nakedness, social history, swimming

Frank Answers About Swimming Naked

I recently attended a reunion of the class of 1961 of Bennett High School in Buffalo, NY. As part of the weekend events we were given a tour of our high school to see what had changed and what remained the same.  When we went to the pool our tour guide said, “you men will probably remember the barbaric practice of having to swim naked.” I protested, “it wasn’t barbaric, it was a good tradition.” A couple of the guys in our group, with whom I probably had swimming classes, nodded in agreement. The guide asserted, “Well, I think it was barbaric. I don’t know what the rationale was for such a practice.”

I didn’t press the issue, although I thought as a retired teacher he probably should have found out what the rationale was for the practice of nude swimming if he was going to comment on it. But here’s the answer…or at least an answer.

[Note: I have updated this article several times on the basis of comments that helpfully offered further details on the practice of naked swimming, especially in the public schools.]

People who didn’t experience boys swimming naked in the YMCA and in many physical education programs in the public schools in the US find it hard to believe that this was done. Yet this was the practice. Boys swam naked in the YMCAs and in school physical education classes from the time pools were first installed in these institutions in the late 19th century until the 1970s. Many men over 50 testify that they swam naked in high school and college. Many people under 50 don’t believe them.  But it was the practice and there are some pictures to prove it.  This photo of a swimming class at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois appeared in Life magazine October 16, 1950.

Figure 1

The following photo of a swimming class with naked boys appears on the internet with the claim that it was featured in Life magazine in 1951. Further research indicates that it is actually a photo taken by a Life photographer for a story about University of Michigan swim coach Matthew Mann. The story appeared in Life on March 7, 1938 but the photo wasn’t used; it appears in the Life photo archive website.  But it reminds me of what I experienced at Bennett High School in Buffalo during my freshman year (1957-58).

boys swimming class 1950s

Fig. 2

Among other changes, our tour guide at Bennett pointed out that the diving boards had been removed from the pool because of a fatal diving accident. It was undoubtedly traumatic that such a thing happened. But thousands of boys had learned to dive off those boards, including me. I was never a good diver because I was nearsighted and was always worried about where I would land. But I at least had the experience of trying it under supervision.

Fig. 3

These boys are younger than 9th grade, but the diving board looks similar to the one I remember in our high school pool.

When we got to the gym our guide pointed out that the climbing poles and ropes had been removed and climbing was no longer a part of the school gym curriculum. Apparently there had been some accidents. I was sad to hear that the ropes and poles were gone because I had actually done well in climbing in the 7th and 8th grades  and did it in the boys gymnastic show in P.S. 61. So a physical activity that I was actually good at has been removed.

Fig. 4

We were often shirtless in elementary school gym class, which was a situation in which adolescent boys were often insecure because our bodies were developing at wildly different rates.  Ironically, I felt less self-conscious being naked in 9th grade swimming class than being shirtless in 8th grade gymnastics. Maybe it was because in swimming we shed those school-issued shorts that accentuated skinny legs.

Reasons for this Blog Article

Why would I even be interested in responding to the issue of naked swimming in the schools in the old days with a blog article? For a number of reasons. First, here was a practice most men experienced as recently as fifty years ago, and is a living memory for many of us, and people don’t know about it. Some even deny it happened because it doesn’t fit our current cultural mores. Men don’t talk about it even if they were comfortable with the practice because the reactions are usually negative. So this article is an exercise in social history to discuss what  was standard practice in America until the 1970s. Boys swam naked in American high schools and sometimes teachers or coaches were naked too (although my swimming teacher always wore a swim suit). I set this in the broader context of naked swimming in America.

Fig. 5

Second, it is surely a matter of interest in U.S. social history that a practice that millions of men experienced as boys has been suppressed in our collective memory.  This reflects a radical change in social mores today that reflects different attitudes toward nudity, privacy, and the body than were common in earlier times in America.  We tend to reject the attitudes and views of previous generations because they contradict our own (more enlightened?) attitudes and views, as if our attitudes and views can’t withstand the challenge of different standards. But perhaps some of our current attitudes and views need to be challenged, including our attitudes toward and views about nudity today which are almost exclusively associated with sexuality.

Fig. 6

Cover of Collier’s magazine August 20, 1949

Third, this topic fits in with my ongoing “return to the body” project that is evident in many Frank Answer articles.  Nakedness is a powerful religious and spiritual symbol. (I actually first broached this topic of swimming naked at the YMCA in my “Frank Answer About Being Naked Before God.”  It was written before I went to my class reunion, so the issue was probably on my mind when our class reunion guide brought it up.) Philosophically, I don’t think that the body is just something that we have, as if the real me is something other than the body (like the mind or the soul). Rather, I was created as a body—a body with a mind and a soul.

Boys are always concerned about how their bodies are developing in comparison with the bodies of other boys. This is a fourth reason for writing this article.

Fig. 7

Our society today tends to have crazy attitudes toward the body. The body is glamorized in the media (using impossible models for the rest of us) and this in turn leads to issues of body shame (sometimes producing eating disorders). Let’s not think that body shame is only a women’s issue. Men also feel that they are physically inadequate when they compare their bodies to media-glamorized images of the male body. Even when I was a youth there were muscle magazines encouraging boys to bulk up so they wouldn’t be the skinny kid having sand kicked in his face on the beach—in front of his girl friend, who then walks off with the muscle guy! Today youth use steroids and consume protein shakes to bulk up in order to compare more favorably with ideal models. But many remain dissatisfied with their bodies because the results are never quite as perfect as they desired.

