that matter, how could you do such a thing in a pool, or locker room, full of people?
I thought Elsa was quite courageous to mention the temptation posed by Charles. I should think that any abuse (a loaded term, and one that doesn’t always apply) would be cross sex. All you ever read about now is female teachers seducing their male pupils. You hardly ever read about a male teacher/female student event.
I suppose, therefore, it would have been indeed a rarity, since there were so few female teachers teaching nude male swim classes.
This comment came through the anonymous “question” feature of the blog platform. Please use the “comment” feature so that some ID appears with the comment, in case someone wants to respond. Also, “questions” don’t go with a particular article; they imply a new topic. There are now three “swimming naked” articles, but I thought it fit best here. It is an important witness to a controversial topic. The witness testifies that he saw one team of boys competing naked at a co-ed swim meet.
“I do remember attending a swim meet in N. GA as a small boy in the 60’s where the boys from one of the military school teams all swam naked at a co-ed meet. I was told not to comment about it as this was their custom. My older sister was a competitive swimmer and said the boys on her team felt the naked swimmers had a speed advantage over them. I swim several times a week year round and find it unfortunate that the younger men and boys feel like they have to hide to change in the locker room. Its unfortunate that Americans now associate nudity with sensuality.”
For continuing comments go back to the original article, “Frank Answers About Swimming Naked”.
Fig. 31. So what’s the future of swimming naked in public?
Frank’s Concluding Reflections: Nakedness, Shame and Honor
This string of comments has focused primarily on the experience of boys being naked with others, especially in swimming. More than fifty years ago it was possible for men and boys to experience social nakedness in swimming pools and showers in schools, the YMCA, and Boys Clubs, as well as in summer camps.
We’re past questioning that this was the case. But the question of whether boys swam naked in front of women continues to vex Tom Wallace Lyons (2018/04/17). In this age of the visual we’re stymied by the lack of reliable photographic evidence. Mark’s post (2018/05/07) is revelatory on the issue of photographic documentation: at summer camp boys wore bathing suits on parents’ day but otherwise swam naked. This explains the need for the newspaper notice I mentioned (2017/09/29) that boys ages 4-9 should bring bathing suits for family night at the YMCA. That the boys were told to bring a bathing suit suggests that the boys didn’t usually wear suits for their swimming classes. Yet we also have credible witnesses that even high school boys swam naked at public swim meets with female spectators present in the upper Midwest (Michigan, Minnesota) in the testimonies of Al, Gavin, and Lena in the previous string of comments. Add to that Jeff’s remarkable story in this string of comments (2018/02/18) about his experience of swimming naked in front of female spectators on family night at the YMCA. Those venues for social nakedness have now been eliminated. It’s interesting that the YMCA, which once required nude swimming, now requires men and boys to keep their shirts on in the workout rooms or when playing basketball or when participating in activities classes like yoga.
Many commentators have observed that as Americans have become more enclothed, our acceptance of sexual practices once considered taboo (e.g. pre-marital sex, same-sex relations) have gained more tolerance. Since sexual activity requires removal of some if not all clothing, and sexual scenes in films and images on internet pornographic sites have become more ubiquitous, nudity has come to be associated with sexuality because that’s the only context in which we experience it. A puritanism regarding the exposure of human flesh in public is stronger today than it ever was among the Puritans themselves. Teachers express concern to parents about their pre-school children dropping their drawers in front of other children. Mothers who breast-feed in public are scolded. Boys playing basketball in the gym are told to keep their shirts on. Whether the word is said or not, “shame” is what is conveyed by those who admonish parents about their toddler dropping his drawers in the day care center or a mother taking out her breast to feed a baby in public or a young man removing his shirt to shoot hoops. It is shameful to expose flesh in public except maybe on the beach. To shame our bodies is to shame us, because we are our bodies. Our minds are embodied. Shaming the body can inflict mental damage that sometimes has to be dealt with in therapy.
Fig. 32. Boy enjoying his body on a beach. Photo by Carvelli.
