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.” I protested, “it wasn’t barbaric, it was a good tradition.” A couple of the guys in our group, with whom I probably had swimming classes, seemed to nod in agreement. The guide asserted, “Well, I think it was barbaric. I don’t know what the rationale was for such a practice.”

I didn’t press the issue, although I thought as a retired teacher he probably should have found out what the rationale was for the practice of 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. 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 siggests 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.

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.

Swimming as a form of exercise and recreation developed in the 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. 14

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. 15

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. 16. 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. 17

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. 18. 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. 19

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

Fig. 20

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. 21

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. 22

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. 23

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. 24

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. 25

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. 26. 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. 27.

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. 28

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. 29. 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. 30

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. 31

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. 32. “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. 33. 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. 34

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. 35. 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. 36. 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. 37

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. 38

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

Fig. 39

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

Fig. 40

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

Fig. 41. Photo of swimming classes assembled in the old basement pool in the Walla Walla, Washington YMCA.

Fig. 42. 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. 43

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

Swimming nude at YMCA

Fig. 44. Men and boys in a YMCA pool. Photo date unknown. Probably late 1950s or early 1960s judging by the man’s glasses.

Toward the end of the 1960s the YMCA began to admit women and girls into membership and nude swimming by men and boys began to be abolished 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. 45

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

Fig. 46

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

swimming nude at swim meets 2

Fig. 47

Nevertheless it is likely that 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. 48

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

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

Fig. 49

The End of Boys Swimming Naked

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

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

nude-swimming-janesville-newspaper-article

Fig. 50

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

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

Fig. 51

Boys swimming naked in schools slowly came to an end in one community after another during the 1970s. But we see testimony in articles published in newspapers and magazines, old photos on google images, and discussion on internet blogs and forums (to the extent that these sources of information are reliable), that before ca. 1970 it was 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. 52. Naked boys horsing around in the shower

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

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

Fig. 53. 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.

.boy-in-towel-in-locker

Fig. 54.

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

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

Frank Senn

APPENDIX: Boys Will Swim Nude

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

Fig. 55

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

Fig. 56

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

Fig. 57

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

Fig. 58

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

Fig. 59

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

Fig. 60

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

Fig. 61

Fig. 62. 1930s/40s photo print on canvas

About the Comments

For previous comments before the ones posted below go to “Frank Answers About Naked Swimming — Commentary Part I: Discerning the Truth,” which is a curated anthology of comments illustrated with images and photos.  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”, which is also illustrated with images and photos that I added because of the number of continuing comments. 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

39 Comments

  1. Michael Christopher

    There is now a free online service that can quickly determine whether an image is real or fake: http://www.izitru.com/

    Using multiple tests, the site can prove without a doubt that a photo is real or has been composed of multiple electronic images. I’d love to have some of the doubters check the images they believe are fake; they’re in for a surprise.

  2. Richard

    See my post above, this is a continuation…
    The YMCA in Butler also required nude swimming for men and boys. It had a gallery where the mothers, aunts, cousins, daughters and friends could watch you swim naked and watch you they did. Why? Most families had only one car, dad was at work, mothers were “stay at home” and they weren’t going to drop you off at the Y go home and drive back. That was unthinkable back then. The “learn to swim” programs were only about 1 hour to 2 hours long. Again, I recall very little because I have buried these experiences deeper than my high school experiences.

    I went to Boy Scout camp in Slippery Rock, PA – Camp Bucoco in the early 60’s. I was in Troop 16 sponsored by Armco Steel Corporation. We had to have a physical before going to camp which Armco provided. I don’t know what day of the week the physicals were performed, but they were done in the administration building by the company doctor and a lady. We were all brought down by our parents, usually the mother, along with any siblings. We went to the conference room and stripped down to our underwear handing our clothes to our parent. We then lined up for the physicals, which were a joke. Our parents, sisters and others stood by the wall behind the doctor holding our clothes. We approached the doctor and gave our name to the lady with him. The doctor checked our hearts, took each arm and felt them and turned them over and felt down each leg. We then had to drop our underwear to the floor. We turned around and he felt down our spine. We turned around again and he took our penis in his hand, looked at it from side to side and underneath and then rolled it with his fingers, felt our testicles, and made as cough left and right. Many of the scouts had erections during the exam. He never wore gloves or washed his hands between exams. We then pulled up our underwear, walked over to our mothers, and got dressed. There were usually about 20 to 30 of us scouts. It seems that the moms always found an excuse to stay until the last scout was finished. I don’t really remember if we swam naked at camp or not, but I don’t remember bring a swim suit, so I guess we did.

    If you think there is a lot of bullying today, there was more back then. Towel smacks, ball whacking, name association with respect to penis size and pubic hair – baldy, pencil dick, rooster, horse, etc. was common. Just before our freshman year ended (1965), we were told we could wear swim trunks that could be purchased at Troutman’s – the only department store in town. Within two swim classes all the boys were in suits – nylon. That says it all about how the boys felt.

    In summary, I hated swimming naked as did almost all the boys in school and the YMCA. Swimming naked was degrading, humiliating, embarrassing, shameful, traumatizing, and gave feelings of betrayal, anger, exploited, anxiety, and fear. Many of us complained to our parents, the coaches, teachers, etc. that we did not want to swim naked, but no one would come to our defense. All agreed with Dear Abby on the subject that there was something wrong with us. Abby was a proponent of boys swimming naked in front of girls, also. She was the Doctor Spock of that era. Again, see https://sites.google.com/site/historicarchives4maleswimming/home/archives—mid-20th-century-to-current/stories As I said before, it has the best history of nude swimming. It will take you about 4 hours to go thru all the pictures and stories.
    Better link – takes you right to Dear Abby. https://sites.google.com/site/historicarchives4maleswimming/home/archives—mid-20th-century-to-current/news-articles-and-columns

    Bottom line — We were paraded naked in front of women for their pleasure and sexual fantasies. Greatest nude show on earth. I think this is the real reason boys were required to swim naked and it had nothing to do with filtration systems. Like most men who went thru these naked experiences, we have blocked them out and buried them deep. No one likes to talk about them unless they are gay.

    • Noah

      What is this strange fascination of Americans with boys’ penises and testicles? It’s honestly disturbing… In my understanding, to this day, if you want to participate in a school sport like say cross country, someone at some point is going to have your balls in their hands. Where I’m from, you undergo quite a few routine check-ups during childhood. I have soooooo many memories of sitting in my underwear in a cold room waiting for a doctor but not once has anyone ever requested to touch my private area. This request would have fallen on deaf ears.

      • AlMorr

        That’s of course for medical reasons, no one is going to do anything they should not do, especially a doctor. If he did he would no longer be a doctor. As far as nakedness in school, of course, boys are curious about how “large” or “hairy” another boy is “down there” when they are going through puberty.

    • Frank Senn

      We do suppress traumatic experiences and Richard’s experiences of being naked in those formative years must have been really traumatic. His sharing of his negative experiences contributes to our awareness of the larger truth of forced nakedness. It can be experienced as punitive as well as embraced as liberating, humiliating as well as affirmative of our bodies.

      I find that we forget a lot of the past until some event, some person, some picture reminds us of it. That’s one of the advantages of class reunions. At my 55th high school reunion classmates told me some things about myself (not necessarily bad) that I had forgotten and with their help I had to reconstruct the situation. I don’t remember a lot of details about my high school swimming class nearly 60 years ago. Mostly it’s general impressions. But even seeing pictures—like the Life magazine picture in my article—reminds me of what we did. I have my share of boyhood traumas that have been painful to bring to mind. Medical exams and some Scout camp experiences were unpleasant. But swimming naked with my friends and classmates are not among them.

      Nakedness as such is a powerful experience. It can even be a powerful spiritual experience, as I’ve rediscovered in my old age. I’ve written about it in several Frank-Answers. We don’t have to be gay to talk about these experiences.