Fig. 8

A fifth reason for writing this article is that religions have played a role in inculcating negative attitudes toward the body, for example, by their emphasis on modesty in dress. Whether intended or not, people picked up from this the idea that there’s something not quite good about the human body. But God said that what he created was “very good.”  That includes our bodies. In fact, we were created in the image of God. It was Adam and Eve who concluded that they had cause to be ashamed because they were naked and wanted to cover themselves. God asked them, “Who told you you were naked?” Being ashamed of our bodies is not what God intended. It’s caused by situations of our own making. But Christianity affirms that the body is God’s good creation and as such it needs to be honored and respected. (For my theological affirmation of the body see “Frank Answers About the Body—God’s and Ours.”) As a pastor of the Church I want to affirm that God’s creation is good, and that includes our bodies. If we are ashamed of our bodies, it’s not because that’s what God told us; it’s because that’s what we told ourselves, or because of what someone else told us and we believed them.

Fig. 9

Perhaps a final reason for writing this article is because a challenge was issued that I responded to in the moment.  But that challenge deserves a fuller answer.

Reasons for Swimming Naked in Pools

What our alumni tour guide apparently didn’t know is that there was actually a common sense answer for swimming naked in pools. Lint and threads from the cotton and woolen bathing suits worn at the turn of the 20th century clogged up the filters of the early modern indoor swimming pools. It’s been claimed that chlorine also degraded the swim wear and sometimes burned skin. More importantly, there was concern that bacteria could cling to woolen bathing suits and spread disease. The American Public Health Association recommended in 1926 that the best prevention of the transmission of disease in the pools was to shower with soap and swim naked. School boards, the YMCA, the Boys’ Club and other health clubs with pools followed these recommendations and mandated that men and boys swim naked, which they were used to doing. Women and girls were allowed to wear swimming suits in deference to the view that female modesty should be respected but specified that the suits should not be dyed.

Everyone, boys and girls, had to shower naked with soap before entering the pool in the interests of hygiene and public health.

boys-shower-life-magazine-1941

Fig. 10

The above photo appeared in a 1941 issue of Life magazine—a family magazine— in an article dealing with democracy in the public schools. (What’s more democratic than every body naked?) The photographer for Life apparently saw no problem with walking into a boys shower and taking a picture of naked boys for an article that would appear in a popular national magazine.

When I was in elementary school there were “shower periods” in which children were called out of classes to take showers in the separate boys and girls locker rooms in the interest of promoting public health, if their parents signed a permission form.  A slogan we heard repeatedly in the 1950s was “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Hygiene was treated as a moral issue.  The agenda for promoting better hygiene included improvements in sanitation, provision of clean water, and the creation of a public bath movement that provided the poor with facilities for cleaning and attempted to convince them of the necessity of being clean. (They were derogatorily called “the great unwashed.”) Today taking showers is no longer required by schools for a number of reasons, including student sensitivities, and most students don’t. They wouldn’t be caught dead being naked in front of their peers.

Fig. 11

Boys showering in a CCC camp in the 1930s

As showers began to be installed in private homes the practice of school shower periods abated. But with the installation of home showers, and more than one bathroom in the home, boys and girls became more used to privacy when bathing. Mothers especially began to question the practice of boys swimming naked in schools. It was pointed out that swim suits were being made of synthetic material. Chlorination in the water in the pools was better regulated. Filters were improved. The following story from the Appleton Post in 1961 reports on the emerging controversy and the decision of the school district to maintain the tradition of boys swimming naked.

appleton-post-1961-menasha-board-rule-boys-must-swim-nude

Fig. 12

(Left click on the image to be able to read the article.)

The American Public Health Association removed its recommendation of nude swimming in 1962. But the weight of tradition kept the practice going in many places for a decade or more longer, as many men testify. When all is said, the reason boys swam naked was because of Tradition. It was traditional for boys to swim naked. They swam naked before pools were built. They swam naked before health concerns about bacteria on swim suits were raised. And no one saw any reason to break with the tradition once APHA guidelines were removed. But the practice began to be questioned when cultural mores changed radically during the 1960s.

The Recent History of Naked Male Swimming

Where did this tradition come from? Quite simply, it had been the custom for men and boys to swim naked outdoors and even in indoor pools in ancient times. If you think about it, why would you intentionally wear clothing to go in the water?  The cloth will drag you down. Bathing suits weren’t even invented before the mid-19th century.

Benjamin Franklin was interested in the science of swimming and swam naked in the Thames while stationed in London in the 1750s. Two U.S. presidents—John Quincy Adams and Theodore Roosevelt—were known to swim naked in the Potomac River. Adams, president 1825-1829, stripped down to his birthday suit for laps in the Potomac at 5:00 am every morning. (A female reporter once sat on his clothes until he answered some questions.) Teddy Roosevelt, president 1901-1909, wrote in his Autobiography that he sometimes went swimming with his “tennis cabinet,” and noted “If we swam the Potomac, we usually took off our clothes.”

