nakedness, nudity, social history, swimming, youth

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 nude.” Shocked to hear him say this so matter-of-factly I blurted out, “it wasn’t barbaric, it was a good tradition.” I looked at a couple of the guys in our group, with whom I probably had swimming classes, and they seemed equally surprised. The guide asserted, “Well, I think it was barbaric. I don’t know what the rationale was for such a practice.”

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

People who didn’t experience boys swimming naked in the YMCA and in many physical education programs in the public schools in the US find it hard to believe that this was done. Yet this was the practice. Boys swam naked in the YMCAs and in school physical education classes from the time pools were first installed in these institutions in the late 19th century until the 1970s. Many men over 50 testify that they swam naked in high school and college. Many people under 50 don’t believe them.  But it was the practice and there are some pictures to prove it.

Figure 1. This photo of a swimming class at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois appeared in Life magazine October 16, 1950.

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

boys swimming class 1950s

Fig. 2

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

Fig. 3

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

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

Fig. 4

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

Reasons for this Blog Article

Why would I even be interested in responding to the issue of naked swimming in the schools in the old days with a blog article? For a number of reasons. First, here was a practice most men experienced as recently as fifty years ago, and is a living memory for many of us, but people don’t know about it. Some even deny it happened because it doesn’t fit our current cultural mores. Men don’t talk about it even if they were comfortable with the practice because the reactions are usually negative. And it’s not something we thought about for the last fifty years, any more than I thought about our school requirement that boys who were on the stage in school assemblies (including sports teams) had to wear a jacket and tie (which I also think was a good tradition). So this article is an exercise in social history to discuss what  was standard practice in America until the 1970s. Boys swam naked in the YMCA and American high schools and sometimes teachers or coaches were naked too (although my swimming teacher always wore a swim suit). I set this in the broader context of naked swimming in America.

Fig. 5

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

Fig. 6. Cover of Collier’s magazine August 20, 1949

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

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

Fig. 7

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

Fig. 8

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

Fig. 9.  “Adam og Eva” (1893) by Danish painter Julius Paulsen

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

Reasons for Swimming Naked in Pools

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

Fig. 10

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

boys-shower-life-magazine-1941

Fig. 11

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

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

Fig. 12. Boys showering in a CCC camp in the 1930s

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

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

Fig. 13

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

The American Public Health Association removed its recommendation of nude swimming in 1962. But the weight of tradition kept the practice going in many places for a decade or more longer, as many men testify. When all is said, the reason boys swam naked was because of Tradition. It was traditional for boys to swim naked. They swam naked before pools were built. They swam naked before health concerns about bacteria on swim suits were raised. And no one saw any reason to break with the tradition once APHA guidelines were removed. But the practice began to be questioned when cultural mores changed radically during the 1960s and especially in the 1970s.

The Recent History of Naked Swimming

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

Interest in the “science” of swimming began in the mid-17th century with the publication of William Percey’s The Art of Swimming (1658). It was illustrated with pictures of nude swimmers demonstrating different techniques.

Fig. 14

Interest in swimming as a form of exercise and recreation continued into 18th century Age of Enlightenment. Benjamin Franklin was interested in the science of swimming and swam naked in the Thames while stationed in London in the 1750s.

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

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

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

Fig. 15

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

pollyanna-naked-boys

Fig. 16

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. The issue was that in the matter of protecting the modesty of women they should not even see men naked in public.

“Bathing costumes” at first covered the body from the neck to the knees.

Fig. 17. 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 in some places there were laws prohibiting the display of men’s nipples. Not until the 1930s could men swim shirtless on public beaches. Men did continue to bathe naked in less public places, as the following photo indicates.

boys nude girls clothed at the beach

Fig. 18

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

A common experience shared by many men who were drafted during World War II was being naked together in the military for medical exams, showers, and even swimming. The experience most men had of swimming naked in school and the YMCA eased the transition to naked interaction in the military as millions were drafted or volunteered for service during the war.

Fig. 19. Photo of U.S. Marines on Guadacanal in 1943 bathing and having fun with a makeshift water slide.

Perhaps experiences of naked swimming in the military during the war gave a boost to naked swimming for boys and men in school indoor pools.  It was considered manly and prepared young men for experiences of nude medical exams and showering in the military.