  3. MPC

    I have commented earlier on not having the experience of swimming naked but knowing that others were doing so as I grew up in Canada and France in the 60’s and early 70’s. We were there as corporate “brats” (contrary to army, we still moved a lot) from the US and my parents kept the swimsuits in place even in Europe. Even at a Club Med in Tunisia we stayed at the pool where suits were required (contrary to the beaches) and I had a gigantic pool all to myself.
    But… all of the theories about sanitation and keeping the pools clean are not fallacy.

    Within days of being there I was the only family member to develop typhoid and spend the last half of the trip delirious with fever. To compound the problem the injection given to my rear by the female doctor was horse based and I reacted to that after we returned home.

    Frankly, I would have preferred swimming naked on the beach to the delirium, the full body rash, and the parade of female doctors (males only handled adults in France at this time) who ended up seeing me “sans culottes”!
    Thanks again for such an interesting topic of discussion!

  4. Caipora

    Photographic proof of women supervising boys swimming can be found in the City of Stockholm Digital Museum, here:
    http://digitalastadsmuseet.stockholm.se/fotoweb/Grid.fwx?archiveId=5000&search=(IPTC187%20contains(10068054_Skallmejblasaren_kv_019_GRAARK.tif))
    and also here:
    http://digitalastadsmuseet.stockholm.se/fotoweb/Grid.fwx?archiveId=5000&search=(IPTC187%20contains(graark_10032653))

    Photoshopped “evidence” with no source is common on this subject. These links are directly to an official online archive, with dates (1902 and 1903) and locations, and high-resolution copies can be downloaded (click on “Ladda ner” on the left). Lest there be any question what we’re looking at, in the archive another copy of the first photo is labeled “Swimming pool with swimming lessons “. It is labeled as being at “Norrtullsgatan 18” and Google Maps does find a school with the same name at that address.

    To be ideal, these photos would have to be fifty years later, the kids about five years older, and the location across the sea. Even so, they serve as proof that it did happen.

  5. Caipora

    The board software omits the final parenthesis in the links; copy the link and add the parenthesis by hand, and they will work.

    Teenage schoolgirls and boys taking a swimming test together, with bathing suits, in 1944, can be seen here:
    http://digitalastadsmuseet.stockholm.se/fotoweb/Grid.fwx?archiveId=5000&search=(IPTC187%20contains(SSMSVD032663))

    Boys and girls (they can be detected by bathing caps) together in a school shower in 1939
    http://digitalastadsmuseet.stockholm.se/fotoweb/Grid.fwx?archiveId=5000&search=(IPTC187%20contains(graark_10012389))
    Beskrivning

    That brings us somewhat closer to the present.

  6. AlMorr

    Good post about nude swimming way back in the 1950’s and 1960’s What I remember from my school days from1951 to 1961 (back then ten years at school was quite normal for pupils who did not intend to go to university) regarding swimming in the United Kingdom. When I was learning to swim at school, before getting into the water we were naked in a shower washing for hygienic reasons before entering the swimming pool. However, once we had been in the shower we did put on our swimming trunks for our swimming lessons. After the lessons were over, once again we were naked in the shower cleaning ourselves after the swim.
    I think if we had to be naked while in the swimming pool we would not have bothered too much as we did not bother the least bit being naked in a shower which was shared by all of us, no partition from the 8 or 9 shower heads which were in the shower room. Nowadays in 2017 apparently they are certainly not naked in the swimming pool and perhaps not even taking a shower as well, not sure about that of course, I’m certainly not going to ask the teenage boy who lives near me “do you shower naked or with swimming trunks on in school?” If I did I would probably get kicked, ‘you know where’
    Great reading those stories from back “in the olden days” where nudity was considered normal and not to be ashamed of.

  7. Ken Vickery

    First, I appreciate Elsa’s honest comments about herself and her experiences and the sensitive replies to her openness. This was a good example of respecting another person for who she is.

    Swimming nude is just one issue of the larger problem of body acceptance among people of our western culture.

    I’m one of the older guys born in the 40’s. My early years were lived in a small town in north Georgia. My swimming was limited to creeks, a lake, the town pool and the country club pool – we were not members. We skinny dipped in the creeks and maybe in the lake but wore bathing suits in the cement pools. I reckon I was naked a few times in the town pool but only when diving off the diving board and my suit slipped down to my ankles and when it was pulled down by other boys – boys will be boys. I don’t know if any girls saw me naked on those occasions.

    By junior high, we moved to a close by ‘big town’ in South Carolina. The only swimming I remember during those 5 years in that town was in the lake and in the Hartwell Dam’s backwaters. I don’t recall being naked in either but I do remember skiing with only a jockey strap on one time in the Dam’s backwaters not far from the Dam. That was only because my brother and I were sharing the same bathing suit. I don’t recommend falling while wearing a jockey strap!

    Physical Education in junior and senior high schools required us to wear school shorts, tee shirt and tennis shoes. We guys all gang showered together. Never thought about it being bad or humiliating, just what we guys did. I recall the girls in junior high has individual showers. I don’t know about the senior high girl showers since we had a 10-12 grades boys school and a 10-12 grades girls school – yes, these were public schools! The year I graduated was the last year of sex segregated schools.

    I remember having a school sponsored basketball physical when I was probably 14. The male doctor checked my vitals and held my testicles when I coughed with my head turned left and then right. I didn’t think that unusual at the time BUT then he had me bend over and he ‘checked’ my prostate – my first prostate exam. He took his time rubbing it and asked me something – I don’t recall his words but now it seems he was asking if I was going to ejaculate. I think I must have said yes and he stopped and took a tissue and wiped my penis. That was unexpected but I said nothing to anyone. I didn’t feel violated and I figured it was just a part of the physical.

    In this ‘big town’ I think there was a YMCA and a YWCA. I didn’t visit either of them in the late 50’s or early 60’s so I don’t know what went on there in their swimming pools.

    I graduated from high school in 1962 and went into the USAF in 1963. As stated by others, I went through my physical with other males in my underwear. I didn’t think that was unusual. In Basic Training, we guys showered together and throughout my 4 years in three duty stations (stateside and overseas), we guys also showered together. It didn’t seem odd nor wasn’t embarrassing.

    In my college years, I never lived on campus and have no knowledge of what the showering arrangements were. The physical education courses I took did not require sweating.

    I think it was when I first started college that I decided to visit a well known but little attended non-sanctioned nudist beach. The beach wasn’t very deep but was long. After putting my towel down, I skinny dipped in the ocean and it felt wonderful! I was comfortable being nude in public at the beach. There were not many people on the beach at the time and I chose to walk up the beach – away from my security, my clothes. I passed some individuals laying on their towels and a few couples. I did not stare at anyone but noticed them as I’m sure they noticed my passing by. I did take notice of two young women probably 18-21 years old sitting on their towels with just their tops off. They were kind of snickering to each other. I guessed this was their first time at this beach as well. After going up the beach a ways somewhat passed everyone there, I turned around and ambled back. As I approached the two young women, I noticed they were struggling to open the cap on their tanning lotion. I’m really a helpful guy and always have been, so I ambled over about the 15 feet to them and asked if they needed help getting the bottle open – maybe their hands were already greasy. They said yes. I knelt down on the sand beside them about 12 to 18 inches away from the woman closest to me and took the bottle in hand and opened it without a struggle. I recall their eyes darting back and forth and their smiling very big. I did not react to their being topless or their beauty. I was comfortable being nude in front of them. In fact, I didn’t even think about it. They said thank you and I got up and walked on down the beach. If they had asked me to stay and talk, I would have as if we were all dressed (hidden). As I walked away, I thought about what happened and realized that I might have been the first man they had ever seen naked up close. Maybe that accounted for their innocent childlike behavior. Later when I took another stroll up the beach and passed them, I looked and waved. They waved back. Now they were totally naked. Yes, I noticed but I had no physical reaction because I did not start thinking about them sexually.