Some towns erected platforms from which boys could dive or jump into the water of lakes or rivers.

boys-and-men-swimming-naked-early-20th-c

Fig. 13

Boys swimming naked was so taken for granted that the opening scene in Walt Disney’s 1960 film, Pollyanna, has boys swimming naked off a railroad bridge to give a sense of youth activities in the small town where the story took place.

pollyanna-naked-boys

Fig. 14

Men and boys swam naked into the early 20th century, but not on public beaches. By the late 19th century public bathing beaches had developed and if men swam at the same beaches as women they were required to cover up. “Bathing costumes” at first covered the body from the neck to the knees. This photo from Atlantic City in the early 1900s shows some fashionable beach attire for men and women.

Fig. 15

By the early 20th century men’s fashions reduced the top part to tank tops and the shorts became shorter. But in some places there were laws prohibiting the display of men’s nipples. Not until the 1930s could men swim shirtless on public beaches. Men did continue to bathe naked in less public places, as the following photo indicates.

boys nude girls clothed at the beach

Fig. 16

On the other hand, there are a number of newspaper articles about boys (and girls on some occasions) being chased or even arrested for skinny dipping in rivers, lakes,  city park ponds, and closed (private) pools. This occurred at the same time that boys in the schools and YMCAs were naked when being taught to swim.   (See the newspaper clippings appended at the end of this article.)  If this wasn’t confusing enough for the boys, standards varied from place to place.

A common experience shared by many men who were drafted during World War II was being naked together in the military for medical exams, showers, and even swimming. The experience most men had of swimming naked in school and the YMCA eased the transition to naked interaction in the military as millions were drafted or volunteered for service during the war. The following photo shows U.S. Marines on Guadacanal in 1943 bathing and having fun with a makeshift water slide.

Fig. 17

Perhaps experiences of naked swimming in the military during the war gave a boost to naked swimming in indoor pools and (secluded) outdoor bodies of water in the period after the war.

Nude Male Swimming in Art

The practice of boys and men swimming naked was captured by artists. A number of late 19th/early 20th century impressionist artists painted scenes of boys and men swimming nude. Above this article is “The Swimming Hole” (1884-85) by American painter Thomas Eakins. He took several photographs of young men swimming in a swimming hole in 1884 that served as studies for the painting. This is one of them.

men-swimming-naked-outdoors-1884

Fig. 18

Addison Thomas Millar (1860-1913) painted this picture of naked boys swimming at a lake in the late 19th century.

Fig. 19

Below is “The Bathers (1922)” by English painter Henry Scott Tuke, who was a prolific painter of boys and sailing ships.

Bathers Henry Scott Tuke 1922

Fig. 20

The photograph distributing firm of Underwood & Underwood purchased and distributed thousands of copies of this photo taken early in the 20th century. It shows two boys with their father “Down at the Old Swimming Hole,” the name of the photo.

Fig. 21

This photo reminds me of the poem, “The Old Swimming Hole,” by Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, perhaps written about the same time. The first stanza:

Oh! the old swimmin’-hole! whare the crick so still and deep
Looked like a baby-river that was laying half asleep,
And the gurgle of the worter round the drift jest below
Sounded like the laugh of something we onc’t ust to know
Before we could remember anything but the eyes
Of the angels lookin’ out as we left Paradise;
But the merry days of youth is beyond our controle,
And it’s hard to part ferever with the old swimmin’-hole.

There was a famous cover of the Saturday Evening Post (August 1911) showing boys skinny dipping, also at about the same time. Perhaps with industrialization and urbanization there was nostalgia for simpler, freer times.

Naked swimming Saturday Evening Post 19 Aug 1911

Fig. 22

Skinny Dipping

Of course, the practice of skinny dipping has never completely died out.  My first experience of skinny dipping occurred one summer day when I was twelve or thirteen.  My family was visiting a family that lived in the country and that family’s 15-year old son invited me to go swimming in the nearby creek.  I had no bathing suit but he said we didn’t need one if the girls didn’t come.  He told me that if only boys went to the swimming hole they swam naked.  It was 1955 and scenes like this at the old swimming hole still played in rural America.

Fig. 23

One of my fond memories from my youth is from the summer of my 15th year (1958) when I spent a week camping with three other Scouting friends (including my friend Gary) in a wilderness area known as Zoar Valley south of Buffalo, NY. (Yes, our parents let us do this!). We spent the week exploring the South Branch Cattaraugus Creek and came upon a beautiful swimming hole just below an area of rapids. On this warm summer day we didn’t think twice about taking off all our clothes and jumping in. We had spent the school year swimming naked together in high school swimming class and had participated in Scout swim nights at the YMCA or Turner’s. We then laid on rocks worn smooth by spring torrents to dry off in the warm sun and connecting with nature in this very natural way.  I found a photo of our secluded swimming hole on the internet.

Fig. 24

A few years later when I was twenty (1963) and visiting a friend in Virginia during my college days, he invited me to go swimming in the river on a warm summer night, and of course we took off our clothes and swam naked.

Fig. 25

A real breakthrough in skinny dipping for both sexes came with the Woodstock Music Festival in the Catskills in August 1969.  With half a million people gathered on this farm land  for three days facilities were limited. Many festival attendees used a nearby lake for bathing and recreation. It was all recorded by photographers. The public nude bathing at Woodstock became a milestone in the cultural revolution of the late 1960s/early 1970s, along with the Festival itself.