Nude Male Swimming in Art

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

men-swimming-naked-outdoors-1884

Fig. 20

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

Fig. 21

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

Bathers Henry Scott Tuke 1922

Fig. 22

Also in 1922, English painter Charles Shannon rendered this impressionistic painting of “The Pursuit — Nude Swimmers.” There had also been a tradition of both men and women swimming nude in England in rivers, ponds, and at the sea before the mid-19th century.

Fig. 23

Skinny Dipping

Skinny dipping became a term for nude swimming once it was the exception to the rule of wearing swimming attire. The photograph distributing firm of Underwood & Underwood purchased and distributed thousands of copies of this photo taken early in the 20th century. It shows two boys with their father “Down at the Old Swimming Hole,” the name of the photo.

Fig. 24

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

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

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

Naked swimming Saturday Evening Post 19 Aug 1911

Fig. 25

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

Fig. 26

One of my fond memories from my youth is from the summer of 1958 when I was 15 years old and spent a week camping with three other Scouting friends (including my friend Gary) in a wilderness area known as Zoar Valley south of Buffalo, NY. (Yes, our parents let us do this!). We spent the week exploring the South Branch Cattaraugus Creek and came upon a beautiful swimming hole just below an area of rapids.

Fig. 27. South Branch Cattaraugus Creek – our actual swimming hole

On this warm summer day we didn’t think twice about taking off all our clothes and jumping in. We had spent the school year swimming naked together in high school swimming class and had participated in Scout swim nights at the YMCA. We were used to being naked with one another. 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.

Fig. 28.

A few years later when I was twenty (1963) and visiting a friend in Virginia during my college days, he invited me to go swimming in the river on a warm summer night, and of course we took off our clothes and swam naked. In a somewhat secluded area there would not be a question about this. It’s what boys did.

Fig. 29

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

Fig. 30. Swimming naked in the lake at Woodstock 1969

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

naked swimming

Fig. 31

Also in the 1980s many backyard swimming pools were installed in suburban America. These provided opportunities for skinny dipping, especially by teenage boys just at the time when nude swimming in the schools and the YMCA had ceased and swim suits were now being required.

Fig. 32

The Physical Culture Movement

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

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

Young Spartans Edgar Deqa 1861

Fig. 33. “Young Spartans” (1861) by Edgar Degas

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

Fig. 34. Ancient Roman bath in Bath, UK

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

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

Fig. 35

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

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

Fig. 36. A photo from 1955 by the photographer Konrad Helbig entitled “The Three Graces” using unknown models.

In Germany in particular naked swimming for both sexes was allowed on beaches. It is said that in the former German Democratic Republic (Communist East Germany) nudity on beaches and in public parks was a form of freedom of expression in a society where freedom was generally suppressed.  Germany has more nude swimming than any other country in the world. After 1968 the sexual revolution brought more open public nudity in the rest of Europe and the establishment of designated clothing option beaches along the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas .

Fig. 37. German boys swimming nude on a beach in the 1960s.

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

Fig. 38

The YMCA

The northern European physical culture movement is relevant to this story because the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), with its emphasis on healthy minds, bodies, and spirits as a trinity of Christian values (note the Y’s triangle logo), was a  promoter of this movement.  The YMCA originated in London in 1844 as a Christian mission to young men moving into the cities for work and employment. Ys spread quickly to cities in other countries. YMCAs provided housing, Bible studies, classes, and promoted manly Christianity.

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

Fig. 39

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

Fig. 40

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

Fig. 41

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

Fig. 42. Photo of swimming classes assembled in the old basement pool in the Walla Walla, Washington YMCA.

Fig. 43. Swimming class in the Walla Walla YMCA in which every body is naked.

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

Fig. 44

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

Swimming nude at YMCA

Fig. 45. Men and boys in a YMCA pool. Photo date unknown. Probably late 1950s or early 1960s judging by the man’s glasses.

Toward the end of the 1960s the YMCA began to admit women and girls into membership and nude swimming by men and boys began to be abolished so that both sexes could use the pool together.

