nakedness, nudity, 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. But here’s the answer…or at least an answer: Tradition. It was traditional for boys to swim naked and no one saw any reason to break with the tradition until cultural mores changed radically after the 1960s.

People who didn’t experience this find it hard to believe. 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. The following photo of a swimming class with naked teen age boys was even featured in Life magazine in 1951. It reminds me of what I experienced at Bennett High School in Buffalo during my freshman year (1957-58).

boys swimming class 1950s

Among other changes, our tour guide 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.

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.

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 two 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. So this article is an exercise in social history to discuss what  was standard practice in America until around 1970. 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.

Second, it fits in with my ongoing “return to the body” project that is evident in many Frank Answer articles and in my book, Embodied Liturgy  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016). (I actually first broached this topic of swimming naked at the YMCA in my “Frank Answer About Being Naked Before God.”)

I began paying attention to my own body after a bout with colon cancer ten years ago (2006). But as I did so I began reading about the body in biology, philosophy, theology, the arts, and modern culture. I have read how in our society the body that is created in the image of God has become a source of shame and abuse.

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. This begins already in youth. In connection with workouts some young men use drugs, steroids, protein shakes, etc. to bulk up in order to compare more favorably with the ideal models. This, too, often begins already in youth. But many remain dissatisfied with their bodies because the results are never quite as perfect as they desired.

Religions have also played a role in inculcating negative attitudes toward the body, for example, by their emphases 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. While Christianity may have contributed to this attitude, it has also emphasized the healthy body in its medical missions, caring for bodily needs in hunger ministries, and even promoting fitness and wellness. Christianity affirms the body as God’s good creation that needs to be honored and respected. We have nothing to be ashamed of, and we also have a responsibility to take care of our bodies by regular exercise and a healthy diet. (For my theological affirmation of the body see “Frank Answers About the Body—God’s and Ours.”)

Our public presentation of our bodies is formed by cultural expectations. Boys and men today are shy about their bodies, which is noticeable in gym locker rooms as they try to hide their “private parts” from other males while dressing or undressing—a concern that was not present in my youth when we showered together and swam naked in the YMCA’s pool as well as in high school swimming class. Those who were shy got over it pretty quickly. In my observation as I look back on the experience of swimming naked I think it generated a healthier attitude toward the body and a greater degree of self-acceptance than we see today.

The Physical Culture Movement

While male naked swimming was a practice of long standing, it had been especially reinforced in the physical culture movement that began in northern Europe (especially Germany and Scandinavia) in the early 19th century. This movement also gave us calisthenics, gymnastics, and physical education. Germans especially considered it healthy to be outside naked soaking up sunshine and getting vitamin D, which today we don’t get enough of.

nude male camaraderie

This 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

“Young Spartans” (1861) by Edgar Degas

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), promoted the physical culture movement. When it began installing swimming pools in the late 1880s to teach urban boys to swim, the practice of boys and men swimming naked was simply transferred to indoor pools where it lasted long after public male naked swimming ceased to be a general practice. It was later reinforced by the health concerns, which I will discuss below.

The YMCA advertised its swimming classes and ads usually informed parents that boys should bring a towel but not a swimming suit. Ads also showed naked swimming, such as the following photo that was used on a poster.

Man swimming in the nude

The YMCA was also an early promoter of exercise using equipment such as monkey bars and weights. In fact, the term “body building” was coined by the Y. Gyms with equipment might be located next to the pools and in the early days men could go from the pool or showers to the weight room for a workout.  Warm-up exercises such as jumping jacks on the pool deck in swimming classes at the Y or in high school swim classes were normal—done naked, of course.

Boys and men swimming naked remained the YMCA’s required practice until the late 1960s/early 1970s, sometimes several years after women and girls were invited into membership and the Y became co-ed. There were separate times for men’s and women’s swimming at first. But eventually co-ed swimming classes were instituted at the Y and the boys and men had to put on swim wear.

These boys were wearing swim suits when the new pool opened in the Walla Walla YMCA in 1960.

Reasons for Swimming Naked

When pools were installed in schools, including public schools in the U.S., the practice of boys swimming naked was observed.

There was actually a common sense answer for swimming naked which our guide apparently didn’t know. 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

The above photo appeared in an October 1941 issue of Life magazine—a family magazine— in an article dealing with physical education in the public schools. 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.” Today taking showers is no longer required by schools out of concern for child molesting and most students don’t.

boys showers ymca

As showers began to be installed in private homes the practice of school showers 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

(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.

The 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. Benjamin Franklin was interested in the science of swimming and swam naked in the Thames while 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.”

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

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.

By the early 20th century men’s fashions reduced the top part to tank tops and the shorts became shorter. But not until the 1930s could men swim shirtless on public beaches. Nevertheless, men did continue to bathe naked in less public places, as this photo indicates.

boys nude girls clothed at the beach

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.

Even as adult males were required to put on swim wear at public beaches back home, boys swimming naked was still 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

Nude Male Swimming in Art

A number of late 19th/early 20th century impressionist artists captured 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.

men-swimming-naked-outdoors-1884

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

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.

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

Skinny Dipping

Of course, the practice of skinny dipping has never completely died out. 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 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. 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. 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.

A few years later when I was 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 swam naked. Again, we didn’t even think about it because that’s the way boys swam, at least if no one was around.

figment.sensualwriter.com

There are photos of young men and women bathing naked at the three-day Woodstock Music Festival in 1968. 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!)

naked swimming

In the post-Woodstock era women joined men in swimming naked in lakes and streams.  There were, of course, topless beaches in Europe along the Mediterranean coast and discrete nude swimming of both men and women was allowed along rivers in France. But reports from Europe and America indicate that girls, unlike boys, wore swim suits provided by the school for school swimming classes.

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. Some vintage photos suggest that women PE teachers also helped to monitor boys’ swimming competitions.

boys-swimming-nude-in-competitions

There are some photos on the internet of naked boys and suited girls participating in swimming meets. If that happened it was probably in college meets, not high schools. Young men in colleges and universities, as in high schools, YMCAs, and health clubs, would have also swam naked. But were there co-ed swimming competitions with men’s teams and women’s teams jointly participating, as this photo suggests?

swimming nude at swim meets 2

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, 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.  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.

The End of Boys Swimming Naked

But back to everyday reality. As families and school mates began attending swimming competitions, a question arose about whether boys should swim naked at swim meets at which women, including mothers and sisters of the swimmers, might be present to cheer on their sons and brothers and brother’s friends. At my high school boys wore bathing suits for competitions. But I’ve heard some men say that they swam naked in swimming meets, so it must have happened.

Certainly swim meets and family nights held at YMCAs and Boys’ Clubs would have required swimming naked where bathing suits for boys and men were not allowed. If parents and families attended swim meets there were undoubtedly mothers and sisters in the bleachers. Of course, it may be that adolescent boys were not always happy about being naked in front of the women, at least out of the water. But these situations undoubtedly hastened the end of boys swimming naked in indoor pools.

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). The easiest scheduling arrangement was to have co-ed swimming classes and open swims.  The pressure was on to require the boys and men to wear swim suits.  There was less pressure on the high schools because they had the kids all day, and 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

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

Boys swimming naked in schools slowly came to an end in one community after another during the 1970s. But we see ample testimony from articles published in newspapers and magazines, old photos on google images,  and discussion on internet blogs and forums, that before ca. 1970 it was both accepted and expected that boys would participate in PE swimming classes and sometimes even in competitions naked, sometimes even with members of the opposite sex present.

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 we accepted our own physical development without a lot of anxiety. Boys on swimming teams took it in stride, and even with a sense of pride, if they competed naked.

boys-swim-team

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 Hughes (now deceased) in a game of trying to dunk each other.

boys-wrestling-naked-in-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.

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 the locker room and shower. I notice at the YMCA that young men 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.”

boy-in-towel-in-locker

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 recognize that there are issues to deal with today that weren’t dealt with back in my day, like how to handle transgendered boys and girls.

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.

Frank Senn

Swimming nude at YMCA

Men and boys in a YMCA pool. Photo date unknown. Probably late 1950s or early 1960s judging by the man’s glasses (the time during which I would have been naked in the pool with them).

 

81 Comments

  1. bob rainis

    While I remember those days, I wasn’t an active participant. What I mean to say is that while I attended an all boy RC High School in Brooklyn, we didn’t have a pool. The Metropolitan Baths as they were known were used by those of us on the HS swim team. We wore speedos. However, when competing against other schools, some did compete nude. For my friends who went to our neighborhood public HS, in the late 60’s-early 70’s, nude swimming classes were mandatory. Some did confess to feeling “uneasy” at first… That is when we were entering HS as freshman… But as Frank writes, I did note a certain camaraderie…aka “male bonding”. 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… Today this is much different as we know… Is it for the best? I don’t believe so… Will it change? I don’t see it happening. Thanks for sharing this Frank…

  2. Frank Senn

    This comment was submitted in response to the post “Frank Answers About Being Naked Before God.” It fits better here, where I think it was intended, so I moved it.