Fig. 26

Skinny dipping received new life in the post-Woodstock era with both men and women, especially college students, shedding clothes and experiencing nature in the same state as they came into it. In fact, I understand that Zoar Valley became a hang out for nudists in the 1970s, probably because it was fairly secluded and unpoliced. (I wonder if we boys in 1958 had started something!) In the post-Woodstock era women joined men in swimming naked in lakes and streams.

naked swimming

Fig. 27

In recent years some men’s groups, such as naked yoga classes, have had opportunities on weekend retreats to swim naked outdoors in streams and ponds. So the practice is still with us, even outside of nudist groups or clothing optional beaches, and could make a comeback.

Fig. 28

Some who attended Indian ashrams in the age of the Beetles and the hippies report on swimming nude in ashram pools or nearby streams. Of course, the ascetics who lived in and around ashrams lived and bathed in the river in a state of permanent nakedness. Today with many Westerners attending yoga retreats and spending time in ashrams nudity is not advertised and is usually forbidden. Generally, and surprisingly, Indian culture is very conservative about social nudity, except for boys younger than 13 or 14 who swim naked in fountains and rivers.  But when it comes to religious nudity, all bets are off.  There is the whole tradition in India of the Hindu naked holy men (naga sadhus) who gather every four years by the millions for the Maha Kumbh Mela festival which includes bathing naked in the sacred Ganges River. Of course, this mass bathing in the Ganges is for purposes of purification, not just recreation. But water with its rich natural symbolism has been a primary element in human ritual as well as in cosmology. (See “Frank Answers About the Element of Water”)

Fig. 29

The Physical Culture Movement

It was one thing for boys and men to swim naked outdoors in secluded places, but another thing to bring naked swimming into indoor pools. I think this practice owes a lot to the physical culture movement that began in northern Europe (especially Germany and Scandinavia) in the early 19th century. An unprecedented enthusiasm for athletic disciplines based on scientific principles gave us calisthenics, gymnastics, swimming as a sport, and physical education. While developed primarily in Germany (with use of equipment) and Sweden (exercise through movement without equipment), this movement spread to Britain and America and became the basis of gymnastics-based gym classes.

Fig. 30

A 1930s gym class in England

The physical culture movement was partly inspired by the Romantic Greek Revival movement. The ancient Greeks idealized the nude body in drawings on urns and sculptures. The Spartans were basically bare and their victories in pan-Hellenic sports competitions enticed all neighboring Greeks to exercise naked, creating the word “gymnasium” (from the Greek gymnos = naked). They exercised and bathed naked and discussed philosophy while sitting naked in the pools.

Young Spartans Edgar Deqa 1861

Fig. 31

“Young Spartans” (1861) by Edgar Degas

The Romans added bathing to exercising. They erected baths (both public and private) throughout their empire in which the patrons exercised and bathed naked. The ritual of the bath included exercise (like playing ball) to work up a sweat, followed by anointing the body, massage, and bathing in pools of different temperature. There were baths for men, baths for women, and some baths for men and women. Mixed gender bathing was frowned on during the days of Republican Rome, tolerated and even promoted during the early years of the Empire, and then again frowned upon by reactionary emperors such as Hadrian. The famous Turkish baths in Istanbul are really the Roman baths built during the construction of Constantinople as the new Rome under Constantine the Great and his successors.

Fig. 32

Ancient Roman bath in Bath, UK

Naked public bathing was once common across much of Europe. Naked swimming in public came to be frowned upon in the 19th century. This was the time bathing on public beaches developed as a form of recreation and  bathing attire developed for both men and women.  Naked swimming for boys continued on public beaches and in secluded lakes and streams.

In Germany, the revival of naked swimming came in 1898 when the first naturalist association was founded in the city of Essen. Intertwined with the 20th century movements to promote public health, there was a concern to get people out of unhealthy, polluted cities into natural areas where they could breathe cleaner air, shed their heavy clothing, and let their bodies soak up sunshine. The naturalist movement coincided with the  nationalist movement to create healthy and beautiful Germans.

Fig. 33

One would think that nudity for this purpose would have been promoted by the Nazis, but nude bathing was banned by the Nazis in 1941.

After the war public nakedness resumed in Germany and across Europe. Nude bathing by men and women became acceptable along the Mediterranean coast, rivers in France, and along the Baltic coast.

Fig. 34

A photo from 1955 by the photographer Konrad Helbig entitled “The Three Graces” using unknown models.

In Germany in particular  nude swimming for both sexes was allowed on beaches. It is said that in the former German Democratic Republic (Communist East Germany) nudity on beaches and in public parks was a form of freedom of expression in a society where freedom was generally suppressed.  After 1968 the sexual revolution brought more open public nudity in Europe.

Fig. 35

German boys swimming nude on a beach in the 1960s.

Finns and Swedes continued a custom of swimming nude when whole families emerged from their hot saunas and jumped into cool lakes and ponds. This practice is also found among the Russians and Estonians. I experienced the sauna ritual in 1973 on my first visit to Sweden. Families invite friends into their saunas.  Friends or professional associates might also sit in the saunas together. There is a meditative quality to sitting together quietly in the saunas followed by the vigorous action of jumping into the water of a pond or lake or, in the winter, rolling in the snow.