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

Fig. 46

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

Fig. 47

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

swimming nude at swim meets 2

Fig. 48

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

Fig. 49

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

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

Fig. 50

The End of Boys Swimming Naked

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

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

nude-swimming-janesville-newspaper-article

Fig. 51

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

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

Fig. 52

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

Benefits of Boys Swimming Naked

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

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

boys-wrestling-naked-in-showerM

Fig. 53. Naked boys horsing around in the shower

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

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

Fig. 54. Swim team in speedos

Social Norms

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

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

.boy-in-towel-in-locker

Fig. 55.

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

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

Frank Senn

APPENDIX: Boys Will Swim Nude

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

Fig. 56

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

Fig. 57

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

Fig. 58

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

Fig. 59

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

Fig. 60

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

Fig. 61

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

Fig. 62

Fig. 63. 1930s photo print on canvas

About the Comments

For previous comments before the ones posted below see “previous” and “next” at the bottom of the page. I have curated two additional articles composed of anthologies of these comments. Go to “Frank Answers About Naked Swimming — Commentary Part I: Discerning the Truth.” The first pingback at the end of these comments will take you directly to the second commentary article, “Frank Answers About Naked Swimming — Commentary Part II: Experiencing Nudity.” The second pingback at the end of the comments takes you to a blog article about swimming naked, especially outdoors. The author argues that most boys want experiences of social nudity with other boys and that a major reason why the practice of naked swimming ceased in the 1970s was because of homophobia.

Frank Senn

Fig. 64. Swimming teams with dressed coaches

65 Comments

  1. Avatar

    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 Roman Catholic 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 they 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 swimming 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. Attitudes toward nudity differ from one culture to another. Even within a culture social mores change and the laws change over time. As you suggest, societies have felt that women need to be protected from unwanted aggression like rape (think of burkas in Muslin societies). 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. In the U.S. social mores dictated that the modesty of women should be protected in public. (Private skinny dipping is another situation.) 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.

      • Avatar

        Joef

        Linda and Frank,
        First a ridiculous statement about females being naked along with guys exposes females to rape. If an animal will rape a woman it seems clothing generally stops nothing.

        Secondly, a vulva is just the area equivalent of a guys penis and testicles and guys ‘should’ have equal opportunity to learn about them…in a non sexual way. Males have a lot more to lose in the exposure game as we are judged by penis size and quality, maybe not always but a lot. Being amoung women who breast feed–my siblings and cousins and friends’ sibs–, the Moms were not flaunting their breasts and because of that I can say breasts are nice but they hold no sway sexually. Thus, perhaps exposure all the way around would benefit people so they can stop worrying about themselves. …just saying.

        • Frank Senn

          Joef, you are undoubtedly right that a woman being clothed will not stop a rapist. But the covering a woman’s genital area says symbolically: don’t go here uninvited.

    • Avatar

      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.

      • Avatar

        Ruff Petty

        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.

        • Avatar

          Louis

          That is how I remember being able to skinny dip as a boy. It was a summer cottage on a lake. Not really secluded, but not crowded. We were all lake front property owners. Being naked was sort of crude and uncivilized. Suitable for pre pubescent boys, but not little girls who had to be young ladies. Yes girls were around, no we were not shy and we actually protested when we got older and were told we should have suits on, since we were starting to turn into young men. Being 10 and able to swim naked was like being allowed to fart! A true delight for any grade school boy

        • Avatar

          akr47

          If you don’t care, Ruff, that’s fine. There are also girls who don’t care about being naked in front of men and boys. So should we force all the girls to be naked because one or two might like it?

    • Avatar

      akr47

      Actually Linda is wrong. Sexual assault rate drops significantly in many countries when they introduce clothing optional beaches. So if you want to reduce sexual attacks of girls make them swim naked and be naked. Look at Scandinavian countries where women routinely change clothes in public places and are seen naked in public more often and they have the lowest violence rates.

      The other thing about men being naked is obviously erections. Women don’t have to worry about that and the vagina is mostly hidden in between the legs so there’s nothing dangling between the legs and if she has pubic hair you’re most likely to see nothing at all. Also grown men naked in front of little kids of any gender is a weird thing and specially if man develops an instant boner. (This is also grave for the man.) In south Asian countries women take young boys to bathing places and routinely bath naked in front of 13/14 year olds. But it is never acceptable for men to bath naked in front of 13/14 year old girls. You’d be arrest but most likely beaten by the mob first.