    Linda

    Dear Frank,

    I found your article about naked swim in the past very interesting. I was wondering why people at the time did not think men needed privacy. I’ve heard some stories that males swam naked in front of their parents or female classmates and at the time it seemed no one felt it awkward. It reminds me of Ancient Greek culture, that at the time males often stayed naked while females were clothed. I would love to hear your opinion about this. Do you think people in the past held different attitude toward male privacy? Why could they accept naked men being in public pools or among clothed people but modern people require men to hide their genitalia? In my view, I think men should be entitled to be naked when swimming or on the beach or other decent occasions that nudity is expected. After all, males are different from females. If a female is naked in public, she exposes herself to male raping; on the other hand, men don’t have this concern. I sometimes wonder why men need the equal modesty as females. Penis is an organ and it’s ridiculous to be afraid of this. If men can be naked in public like in the past, it also provides a good chance for females to know male body and they will have more knowledge for their future relationship with men. What do you think, Frank?
    September 6, 2016

    • Frank Senn

      Dear Linda, I’m glad you found my article interesting. Clothing as well as nakedness is an expression of culture, and it is usually enforced by social mores and civil law. Over time, social mores change and the laws change to reflect that. As you suggest, women may need to be protected from unwanted aggression like rape. Women are usually covered in the genital area (as in the painting of the young Spartans in the article). Why cover the vagina? I think because it is the entrance into the giving and birthing of life, which is something human societies want to protect. In various societies there has been less concern to cover the woman’s breasts (as you see in the painting of ancient Spartans).

      My article documents the tradition of men and boys swimming naked even in clothed Western societies, including in the U.S. Social mores, however, dictated that girls’ modesty needed to be protected. Now after a couple of generations of the boys also being socialized for modesty, I doubt that most of them have any desire to return to the practice of swimming naked. As for girls being able to see boys’ naked bodies to know what they are like, I don’t think the boys would like being sexuality object lessons.

    • Ed

      Linda, why would you think boys should not have a problem being seen naked by female classmates? Shame on the sick people who allowed this to happen.

      • Ruff Petty

        Ruff
        I was one of those boys and didn’t care. I did wonder sometimes why mom insisted on my sisters wearing at least panties until they were old enough to wear tops, too. But it didn’t bother me, I liked it. Anytime they would try to say something about me not having any shorts or trunks on I would respond with, “Oh, you’re so jealous, I get to go naked and you can’t.” They would get so angry. It was a male thing that girls couldn’t participate in, and for sure couldn’t understand.

  3. L B

    Many of the photos shown on the internet of mixed swim meets have been photo shopped so they are probably fakes. I also do not think any swim meets were done in the nude as there is no evidence to support it.

    Boys and men did swim nude and there are many Life Magazine articles which showed nudity (including full frontal) during the 1940s through the 1960s. This does make me think there was an over all acceptance of male nudity by people as long as it was wholesome and for the young.

    • Frank Senn

      Thanks to L B for pointing out that photos of mixed sex swim meets with boys swimming naked may have been photo shopped. But there are quite a few on the Internet and I can’t believe that they were all photo shopped. The one I selected for this article looks to me like a 1960s era snapshot. As for whether some boys swam naked in competitions, there is personal testimony, including Bob Raines’ comment above.

      • L B

        The Ys and community centers also had family days in which everyone was invited to attend. The boys (including up to late teens) still swam in the nude (even though swim trunks were optional at some places). The family days were more than likely optional, but I do think most of the boys would be teased for being cowards had they not shown up for those days.

        I also do think there were meets and practices where the boys swam in the nude possibly in front of girls. I am looking for solid evidence as I am a writer for a blog and I am curious about such things going on during the 1940s-1960s when morality was dictated to us through television and movies.

        The Life Magazine and other newspaper articles from that era do suggest male nudity was not as taboo as we are led to believe.

        Thank you for your comments and responding to mine.

  4. edwina baethge

    changing rooms in stores were open in my youth, not partitioned. i saw all kinds of women’s and children’s bodies, all colors, sizes of genitalia.

    maybe because we were so new from europe (sweden), our family didn’t practice obsessive modesty. i’m still surprised by other families that do–like my husband’s (german/thuringian, 1846).

    the body as a christian ideal and the Incarnation of Jesus (en meat ment) has always drawn me. my arts training has lent me a love of all bodies, and Pinterest lets me see some interesting and some awful stuff re bodies.

    our families have struggled over the uses of our bodies forever. sexual molestation pops up ever so often, as do addictions and suicide, many shame based.

    i don’t think at base it is really about sex per se at all, but about god’s creation, jesus’ embodiment and death and rising, and the spirit’s power to fill and nourish every cell in the universe with love and life and beauty and joy. it’s deeply personal to me, obviously, and that very fact seems to keep me in bound status.

    oh & i grew up in tonawanda, ny.

  5. matt

    I studied at a Midwestern University at the end of the 60s; swimming in the nude was mandatory. And it was mandatory to shower naked before and after the swim! Some guys looked at me intently because as an Hispanic I have an uncut penis (I was the only one), and many students had never seen an uncut penis. They did not know “how it worked”. Once I had to show how it worked! Some did not even know they were circumcised! There were no women present. Anything sexual was strictly covert. I wish I had a photo of those liberating swims!

  6. Billy Riddell

    I’m 44 years old; sadly missed this era by 15 years or so. However, growing up in the late 70s/1980s I notice a vast difference in the way boys were raised to think then compared to now. It wasnt a big deal for me & my brothers to play in the ditch after a big rain & take our clothes off at the back door & head for the shower (even as a young teen). As I look back to the 80s, it was ‘head knowledge’ of culture that girls needed more privacy.

    I loathe the times we live in now. It’s amazing what the ‘pedophile scare’ of the 90s did to every day culture. While it’s a good thing to hunt down & punish those who do vile things to children, the sheer trauma of these media reports (in the 90s) created a hypnotic effect that caused politicians to write new laws that were clearly based on fear & emotion, not logic. As a result, pics of a mother’s babies sent to be developed caused some mothers to get a visit from law enforcement (just one of so many countless examples of how the innocent get the shaft over these laws).

    As you said, nudity is sexualized now, even among children; that’s what I find sickening. I wonder if we will ever return to a time when boys can develop that ‘self confidence’ (at a young age) again? What do you think?

    • Frank Senn

      Well, there are other ways for boys to develop self-confidence. Maybe learning the martial arts. But I don’t see a return to a practice of being naked in front of others. The added factor today will be providing privacy for trans-gendered youth, especially if they can use the locker rooms of their preferred gender.

      • Billy Riddell

        I disagree completely. Martial Arts develops self confidence in an aggressive/self defense manner (nothing wrong with that). We’re talking about sexual development & how females seek a man who has SEXUAL self confidence, not just physical self confidence. Most of these Millennials can’t even change out of their undies in a locker room full of MEN without doing a towel dance. That’s a sick psychological condition formed by mommy who (through the current wave of pedaphile fear) convinced them that every male nude with him in a locker room aged 18 and over is a possible pervert wanting to screw you. Pure paranoia, pure psychosis (based on a witch hunt for villains).

        • Frank Senn

          Dear Billy, I can only testify that spending a lot of time being naked with other guys in high school swimming class and taking group showers in the YMCA, elementary school, high school, and college dorms, as well as swimming naked outdoors with friends in lakes and streams, made me very relaxed around other naked boys and men, but didn’t immediately translate into being sexually self-confident with the opposite sex. Lots of variable personal and cultural factors are involved here.

        • Frank Senn

          This comment came via email from a millennial in his early twenties who has followed my blog sometimes and commented on a couple of previous posts. It responds to the issue of covering up in the locker room. It’s a bit graphic, but it addresses several realities, including the experience of gay men in locker rooms and dissatisfaction with one’s body (or at least parts of it). So I let it stand without editing.

          “I’ve been thinking today about why men (or people in general) are so quick to cover themselves in locker rooms. I think women do it a bit less, particularly regarding their breasts, but men for sure are quick to cover the cock! Beyond size, and pubic hair grooming (since many younger people do this), there is this whole ‘issue’ in the gay community of public bathrooms and locker rooms being the perfect spot for anonymous ‘blow ‘n go’ etc. I do not and have not taken part of any of this, but many do. It seems that covering up and changing quickly, etc. has become the best way to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation. But, gay experiences in public areas aside, men are and I’m sure always have been sensitive about cock size! I know I am.”

  7. From: Tom Wallace Lyons-
    I would like to know what my contemporaries and others think about whether it was proper to have female swim instructors supervise nude adolescent boys in high schools and in places like the YMCA. As a contemporary of Frank Senn, I can attest to the fact that there did not seem to be much embarrassment about nudity among men and boys. However I believe that, in the home, boys often ceased to bathe and dress in front of their mothers as they entered the outer precincts of adult sexual viability. In other words, genital privacy from women was a powerful marker for that all important separation of the boys from the men. If I am right, it stands to reason that nudity in front of a female swim instructor could have hurt a boy’s pride in his emergent manhood. And how could a boy not have been embarrassed if his own mother had not seen him naked for a year or more? Since my nude swimming in high school was strictly with males, I can only write from conjecture. So what do others think? Tom Wallace Lyons

    • Frank Senn

      You raise an interesting point. I don’t recall whether we ever had a woman substitute swimming teacher. I certainly would not have cared to be naked in front of my mother once puberty had set in. But this could also be a cultural thing and our own family’s comfort level with nakedness. In Finland and Sweden the whole family might sit naked in the sauna. I met a Finnish college student a few years ago who said that even in his late teens he walked unembarrassed through the house naked in front of his mother and sister. I recently read in an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine that in Germany nudity of both sexes and all ages is acceptable on public beaches along the Baltic coast. In fact, in the former German Democratic Republic (Communist East Germany) being naked in public parks or on the beaches was a way to express freedom under an oppressive regime.

    • Ed

      No females or girls should ever have been around naked boys. The boys should not have been naked in the first place as the females still found ways to invade the boys privacy.