Fig. 36

The YMCA

The northern European physical culture movement is relevant to this story because the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), with its emphasis on healthy minds, bodies, and spirits as a trinity of Christian values (note the Y’s triangle logo), was a  promoter of this movement.  The YMCA originated in the 1840s in Great Britain as a Christian mission to young men moving into the cities for work and employment. Ys spread quickly to main cities in other countries. YMCAs provided housing, Bible studies, sex education, and promoted manly Christianity. The Ys built gyms using heavy equipment for muscular development. The term “bodybuilding” was coined by Boston YMCA secretary John J. Roberts in 1881.

Fig. 37

The YMCA also began installing indoor swimming pools in the late 1880s.  The first one opened in Brooklyn, NY in 1885. The purpose of the pools was to teach urban boys to swim. This was considered a social service because many boys were drowning. The practice of boys and men swimming naked outdoors was simply transferred to indoor pools.  Many boys first learned to swim in YMCA pools in indoor facilities and summer camps. Only later did schools begin installing pools.  The practice of swimming naked was later reinforced by the health concerns which I discussed above.

Fig. 38

The YMCA advertised its swimming classes and ads usually informed parents that boys should bring a towel but not a swimming suit. This ad in the Waterloo, Iowa Courier June 8, 1960 said about bathing suits: “We do not encourage the use of bathing suits, but if a boys wishes to wear one, he may.” (This was about the time when pressure began, especially from mothers, to end nude swimming by boys.)

Fig. 39

Brochures and posters advertising swimming lessons or summer camp showed boys swimming naked, at least from the backside.

Fig. 40

This photo purports to be from a YMCA advertisement. But there is online the same photo with the swimmer wearing a swim suit. Photo shopping (altering photos) is one of the problems of getting photos from internet images. Which one is authentic and which one is fake?

Here is a photo of swimming classes assembled in the old basement pool in the Walla Walla, Washington YMCA.

Fig. 41

Here is a swimming class in the Walla Walla YMCA in which every body is naked.

Fig. 42

In 1960 the Walla Walla YMCA pool was renovated with a modern filtering system and these boys were photographed on the deck wearing swim suits. But they might have put on suits just for the photo which advertised the renovated pool.

Fig. 43

Each local YMCA could develop its own rules about activities. In many Ys the tradition of men and boys swimming naked continued throughout the 60s and into the 70s.

Swimming nude at YMCA

Fig. 44

Men and boys in a YMCA pool. Photo date unknown. Probably late 1950s or early 1960s judging by the man’s glasses.

Toward the end of the 1960s the YMCA began to admit women and girls into membership and nude swimming by men and boys began to be abolished. Behind this development we have to entertain the fact that the Y had developed a reputation as being a place for male sexual cruising between the 1940s and 1960s, especially in the cities that had YMCA hotels. An organization that had cultivated Christian male bonding found itself trying to suppress homosexuality in its ranks and developing a reputation as a family-centered social service organization. This complex story is told by John Donald Gustav-Wrathall in Take the Young Strangers by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

Boys and Girls Together?

It’s often asked whether girls were present when boys swam naked in the schools. Girls and boys had separate swimming classes. Generally there were male teachers for boys and female teachers for girls. But some men have reported that occasionally a female instructor served as a substitute swimming teacher for boys swimming naked in schools or the YMCA.  Some vintage photos suggest that women PE teachers also helped to monitor boys’ swimming competitions.

Fig. 45

At first, swimming competitions did not draw a lot of spectators. This allowed boys to compete naked just as they practiced swimming naked.  But as swimming competitions became more popular there was concern that the boys should not swim naked in front of a mixed audience.  Did women — mothers, sisters, even classmates — attend events at which boys competed naked? This is much debated. I found an article on internet sites that was purportedly clipped from the “Wisconsin Press” for November 11, 1952.  It reports that females were beginning to attend the boys swim meets and the board of education made adjustments in the usual practice of nude swimming by allowing boys to wear suits (although not yet requiring them).  However, further research suggests that this article is a fake.  It is not found where it claims to be found—the Sheboygan Wisconsin Press November 11, 1952. I leave it in place here as a warning of the pitfalls of researching this topic on the internet. “Fake news” is not a new phenomenon.

Fig. 46

There are some photos on the internet of naked boys and suited girls participating in swimming competitions. That would not have happened in high school meets.  Young men swam naked in colleges and universities, just as they did in high schools, YMCAs, and health clubs, and for the same reasons.  But were there official co-ed swimming competitions with men’s teams and women’s teams jointly participating, as this photo suggests?  Probably not. So is this photo reliable?

swimming nude at swim meets 2

Fig. 47

Nevertheless it is likely that in co-ed swimming in some colleges the young women were naked as well as the young men. There were scenes of co-ed naked swimming lessons in the 1973 film The Harrod Experiment, based on the novel of that title by Robert H. Rimmer and starring Don Johnson and Victoria Thompson, in which a small liberal arts college experimented with young men and women living together, sharing dorm rooms, and having opportunities to be naked with each other in classes.

Fig. 48

The book and movie were not so far-fetched in terms of collegiate experiments in co-ed living during the 1970s. In some colleges men and women lived in the same dorms, shared bathrooms and showers, and had nude co-ed swims. Weekly nude co-ed swimming was practiced at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio as well as at Adams House at Harvard, which had a magnificent indoor pool. So in some college and university situations women’s liberation did not mean suiting the boys but unsuiting the girls.