    After graduating from college with several degrees, I taught mathematics, physics and physical science for 7 years in public schools before feeling led to go into the Christian ministry. After seminary, I served 30 years in the pulpit ministry during which I visited many people in their homes, care centers, assisted living facilities and hospitals. I saw people at their best and their worst. I remember one nice elderly lady telling me during a hospital visit that through all of her years she had tried to be modest but after being in the hospital for several days, she felt she had lost it and even wondered why had she even tried to be modest in the first place for all those years. She had a revelation! She had discovered people were just people whether in a male or female body, they were just like her and she was just like them. Her discovery left her relaxed and less uptight about her circumstances. She recovered from her ailments.

    When attending our conference’s Men’s Retreat at our church owned camp, we guys slept in open bay barracks just like in Basic Training. When we walked to bathroom building to the gang showers, most of the time we only wrapped a towel around our waists. Commodes were in private stalls. After showering, most of us walked back to our barracks with only a towel and dressed after we got back to our bunks. There were no curtains on the windows and I recall only a few men putting on their underwear while still wearing a towel.

    When I volunteered in Summer Youth Camp, we adults had our own housing away from the youth. The boys used the same barracks and the same bathroom buildings we used when we attended Men’s Retreats. As I recall, the girls had the same facilities as the boys – on the other side of the camp.

    Over the years, I came to the conclusion that we people are all eternal spirits created by an eternal God and only living temporarily in a physical body – an old philosophy. I came to believe that the physical body was important as it provided an abode for the spirit and hence we needed to take care of our physical body as well as our spiritual body. Most important of course was our eternal spiritual being which like other forms of energy, could not be destroyed – unless the Creator chose to do so by absorption into him/herself (no gender).

    With this philosophy in mind, I reasoned nudity is not our problem. Our problem is the way society has chosen to look at another person. Different societies look at each other differently. By looking I am referring to evaluation, judgment, treatment and expectations. The eyes through which we see are generally covered with many layers of prejudices – we prejudge others based on our own values whether we share them with society or not. We put people in boxes, we categorized them. The people we really know we put into separate boxes. When we talk about nudity – even the Pope said the naked human body was not shameful – our problem is our own exploitation of our prejudices – societal and otherwise. Why should a male body be viewed differently than a female body? Most all people are either male or female with all the same parts. So why does society (some would say culture) make different demands on people just because they are male or female? Why not treat everyone the same? Treat everyone as equal? As a spiritual being in a physical body?

    We all know how distorted our perceptions are regarding the different sexes. Advertising sells sex and uses our society’s accepted norms to sell just about every product. Why? Because when we hide our physical bodies, we make them unknown to others and what we don’t know, we are curious about. Which is sexier, a naked woman or a woman in revealing underwear? Or a naked man or one in a speedo with a sock stuck in the front?

    Naturists, nudist probably have it right. Even the Old Testament and New Testaments had it right. The human body is the human body and there is nothing shameful about it! Behavior can be shameful and destructive but not the human body. In my opinion, the leaders of society have misled the people and have created a false sense of modesty and shame and have convinced their followers they are right – little by little perceived reality changed until it conformed to their opinions. If you didn’t agree, you were usually labeled with a demeaning name or shunned or both.

    If a person is asked why he/she is wearing a ‘bathing suit’ to swim, how might he/she answer? “Because I like the way it looks on me … because I always have … because it hides my flaws … because everyone else is … because it hides my private parts … because I’d be exposed if I didn’t … because I have to or go to jail … because I’d feel embarrassed/ashamed … because I’d be naked (in front of others).” The next question is, “Who told you that you were naked …?” God asked in Genesis 3.11a. And so what if you are? Before God asked his question, it says, “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2.25. Duh, what did they have to be ashamed about? Was that not how they came into the world? Back up a chapter and we read, “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…. …God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Genesis 1.26a and Genesis 1.31. God said EVERYTHING He made was good – VERY GOOD. Next question: who are we to judge God and tell Him He was/is wrong? By whose authority?

    Society. Rules. Laws. Set by whom? And why? Why is a woman allowed to be topless in public in New York City since 1992 but not in Atlanta? Why is it that Vermont has NO state laws regarding public nudity (unless you flaunt it) but other states do? Why did San Francisco ban public nudity in 2013? One article said, “Supervisor Scott Wiener, who introduced the proposal, predictably sounded like a buzzkill after the (6-5) vote. ‘The Castro and San Francisco in general, is a place of freedom, expression and acceptance. But freedom, expression and acceptance does not mean anything goes under any circumstances,’ he said on Tuesday. ‘Our public spaces are for everyone and as a result it’s appropriate to have some minimal standards of behavior.’”

    So, who decides what is appropriate for EVERYONE? Society? Or at least 6 people on the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors who decided from all the people living in San Francisco?

    In 2011, I wrote my book titled “2025 Five Days in Paradise”. I looked at what might be IF society put away their prejudices and accepted one another as equals and treated everyone with honor and respect. You can check it out on my website: http://www.2025paradise.com. In my book which I set in the summer of 2025, Grandma and Grandpa enjoyed a 5-day visit with their grandchildren in a community called Eden in Florida. Their grandchildren grew up in a time when public nudity was acceptable and hence they had no problems with people being naked – it was natural, not a big deal, not a problem for them. Their lives demonstrated that life could be a lot lot simpler. They didn’t have the hangups the adults grew up with. In this book, I raised a number of questions and offered some answers. In fact, when Supervisor Scott Wiener was making his proposal to ban public nudity and made his basic reason known – health concerns with nude people sitting on public seats – I sent him the answer I had written in 2011 as how that had been handled by 2025. Obviously, it didn’t sway his thinking.

    Just think, if we ALL had grown up naked with love and acceptance by our parents and society, acceptance of our individual personalities and bodies, how many of our sexual hangups would have totally disappeared. Surely someone reading this would raise some questions like, “You can’t be naked all the time!” And he/she is right. Clothes become what they were originally meant to be, a utility. Wear what you NEED depending upon the circumstances. When you jump out of an airplace, you need a parachute. In cold weather, wear all the clothes you need to protect your body. Cooking with grease popping, wear an apron. In space, wear a space suit. Protect the body. Going to school – I address that in my book. “But businesses would be affected!” Yes, some would diminish and others would grow. The advertising business would have to find a totally different way to advertise – they might have to focus on the product itself, on its usefulness and value.

    A few final questions: How would people address public nudity if everyone were blind, sightless? Upon what would we judge one another? O yes, we’d surely judge everyone just as we do now but upon what basis, what characteristics? Tone of voice, language, laugh, touch, behavior, intelligence, where a person works, who they hang out with? Maybe we wouldn’t judge a person because they were nude but we’d surely find something that would allow us to box people. Just remember, a person is NOT his/her body. A person is who he/she is in mind and spirit.

    • Frank Senn

      Thank you, Ken, for bringing into the discussion the “spiritual” dimension and sharing your experiences and views. I agree with much of what you wrote. My only philosophical disagreement, which I will simply note without argument, is that as an orthodox Christian I hold to the unity (inseparability) of body and soul. Souls have no existence apart from a body. Also, embodied mind theory proposes that the mind is part of the body. So we have to deal with the body and its experiences. It’s who we are. Those who are interested may read “Frank Answers About the Body—God’s and Ours.”

  8. MPC

    Hi Frank,
    An interesting picture of the 1915 swimming championship team at the Broadview YMCA in Toronto Canada…

    http://www.blogto.com/upload/2012/06/2012618-ymca-swimming-champs-1915-s0372_ss0052_it0527.jpg

    Not sure if the link will work?
    Thanks,
    MPC

    • Frank Senn

      Hello Reverand Frank,
      Just a follow-up to my earlier posting of August 7th, 2017. I had found the “interesting” picture of the Broadview YMCA champions from 1915 with their strategically draped towels as a singular image. On further research I have found it is part of a series of five images where there is no question as to how the boys swam. These are a part of the Toronto city archives and I have actually found the article posted a few days later in the Star where they announce the winners (No images as photos were not common in 1915).