  8. Honolulu

    It was in junior high school in the 60s that I was first exposed to swimming naked in school. That’s just the way it was. We did have a male instructor who wore a speedo-like suit, but when it came to demonstrating a certain swimming stroke in the pool, he would shed his suit. I do remember having the female swimming instructor substitute once for our class and we were taken by surprise that she was there. But we still continued class as always, naked.

    Funny, both the male instructor and the substitute female instructor attended the same church that I did… Nothing was abnormal. We swam naked. That’s just the way it was.

    Being on my school swim team in the 60s, we did compete naked.

  9. Old time swimmer

    I just came across this blog and found it interesting. I am in my 70’s and had almost identical experiences as Frank: nude swimming class at the Y, at Y camp, high school PE and swim and water polo teams. (We wore suits at most competitions that had spectators, nude when no spectators). I think Frank is right that the main reason for nude swimming was tradition not water filters in the pool. In those days the thought was that nudity was fine with only males. This included swimming, showering, wrestling weigh-ins and practice etc. As Frank says we learned that there is nothing wrong with the human body. At times we skinny dipped when there were only guys at a lake. When we visited a friend’s cottage I joined him and his brother in their custom of swimming nude. We were ages 10 to 13 or so.

    I do have some questions:
    Required vs. Optional nudity- why was nude swimming REQUIRED if it was only tradition. I once belonged to a men’s health club where suits were option. Perhaps convenience was the reason for male nude swimming–no moldy suits etc. Remember girls did not swim nude.

    Nude vs. Naked- Frank likes “naked” – fine with me. When we swam at the Y as young kids we swam in our “birthday suits”, in high school it was “bare ass”. “Nude” was used in student manuals and YMCA signage. Incidentally, our Y instructors and life guards were also naked. In high school our PE teacher never got in the water, he wore T-shirt and shorts. Our coach was naked during practice as we were.

    Photos- Thanks for photos that prove the point. I think a couple are photo shopped if you look closely. Back in the day, photos like those in LIFE magazine showing nude kids swimming and showering met no opposition. When a Y swim class opened there was usually a shot of naked guys at the pool, mostly views of the back but sometimes frontal. When we swam naked at our friend’s cabin, his parents took a picture of the four of us arm in arm completely naked and put it in their album. No opposition from any one. This was seen as non-sexual.

    I agree with the benefits as things that I experienced but I do not think we can go back to those days. Culture has changed in regard to that kind of nudity. Photos as contained here would not be seen as innocent.

    Thanks for your reflections. Interesting blog on so many topics.

    • Frank Senn

      I appreciate your testimony, Old Swimmer. With regard to your questions: (1) tradition is a powerful force. That’s why naked/nude swimming lasted beyond the time when swim wear was made of synthetic material instead of cotton, etc. (2) In a sense all the photos in the blog show nude bodies because flat pictures can’t show full nakedness, such as we see “in the flesh.” My point is that we were totally naked. Nothing was left to the imagination. (3) I tried to choose photos that didn’t look photo shopped. I took down one photo that someone said could have been photo shopped. But photo shopped doesn’t necessarily mean the boys weren’t naked when photographed, only that two photos were spliced together or one image was superimposed on another. Thanks for your comments.

      • Old Swimmer

        Thanks. I agree that the possibly photoshopped pictures do not mean the boys weren’t naked but have been spliced. As we agree, photos of naked guys in the Y pool or in swim class were not considered invasions of privacy or indecent until the 70’s or so.

  10. Ric

    ”it was good while it lasted”

    Not sure that is entirely true. I was too afraid of doing it in high school and transferred to another where nude swimming was not required. While I have read from some folks that nude swimming for boys improves self discipline, I do agree that no long term emotional damage was done to anyone who went through it. Also, I have read where women teachers and other attendants did appear at nude male swim meets and that female assistants supervised distribution of towels to boys as they left the pool area. On another site, there was a discussion (along with photos) of a European high school swim class in which boys swam nude while the women swam in bathing suits. Those who discussed the matter said this was an authentic class and not something posed or scripted. Others have said this has also happened in the USA but don’t know if this is entirely true.

    • Frank Senn

      Well, Ric, I’m sure that for those who never swam naked before high school swimming class, like in YMCA pools, the experience was pretty intimidating. As I suggested, it was like a rite of initiation. But I don’t think it was so cruel as to make high school boys swim naked in the same class as suited girls. Maybe college could have been a different situation—in a few places there was nude co-ed swimming in the 1970s. But certainly not in the college I attended in 1961=65.

  11. Ric

    I just came across this link which reveals how male nude swimming was considered perfectly acceptable in private company back in 1970: http://themedusamachine.blogspot.com/2015/10/when-social-nudity-was-healthy-and.html

    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.

    • Frank Senn

      Thanks for sharing the link to the medusa machine blog. Some interesting stuff there. There’s a YouTube video documentary on the history of nude swimming in the YMCA and in the schools, in 3 parts. Here is pt. 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGt_HUSSyQQ. Parts 2 and 3 will follow from watching part 1.

      • Old Swimmer

        As I mentioned earlier, at the Y no one (instructors, life guards, fathers and brothers at family night) ever wore a swim suit. At first, I did not want to go to swim class for that reason but was forced to go and got used to it. On the high school swim team we never competed nude in front of women or girls but the father of one of my friends said he did as a high school student. As for Ric’s comments and link. Similar to the Dear Abby column, I did swim nude at a friend’s cottage when I was age 11 to 13 or so. His parents did not allow him or his brother to bother with swim suits. My parents said we should do as they do. The house was on a small lake but not private. We were nude when there were guests, male and female, and swam that way with girls our age visiting with our parents who wore swim suits. It was not an issue for boys to be seen naked but improper for females.

        We mentioned earlier that photos for magazines and local newspapers confirm nude male swimmers as completely acceptable as Ric and Frank indicate. In the 40’s soldiers were seen in published photos swimming nude. Even if some photos are photo shopped they are probably blended pics of male swimming class or teams. It was cultural and times have changed. Unfortunately there is more body shame now.

  12. Tom Wallace Lyons

    Re: Old Swimmer’s comment: “—photos of naked guys in the Y pool or in swim class were not considered invasions of privacy or indecent until the 70’s or so.” I question whether these pictures constitute evidence that privacy for adolescent boys was not respected in the mid-Twentieth Century.

    Let us consider LIFE’s October, 1941 picture of boys in the shower. The boys in this picture appear to be posed in a manner guaranteed to preserve what I refer to in my November 14th. entry as “genital privacy.” But what about Frank Senn’s frontal nudity pictures and the pictures of nude young men in the presence of women? Are any of these pictures in respectable mid-Twentieth Century magazines, newspapers or yearbooks? Most of these pictures have no description as regards to identity of publisher or provenance. The partial exception is the “swim team” members picture which names the young men. WHERE was this picture published? Was it published?

    If memory and observation serve me, male genitals were NEVER displayed in mainstream mid-Twentieth Century publications. This indicates a social consensus for genital modesty. Hence my conclusion that there is no clear pictorial evidence of male adolescent nudity in the presence of females during swim class in YMCA type places and high schools. This does not mean that it did not happen. One of Old Swimmer’s friends told him his father competed nude in front of females.

    Some writers discuss visits to families during which boys swam nude in the presence of females. This practice surprised and “alarmed” a mother of teenage sons. She asked Dear Abbey if she was missing something when her husband told her the practice was “completely normal.” Abby says the mother was missing the “American Way of Life.” Really? Had nude swimming for boys been the American Way of Life, the mother would have been old enough to know this by the time her boys were adolescents.

    It is hard to know how many families expected teenage boys to go naked in the presence of females. Some boys may not have minded. But some adolescent boys may not have liked forced nudity; especially when their parents ordered them to conform to the norms of their hosts. Were they teased afterwards by their suited sisters? When I was fourteen, my grandmother told me that a guest should be “sacred.” In other words, try not to make a guest uncomfortable. I can only wonder what my grandmother would have thought of those families that hosted nude swimming.

    Family practices do not allow us to extrapolate a norm for community institutions like the YMCA and high school swim classes. There is an over-arching question that may never be answered: How often did community institutions expect, even force, American adolescent boys to swim naked in the presence of females? Am I right to hope and believe that it was not often? What do others have to say? TWL

    • Frank Senn

      Tom, I agree that modesty regarding male and female genitalia was observed in photos in mainstream magazines like Life and National Geographic. One of our comments from LB says there were photos with full frontal nudity in Life magazine. I haven’t looked them up to verify his statement, but he seems to be a cautious blogger. There are apparently also archival group photos from the Y and other health clubs where full frontal nudity was displayed.

      In terms of your last point, I would agree that norms exemplified in family practice did not determine practices in the YMCA and high schools; nor did practices in these institutions provide a norm for family practices. What families practiced was conditioned by their own social and cultural, ethnic and religious values.

      • Old Swimmer

        TWL and Frank,
        I believe that the institutional practice of nude swimming was based in tradition and culture that continually evolves. Today the nude swimming we mentioned in this blog would never happen, but I think it disappeared gradually as society become more sensitive to it and perhaps less comfortable with human bodies. For example, the LIFE magazine photos did observe “genital privacy” in the 30’s and 40’s. Notice that you would not see photos like that in mainstream publications today. Perhaps some photos like the four boys may have been taken surreptitiously at a swim practice or Y. However in the 20’s and earlier “genital privacy” was not observed. Note this website: https://sites.google.com/site/historicarchives4maleswimming/home/historic-photographs/vintage-photograph-gallery.