However, swimming competitions on the Olympic level, both nationally and internationally, required suits on both men and women. This example of boys’ pre-speedo swimming briefs is just a notch above swimming in underwear.

Fig. 49

The End of Boys Swimming Naked

But back to everyday reality.  Boys were increasingly required to wear bathing suits for competitions. At first this was probably just to make things even between teams, if some teams didn’t compete naked.  But as mothers and sisters and female school mates began to attend, the question was undoubtedly raised as to whether the boys should swim naked in front of them.  Some men say that they swam naked in swimming meets even with females present. There’s no evidence for this in newspaper articles or photos.  But the growing practice of wearing swim suits for public competitions may have helped to challenge the rule of boys swimming naked in school and YMCA pools. If we can wear suits in competitions, why can’t we wear them in swim classes and practices?  (In my high school boys wore swim suits in competitions in the 1950s-70s even though they swam naked in physical education classes.)

In the YMCA in particular, once women and girls were admitted into membership they had to be given equal access to the pool in the times in which children and youth could be in the Y facilities (after school, weekends, summers). The easiest scheduling arrangement was to have co-ed swimming classes and open swims for all members.  This put pressure on the Ys to require the boys and men to wear swim suits.  There was less pressure on the schools because they had the students all day, and boys and girls could have separate swim classes just as they had separate gym classes.  Boys could continue to swim naked behind locked doors. But toward the late 1960s the debate in various communities about the wisdom of requiring the boys to swim nude in public schools sharpened. This newspaper article from the Janesville, WI Gazette in 1967 is typical of discussions going on elsewhere.

nude-swimming-janesville-newspaper-article

Fig. 50

(Left click on the image to be able to read the article.)

Interestingly, the issue was resolved in favor of continuing the tradition of nude swimming.  In 1976 the superintendent was still defending the practice—but blamed it on the boys’ preference.

Fig. 51

Boys swimming naked in schools slowly came to an end in one community after another during the 1970s. But we see testimony in articles published in newspapers and magazines, old photos on google images, and discussion on internet blogs and forums (to the extent that these sources of information are reliable), that before ca. 1970 it was both widely accepted and expected that boys would participate naked in PE swimming classes and sometimes even in competitions.

Benefits of Boys Swimming Naked

Did we derive any benefit from this practice of swimming naked in school? I can think of several benefits. I think the first and most important benefit was self-acceptance. I remember that our swimming teacher, Mr. Rudolf Heis, met with us at the beginning of the term and said, “You will be showering and swimming naked. You all have the same physical equipment and none of you has anything to be ashamed of.” Our bodies at that age (in the freshmen year we were between the ages of 13 and 15) were all at different stages of development. I think our naked swimming classes did a lot to compensate for whatever body shame some boys might have had inflicted on them by others. I think most boys accepted their own physical development without a lot of anxiety.  But boys who had difficulty accepting their own bodily self-image may not have gotten over it by being required to swim naked. In fact, their sense of shame may have been aggravated.

The second benefit was socialization. Fourteen-year old freshmen boys were thrown into a year-long experience of being naked with other kids, most of whom were new to us in high school, and bonding naturally developed because we were going through a common experience. I think the practice actually had an initiatory quality. Swimming naked in freshman swimming class was like a rite of passage into high school, something every boy had to go through. We simply got used to being together naked and there was a lot of mutual acceptance.  In fact, I think we became so used to being together this way that we didn’t even think about the fact that we were naked when we interacted physically, like playing water polo or just horsing around during free time. I remember wrestling in the water with my boyhood friend Gary (now deceased) in a game of trying to dunk each other.

boys-wrestling-naked-in-shower

Fig. 52

Naked boys horsing around in the shower

The third benefit was that nakedness was not identified with sexuality. I don’t recall any sexual overtones in swimming class. When you’re naked, what you see is what you get. Initial curiosity is quickly satisfied. (Nudity is how naked bodies are portrayed in films and magazines and works of art; nudity always leaves something for the imagination. That’s why I prefer the term “naked” to describe what we actually experienced.)  Today nudity seems to be almost exclusively associated with sexuality because that’s the only experience of nakedness most of us have.

There was clearly a differentiation of the genders back in the days when boys swan naked. Modesty was required of the girls but not of the boys. But with pressure for co-ed swimming the boys became suited too—sometimes with school-issued speedos that, like the girls’ lycra suits, were turned in after each swimming class so they wouldn’t be left wet in lockers to mildew. Boys I’ve talked to in recent years say these speedos don’t leave much to the imagination after repeated use. But they admit that the use of the long swim trunks that boys prefer on the beach today aren’t good for learning how to swim. I wonder what they would think about what we wore in the high school pool fifty years ago.

Fig. 53

Social Norms

Body changes during puberty and adolescence affect our self-image, which is based primarily on our body image. One’s identity is also shaped by cultural upbringing and sense of social propriety. From an early age we are taught was is proper bodily behavior, and in a clothed society strict boundaries are set for public nakedness. These factors dictate how we should feel when a naked body is exposed. When and where is nakedness or nudity accepted and when and where is it considered a breaking of social norms? There may not been any consistency in the norms.