To bring out the theological big gun, our Creator did not create our bodies as objects of shame. The created body is good — very good. The man and the woman decided on their own that their nakedness was shameful and covered their genitals with fig leaves. The Lord God even expressed surprise. “Who told you that you were naked?”
I have written a number of Frank Answers on this blog that challenge body shame and the shaming of nudity. Nudity is a “big issue,” as Tom observed. We come into the world naked, but are immediately clothed. We learn about ourselves from an early age by studying our naked selves. Babies and young children are even known to fondle their genitals. But parents often teach them not to do that. So when they become adolescents and discover what sensations fondling causes, their reaction is a mixture of pleasure and shame. Our bodies in public are regulated by social mores and cultural conventions such as appropriate clothing in various situations. The use of the body in pictorial commercial advertising reinforces these culture conventions but also presents idealized bodies that we aspire to. Teens who are totally focused on their changing bodies compare themselves to these idealized bodies and may obsess over the fact that they don’t measure up. These idealized bodies are often portrayed in sexy ways that present the body as a vehicle of pleasure. Consumer culture promotes a hedonistic unashamed display of the human body. But this conflicts with taught modesty to conform to social expectations or religious values. It’s no wonder that the situation of naked swimming might have presented conflicted feelings in the boys who were required to do this.
I must admit that I personally didn’t feel this conflict in the mid-1950s to early-1960s and may have been insensitive to it in others. I accepted the custom of swimming naked with my Scout troop at the Y, in high school swim class, with boy friends in a wilderness stream, and even with a friend who suggested an evening dip in the river. Nor did I associate this social nudity with sexuality. Perhaps in my late teens/early twenties, swimming naked with naked young women might have provoked different thoughts and physical reactions.
But in my article I defended the practice of swimming naked back in the day as a generally wholesome experience of social nakedness that many men had but is lacking today. Now some men, who took it for granted when they were boys, don’t talk about it because the reaction of others is one of disbelief or shaming. The shaming is not of the person but of the situation. Yet the implication is that we participated in a shameful practice. How can this disapproval of a practice we participated in not be internalized? That’s why many men respond to negative comments about boys swimming naked in school defensively or with embarrassed silence.
Yet the human spirit will not be suppressed and there are an increasing number of venues to experience social nakedness even in America. Among them are clothing optional beaches and swimming areas, Asian spas, naked yoga classes, adult partners retreats, nudist gatherings, etc. If some men have ventured into these arenas I think most of them have found that after the first few minutes of being with a bunch of other naked men they become quite used to it (as I experienced in the local Korean spa). I think the same situation would apply to being in mixed sex company, such as in a Finnish or Swedish sauna (as I experienced with a Swedish family back in 1975) or on a clothing optional beach (which I have not experienced).
Our most prolific commentator, Tom Wallace Lyons, wrote on April 17, 2018, “The issue [of nudity] remains important because of how we define ourselves. We define ourselves and our interpersonal relations in part through the circumstances under which we are seen naked by others.” I think this is a good point, but it addresses our personal perception of how we are being seen by others. I think the reverse dynamics can also be true. We can define our nakedness through the circumstances in which we define ourselves. In other words, we can be in charge of our own nakedness — in our home and personal relationships and by participating in activities and venues where social nakedness is acceptable. We can be naked and not ashamed. Our commentator Gavin considered his nakedness in a swim meet with girls and women present a situation of empowerment rather than oppression. We can regard our bodies as things of honor. And I think in this day and age of hyper-sensitivity about nudity and related hyper-sexuality in the media, it would be a good thing to experience the honor of our bodies.
Fig. 34. This image suggests that these boys take their nakedness with their naked coach for granted. They are focused on improving their diving.
On the other hand, it’s shocking today to look back and see these situations in which boys and men could be together naked and unafraided because situations of sexual abuse by priests and coaches and others make us afraid of such situations today. We cannot be innocent in these situations today. The consequence is that we cannot be comfortable in our skins with ourselves or with others. The damage must be painstakingly undone. But undoing it will require opportunities in which we can be naked with others and be both vulnerable in that situation and also proud of our willingness to bare all.
Fig. 35. Father and son?