        As for women present for institutional naked swimming, I still find no clear proof as the website cited agrees. For example it has been more than 50 years since my friend’s dad said he competed nude. Can I swear on the Bible that he actually said that? Not sure. Perhaps he was exaggerating or spoke about a “closed” competition. Some on this blog say they competed nude with mixed gender spectators. I cannot say it isn’t true except to say I never did it in my swimming days when male nude swimming was common in school, at the Y, summer camps. Of course not all boys were comfortable with this practice and some hated it; others had no problem with it.
        Private situations of nude swimming are in a different category.

  13. Walter Bowman

    Looking back now, i realize that growing up in the 1960’s, I spent a heck of a lot of time in the company of naked guys.

    It’s very odd that this never occurred to me before.

    Yes, we certainly did swim naked in high school gym classes, and add in the pre-and-post class showers in communal 20-head shower rooms.

    (As an aside, I’ve seen comments about the occasional substitute female PE teacher, but in my school we had a woman who always ran the class. It was a big school, there were 3 or 4 PE teachers and rather than have only women run girls classes, etc., each one, male or female, ran the sports they had experience in. This lady, maybe 30ish, had been a competitive swimmer in college and really knew her stuff. I don’t recall anyone ever worrying much about it. Plus, come on: we were supposed to be in the pool swimming, not parading naked around the deck. It was a non issue)

    Anyway, I also played sports in high school making for five or six or seven more communal showers a week with 15 guys.

    Regular gym class 3 times a week, 3 more group showers.

    In scouts we had a lot of open swim nights at what was called The Natitorium an old, dirty 1920s Era relic of a place not that kids cared. No suits allowed.

    Scout camping trips, same deal. (Imagine the outcry today if someone found out you took 50 boys to a lake to spend a day splashing around naked.)

    Summer camp, beautiful Lake, no suits allowed. No idea what the rationale was but nobody ever asked.

    Sports camps, more communal showers.

    Point being, I was not unique. A normal boy could easily end up spending several hours a week naked in various groups of other naked boys.

    It was, I think, psychologically very healthy. You learned about non sexual nudity in a safe adult controlled environment.

    Not many guys wore towels around, not many guys raced back to their locker to pull some pants on; and when, as was absolutely inevitable, the occasional female – other people’s mom or sisters and/or classmates – got an eyeful, well, everybody blushed a little and went about their business.

    Different time, better time.

    Long gone

    A pity

  14. Old Swimmer

    He He! I never thought of adding up all the times we were naked with guys in those years. But as Walter says, YMCA swim class and free swims, high school swim class, swim team and water polo etc. all required nude swim. It’s funny when I think about it now but back then it was not a big deal to me once I got used to it at age 8 at the Y. Even at a Y camp, as Walter says, we swam nude in the lake–no pool filters issue. I believe this custom was just a tradition -males have no reason to swim with a suit when it is just males, and more practical. We were told not even to bring swim suits to camp; campers and counselors all swam nude.

    However, I never personally experience female teachers or life guards or girls sneaking in to watch us. Again, this is my experience. I mentioned earlier that we did swim nude at a friend’s family cottage. No explanation other than “the boys don’t wear swim suits”.

    Funny that I never added up all the times but we really didn’t need to own a swim suit. It was not sexual or abusive to us.

  15. JuanB

    I read that teachers, coaches, instructors were also naked during PE swim class.

    How was the sensation to see a naked teacher, instructor, coach, etc… considering that they were middle aged men and you in the pre-puberty or in different stages of puberty, also naked?

    I had rugby classes in my school and I remember two or three times that teachers or assistants showered with us after the classes and yeah, it was a little awkward to see an “authority” completely naked with pubic hair and mature penis. Many of us (also I the first time) can’t stop looking at them. At one point one of them said to one pupil, “what are you looking at, nasty boy?”.

    Nothing sexual but strange. Anyway I remember during showers a pair of classmates who did a bad joke to others and it was very humiliating for them.

    I’m from South America and studied in an English school with no swimming pool, but it was common to be naked among the students after PE classes when the shower was mandatory, even if later we went directly to our homes.

    Here sharing nudity with fathers or brothers is still not common. Except, of course, in a locker room.

    • Frank Senn

      Dear Juan, Thanks for writing. In my experience the swimming teacher always wore a swim suit and teachers did not shower with the boys. Of course, at the YMCA in the old days men and boys might have been swimming and showering together naked. And in the Korean spa I sometimes go to, fathers and sons (and mothers and daughters in the women’s area) are naked together in the pool area. I would say that in these situations of mixed ages boys will figure out that when they get older they will also have pubic hair and larger penises.

      • JuanB

        Thank you Frank. Really Old Swimmer said that the coach was naked only during practice in school and all the men were naked at the YMCA. In other web pages I read that when the teacher (in school) had to demonstrate something in the pool, he took off his trunks or speedos.

        I understand that men at the YMCA are all “equal”, but not in school when the coach is an authority even if it’s a swim team.

        I think that situation does make the people more skeptical about whether it was a big deal or a “barbaric” situation.

        Being naked in front of parents is different in my opinion, and yes, by the way, I knew what was supposed to be.

        • Frank Senn

          I added a vintage photo I found of two boys with a man who seems to be their teacher or coach—all naked. I agree that teachers or coaches showering with boys is crossing a boundary. We also recall the story of football coach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State showering with young boys whom he sexually abused. Your teacher should not have responded to the curiosity of a young boy by calling him a “nasty boy.” If he didn’t like being looked at by curious boys he should not have been showering with them.

          • Juanb

            Yes I agree also, that’s why I was confused about if swim naked is good or not. If a teacher will be naked or boys naked in front of women I find it “barbaric”.

            In a YMCA environment I think it is ok, even if boys went to learn in front of a naked teacher, considering that later they will see their fathers, lifeguards, and eventually the same teacher, naked.

            No idea about Sandusky, when it happened? In the old times? Or since the rules changed? It is very delicate and by those reasons many people are against naked swimming.

            For me is not a big deal to swim naked with other men, but here didn’t happened. At my club we have a small swimming pool at the sauna and then I bathe (not swim because is too small) naked like others. In that locker room only men over 18 years can enter, that’s why I rarely saw my father naked. He has no problem with that, but when I was in my teens I hadn’t. Maybe if I saw him naked periodically before my puberty, I would have considered it naturally.

            At my backyard pool I swim naked if my daughters or maid are not in the house. Only in front of my wife, if we are alone. And never in front of friends, except when I was young in a river or a lake.

            But I enjoy very much naked swimming.

            Sorry if I was so “graphic” in describing the situation, but unfortunately my English is not so good.

          • Frank Senn

            Sandusky was an assistant football coach at Penn State University and brought young boys into the university’s showers and abused some of them. This was only a few years ago, long after male naked swimming ceased to be a general practice. Thanks for your witness, Juan. Your English is good enough. It would be nice to hear from other witnesses outside of the U.S.

        • Old Swimmer

          Dear Juan,

          Thanks for your comments. What I was talking about was many years ago, more than 50 to be exact. Culture and sensitivities have changed. I agree that now it would be inappropriate for a teacher/coach to swim or shower nude with students. But years ago it seemed normal. When we swam nude, we thought more about swimming than what we wore or didn’t wear. A good example from Frank are Korean or Russian baths where people of all ages (men and women separate) bathe nude in a common atmosphere. That was kind of what it was like 50 or 60 years ago. Seeing the Y swimming instructor and the swimming coach nude did not seem strange then. Yes we saw the pubic hair and larger penises of the Y instructor and swim coach but I do not remember that as strange or disconcerting. At first at age 8, I was embarrassed at the thought of being nude with my friends at the Y until I realized we were all nude and there was nothing embarrassing about it. In high school, we were older and it made no difference as we too were more developed.

          We observe better boundaries today with separate showers and bathrooms for teachers etc. While in some ways we have become kind of extreme with men hiding their nudity in locker rooms, I do not think the customs of the past should continue today. So when I say nude swimming was normal back then, I am not advocating for a return to those customs. Our sensitivities are different now.

          However, Frank Senn reminded us that our bodies are good and there were benefits to common nudity among men at proper times in the past. So it is a case of trying to strike a healthy balance.

          • JuanB

            Thank you for your comments. I agree and I understood in that way the reaction of Pastor Senn when the guide defined naked swimming as a barbaric practice and his testimony like yours and others are of more value to me because you were eyewitnesses.

            Yes, now with technologies (spy cameras) added, I find naked swimming not viable.

            However I’m not sure about naked teachers in school. In a Y environment I see like the Korean and Russian baths: all are equal because they’re not “authorities”. Even if there are lifeguards or the teacher who teaches how to swim, because he just does that and probably they will see him later at the pool as one of them.

            The example I gave was in the situation of an authority who was in the locker room and group showers. And also a fearsome authority…

            I’m not sure about the second time with another teacher because maybe we were more developed and…. and because he had a malformation in his chest. So I think we didn’t give attention to his sex. But I remember we talked about it.

            The third one I remember was an assistant and the older brother of a classmate. We were about 12-13 and he in his early 20s. But we didn’t see him as an authority. Just more like an older friend.

            Maybe for you it was not disconcerting because it was normal. But the first time for me I didn’t think it was. Mmm, I think if I were in your situation I would have been disconcerted, as I recalled in my first post. Obviously later I was only focused on swimming.

            It’s fun your first experience in a locker room with your classmates compared to me, because I remember the opposite when we started PE class with mandatory showers (at 8). We were happy because that meant we were bigger, and could enter a forbidden zone! A teacher (dressed) was there to control the situation, but it didn’t bother me. He was just like a father and wanted to be assure that we were dry before we put on our uniform. We played with our towels, like Pastor Senn we dunked each other, etc…

            For me it was very interesting to learn about American nudity in schools, universities, or YMCA. I think they were very good times. Also I agree with the benefits that you mention about skinny dipping.