For men of my vintage, nakedness was an acceptable social norm if boys were showering and swimming together in indoor pools, and it was OK to swim naked in secluded outdoors lakes and streams if girls weren’t around.  By and large these venues for being naked with other males are closed off today.  Lacking situations to counter the inculcated social norm that we should not be naked (i.e. show one’s “private parts”) in public, most boys today have acquired such a sense of modesty that they don’t even like to be naked in front of one another in locker rooms and showers. I notice in the YMCA locker room that young men and older youth do the “towel dance” to keep covered while changing clothes and leave their bathing suit on when they shower while the old guys walk around “butt naked.” These millennials had no experience of being naked in front of other men.

.boy-in-towel-in-locker

Fig. 54

I’m sure the practice of men and boys swimming naked in public places is long gone. In my view, it was good while it lasted, for the reasons I’ve given. But I also recognize that there are issues to deal with today that weren’t dealt with back in my day, like concerns about sexual harassment, spy cameras in various places around the school (including the locker rooms), and now how to handle transgendered boys and girls.

Nevertheless, I’ve found that there is a lot of curiosity about this custom of boys and men swimming naked in schools and the YMCA fifty-plus years ago. Readers are welcome to post your own experiences of swimming naked in the comments section below. While this has been mostly a male-oriented post since it’s the boys who swam naked in school, female readers are invited to share their experiences and observations. The reactions of millennials and the younger generations to this social history are also welcome.

Frank Senn

APPENDIX: Boys Will Swim Nude

Here’s a sampling of hundreds of newspaper clippings from throughout the U.S. and Canada about boys swimming naked—either in city parks, where it was illegal, or in schools, where the practice was being contested.

Fig. 55

Boys shed their clothes and went swimming in a pond in Forest Park in St. Louis and were chased by police down Lindell Boulevard (Shelby County Herald June 26, 1907).

Fig. 56

On the day school let out for summer vacation fifty boys shed their clothes and went swimming in a lake in New York City’s Central Park. Six were nabbed by police and arrested for delinquency (Reading Times, June 26, 1926).

Fig. 57

While police in the U.S. and constables in Canada continued to harass boys swimming naked in urban areas, a Canadian magistrate in Ottawa threw out a police complaint of boys swimming naked in an abandoned quarry, with editorial approval in  the Montreal Star.

Fig. 58

A letter writer to Star-Journal defends the tradition of nude swimming in the junior high school in Sandusky, Ohio.

Fig. 59

A student letter to the editor defends nude swimming at a Kenosha, Wisconsin high school.

Fig. 60

The following headline is totally misleading. The story says that 10% of students chose to wear trunks when given an opportunity to decide. The real news is that 90% chose to continue swimming nude. So in actuality nude swimming continued in Cloquet High School.

Fig. 61

Fig. 62

1930s/40s photo print on canvas

About the Comments

What follows are comments from the beginning of 2018. A separate article has been made with a selection of the most substantive of the 235 comments from 2016-2017, plus added comments  by me and studded with illustrative images. I wrote an introduction to the comments, listing the range of the topics addressed. I added a concluding reflection on the issues raised, as well as suggestions of issues that still ought to be discussed. To get to “Frank-Answers About Naked Swimming — Commentary,” scroll down to the second pingback at the end of these comments. It will take you directly to the second article. If you’re interested in the controversial issues surrounding boys swimming naked in the schools, this second blog article is not to be missed!

Frank Senn

40 Comments

  1. cronin

    I swam naked with other guys in high school and through college. Since i was a very average looking person no one would look at me with any interest good or bad—-It was just accepted without question. Unlike a picture in which there is a woman present as boys swam, it was only males present. It never bothered me at all, but looking back years later maybe it was difficult for guys with poor body image.

  2. Gavin F

    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.

    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.

  3. Platinumboy

    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.

    • Frank Senn

      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.

  4. Tom Wallace Lyons

    Tom Wallace Lyons

    Elsa(July 4, 2017)raises an issue that seems to remain unaddressed on Pastor Senn’s blog. Having been caught off guard by the magnificent Charlie, Elsa told the vice principal that “women had no place in a pool for unclothed men.” Not only did she say some of the boys “seemed uncomfortable with the arrangement.” She also “shamefully lied about some of the students becoming aroused as I looked on.” Elsa took the position that it was improper for naked high school boys to be in a situation where they could be erotically stimulated by a female presence.

    So far I and others have raised questions about whether adolescent boys really were compelled to go naked in the presence of females. Let us assume this happened and that boys were sometimes stimulated and that this stimulation was obvious to female instructors. I would like to hear from Pastor Senn and others about whether they believe it was proper for adults to permit this situation to continue.

    Tom Wallace Lyons
    Jan 23, 2018

    • Frank Senn

      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 a small 13-year old who had been bullied by bigger kids and sexually molested and harassed by the tenant in our upstairs flat, became more accepting of his body and more comfortable with himself by swimming naked at school and elsewhere when he 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.

  5. Old Swimmer

    I agree completely with Pastor Senn. As I mentioned awhile ago in this forum, I swam nude at the Y, swim team, PE classes and camp in in the 50’s and 60’s. I didn’t do much swimming in college but took the requisite swim test nude. I think the nude swim for males disappeared during the time I was in college-mid-60’s. I never was nude in the presence of women in any of those venues. I believe that when I was an adolescent I would not have been comfortable having women present when we had nothing on. Generally I don’t think it would be good to force young people to go nude when the opposite sex is present.