      But even more interesting is a difference in the attitude of the boys in the images. The older ones seem very comfortable with their lack of clothing whereas the younger ones are the towelers. I think it points to your observations that it became more acceptable once the boys had become used to swimming naked (even in 1915). At any rate if you search the Toronto City Archives for Broadview YMCA it will return the series of images.

      Thanks for such a great topic that I was unaware of such widespread acceptance at one time.
      MPC

  9. I read most if not all the comments and notice several basic issues: inherent discomfort/body shame/inhibition and modesty.

    Here is an excerpt from American Nudist Culture by Larry Darter, regarding American’s feelings of inhibition when it comes to nakedness. “We define a taboo as a behavior that is forbidden, or disapprove of, within a society or culture. The behavior in question is forbidden by society because it is considered morally reprehensible, or socially unacceptable. While Americans have been willing to question, and even discard, many of the attitudes of moral values of past generations, the nudity taboo seems as firmly rooted today as ever in cultural and oral fabric of American society and collective psyche. The sensitivities of most Americans are so offended by nudity that it can produce powerfully negative emotional responses, ranging from disgust to outrage.”

    To understand the roots of the inhibitions that most Americans feel with regard to nudity, one needs to look no further than our Puritan and Victorian heritage. By virtue of our connections with the first American Puritan settlers, the development of American social mores were strongly influenced by the Puritan and later by the Victorian views of morality. Both placed an emphasis on sexual restraint, and on living by a strict and conservative moral code.

    Americans are conditioned and socialized to internalize the view that nudity and sex are inseparably linked. This view is passed down from well-meaning parents to their children, generation after generation. We are told that the parts of the human body used for sexual and excretory functions must not be exposed to others except under clearly delineated and socially acceptable circumstances. Exposure of the genitals, or female breasts is categorized as indecent and immoral. We learn at an early age that keeping the sexual parts covered is simply the accepted standard of modesty in our society.

    As a result of this upbringing, many of us grew into adults who were inhibited by our own nudity, to the degree that being seen naked by anyone caused us great discomfort and shame.”

    And then the issue of modesty, read this excerpt from Augustine Rae’s “The Freedom of Naturism: A Guide for the How & Why of Adopting a Naturist Lifestyle”. “The problem with modesty has to do with the fact that different cultures define, understand, and express it in very different ways.”

    In Papua New Guinea, for example, some tribes have their men walk around about butt naked by our standards, save for penis gourds that leave their balls hanging. In some Philippine tribes, women define modesty by covering themselves from their waists to their ankles, and never mind the rest. Until recently, the Waorani women of Ecuador signified modesty by tying a string around their waists, and that was about it.

    Naturism is antithetical to all of these. It does not seek to conform to any societal definitions of modesty – quite the opposite, in fact. It believes that going about naked (sans penis gourds, sarongs, and waist strings) whenever possible, is the ideal condition because it’s natural, hence its name.”

    All people are conditioned by culture, society and family expectations. If we know that, why don’t we cut folks some slack and let them be them and us be us? What of acceptance?

    • Thomas Mendip

      I think you rather properly delineated the source of societal, at least American, discomfort with nudity.

      I sometimes think we are approaching this whole subject from the wrong angle. We talk about sociology, psychology, even anthropology, when the proper viewpoint is physics. The physics of a pendulum. It is pushed in one direction, arcs to a maximum, gravity pulls it down, it arcs to an opposite maximum. Slowly, the energy bleeds off and it stops in the middle.

      Most of what we have been discussing here, institutional nudity that is, in part reflects over all societal anxieties; but the curious part is how drastically they vary over both time and space, even within a society. As I posted before, I knew a woman who was a lifeguard in a setting where males were nude; but she was only there over the summer, and this was a YMCA, meaning attendance there was voluntary. It’s only after reading a few posts like Elsa’s that I began to realize it really did happen that females supervised nude males where the nudity was mandatory, which is to say, schools.

      England is only three thousand miles away, across the pond. Thirty or so years ago is hardly ancient history. You don’t need a team of archeologists to perform a dig, you just ask people who were there. (I bring this up as an example of how different things can be over just a short period of time and space. The citation you used, for example, referenced New Guinea. You don’t need to go that far.)

      At this website, there is a photo.
      http://www.historyworld.co.uk/photo.php?id=1607&offset=0&sort=0&l1=Childhood&l2=
      It is from December of 1959 and taken at Burnley Grammar School in England.
      It’s a simple photo of boys attempting various gymnastic maneuvers.
      There are almost 1,600 comments and the thread has been in progress since June of 2008. Most comments concern the period of around 30-35 years ago, but some of them concern earlier periods and different schools. (Remember this is England, the country with which we have the closest cultural and historical ties.)

      There are numerous reports of male nude swimming, which is not new. Although some were with female teachers! But some of the girls report things you’d find unimaginable here—doing pe in nothing but their knickers (panties), one woman saying this happened as recently as 2004; not being allowed to wear a bra until mid teens, as late as 1994; even after that, having to perform topless in phys ed when teams were chosen by shirts/skins.

      Most remarkable is a comment from a woman named Amy, on 2/22/2017,who said she attended a small, girls only school in Yorkshire. (She says this was thirty years ago.) And their phys ed classes were nude. They didn’t have locker rooms, just went to the gym and undressed. And that (gulp!) her teacher when she was 8-9 was male. And no, it wasn’t a nudist school. She hardly seems traumatized by it, just mentioning that it was the way things were done (haven’t we heard that phrase before?) and that non of the girls thought much about it because they did it all through school.

      Then there’s Shears Green. They have a Facebook page. Nude swimming for boys one day; nude swimming for girls another day, and co ed nude swimming on a third. You can’t, of course, imagine anything like this happening in this country, but travel three thousand miles, and it’s accepted as a matter of course. But, even there, travel outside these schools, and past that time, and the general reaction is incredulity.

      My point being that acceptable notions of nudity not only vary across time and culture but vary (to a fairly large degree) within a culture. So though I would never have encountered an Elsa in my school in Illinois, nor has anyone I know, my college friend who performed Elsa’s function was just next door in Indiana.

      I think there may be a larger variation than we realize, and one reason I started that Topix thread was to discover how wide spread institutional nudity was and when it happened. The pendulum is at the top of one arc now, but it will eventually return to center, and sanity.

      I think there is more to be discovered (or is that uncovered), a lot of it as surprising as Elsa’s post, and once again I pay obeisance to the shrine of Frank Senn for having the only forum on this subject where it can be discussed rationally.

  10. I responded in this conversation back in June –and thank you to all who made generous responses. (There were a few others . . . ) I know my experience growing up was different from most boys. Because I know that it really happened, I’m a little sad when I’m told “You made that up,” even though just the idea of boys swimming nude in schools, the Y, and on school and club teams, seems incredible now.

    That unwillingness even to consider it (refusal more the “skepticism”) is denial, and this subsequent denial is what interests me now.

    Several respondents have focused on the question of pre- or post-pubescent boys swimming in front of grown women, or for that matter girls their age. I did this often enough that it was a non-event, and only years later did I begin to think, “Wait, what? Things have changed.” It was not beyond the thinkable then. Social mores change, but the ideology of those mores has difficulty conceding that.

    Elsa’s contribution has been wonderful and valuable, and entirely respectable. In retrospect, the question why mature women were assigned to supervise or coach naked boys are reasonable insofar as they certainly would not be assigned to do so now. (There must have been other women in Elsa’s position: I wish we could hear from them now.) Several contextual realities have also been pointed out.
    – Public school teaching was not a “top line” profession then (still isn’t); PE instructors have never been prestigious; many boys hated PE generally, much less swimming (fear of water), much less swimming nude;
    – Women somehow were not expected to have sexual responses to naked boys, because ideologically they were regarded officially as non-sexual until “awakened” in marriage. (Reality of course was different –all the women PE teachers and coaches I remember were single, and I’m sure, some of them lesbian);
    – Boys were not expected to show any sexual response in the presence of other boys because the situation was simply not regarded as sexual, and only a “pervert” would see it as in some measure sexual;
    – Boys bullied each other, then as now, about body type, clothes, nudity, or just about anything at hand;
    – Adolescent erections happened but were never mentioned –compare with how they can happen currently in wrestling meets, and no one utters a word, and were probably more memorable in the mind of the erect boy than anyone else;
    – Homosexuality was utterly “other,” and ideologically impossible in communities such as the “nice school” in the “nice town” where I lived (Grosse Pointe, MI); no one expected to see them, and consequently no one saw them.