      If we are going to make a case about one gender being naked in public it should be the female. This would benefit both men and women. Boys won’t be curious they’ll be more acceptable towards female body and no more over sexualized women in the media. We’ll see significant drop in rapes, harassment and violence. Modesty wouldn’t even be a case if they are brought up in a culture of women/girls being naked (many amazon tribes, Asian cultures…).

  3. Avatar

    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. The one I selected for this article looks to me like a 1960s era snapshot, but I raise the question of whether it is authentic. As for whether some boys swam naked in competitions, there is personal testimony, including Bob Raines’ comment above.

      • Avatar

        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. Avatar

    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!

    • Avatar

      David Dean

      i had the same problem of being one of the few intact boys in a locker room and pool. at the time i was very embarassed, but now am glad that i was not shorn of all those nerve endings !

  5. Avatar

    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.

      • Avatar

        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, 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

          From a 22-yo Millennial (via email)

          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.

        • Avatar

          Louis

          I think there is a lot of truth in that. Fathers are absent in the house and women worry about boys and convince them of predators at every turn. Still though, they are afraid of each other. I’ve been in locker rooms and you cannot help but notice the boys showering in their suits and changing under a towel. Yet they are not spooked by me showering normally (I’m old enough to be their dad). My theory is they’ve seen too much internet porn and think of nude showering or changing in a locker room to be the opening scene to an explicit gay orgy. Ironically, seeing explicit nudity has made them uncomfortable with innocent nudity.

          Though I missed the nude swim team era by about 10 years, we were comfortable changing and showering with each other. We actually teased the kids who “needed” privacy. If they went to a toilet stall to change out of their swim suits, we said they must be girls under there, since they thought they had something we had not seen. But it was not cruel. When they grew up enough mentally to walk in the shower, they were welcomed and not bullied.

          i notice too that how boys dress is very different. Shorts are far from short. Basketball shorts used to be the length of boxer shorts, now they come down past the knee. Swimsuits are more likely to be board shorts, again almost to the knee. Swim suits used to be the same length as basketball shorts. Less than 1/2 way to the knee. Some swim teams still wear Speedo suits, but many wear those styled like bicycle shorts. I’ve seen the full body suits that come all the way to ankles and wrists. After paying close to $200 and spending 15 minutes trying to wrestle myself into a second skin disguised as a “swim suit” I would welcome a return to nude swimming!

  6. Avatar

    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

    • Avatar

      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.

      • Avatar

        Thomas Mendip

        Sorry to burst your bubble, but I went to school with a woman who spent the summer of 1973 as a lifeguard in a YMCA in (I think) Indianapolis, or somewhere in Indiana, where the boys and men were nude.
        She seemed to find the experience both shocking and pleasant, although she did say she was glad the summer was over, since the experience drove her into hormonal over load.
        Or do you presume she was lying? If so, I can’t fathom any reason she would have done so.

  7. Avatar

    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.

  8. Avatar

    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. In instances where I found the same picture but the boy was in a swim suit, I took down the nude version. (I’m not able to adjudicate which one is real and which is fake.) But photo shopped doesn’t necessarily mean the boys weren’t naked when photographed. It might mean that two photos were spliced together. Thanks for your comments.

      • Avatar

        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.

    • Avatar

      Gray Bare

      I learned to swim at our local YMCA. The big shock was when we were told that no swim suits are allowed in the pool. All swimming is done nude. Once we got over that, we undressed, took a shower and waited for the door to open. There were at least twenty boys waiting in the showers, some naked in front of strangers for the first time.

      Once in the pool area, everyone forgot they were nude and we had our lessons. That is when I knew I did not want to wear a swim suit ever again. I swam nude all the way through High School and into my adult years.

      • Avatar

        Bob Dess

        Same for me, Gray Bare.
        My mom dropped me off for swim lessons the first time at the YMCA, and at the last minute casually mentioned that “I did not pack a suit because they won’t let you wear one anyway.” It did not bother me because I was always a nudist by nature. but it was def not something people cared much about. Some of the boys were experienced and could not toss their clothes off fast enough. Others were new and a bit apprehensive, but soon enough we all were just swimming together, and with a confidence that our bodies were flawless.