            I’m 50 years old and, as in the USA, the new generations are more modest than my generation.
            I agree that now there’s a paranoic conduct with towel dance included, so yes, now it’s not balanced.

          • JuanB

            Another thing. James A. Michener (I love his books) in The Bridges of Toko Ri (Korean war) describes a Japanese bath where the whole family (father, mother and two girls) was naked also in front of a USA family.

  16. Caipora

    Regarding swim meets without suits, and without spectators, see THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE, JANUARY 6, 1928, http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/59857664/, look for “Swimming Suits Blames for Poor Times in Tank”.

    I’ve seen no contemporary published articles on woman spectators. As to teachers, I read a plausible account of a man who as a boy learned to swim at the YWCA, and read an account claiming that when the author was a schoolboy, the men’s swim teacher was out sick, and the boys were given the choice of a swim supervised by the girl’s coach, or study hall, and nearly all chose to swim.

  17. Old Swimmer

    Dear Juan B,

    Thanks for your extended comment. As you mention, there are a mix of reactions due to situations of younger people seeing older ones naked in locker rooms, showers and pools. I agree that today coaches, instructors and teachers should not be nude with students. There is fluidity, such as your example from Japan. But I think things are less fluid today on that topic for the better esp. as you say there are mini-cams in locker rooms sometime. But we need to have a balance rather than an extreme on nudity in these kinds of situations. Thanks

    • JuanB

      Thanks for your answer and I agree about balance.

      Also it’s fine the defense of naked swimming, because people see it in an actual way of life.

      Have a nice week end.

  18. Tom Lewis

    Do you know of any photo taken at a swim meet where females were in attendance and the photo was verified as real and not photo shopped? I find it hard to believe that photos that show faces and places could not be verified and eliminate the “well, maybe it was photo shopped” comments. I have seen at least a dozen vintage photos of men’s and women’s teams posing together (male nude – female bathing suites) and being told that they are all photo shopped. These are recognizable people and yet I have never heard of any of these photos being verified by those in the photos or by relatives of those in the photos.

    • Frank Senn

      There are definitely real people in these vintage photos. I assume some of the people in the photos are still alive. But the photos are often posted on sites that might not draw the attention of those who are in them. Even though I had the boyhood experience of swimming naked in a public high school in the 1950s, I wouldn’t have been looking for photos of this activity if I hadn’t gotten into writing this article. All the photos I found were on google images under searches such as “boys swim naked in school and at the YMCA.” (I only post photos from google commons or wikimedia commons.) Those images took me to blog discussions where comments still expressed incredulity that such a practice ever happened. The amount of resistance to this reality makes me wonder if some of the accusations that pictures were photo shopped aren’t just a way of denying reality. I admit I’ve seen evidence of tampering. But in some cases I have to ask, in what direction? If a boy is photographed preparing to dive off a board and women are standing behind him, and in one picture he is naked but in an identical picture he is wearing briefs, which picture has been photo shopped? Is it easier to add a penis or cover one?

  19. My father recalls

    My father graduated in Granite High School in Utah in 1948. It was mandatory to swim naked, he said. He mentioned boys rushing to the pool area naked, when they realized the girls had not fully exited the pool yet (I guess they heard the girls’ screams.) The boys in the back pushed their naked peers into the area with the pool as well as the girls and shut the door, locking a few of their naked classmates with the girls and their female coach.

    My mom mention hearing some girls sneaking up in the bleachers to check out the naked boys swimming.

    It is funny how society has changed in determining right and wrong, appropriate and non-appropriate.

    I grew up with mass gym showering, and jock checks by the coach by lining up by the lockers and having to drop your shorts.

    This coach also did a “cup check” by lining up the boys in the locker room and taking a baseball bat to tap each boy’s cup. If you didn’t wear a cup you were docked points and felt a little bend over pain.

  20. cronin

    Growing up in 50’s/60’s guys swam naked all the way thru my college years—It was the same at the Y—We never seemed to give it any thought at the time either good nor bad—-As I look back maybe it was difficult for guys with poor body image or weight problems—-For this I am sorry for them—-Since I was so average looking naked or clothed I never gave it any thought. While nakedness was no problem I do recall being scared of our high school coach. I think he wanted us scared—but looking back it was an impediment to our learning—just my thought–and other thoughts???

    • Frank Senn

      I never learned well from any teacher I was afraid of. Provide some affirmation and encouragement and I would do my best in any subject. I wasn’t on any sports teams, but maybe I would have been if coaches were more encouraging—like the PE teacher who said I should participate in the boys’ gymnastic show in the 7th and 8th grades. Also, in a college PE class a coach said I had good instincts for wrestling and should try it in intramural wrestling—bantam weight. In spite of writing this article, I was never a good swimmer. I enjoyed being in the water, but my nearsightedness always intimidated me.

  21. Peitr Workowski

    This is interesting! I ran into this at a much later date at a karate class in a local ymca. I don’t think the instructor had authority to make us swim naked but he did. Probably would have got in trouble at the time if it was found out. Felt weird but we didn’t question it, although we knew it was weird.

    • Frank Senn

      According to some testimonies, naked swimming was still practiced in some high schools and YMCAs as late as 1980. How much later was your class in the pool naked? Was going into the swimming pool part of the karate class? If so, was the instructor just saving time by not having the boys get into bathing suits?

      • Peitr Workowski

        Hi! it was late 90’s through early 2000’s in Connecticut. It was done after class during the week. Like if class ended at 9 pm, he would have guys stay until 10 or 11 swimming / working out while the building was cleaned. On Saturdays it was earlier. No one was prepared to swim so it was out of gi (the white karate outfit) and underwear in the locker room and down the hall to the pool. I guess it saved time. Looking back, it seems weird how it wasn’t questioned. Parents knew it was going on. Just part of it I guess. The instructor was a huge ego guy. Interfered with school and personal stuff. Maybe that was part of it.

        • Frank Senn

          Yes, this is well past the time when naked swimming would have been acceptable. If the parents knew about it, I suspect the authorities at the Y knew about it. As long as no one was complaining, they probably let it go. I hope your ego guy karate instructor wasn’t the only adult on the scene!

          • Peitr Workowski

            Nothing “weird” ever happened, as far as I know. There were other adults and older students supervising. it seemed ok at the time. Spent most of the time in the water or crouching to avoid stuff being seen! I was new to usa from Poland at the time. I assumed it was normal in school and Y here…seems not from reading this. Glad you have this site!

  22. Ed

    Nude swimming should be banned worldwide, esp. in schools. One boy related a story of having to swim naked on ‘family nights’. This required them to come out in the pool area completely naked in front of mothers, sisters, friends, relatives, female teachers, and female classmates. What were these adults thinking? Why were boys and only boys put through this embarrassment? This boy said he was extremely embarrassed. Don’t give me the fact boys are not modest. Wrong. And that it was practiced for over 50 years. Wrong. It should have never happened period. Some parts of the world still make boys swim nude. Should be illegal. I know if I needed to learn how to swim I would’ve taken private lessons with my trunks on. And if I would’ve been forced nude for PE I would’ve refused or asked parents for transfer. My last question is why did they have to swim nude anyway? All reasons were proven wrong. Was it just for adult entertainment? Shame on those who had a hand in embarrassing and humiliating millions of boys over decades (while the females enjoyed a lot of eye candy).

    • Frank Senn

      Well, Ed, I’m sure that girls sneaked peeks at the boys during all the centuries when boys swam naked outdoors. I’m also sure that over the centuries some boys were more modest than others. The point is that boys and men swimming naked wasn’t just a fifty year tradition. It was THE tradition and it started being abandoned outdoors only in the late 19th century. I think it was prolonged in indoor pools because genuine public health concerns were raised related to bacteria on woolen swimming suits, including typhus and cholera, polio outbreaks, etc. Also, the primitive filtering systems in early pools easily clogged from lint. Early pools were emptied frequently. Sand filtration was introduced in 1910, which reduced the number of bacteria present in the water. But the American Public Health Association in 1926 recommended swimming naked. These guidelines were reissued every three years until 1962, when the APHA finally dropped the nude swimming recommendation. The recommendation was no longer needed to preserve public health due to bathing suits made of synthetic materials, improved filtration systems, and better management of chlorination. After that you begin to see schools and boys clubs and YMCAs dropping the requirement of nude swimming. This coincided with the privatization of life in suburban America (multiple bathrooms in homes), female equal access to pools for swimming lessons and team practice (boys and girls coming and going into the same areas), the increase in public swimming competitions, and “family night” situations such as you describe.

      The testimonies are that most boys accepted the tradition after some initial embarrassment. Where there are issues of body shame, which boys can have as well as girls, wearing suits doesn’t help much. Parts of the body are still exposed, unless one wears a full body wet suit.

      • Ed

        Bottom line- boys were treated unfairly. Seems like no one cared. All the reasons for nude swimming were shut down long before the practice ended. More boys disliked the practice than you think. Read the forums. Female instructors taught naked boys age 10-14. This was proven by newspaper articles. Tell me it wasn’t traumatic for them. Girls spied on the boys as many later admitted. If they could find girls suits compatible with disease and filtration prevention, they could’ve found the same type for boys. Show me a boy on the edge of puberty who likes showing his body. This is the most difficult time for either sex. Girls were provided suits and handed them in when done so they wouldn’t be stored wet in lockers. The same could’ve been done for boys. Every reason was disproved yet the practice continued. Millions of boys were exploited. Don’t tell me females weren’t involved. One news article said a YMCA hired 12 female instructors for lack of males and they taught naked boys for the four months the boys had the pool. This was just a shameful time in America that should have never happened. A black eye. Females enjoyed it. Most boys did not (again read the forums of boys hating PE). Even if the females weren’t present most of the time, the possibility still existed. And on occasion it did happen. Lets hope it never happens again. Maybe Title IX will see to that.