    One of the ironic, unanticipated consequences of the visible “gay liberation” movement since 1970 (a societal change I have supported and participated in it fully) has been the increasing anxiety that has crept over many heterosexual young men who fear they might be gay (which equals “bad” in their eyes). They (like so many others) just don’t get it that gay men and boys usually know who else is gay, and aren’t interested in those who are not. For those who are gay, merely mentally noticing a hot guy does not equal or automatically lead to acting on that knowledge. Confusions do occur, but I’m sure statistically tend far more towards a gay man construing another gay man as straight than a straight man as gay. That statement unfortunately rams sexual identity into a binary: many boys might be naturally bisexual if they were not so anxious, and might be willing more to explore, experiment, and then move on to the cis-gendered heterosexual identities many have.

    I believe that such anxiety has been projected sometimes onto imagined “pedophiles,” quite apart from those real pedophiles whom I acknowledge do exist. Men who have unresolved developmental issues have caused major problems and personal damage, such as Dennis Hastert or many so-called “celibate” clergy. This is another consequence of denial: the ideology of binary sexualities can so distort a young man’s sense of his identity that as an adult he can only act out his anxiety and desires in a destructive manner.

    The kind of denial current decades ago was different. I remember that it was entirely possible for an adolescent boy to travel world-wide openly with a older man whom today would almost universally be recognized a gay man. (I should know: I did this.) “Respectable people” believed that they could not possibly have known any man who would be a “pervert.” (This is the source of the famous lines “I have never met any homos,” just like “I have never seen a transgendered person or transvestite.”) This was a time when national network audiences laughed and loved Liberace without any acknowledgment that he was “that way,” no matter how howlingly obvious it might be to viewers now.

    Frank Senn is eloquent (on this blog entry, and elsewhere) on the spirituality of the human body, the theological significance of the Word made flesh and the “grace upon grace” that we have all received. (As an Episcopal Christian I have a very high regard for the Incarnation). I have come to believe that the subsequent societal denial that such public nude swimming by young males ever took place also holds religious meaning. It is an ideology, a false consciousness, and theologically is a striking example of the social consequences of bearing “false witness” –the denial of what really happened.

    This false witness has become especially powerful through its uncanny alliance with particular or partial truths. Yes, some boys were definitely bullied because of their physical appearance. That happened then along with nudity more than because of it, and happens now (alas) when everyone has is clothed. My heart goes out to those boys, then and now. Towel-snapping and other physical abuse were tolerated, alas, because of the same, distorted code of masculinity (another instances of false witness) that “required” such nudity then and “prohibits” it now. Undoubtedly bullied boys felt they were “required” to be nude, even as a kind of punishment –but that is not the whole story, nor every boy’s experience. I was never “required” to be nude: I was expected to be nude, and in concert with other boys I complied. Maybe that’s just a polite way of saying “required,” but I really don’t remember anyone saying, “Now you have to take your clothes off, because you are boys and you deserve humiliation.” Quite the opposite: many of us wanted to swim, which simply meant taking our clothes off, just as we had to get wet, and did not feel humiliated at all.

    My heart also goes out to all those boys (sometimes I was one of them) who were terribly frightened that others would discover that they were “not normal,” but “homo,” “perverted,” or “queer,” and then face violence and rejection. Prejudice is an act of commission, but equally springs from an ideological false consciousness of power, privilege, and prohibition. In this case of false witness, the nudity at that time could have become an opportunity for self-exploration, but was turned into stumbling block to authentic self-acknowledgment.

    The retrospective total denial of this young, male, social, athletic nude swimming bears false witness because it distorts the past by enforcing codes that have grown up in subsequent decades, and then requires those who could remember to trim their memories to fit their requirements. This denial is ideological, like Stalin’s vanishing Commissar. Art and photographs were falsified in Stalin’s Soviet Union in order to “un-remember” Nikolai Yezhov, in a manner memorably satirized by George Orwell. In that same manner, I have been flatly told by several women my age (at reunions, for example) that they could never have attended a swim meet in which the boys competed naked, when in plain fact I was one of the boys, on swim teams with their brothers, and they were present as spectators (I know for a fact). But now according to them, it did not happen because it could not have happened –and the swimmer, like the Commissar, vanishes.

    Such denial also stings because some of the boys I swam with were (or at least later came out as) gay. A number of them subsequently died prematurely from HIV/AIDS. To deny what we did together is to un-remember them at their most powerful, beautiful moments –and moments that were in some ways also their most sexual and vulnerable. It denies the reality of their lives during the only, short time they had. My team-mates have remained loyal to each other over the years, and very fondly remember those who have died (whether for reasons of health, warfare, or violence). To deny that we all swam nude together would be, for me, to deny the way we were, and that we were.

    I believe that this social denial is part-and-parcel with contemporary nervousness about embodied, sexual youth. Thanks to the legal writings of Dworkin and MacKinnon, teen-age boys are legally, socially, and psychologically held to be incapable of consenting to sexual acts –even among themselves, in some states. They are held to be as sexually disempowered as any young woman, a view that arises by comparing them with female prostitutes. The psychological realities of young male desire are much more complex, however, and do not change magically upon a boy’s 18th birthday (or whatever age in whichever jurisdiction). Are or were boys really disempowered in this way? Are they all only victims ? –even if some of them are clearly victims?

    Such ideological anxiety betrays a continuing view of human bodies as by definition problematic, a truly monstrous offspring of complicated Christian attitudes towards the body and society that have a very long lineage. (Thank you, Kenneth Vickery.) In previous decades when such sexuality “could not happen” because “nice boys would never do that,” now it “must not happen” because “boys by definition cannot consent” to such acts –which completely ignores their knowing, driving, and volatile desires, and the complexities of human motivations. In some cases, some of them might dearly wish for a mature man to show them the way, but even to suggest that such wishes might exist, is to encourage predatory pedophilia, in the popular view.

    In very old Christian language, bearing false witness is an occasion of sin, and I believe that commission of false witness and omission of the truth has occurred. I acknowledge some boys were deeply hurt. Other kinds of denial also hurt. But that is not the only thing that can be said, and I don’t wish to close on such a negative note.

    For my part, I am glad I participated in such public, social, nude swimming as a youth. It helped me to realize my differences with my prevailing culture, that I was not (and am not) alone, and that my desires (and actions) were not “perverted.” I began to understand that I could enjoy and acknowledge my body. In that understanding, I received grace, measure upon measure. Gott sei dank! The great work begins.

    https://lesfilsducalamus.tumblr.com

  11. P-trick

    I was in high school in the early 50’s and I do not remember having a swimming class. However, in the 7th grade, we began “suiting up” for gym and showering (nude of course). I was very curious about each boy’s development, but excessively shy about myself. I did everything I could not to suit up! A few years later as a teen, I discovered nude swimming at the YMCA in Houston and loved it. They also had overnight rooms for rent and there was a lot of introduction (cruising) and interaction (sex) between males. This was thinly veiled and I became proud to expose myself. I met a lot of men. I learned a lot about myself. I wish male nude swimming still existed.

  12. Max

    I attended HS in upstate NY in the late 70’s until the early 80’s. Us boys always swam nude in PE class. Our HS had a beautiful full size indoor pool with multiple diving boards etc. None of us had any problem swimming nude. I think it was good for morale among the boys in the class. I do remember some times when one of the two swinging doors that separated the pool from the main gym area was left open while we swam, occasionally the girl’s class would walk by the open door on their way outside being led by the female instructor. Most of the girls would just run by and not even pay attention, but a few of the girls would stop for a couple minutes and stare at all of us swimming naked. Always wondered if the door was left open intentionally or purely by accident. No one ever reacted negatively – we just carried on as usual.