    Like Frank, I know there are situations as he described like the Korean or Turkish Baths but they are segregated. Private situations are different. I mentioned before that my brother and I swam nude with friends at their cottage and women were present. I do remember as I got to be about 13 or 14 being a bit uncomfortable being nude around our friends’ mother and some neighbors. I think that was pretty normal.

    Generally, I agree there is a trend to be more modest. I do not know what this means for being comfortable in one’s own body. A short while ago I went to a Russian bath that I used visit years ago when everyone (all men) was nude. This time I was the only one not wearing a swim suit even in hot and cold tubs and steam rooms. So things are changing indeed. I guess guys now are uncomfortable being naked in what used to be normal situations for nudity.

  6. Sam Polk

    There are probably many reasons why younger males of today are reluctant to be naked in front of each other. However, I think a major reason for this change in attitude are the increased number of bedrooms and bathrooms in newer homes. With boys never having to share a bedroom or bathroom with a brother or their father, they’ve not been in situations where being naked in front of others was a necessity.

    I’m reminded of four brothers I knew in college. Each of them were close in age…only a year or so apart. All four shared a bathroom growing up, so there was no privacy at all. Their lack of modesty around the dorm was due to their shared bathroom experience and having also played sports.

    • Old Swimmer

      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.

      • Dave Ramerez

        The change in recent decades of being afraid of showering and changing at the gym is something we baby boomers would never have predicted. But the kids today are raised on a steady diet of warnings and “stranger danger” movies. We are now much more suspicious of each other. In addition, all the other things like cameras, visibility of the gay community, etc. are factors already mentioned.

        Another factor is child empowerment. We did what we were told and today adults and teachers can’t force a kid to do anything, let alone swim naked. We were reluctant to use the locker room until we got used to it, but we wanted to be “brave” like the adult men, and it was also required.

        There are prices to pay for the changes. Most kids don’t shower after a workout in school and they carry this practice into adulthood. Antibiotic resistant skin infections are now common and becoming more so. We should remember that the whole reason we shower after a workout is to get clean, as those bugs love to grow on sweaty skin and clothing.

        Single mothers are also more common now, and most of us got introduced to changing at the gym by our fathers. I don’t know if changing and showering and public non-sexual nudity will disappear completely or not. The pro athletes and service men seem to still not be bothered with it, at least not as much. Maybe this is related to being secure in one’s sexuality, as pro footballers seem to require less privacy than figure skaters.

  7. Jeff

    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. 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 Senn

      Jeff, did you write this just for a blog comment? Well, no matter. It is a good story. Putting yourself back into your 12-year old mind.

      • Jeff

        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.

  8. 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.

    • Frank Senn

      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.

      • Thomas Mendip

        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 Senn

          Well, Thomas, the title of the blog 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. 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.

  9. Jeremy

    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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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

    April 17, 2017

    • Frank Senn

      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 tittilation on voyerist web sites derives from the fact that it is so seldom experienced any more in reality.

    • Thomas Mendip

      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?)

      Women teachers/lifeguards?
      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.)

      • Frank Senn

        Thomas, I just want to say that I read this post of yours very carefully (even edited a few typos!). I think it is a fine summary of the discussion that we have had through this long string of comments. I appreciate your guidance in interpreting what appears on voyist web sites, although I personally haven’t had any interest in reading what’s posted on them.

  12. Mark

    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 swimtrunks 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 wearing 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 lets 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 article in the 1950s and all the parens 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 when they usually swam naked.

  13. 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.

  14. Hunter

    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.

    • Ken Ely

      Hunter,
      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.
      Ken

    • Frank Senn

      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.

  15. Paul

    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).

    (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.

    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.

    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.

    • Old Swimmer

      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.

      • Paul

        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.

        • Frank Senn

          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, but seemed much younger than 65. 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 but may have been terminated about the time he graduated. So he could have experienced it but was also hearing reasons why it would not/should not be continued. 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.

        • Old Swimmer

          Hello Paul,
          Yes our experiences are very similar and probably thousands of other boys in the 50’s could say the same thing. Nudity among males in locker rooms, pools, and even in informal settings was normal and not sexualized in my experience either. We never had women present in institutional settings but informally, at least at our friends’ cottage, we were nude in their mother’s presence. For some reason, it did not bother me.
          Like you I never experienced inappropriate behavior in informal settings either.

  16. Tom Wallace Lyons

    HI Frank – What happened? All but 30 of the posts have been deleted. I hate to see your archive largely destroyed. Tom Wallace Lyons

    • Frank Senn

      I guess the comments got to be too many and Word Press suppressed them. And it did take a lot of scrolling down to reach the most recent ones. But none are lost. They are all stored in the administration dashboard. And just now I am putting the finishing touches on a new post that is a curated anthology of the previous comments: “Frank Answers About Swimming Naked — Commentary”. I didn’t cut and paste all 235 suppressed comments, but I did make a substantial selection — with images added to spice up an otherwise long unbroken string of words. It took me several days to complete it. Moreover, the hyperlinked names on the comments will bring you back to this article and ALL the comments. Check it out. The second pingback down below these comments will take you right to it. Pass the word. It really offers a second Frank Answer About Swimming Naked.

      • Thomas Mendip

        So, if we wish to continue this discussion, do we post here or there?

        • Frank Senn

          If you wish to continue the discussion on the “Swimming Naked” article in these comments, post your comments here. If there’s something that strikes you on the new (old) “Commentary”, post your comments there.

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