        • Frank Senn

          Dear Ed, I too have read stories in online forums of boys who hated swimming naked. Also stories of boys who hated being shirtless in PE class. I wasn’t too fond of that myself in 7th and 8th grades, as I mentioned. However, I suspect online forum discussions are more likely to elicit comments from those who strongly hated the practice than from those who went along with it without objection. I think the comments on this blog have been more favorable toward the practice, at least as the men recollect it nostalgically in their older age. So thank you for offering a contrary point of view.

          So far no one who has posted comments thinks we will be returning to naked swimming in schools or the YMCA.But I stand by my opinion that there were benefits to the practice. We are so far from what was generally acceptable fifty years ago that the Ys today won’t even allow boys and men to be shirtless when they exercise in the gym, play basketball, or do yoga—“because we are a family organization,” I was told. So we get our exposure to nudity today on the internet. That’s surely not a healthier approach to sexuality.

  23. Rich Malinowski

    Dear Pastor Senn, thanks for publishing this. Brought back memories of yesteryear, a bygone era. We swam nude in the late 60’s and never gave it a thought. The coaches and their assistants were nude also. I never remember women observing us in any way, as the doors were locked during swim classes, and we wore suits for public swim meets. The YMCA, which was still all male, had nude swimming and my dad and my brothers swam nude every Saturday morning. And we also had all doorless toilet stalls all thru public school. We just used them and never thought twice. My sons and their kids are much more bashful nowadays. I gotta wonder when everything changed. God Bless.

    • JuanB

      Thanks for your words Rich. I wrote days ago how was the sensation to see a teacher naked because the experience I had was not good. Especially for a classmate.

      You also confirm that in some schools teachers were naked. You can see my posts since January 17.

      Rgrds. JuanB

  24. Frank Senn

    Because of strong opinions about boys swimming naked in front of women, I recalled and verified instances of co-ed nude swims at some American colleges and universities in the 1970s. So I added a paragraph (and image) to the article about that as another now-forgotten piece of the social history of naked swimming in America. I wonder if anyone reading this blog had this experience of co-ed nude swims in college.

    I also added a comment and photo about those speedos that boys had to wear when naked swimming was abolished. Any comments on those?

  25. James

    I graduated from High School in the late 80’s and we were not required to swim nude. . .but hell, we might as well have. . .we all saw each other naked anyway!!! Swim class was all males and although we were not required to swim nude we were required to wear the oh so fashionable tiny speedo. Plus we had to change in front of each other and shower before and after swim class. And if you’re wondering if we could just shower with our speedo on. . .nope!! Our coach wouldn’t even allow us to put it on until after we showered. It made me wonder why we even wore the speedo at all. We might as well have just swam naked. Now personally (and this is just me) I didn’t like wearing the speedo because it was tight around my. . .you know. . .and felt very uncomfortable. Having been given the choice, I would’ve just swam naked.

    Now I’m not saying boys should be forced to swim nude (like my dad had to) but I don’t see what would be so horrific about having all boys swim classes and then giving them the option to wear a swimsuit or be nude. I wouldn’t be surprised if some opted to go nude, especially if a couple others did it too. Maybe someone can propose this.

  26. JimmyV

    I too graduated from high school mid-1980s and while we did not have nude swimming, we had mandatory nude showers after each PE class. The showers were the “open communal” type. The girls at our sister school also had the same type of communal showers and had to shower nude. Returned for my 30th reunion and took a tour of the school. Lots of upgrades to the science wing, athletic center and locker rooms. No more communal showers – private shower stalls.

    I still swim several times a week at a swim club. It also has private shower stalls. I think the communal showers are becoming a thing of the past, much like nude swimming has.

    My wife and I do visit a Korean Spa here in New Jersey. It has a spa section with hot tubs, sauna and both sit down and stand up showers. And an optional body scrub! Separated by gender, it’s probably one of the last places to be nude with others (unless one wanted to join a nudist club). Sometimes you’ll see a dad with his sons (mostly Asian). Recently two young Asian brothers with their dad were debating on going nude. They eventually did and seemed to enjoy themselves. My wife informed me that it is more prevalent on the women’s side, with girls and their moms; or even groups of friends enjoying their time together.

    Someone on this forum should see if he can rent a swim pool a couple times a week for men only nude swimming. I bet you would get a large number of members.

  27. Dan

    When I was in high school, 1969-73, we were made to swim nude. I was an only child raised by a single mother, so no brothers or dad in the house. First time I saw another guy’s dick & pubic hair was in the post-gym class mandatory showers & nude swimming classes. I hated it at the time as did most if not all of my classmates, but it did us good to learn the lesson that life is full of having to do tough, unpleasant things you’d rather avoid. It built character. I wish my sons could have had the same experience.

  28. Dan

    And one more thing. Our instructors were always male, always wore swimsuits. They never showered with us, although they were present at the showers, wearing at least a swimsuit, to supervise and give out towels. I wasn’t on the swim team, but the boys who were would wear speedo type swimsuits in competitions where females would be present. So it was a pretty clear and sensible distinction, males only nudity allowed/required, mixed company swimsuits required. Also, I think one of the reasons I disliked having to take swim class nude was that I wasn’t very athletic, was pretty thin and had what I’d call a scrawny physique. But surprisingly, there was no bullying or making fun of anyone else’s body when we were naked showering or swimming as far as I can recall. My theory is most of the other boys were just as self conscious about their bodies as I was, so nobody wanted to go there.

  29. Paul Walker

    I attended residential special school in England during the 1980s where we had communal bathrooms, each with two showers and a bath. I was there because of a vision impairment, but some kids had physical difficulties that meant they needed help in the bath, for example, muscular dystrophy. So it was normal for housematrons (of any age) to be present assisting such kids while others (aged between 4 and 19), like me, were naked in the showers, completely exposed to them. Once you’ve been seen and having nothing left to hide, there’s nothing left to hide! My point is that I have personal experience of how boys being naked in front of females can be felt to be normal although, at my school, the only other situation where this happened was the pool changing room, and for the same reason.

  30. Tom Wallace Lyons
    Feb 17, 2017

    I would like to expand upon the questions I raised about the provenance and authenticity of photographs of frontally naked young males in my December 20, 2016 submission. My purpose is to question the evidentiary value of these photographs as regards the social consensus on modesty for boys.

    Frank, as 1950s teenagers you and I experienced unembarrassed nakedness in the presence of men and boys in locker rooms and in swim situations. But I think we would have strongly objected had somebody hauled out a camera. And I would be astonished to learn that school or health club officials tolerated cameras in the presence of naked people of any age unless the pictures were carefully posed to ensure genital modesty

    You write(Dec 20, 2016), “There are apparently also archival group photos from the Y and other health clubs where full frontal nudity was displayed.” If such pictures exist, what purpose did they serve? Who was to see the pictures? I doubt they were used in advertisements.

    There are internet stories by men who say that as boys they were forced by parents to swim naked in front of females. I don’t know if these stories are true. But would American parents have wanted their boys to be photographed while naked?

    You document the diminishment of modesty when you mention co-ed nakedness at Woodstock and in other situations during the sexual revolution of the Sixties. You probably remember the slogans, Ban the bra, Cure virginity. And there was also streaking. Since Walter Bowman(Jan 4, 2017)grew up in the Sixties, his story about the female swim instructor takes place in a time that was different from the time of our youth. The same goes for “Honolulu”(Dec 16, 2016) who writes about a female substitute who once coached his naked swim class. But there may be a slight stench to his story since he says he and his classmates were “taken by surprise that she was there.”

    Our youth dates to the inhibited Fifties. I stated above that I am open to the possibility that, even in the Fifties, female instructors supervised naked swimming for adolescent boys in high school and in YMCA type situations. But photographs of vulnerable boys who had no choice; boys beneath the age of sexual consent? As I have noted, it is one thing to be seen naked; another to be photographed. And, even when the sexual revolution was in full blossom, most parents would probably not have wanted their boys photographed in naked swim situations or in locker rooms.

    Perhaps many of the internet photos are genuine. The frontally naked photos you posted generally seem to be of youngsters who might well have have reached the age of eighteen. These youngsters may have been acting on their own rather than under institutional or parental control. Is it possible that some of these pictures were taken in Europe where modesty standards sometimes differ from ours? If these pictures were taken in the U.S., I would like to know about the institutional matrices through which they were released. Without this knowledge, it is impossible to assess their evidentiary value. Frank, what do you think?
    Tom Wallace Lyons

    • Frank Senn

      Thanks for your thoughtful reflections, Tom. As this discussion has gone on (and I think it has been a good discussion) I have sometimes felt like I got beyond my depth with this article (especially with regard to the photos). I tried to choose photos of full frontal nudity in which the boys looked like 18-year olds. As to whether any of these photos are of institutional origin, I can’t say. However, there is a photo of what looks like a club or YMCA membership with dozens of naked men of various ages in and around the pool as well as of swim teams that were purposely posed. These group shots would have required the cooperation of those in the photograph. At least one of the swim teams photographed was co-ed with naked boys standing behind seated suited girls (http://stillrowing7-swimming.tumblr.com/page/7 – a college team, I’m sure). I don’t know how this could have been photo shopped to make the boys naked if originally they were not (photo shopping has been another accusation).