  13. Mark in TX

    I wonder what the geographic distribution of this practice was. Many commenters seem to be from the upper Midwest. I am in my mid 50s and from a conservative west Texas city sometimes referred to as the buckle of the Bible Belt. I had not previously heard of this practice.

    Could it have been absent in some areas? Was the YMCA practice universal?

    • Frank Senn

      Your report and question will undoubtedly prompt a new string of comments. Judging from the comments thus far, I would say that the practice of naked swimming was unevenly distributed in the US as far as public schools are concerned. But the earliest indoor pools were introduced in the U.S. by the YMCA in the 1880s and nude swimming was the rule for the Y from the beginning. This practice was relaxed or abolished in the Ys beginning in the 1960s and abolished in the schools in the late 1960s/early 1970s for the various reasons discussed in my article and in the comments, but continued in some schools throughout the 1970s. Your age would put you in high school in the mid-to-late 1980s. By then the practice of naked swimming in the YMCA and in high schools was pretty much ended. Ask your high school or local Y if this was ever the practice (if they will own up to it). My guess is that you just missed out. Sorry about that.

    • Go to http://www.tnsprofessorsig.org/nude%20swimming%20in%20school.html. I am compiling a list for a forthcoming article in Nude & Natural magazine. So far, the preponderance of reports have come from the Great Lakes states–almost nothing from the South. The schools have been public or Catholic. Does anybody know of a Protestant school with nude swimming, or did most of them open as the practice was waning? If you are aware of any school or dates not already on the list, please report them: specific schools and specific dates.

  14. Paul: On the list at tnsprofessorsig.org:
    –Michigan, Grosse Pointe: GP HS (South) was just GP HS until 1967; nude swimming happened there at least until 1967 (my senior year); GP HS became GP HS (South) in 1967 so I straddled that change
    –Michigan: Grosse Pointe: Brownell MS, 1950s-1964 (at least);
    –Michigan: University Liggett: in the 1960s (schools joined in a merger then)
    –Michigan: St Joseph, St Joseph HS (public): at least until 1968, because the St. Joe swimmers also complained about having to wear suits in the state championship (GP HS won)
    –I remember swimming nude in meets with Royal Oak (Dondero –was it Dondero then?), Birmingham, Cranbrook (private), Birmingham Brother Rice (Catholic), Detroit Cass Tech HS, Detroit Cooley HS
    Michigan: Traverse City HS: until about 1970 (my cousin swam there)
    NJ: Princeton: Princeton University until 1971 at least
    CT: Yale University: at least until 1971, more likely until about 1976

    • Rob R

      Gavin – When you swam nude in the meets, were there spectators? I’ve seen other posts on other forums discussing this topic and some swimmers said there was a mixed (male/female) crowd in the stands and others either said no spectators at all or only men. Just curious what your experience was. Thanks for sharing.

      • Thomas Mendip

        If this subject intrigues you, try this website: http://www.voy.com/223876/685.html
        There are two threads here in which nude swim meets with female spectators are discussed.

        I have been reluctant to bring this up here, because the subject has been discussed with such civility and when you bring up this topic, you always get a “spirited” debate going between the believers and doubters. But this, coupled with the Burnley Grammar School photo (referenced in my post above) represents some of the most fantastic (in the literal meaning of that term) stuff I’ve ever read.

        There are about forty posts in these things. Most of them are from now adult women, who must be in their sixties or seventies, recalling nude male swim meets they witnessed as children. Some of them are fun to read because they have such a quality of the joy of discovery.
        But that falls apart when you read the testimony of the boys. Half a century later and they still feel the humiliation. Only two male posters, which appear to be the same person, anyway, had anything positive to say about it.

        What’s shocking is that the women, whom you might have thought would have gained some small bit of a perspective after decades have passed, are totally dismissive of those boys complaints. So much for female empathy.

        My opinion is that these are real. They’re no more preposterous than other accounts I’ve read, and in the absence of anything objective (there aren’t going to be any photographs), you have to take the tenor of the posts as an indicator of their veracity, and these definitely aren’t intended to titillate.
        Take a look at these and let me know what you think.
        Live long and prosper.

        • Frank Senn

          It looks like David, who posts in the blog you link, is a double dipper, since he posted the same story in the comments on this blog (March 9, 2017).

          • Thomas Mendip

            I thought you were older than I.
            How come it’s my memory that’s going?

          • Frank Senn

            You haven’t lived with all these comments the way I have. I even recognized Dr. Syn on the link. Haha.

          • Frank Senn

            There sure were a lot of erections being seen by girls and embarrassing boys on that link Thomas shared. Maybe girls also fantasize? In any event, putting on swim wear doesn’t make erections go away. Here’s a question to Dr. Ruth Westheimer in the Chicago Tribune October 31, 1995.

            “Q. I am a 16-year-old boy who belongs to a swim and dive team. Our coach is a very pretty 23-year-old female. Whenever she coaches us outside the pool, I get an erection. This is very embarrassing since we are wearing bikini-type racing suits.

            The other girls on the team also wear very sexy swimsuits, and I almost always get an erection at practice. A couple of the other boys on the team get erections too. Is there anything I can do to keep from getting these erections? I try to concentrate on other things, but it does not help. Can you give us any advice?”

            Dr. Ruth’s advice? Be happy that it’s working and dive into cold water.

            Boys get erections. And they will show whether the boys swim naked or in skin-tight swim wear.

          • juanb

            That’s why I asked for the photo…. I never believed his story.

        • Rob R

          The voy.com site is a bunch of sensationalized fictional crap. It reads like all the posts are by the same person who just changes their usernames. Grammar is horrible – who says “watch me get erected”?

  15. Wonderful, Gavin. This is exactly the kind of detailed information I need.

    The Professors & Researchers Special Interest Group of The Naturist Society issues a quarterly newsletter that is not posted on the web. In the last one, I quoted extensively from your blog. Write me privately to get a copy.

  16. Responding to Rob R, August 29:

    I definitely swam nude in meets with other middle and high, public and private schools that were open to the public and attended by women and girls as well as boys and men –families, mostly, but also students. I imagine that some “homos” were there (in the dreadful language of the times), but were so closeted that no one really knew (although I knew several of them, extra-curricular).

    I speak only for myself. I did not experience public nudity as shaming, and I don’t believe my team-mates did. We all chose to be on a team, and these were team events, not compulsory PE. I am sure that some boys were ashamed or very ill-at-ease with nude swimming in PE, but I remember those as closed, boy-only environments (excepting a few doors left open, etc.). Probably those boys were not used to being nude, even with other boys, and experienced nudity as “nakedness” and humiliation. I was very accustomed to being nude alone and with others at home, in camp, and in the pool. I acknowledge my own experience was unusual and probably “mainstream” people (then, maybe now) would have labelled my freedom to be nude “perverted.”

    I do not remember being “forced” to be nude (or “naked”) –we swam nude since very young, before competition age. It was just how it was done. We accepted because all the older boys and the adults we knew accepted it and expected it.

    I compare my experience with contemporary HS wrestlers who wear skin-tight singlets. Everything shows in fine detail, including erections or semi-erections. I am told that those happen in practices more often than meets. In meets (in my experience), boys can come up off the matt with clearly visible erections, and everyone (wrestlers, officials, spectators) pretends not to see them. It’s a social convention. I do not believe that these young wrestlers experience these singlets as humiliation. It’s just how its done, and the erections are part of it. HS wrestlers all know this and I have overheard them joke about it. I’m sure somewhere a young man is very embarrassed. My heart goes out to others who must be terribly anxious that someone will humiliate them as “gay” because they had an erection (–and know deep down that they really are gay). My sources for this are my own sons when recently in HS and their friends (a couple of whom are swimmers, or wrestlers, and gay).