    • Avatar

      Thomas Mendip

      You should check the Sheboyban (Wisc.) Press for Oct 31,1940. On the front page is an article entitled “Swimmers And Non-Swimmers Learn How to Handle Selves In Water At Classes Held Here.” Above the article are two pictures. One of a girl’s class. The girls are wearing swimsuits and caps. Below it is a boy’s class. They’re all nude, but properly positioned in a sitting position around the pool with their legs crossed to hide the “naughty bits.” Except for one kid. He’s on the diving board, with his back to the camera and his bare butt easily visible.

      The caption beneath the photo says ” There’s one striking difference between the boys and girls at the recreation department swimming classes in Central High on Saturday. The girls wear suits. The boys pretend that the pool is some “ole swimmin’ hole and go in minus everything except their dignity.”

      If that’s not bad enough, they actually proceed to give the kid’s name and address!

      It’s apparently not enough to employ the old, entirely accurate observation that the past is another country, they do things differently there. You have to stretch your imagination to grasp just how different it was.

  9. Avatar

    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.

  10. Avatar

    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.

      • Avatar

        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.

        • Frank Senn

          Where do these vintage photos come from on the internet? I think some photos of boys swimming naked outdoors in the earlier twentieth century are from family albums. There are also photos taken by soldiers of their comrades swimming naked. There are also archival group photos from the Y and other health clubs where full frontal nudity was displayed. Private photos and archival photos can easily be leaked out. My hunch is that these are some of the sources of many vintage photos on the internet.

          2016/12/20

    • Avatar

      Louis

      I remember this in high school in the late 70s. We were in the suburbs though, so it was in swimming pools. Parental attitudes were becoming more conservative, so it happened when parents were not around, though many parents would have been fine with it, mine probably not. I actually met a girl while nude swimming and we dated for a while!

      I was spending the night with a friend whose family had a hot tub and pool. His little half sisters were spending the weekend with their dad and his mom was spending the weekend with her boyfriend. My friend and I were nude hot tubbing and drinking beer and smoking cigarettes when the phone rang. He went in the house to answer it and said that the girl across the street was coming over and bringing a friend, so we needed to get ready. Getting ready meant that we needed to dump the ash trays, throw out the beer cans and get some clean towels. They walked across the street and the doorbell rang. We met them at the door wearing towels and told them they could change in his bedroom and we would meet them out in the hot tub. We were in the water already when they joined us. It was night and we did not turn on the patio lights, but plenty of light streamed from the house. The kitchen joined the patio and the sliding glass door let plenty of light onto the hot tub and pool area.

      My friend and I were not shy, but also not sexual in our nudity. Like in the article referenced above, it was innocent male nudity. We got in and out and went to the kitchen for sodas. (No more beers, it would have sent the wrong message.) The girls saw us, but they did not stare or act shocked. They knew we were nude, because of the towels when we met them at the door, and because they had invited themselves over to a “guy’s night”. We talked and all was very normal. No one “made a move”, got erect, used sexual innuendo or stared. It had very definite boundaries. The girl across the street turned on the underwater pool light to show her friend how pretty the pool was, and we all moved to the pool and swam and splashed around. Mostly they could not see under the water, because it was too choppy, but they saw us on the diving board when we did canon balls. We dried off and all wrapped ourselves in towels and ate potato chips and watched cable TV for a little bit. Her parents were home, so she and her friend left around 12:30 PM.

      After they left, we had another beer in the hot tub and turned off the pool lights. My friend began teasing me that the neighbor’s friend liked me and I should have gotten her phone number. I told him I would call and ask the neighbor girl for it, since I already knew her. We were in the kitchen and he calls her and hands the phone to me and says it is for me. The neighbor girl answers and I asked if her friend is seeing anybody. I hear quiet giggling and she hands the phone to her friend. I am awkward, but I ask her out and get her phone number. We dated for a while until her family moved away. It never seemed odd to date a girl i had met while naked and I look back and marvel at how I was embarrassed to ask a girl out, but not to be naked in front of her.