      What purpose would these photos have served? I doubt that they were published in high school or college year books or used for club advertisement (although the Y did use backside nudity in its ads). In clubs or the YMCA I could see them maybe hanging on the wall. Of course, once concerns for modesty changed they would have been taken down. Undoubtedly some people had access to them, scanned them, and posted them on the internet. That’s my guess. It would be nice if someone could claim ownership of these photos and give us dates and places for them.

      It’s interesting that there is so much questioning about the vintage photos. Those that appeared in LIFE and other magazines have also been “touched up,” as all glossy magazine photos are. Because of questions of the evidentiary value of photos whose sources are difficult to trace, apart from photos that appeared in magazines, I don’t think photos can be used to “prove” that boys and men swam naked in schools, clubs, and Ys before the practice ceased. But they can serve as illustrations of what men your age and mine experienced. And our experience, as corroborated by others, cannot be denied. We swam naked. And if we were naked in the locker room, showers, and pools, we were full frontal naked to each other and whoever else was within sight of us. As Walter Cronkite used to say in his historical documentaries, “And that’s the way it was.”

  31. Steve

    I grew up in a town near Duluth, MN and back in the 60s boys swam nude in swimming class. Nobody thought it was weird or strange. I can’t imagine a nude swimming class now in public schools. I also notice how THIN people used to be decades ago when I look at these pictures!

  32. Caipora

    Some questions here are easily answered. Tom Wallace Lyons asks, “You write(Dec 20, 2016), ‘There are apparently also archival group photos from the Y and other health clubs where full frontal nudity was displayed.’ If such pictures exist, what purpose did they serve? Who was to see the pictures?”

    The “Manual of Boys’ Club Operations”, 1947, in the chapter on “Public Relations”, notes on page 312 that “Pictures that show people doing things – boxing, swimming, making a presentation – are much more interesting than posed pictures which are stilted. It helps to snap the photo at a moment when the boys do knot know that they are being observed. This results in a better facial expression and more actions.”

    Usual professional practice is to take a lot of photos. You then pick the best, and in this specific case, crop the photo or retouch it so it doesn’t show too much. The rejected photos wind up in a file somewhere.

    The Northeastern University Library has the Boston Boys’ Club Archives, and a search (https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/catalog?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=boys+club+natatorium) will find a number of such photos.

    Here’s a photo, also from Boston, that clearly has been retouched to make it publishable: https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:k930dd800

  33. Caipora

    Regarding another affirmation, “But photographs of vulnerable boys who had no choice; boys beneath the age of sexual consent? As I have noted, it is one thing to be seen naked; another to be photographed,” here are two films, both sourced. They’re both from predominantly Lutheran Sweden, which fits Pastor Senn’s predilections.

    At about four minutes into this film (http://www.filmarkivet.se/movies/besok-pa-lundsbergs-skola/) a group of adolescent boys are swimming. In 1912 a movie camera was a very visible object indeed, and other than one kid in a towel, none of them seem to care at all about the camera, whether they’re in bathing suits or nude, apparently also a choice.

    About 2:15 into this film (http://www.filmarkivet.se/movies/gymnastiklagret-a-ljungbyhed-juni-juli-1925/) there’s a scene of boys bathing, and again, some in suits and some not, and no attempt at covering up.

    The description of the first film seems to indicate that two members of Sweden’s royal family attended the school, and in the second, the Crown Prince is handing out prizes. So we aren’t talking about the exploited poor, either.

    Sweden is another country, and there’s a saying that “the past is another country.” Yesterday’s nude swimming may seem odd today; today’s obsession with a photograph somehow harming the subject may well seem silly tomorrow.

    • Frank Senn

      Lutheran and Swedish – Ja, de är mina “predilections.” Haha. For the record, I’m not Swedish. But I did research for my doctoral dissertation in Sweden and I have visited the country five times. In many ways Sweden is a very formal society, but not when it comes to nude bathing (male or female) in saunas or on the beaches. Thanks for your interest, your research, and your interpretations, Mr. Caipora.

    • Old Swimmer

      Caipora,
      Thanks for your insights and information. This conversation keeps going on. I think the links you provide confirm what I had said earlier in this forum that the “mores” or customs about nude swimming, showering, weigh-ins, work-outs etc have evolved. This includes photos. “Genital privacy” seemed to be observed in the 40’s and 50’s in publications like LIFE magazine and even YMCA posters, brochures and post cards. Earlier as in the films in the links, there was no concern about “genital privacy”. I included a link of the same period where you can see males (young and old) swimming nude in mixed company.

      To me it is more a matter of evolution of customs than anything else. Even though I swam nude at the Y, camp, high school and even at a friend’s cottage, such a thing would not be acceptable today except in places like Korean or Russian baths.

  34. Caipora

    I think Old Swimmer may have the wrong end of the stick when he posits the boys’ privacy as the reason for the lack of published frontal nudity. Late 19th century articles on the boys bathing look on the nudity simply as offensive to the observer. Here’s a cartoon from Australia entitled “How to Abate the ‘Naked Small Boy’ nuisance”: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/71094972?searchTerm=%22naked%20small%20boy%20nuisance%22&searchLimits=
    There are things newspaper readers expect to see, and things they don’t expect to see. Look at the New York Times public editor’s column in December on the paper printing a photo of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey’s body. As I recall, the response was twofold: although Times readers don’t expect to see photos of bodies, a) the murder was political and very much news, and b) the photo was not bloody.

    In short, the usual discretion in publishing reflects courtesy to the reader, not any concern for the subject.

  35. David B

    I started swimming at the YMCA when I was 15. We didn’t wear suits for the swim practices or for the swim meets. I remember the first time I was to swim in a swim meet where family and friends could attend. When I told my mother I would have to swim without a suit in front of everyone she told me I should not be embarrassed but proud of how I looked. At the swim meet I walked out naked and saw my mom and sisters in the audience along with girls my age I knew from school and church including my girl friend and mothers I knew from church. There were a few dads and boys there also but most dads were working. It was hard letting them see me naked but I walked out like it was normal. Between heats and when the younger boys were swimming I went over to my girl friend who was sitting with other girls I knew. I acted like I had a suit on and found I could stand there naked and talk to them without being embarrassed. Later my sister told me how much she and the other girls enjoyed seeing all of us boys naked. My girl friend even told me how much she and her friends enjoyed knowing how we looked naked. It was a little strange to go to church on Sunday and sit with my girl friend and other girls who had been at the swim meet knowing that they had seen me naked. Some of the girls told other boys and me how much they enjoyed our swim meet. Our Sunday school teacher had a younger son on the swim team and it was strange knowing she had seen several of us boys naked. She even congratulated us on our wins. The next swim meet it was easier to be naked in front of everyone and we came to enjoy it. We were proud to show off our “manhood.” At the end of the summer a photographer took a group picture of the 13-15 boys team and individual pictures of each of us and posted the team picture of us on the wall of the lobby. We were all naked in the pictures but so were boys in the other pictures. For $1.00 I bought two 5X7 and 4 wallet size pictures of me. My mom put the 5X7 picture in the family album that was always on our coffee table. When relatives or friends came to visit they would look through the album and see me naked. My sister would proudly show my picture to her friends from school. No one seemed to think there was anything wrong with the pictures. In some ways swimming naked did build my self esteem for I enjoyed the attention I received from girls at school. When I attended my 50th high school reunion, several women said that attending the swim meets and seeing us boys naked were their best memories from high school. I told her I enjoyed the memories too.

    • Frank Senn

      All I can say is, Wow! Your story goes beyond anything we’ve heard so far.

    • JuanB

      Can you send the picture?

    • Ed

      IF this did happen, shame on those who allowed it, and shame on the females who participated.

      • Frank Senn

        Ed, David B’s report seems over the top in comparison with other reports we’ve received, but I accepted it as an honest recollection. However, this is the last shaming you will do on this blog. We have enough body shame in our culture already. If this all took place as David described, there were surprises all around but nothing untoward happened and fifty years later people looked back on the experience for what it was.

  36. Tom Wallace Lyons

    David B’s entry(March 9, 2017) has inspired me to raise the following question: Can we get a handle on what really went on in YMCA type situations and in school situations in the mid-Twentieth Century? Probably not. But we might better grasp the issue if we consider the cultural forces that governed and altered male modesty over the last sixty years. Let me emphasize that I am no expert. All I can offer is opinion. Opinions from other people may help develop a more complete picture. Dare I hope that better understanding might lead to more healthy policies in the future? Perhaps.

    I will discuss how I believe things were in my mid-Twentieth Century youth. Then I will discuss two tectonic events that probably warped and affected our attitudes about child nudity.

    Let me briefly touch upon the social forces behind the double standard which permitted naked swimming for boys but not for girls. Until recently pregnancy was destiny. I believe premarital chastity was considered a virtue because it helped ensure that a woman’s children were conceived with her husband. Modesty of demeanor and body were considered feminine virtues. Men were much more free to “play around.” As we all know, men tended to rule the roost while women tended the children. This may explain why there was more reticence around intimate female anatomy than around the scepter of male superiority.

    But I stated(Nov 4, 2016)my belief that genital privacy from women separated the boys from the men. The power of this man/boy separation seems to be deeply ingrained into our culture. There is a tendency not to see boyhood as a building block to manhood. Rather the human male ideal is to shed those qualities that inspire the maternal hug in order to become a MAN on whom women can lean.