    In my experience, because we swam nude from our first swimming team practices and lessons (mine were at age 4), swimming nude as we grew older just continued the world as we knew it. What changed for us were the meets, which became better attended and more “public.” From ages 5-9 I swam nude in “public” meets that were really only attended by family members –and my whole family, and many of our friends, had already seen me nude many times, so I felt, so what?

    Starting in 5th grade (age 10) I swam with the older elementary school team, and then moved on to JrHigh and HS. I don’t remember having or seeing a boy’s erection in a public meet before I was about 10 (happened to me in practice, though).

    Puberty changed everything in several ways beyond the physical growth, both in practices and at meets. We all became much more conscious that girls our age were attending in much larger numbers, including some we hardly knew –simply because they started to attend. Male coaches, who had usually coached nude, began to wear suits at meets. We had our first female coaches (always clothed). Some boys grew much sooner than others; some boys had more visible, darker pubic hair; the difference between cut and uncut penises became more visible, and boys grew at differing rates. We were nude as a team–we were “all in” and were not singled out.

    I remember feeling more embarrassment elsewhere –in classes, and (interestingly) at confirmation class in our Episcopal church–when I was away from my team. Sometimes girls blushed, giggled, and teased because they had seen me nude, and boys smirked. I learned from my teammates to turn it into a strength, to respond, “I’m not afraid to swim nude in public –and I dare you to do that!” (That usually shut down the mockery.) I guess I was a vivid part of their education, although two women have denied in later years that this ever happened.

    We really worked in practices and at meets our heads were in the swimming, not in the nudity. The pools were kept at probably 75F which usually feels “cold,” and swimming is tough: that much exertion will keep anyone’s penis soft at any age. By HS we all knew each other pretty well; an erection became as noteworthy as a muscle cramp. I think that some of Frank Senn’s respondents have magnified the frequency or perceived humiliation of erections. I both had and saw more of them in recreational pools, PE classes, or at the Y when I practiced alone. (In the Y in particular I was propositioned by men more than a few times, and learned how to reject or accept their advances).

    Adolescent erections can be brought on by stress, and I sure remember a lot of those outside of swimming –in examinations, or school dances, or when being called on unexpectedly in class (and when I was ill-prepared), or getting yelled at by my mother or a coach. I remember several spontaneous ejaculations in my pants when having a panic attack at the beginning of big tests (including the SAT once). Sometimes I got public erections in meets before I had to swim something tough, like the 500 free style, a long race that was my speciality. (I was long, skinny, and had great endurance; also ran cross-country.)

    In earlier adolescence I was particularly prone to spontaneous erections at just about any time for no reason. These subsided as I turned 15/16 but by then I had a rep on the team and a team nick-name, “Hardway,” because they said I usually did things “the hard way.”

    We were all given standard issue white towels just barely large enough to wrap around us during the times we were standing by or sitting on the pool-side bench between our individual events. I remember getting erections then, rubbing shoulders or touching legs with other boys–with no effective way to conceal. I had to leave my towel behind when next I had to go to the block for the next start, when I was usually in lanes 4,5,or 6 (of 8), the faster lanes –so it was a long walk, too. I especially remember the knowing grins of my fellow swimmers (both my team and competitors) because we had all been there, done that. Nothing quite like standing on the block, completely visible to everyone, with an erection between half- and full-mast. This happened to me 6-7 times in four years, but not all the time, and happened several times a season for the team as a whole. No wonder we had a certain “swim team swagger” in school –it was a way to respond to real or potential humiliation with assertiveness, and was valuable life training.

    Practices were different. I was particularly prone to erections in the shower afterwards, going from fairly cold water to very hot–and other boys were, too. They also happened during breaks during the long practices. I remember one of our female coaches during grades 9-11 unfairly reprimanding me at line up (when I had been working very hard) for “lallygagging.” She liked to boss us around. Usually she singled me out along with the other fastest swimmer, who was a tall, big-boned Scandinavian kind of boy with big shoulders, great for the fly. At least twice during these tongue-lashings he went totally erect, and one glance at him in my peripheral vision, and I did too. She was yelling, in front of a line of 25 nude boys, at two tall boys standing at attention, hands behind our backs, and at full mast. Rather than humiliation, he and I both felt erections were pay-back –as though “you’re gonna yell at me, then fuck you, here’s my cock in your face.” Silent but effective adolescent rebellion. We were totally compliant with her every wish, of course, since she was dominant.

    No one in Frank’s threads has mentioned the divers. They faced a special situation. Generally the diving events occurred in the middle of the meet, to give the swimmers a rest –usually after the 100 butterfly, so they had to sit for 20 minutes or so. We swam nude; they dived nude. One at a time, they stood at the end of the board in full view of the whole “nat,” the center of attention, nude, and had to execute perfectly. They were particularly on display, and tended to be smaller guys (then as now). Their genitals also grew more slowly, and they went through puberty later. No hiding, no subterfuge –and while at least one of them even then was acknowledged (on the team, among friends) as “queer,” they were always really popular with the girls. I think any sense of embarrassment weeded out those who could not quietly revel in the attention. I knew a high-school diver in the past 10 years, a shorter boy who wore the tinniest speedo imaginable, and would even visit the spectators afterwards with nothing else on –an implicit exhibitionist rather than his more explicit predecessors, and totally the type.

    I had no “genital privacy” or “erectile privacy” as a boy and adolescent, and did not expect any, either. It was part of being a boy, for me. Part of being a swimmer was shaving –one consequence was that the girls couldn’t figure out who really had pubic hair and who did not. (Team mutual shavings in the showers were another interesting case of adolescent sexuality, but tangential here.) Undoubtedly I carried an obnoxious, entitled sense of being “special” because I had the moxie to be so out there with my team. That did get knocked out of me. My experience then was completely the opposite of boys now, who cover themselves so very carefully at all times, even in the locker rooms. They have no clue what they have missed.

    So Yes, Rob R, I definitely swam nude in events attended by men, women, boys, and girls, and would not have had it any other way.

    • Thomas Mendip

      I don’t want to belabor this, but your post, like Elsa’s, is so extraordinary, it piques my interest. Might I pester you for some elaboration? You’re under no obligation, of course, but I am curious about a couple of things.

      People say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, but what they miss is that a given item that seems extraordinary now wasn’t in the past. When I’ve encountered accounts like yours, they have clustered in the northern middle west US (Michigan and Minnesota) or in New England. In England, they seem to a private school phenomenon, but occur anyway. (Reference the Burnley Grammar School link above.)

      I was wondering about the female coaches and whether or not they were permanent fixtures, or like Elsa, subs. If they were permanent, did they also teach boys’ swim classes?

      How large were the audiences at these events and what percentage do you think were female? At the Voy forums, most of the posts were from female witnesses, but they seem to describe pretty much what you experienced. Except that these girls seem to have been pretty young at the time.

      Did your girlfriend ever attend these events?
      Live long and prosper?

  17. I do understand that this seems incredible, especially now. I really rarely speak and certainly never write about this, except with those who would be receptive, because in the contemporary world such memories and claims are ludicrous. I don’t want to try to force anyone to believe anything. I just know what I and others did.

    I did not have female PE instructors. I just don’t recall any situation with substitute teachers (we may not have had any female substitutes, so moot point).

    The female coaches we had were assistant coaches, and were or had been swimmers at University of Michigan or Michigan State. We did not always have them –not 12th grade year, not before 9th grade– and they did not run every practice. They also worked with the girls swimming season in the Fall so I think this was a “year” contract for them, since several of them also assisted with track & distance running in the Spring (we ran clothed –thin clad, not a lot left to the imagination, but definitely clothed).

    One of the female assistants was the diving coach one year (my 10th grade? I think) so she worked with a several nude boys regularly. I really only remember the female assistants very clearly when the head coach was away for some reason.