      We were all in the same high school and would see each other the next week. What we did was quite normal and never was the subject of any gossip or interest to anyone. It would have been more indecent to fire up a joint, and if we had, they would have left! Looking back, it is a bygone era. There is no non sexual nudity today and girls today would be convinced that naked boys were up to something (I showed you mine, now you show me yours kinda thing) If we had crossed that line, they would have left.

      Looking back, several things that existed then are no longer around. It was assumed then that boys did not need privacy. More than that, real men rejected it. Wearing clothes is a part of civilized society, real men are not fully civilized. Real men are wild, and while we can and do wear clothes, we don’t have to. Secondly, it was assumed that girls and women were not aroused by the sight of nude males of any age. (Turns out they are, but at the time it was widely accepted that women were not.) Women played along and did not stare and point. They saw everything, but they did not “look”. This trend continues today, where women can be nurses and bathe men, but male nurses do not bathe women. There is also the element that nudity makes women physically vulnerable, and not men. This was the same reason why nude men cannot be sexually aggressive, as this would be crossing the boundary. Finally, this was the end of the era where women were waiting for marriage or at the very least a committed relationship in their 20s. High school girls rarely put out, at least not in the affluent suburbs of the southwest. While women were waiting for marriage, guys were expected to have already had some experience. Since all the girls were saying “no” we had no experience, but swimming naked and being comfortable with girls our age seemed to imply that we had some experience.

      A lost age of innocence when being naked, with no parents around, would not increase your chances of having sex!

  11. Avatar

    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

    • Avatar

      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 nude boys posing may have been taken at a swim practice or the 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.

    • Avatar

      Louis

      My theory is that many of these full frontal nude male pictures are authentic and were published. They are misleading and mislabeled though. I believe many of them to be from “naturist” magazines promoting the lifestyle of nudist colonies. It is not uncommon for some clubs to rent out a pool for a weekend and have it just be their group. Other nudist clubs have their own pools.

      The pictures in the newspaper and Life magazine of photos of naked boys from behind were normative for the time. The boys are not little kids. Not 8 year olds who have no development. They seemed to not only enjoy swimming naked together, they did not mind being photographed in the pool or in the showers, as both seem full to capacity. If male nudity was uncomfortable for boys, the pool and the shower would have been empty on that day!

      Since newspapers and magazines showed pictures of the backsides of naked boys in junior and senior high school, it seems very plausible that community competitions open to families and boys and girls from school would feature nude boys through high school ages. After all, like in the article above, many families had no problem with it. Girls would have seen and probably swam with naked boys in lakes before anyway. In this more wholesome setting, they were farther away, not in the water with the boys!

      I swam naked with suited girls from high school . No one made me, I wanted to, and not because I had an ulterior motive as I knew they would not also disrobe.

  12. Avatar

    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

  13. Avatar

    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 experienced 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.

  14. Avatar

    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.

      • Avatar

        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.

          • Avatar

            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.

        • Avatar

          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.

          • Avatar

            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.

          • Avatar

            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.

  15. Avatar

    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.

  16. Avatar

    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

    • Avatar

      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.

  17. Avatar

    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?

      • Avatar

        Bob Dess

        It’s not about “which is easier”, Frank. Those who want to “verify” that boys or men were naked in front of women have an agenda. It is not really difficult to add genitals to a picture with photo shop, but that is not the point.

        I know for a fact that sometimes boys were naked in front of women, or sisters, etc. Usually it was because, as mentioned in many comments, that the boys could have cared less. Most of them grew up with moms who were ignored as to seeing them naked at home, so thought nothing of it even in more public situations.

        I personally never participated in or heard confirmation of a nude swimming meet with females present. Still I would not doubt it happening in other parts of the US or even other states in my region.

        Since we swam nude in HS, it was totally common for us to swim naked when our Scout group rented the HS pool and had a free swim evening. Mothers (and Den Mothers) came with their younger aged Scouts (Cubs) to the same event. It did not stop us from stripping down to swim, and some of the Cubs also joined in. NONE of the adult males swam nude.

  18. Avatar

    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.

  19. Avatar

    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???

  20. Avatar

    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?

      • Avatar

        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!

          • Avatar

            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!

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