    This ideal may only be tangentially related to reality. It may not be healthy. The power of this ideal might explain why the word “boy” is an emasculating tool of racial insult when hurled at a black man by a white man. It may help drive the embarrassment some boys start to feel about nudity in the presence females when their bodies are inwardly stirred by those changes that herald the onset of adult sexual viability. As I said previously, nudity before a female may hurt a developing boy’s pride in his emergent manhood. It is all probably a kind of chicken or egg mix of culture and biology.

    I graduated from the University of Chicago Lab School in 1963. Nude swimming was part of our phys ed. I asked one of my high school class mates what he would think if a boy wanted to wear a bathing suit. The fellow said something like, “You’d wonder if his dick had been cut off.”

    The Lab School swimming pool was used by children from a school for the emotionally challenged. Females helped out in the boys locker room. But this practice was stopped when Lab School boys complained about it.

    Three or four of us high school boys were talking about physical checkups. It did not take long for the dread specter to rear its head. The dread specter was of course the possibility that we might be examined by a female doctor. This fate had fallen to one of the boys. He described how her hands had traveled down his body. Then he assured us that he put the kibosh on her probe just before she reached the point of no return.

    Suddenly I found myself in a state of total psychological confusion. I believe I complimented the boy on the way he handled the doctor. Then I pointed out that, for both of us, all embarrassment would vanish if we had an attractive opportunity to get laid. So why were we so afraid of something in one situation when we were so eager for it in another? The answer eventually came to me. Genital privacy and sexual intercourse have one thing in common. Both separate the boys from the men.

    The Lab School early 1960s consensus seems to indicate no embarrassment about nudity among adolescent boys; the opposite for adolescent boys in the presence of women. This consensus appears to be echoed by a school district in which people were beginning to question whether boys should swim naked together. The Appleton Post, 1961 discusses a survey about nude swimming in an article headlined, “Boys Will Continue to Swim Nude at Menasha High Pool.”

    “In a survey where 34 schools were contacted, 31 schools answered. Eleven of these schools require suits and 20 schools do not. The schools requiring suits do so because they are combination indoor-outdoors types, or are located near girls locker rooms.”(Italics mine). Again a social consensus against boys nude swim in the presence of females.

    In face of what I believe to be a general consensus, Bob Rainis(Frank Answers, Aug 20, 2016)makes perfect sense when he 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.” Same for me.

    We are a culturally diverse nation. Can this diversity explain why practices in one part of the country might shock people from another part? Let’s look at it another way. The above news article features debate about whether it was a good idea to have boys swim naked with each other. Before or around that time some teenage boys may have been expected to perform naked before girls and women at swim meets. How can this be?
    How true is it?

    I read on the internet about a woman who told What’s my Line that she taught at the YMCA. Asked about the nudity, she explained that she only taught younger boys. Stories about nude swimming in the presence of women are often told by people without mention of age. Would a teenager have been grudged a bathing suit at the YMCA if he needed to learn to swim with six year old beginners who were instructed by a female in the presence of mothers and sisters?

    The most important question: How often were teenage boys FORCED to swim naked in front of females? And how were they affected?

    David B.(Mar 9, 2017)gives neither his name nor the name of the YMCA he attended. This reticence among CFNM story tellers precludes any possibility for verification. Said reticence stands in contrast to me and Frank Senn. We give our names and the names of the institutions in which we swam naked.

    Like other writers, David B apparently perceives his experience as an aberration when he tells his mother that he is expected to perform before the community in the nude. His mother’s response seems to be an elision. She says he should “not be embarrassed but proud of how I looked.” Hmm. Since when did a mid-Twentieth Century bathing suit hide a muscular body? Does David’s mother mean that her son should be proud to show his genitals? Whatever she meant, David B and others became “proud to show off our ‘manhood.’” And David B was told that the girls enjoyed “knowing how we looked naked.” This makes his swim meet sound like an experience to which the girls were unaccustomed. Was this swim meet an aberration? Is it just fiction?

    Time now to look at a tectonic trauma which may have driven the sexualization of children and our attitudes about their nudity. Let us start with a question: How do we know that prosecutors love child molesters?
    Answer: They have created so many of them.
    Like purveyors of adult entertainment, prosecutors seem to know that sex sells. There is more publicity for sensational pedophile prosecutions than for tax evasion prosecutions that don’t involve celebrities. And prosecutors don’t seem to face any consequence for their avarice and incompetence.

    I refer here to the witch hunt that began in the 1980s. Many innocent people had their lives shattered through accusation of and incarceration for sex crimes against children. This witch hunt hysteria should have been checked by the very people and institutions which either abetted it or created it. Those responsible include the courts, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and various denizens of the mental health pantheon with their pseudo expertise.

    Fortunately this witch hunt appears to be on the wane. But the fanaticism remains manifest in draconian punishment even for minor acts that do little or no damage. People probably still fear false accusation. I know a man who avoids friendly talk with neighborhood children. He does not want his motives to be misconstrued.

    The witch hunt was followed by another tectonic development: The internet and the enhanced potential for surreptitious photography. When Frank Senn and I were young, there was always the possibility that some joker would photograph us in a locker room. But our youth predates the era of ubiquitous cell phones with their tiny cameras. And Frank Senn and I did not have to worry that our genitals would be immortalized in cyberspace.
    Is locker room, towel dance modesty driven by modern technology?

    Now to Caipora(March 2, 2017). Caipora says, “Usual professional practice is to take a lot of photos. You then pick the best, and in this specific case, crop the photo or retouch it so that it doesn’t show too much. The rejected photos wind up in a file somewhere.” Caipora writes this in answer to my question(Feb 17, 2017)about respectable institutions harboring pictures of naked boys; pictures that long pre-date the internet.

    Allow me to emphasize: The internet was born in the wake of the witch hunt. So let me imagine that I am now a school or YMCA type administrator. I learn about an old file of nude boy photos. I would certainly want to keep these photos off the internet. And I wouldn’t bother to consult a lawyer about criminal or civil liability for possession. Instead I would issue the following directive: SHRED AND BURN NOW! Same if I were a respectable, professional photographer.

    I am not even sure it would be legal for David B to send the photo of himself in the nude, as per Juan B’s suggestion(March 14, 2017). Legality may depend on whether his genitals are shown since he is under eighteen in the picture.

    To sum up, I continue to question the provenance of nude internet photos for the following reasons. The reasons are institutional canons of basic decency and integrity. These reasons combine with the tectonic impact of the witch hunt and of the internet upon attitudes about modesty.

    Are we going to remain hopelessly uptight? Probably. But you never know. Consider the sudden speed with which people came to accept gay marriage and gay partners. European countries are connected to the internet. European countries also have to deal with predators. But some of these countries seem to be more relaxed than we are about the human body. Perhaps we can learn from them and grow. Carry on Pastor Senn!
    Tom Wallace Lyons, March 23, 2017

    • Frank Senn

      Thanks to Tom and the 26 other individuals who contributed to 80 comments on this post (some of which are my responses). I know personally only one of the 27 commentators. Readers may be interested to know that during the time this article has been published it has been viewed, as of this date, by 10,069 individual users who have looked at the page 19,064 times. This is far, far more than the number of views my more specialized articles usually generate.

      There is obviously a lot of interest in the topic—I suspect mostly from men who experienced naked swimming in schools, the YMCA or Boys’ Clubs, or outdoors in their youth. I think we have established that boys and men did swim naked in these contexts. That should no longer be doubted. The biggest issue among the comments has been whether boys were naked in front of women or girls as teachers or audience at swim meets. Some commentators expressed horror even at the thought; others claimed that they experienced being naked in the presence of females and adjusted to it.

      There has been disagreement over whether old photos can reliably document such occurrences and even a bit of skepticism about what some guys report. Well, we know that photos can be shopped and stories can be elaborated. We’re now in an era of “fake news” (although we still seem willing to trust the reports of print journalism). So apart from the topic itself, this has become an exercise in how we can get a handle on the past. But as pertains to the topic itself, I’m not willing to surrender to postmodern deconstruction. Millions of men experienced naked swimming in our country. Maybe many have simply forgotten about it. But we need them to shake their memories and tell their stories—and give names and dates of places as Tom and I have done, since it is apparent that conditions differed in different parts of the country and in different decades. In some places boys are in suits by 1960. In other places they’re still swimming naked after 1970.

      We also need to understand why the practice ceased when it did. Was it because APHA dropped its nude swimming recommendation in 1962? Was it because of greater experience of personal privacy in suburban homes in which kids had their own bedroom and shower? Was it because parents (especially mothers) became more vocal in their opposition to the practice as their boys resisted it? Was it because of the presence of mothers, sisters, and girl friends at swim meets? Was it because of the scheduling advantage of having co-ed swimming classes and swim practice sessions since both boys and girls needed to use the same pool? Was it because of concerns over opportunities for child sexual molestation? (This would also apply to showering even when swim suits were worn in the pool.)

      When an institution changes its practices reasons are usually given. Wouldn’t a letter be sent to parents or club members advising them of a change in practice? Maybe those who are interested in the practice need to work with school and YMCA administrators to gain access to archives to see copies of such letters.

      What we’re engaged in on this topic is social history—the story of changes in our cultural mores. The history of swimming naked is not an irrelevant topic because how we perceive the worth of our bodies, especially in interaction with other bodies (for example, whether we are naked or clothed, and in what social contexts), is pretty important in cultural anthropology, philosophy, psychology, psychotherapy, neurology, and sociology.

      Maybe what I have just written should be a blog post in itself. But I feel that we have had a seminar going on here and I’m willing to keep the comments open for further reports or reflections. Thanks to all of you.

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