    Look: my head was in the pool, in the swimming. The “nude swimming thing,” no matter who the coach was, is something that looms large in retrospect, but not at the time. I was concentrating on trying to become a better swimmer, and with doing my best on my school work. My home life was in a different world than school, which was fine with me then and now.

    And, um, I had only casual girlfriends. I had a number of good “social” girlfriends, and I was reasonably popular with the girls because I did not come on to them. I knew the reason that I did not come on to them was that I did not really want to, but it was easy to cover that with good manners. Yes, the girls came to see me and the other boys, and yes they definitely saw all of me. I do remember standing on the pool level nude and talking/yelling up to my friends, male and female, after the meets — I did not feel in a huge hurry to put clothes back on. I think they thought I was kind of cool. These same friends certainly saw me when I socialized in mutual friends’ & team-mates’ backyard pools naked in the summers.

    The swim team was an intense, small world. Swimming, then and now, is not particularly a marquee sport in HS.

    May the force be with you, my friend. And may young people learn to be less afraid of their own, and each others’ bodies. Thanks, Thomas, for your courtesy and questions!

    • Frank Senn

      I am really touched by your testimony, Gavin. I don’t know what more can be said. Swimming naked was an experience many of us had and until it began to be questioned in the 1960s I believe most boys just took it in stride. It never occurred to me to question the practice. I didn’t even think about it until in recent years people questioned that it happened or said it should not have happened or, like the tour guide for my high school alumni group, thought it was a barbaric practice. I hope young people, even adolescent youth, will stumble upon this blog article and read all the comments that have been made and, as Gavin said, “learn to be less afraid of their own, and each others’ bodies.”

      I should have done this at the outset, but I dedicate this article to my best boyhood friend Gary, who died from ALS two years ago. Gary was on the Bennett High School swim team. But he was also my companion with whom I wrestled naked in the pool during free time in P.E. swim class and with whom I swam naked in a wilderness creek and then lay side by side on the rocks sunning ourselves. We were not gay. We were just comfortable in our bodies and not afraid of each other’s body. I’m sorry these experiences are not available to youth today.

  18. Old Swimmer

    To Gavin and Frank,
    It’s been awhile since I commented on this blog but the last few comments gave me conflicting thoughts. I appreciate Gavin’s comments and listing even the venues where swimmers went nude in the presence of women spectators and coaches. It seems hard for me to believe that an adolescent even in those days would comfortably chat with women or girls he knew while being nude. However, so much of what Gavin says is part of my experience in the 50’s and early 60’s. So even hearing third-hand accounts of nude swimming in public venues and now Gavin’s first hand account and that of a friend’s father year ago, it is still hard for me to fathom. I remember reading a column years ago about an American family visiting Europe (don’t remember the country) where they attend a swim meet where the boys were all nude including the son of the family’s host. So there must be some truth to this.

    So while this may seem very extraordinary to me, required nude swimming that I experienced seems unreal to many. As I mentioned awhile ago I swam nude at the “Y”, camp, h.s. swimming and a little bit in college. Many find it hard to believe but it was true for me. When I mentioned that our “Y” instructors, life guards, camp counselors and h.s. swim coaches were nude, one person in this blog could not believe that we saw the pubic hair and penises of these authority figures, but we we did and I was not shocked by it.

    Like Gavin I concentrated on swimming, not on being nude. It was not strange or extraordinary to me. I never had required nude swimming when women were present. So perhaps that is why I find some accounts hard to believe. But some find my accounts hard to believe since it was not in their experience.

    We too shaved from head to toe to compete in a closed meet with a military boarding school. We thought they would have an edge since they shaved.So I share that experience with Gavin.

    My friends who wrestled did sometimes practice nude and complained that in multi-school tournaments, nude weigh-ins in large gyms were seemingly open to the public. where they would be seen by parents, girls etc. Like Frank, I do remember wrestling nude with some classmate wrestlers after practice a few times. Was the shaving and wrestling homo-erotic? Yes, sort of, but it did not seem strange.

    Did some guys sprout erections? Rarely, and we pretty much ignored them except at the “Y” when we were younger. We would giggle and point until the coach reminded us that we all get them and can’t hide them when naked. We could not bring towels or anything into the pool but our naked selves!!!

    The swim suits we wore when competing were made of nylon (no spandex then), they were really skimpy and revealing when wet–so not much real difference from nude swimming. I wasn’t embarrassed concentrating only on swimming

    So my experience was different than Gavin’s in regard to nude competitions, but I appreciate his and Frank’s comments as I come to believe what has been posted. Those were different times, indeed.Thanks to Frank for this discussion.

  19. Lena

    I remember boys swimming nude in the high school and the YMCA very clearly. My older brother Neil and I both swam in high school. I learned to swim well at the Mankato pool but I could not swim for the high school because I had to work to save money for college. Since I could swim well, I earned a life guard certificate and became a life guard at a local summer pool. It paid off when I was in college at Mankato State. This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Minnesota.

    Neil was a real fast swimmer since he was a small boy and he swam all four years. He and his team always swam nude since his earliest boys’ teams and I went to see almost every meet he was in, both at home and away. I have to say I enjoyed seeing the boys and they always treated me real nice. He also swam for the varsity team his first two years at Mankato State (when I was still in high school), but they wore suits for meets. They practiced nude though.

    When I was in my second year of college the coach at Mankato High School called me and offered me a part-time job of assistant coach for the boys. Mostly I watched them swim, did a lot of organizing for the meets, and ran the practices if he had to be away. The boys all remembered Neil and they behaved really well for me.

    It might have been strange for other girls to coach nude boys on their technique and try to build their skill. But I liked the work and I was used to the nudity since I had already seen a lot of boy swimmers. I had seen Neil nude often at home all those years after he took a shower or something.

    I did not feel sexual about it because I was beginning to understand that I am lesbian. But in those times I knew I had to get married anyway. So I did get married and moved to Michigan and raised two boys. I love them very much. When my husband died suddenly in his 50s, I knew that I would like to be in a relationship with a woman. It was tough all those years with him, but I handled it, and my wife and I have been together for 16 years. We got married two years ago when marriage equality passed.

    I started to think about that nude swimming because Neil died two years ago and I was reminiscing about his high school days at a reunion in Mankato and then with my sons. They just didn’t believe that boys swam nude but they knew I was telling them the truth about it. So I started thinking about it more and a few days ago I found this blog.

    I don’t know if the boys thought it was a sexual thing to be nude or not. They really seemed to like it, for sure. I never taught any PE classes so I can’t say what those were like. I guess some boys just feel everything is sexual just because they are boys.

    I have read here that some boys were really humiliated because they got erections. I do remember that sometimes boys had erections and a few of them seemed real embarrassed but most of them did not. If a boy had an erection when I was talking to him or coaching him I just kept going and ignored it and so did he. It did not seem so strange to me because my family always had a few horses on our property just outside of town. I saw several stallions with big erections every spring and summer and the boys just seemed to be like that.

    I sure don’t think that when the boys got erections it was because I was there. I think they just happened. Its a natural thing for a boy. Neil got hard sometimes and my two sons did plenty of times and I was never embarrassed and I tried to teach them just to accept and love their bodies the way they are.

    It was not so strange for girls to go see the boys swimming. We all knew the boys and knew that they always swam nude. The thing that was wrong was that we could not swim nude, although when I have done it I don’t really like it so much. I still like to swim, but I really prefer to wear a one-piece. They’re a lot better made now.

    I heard girls talk about what the boys were like and how their bodies were different, and how different their penises were. They were really different and when the boys got their erections they stood up at different angles. I talked about this with only one girlfriend because it just wasn’t talked about back then. I really think the nicest things about the boys were their legs and fronts and backs and shoulders and butts, not their penises.

    I think that it really helped the boys who were swimmers behave in school because they knew we had seen them naked a lot, and maybe even erect. They were nice and did not have so much attitude as boys have now sometimes. Sometimes I would see a boy swimmer in school and imagine him being nude in the library or cafeteria or some place. It was kind of fun. But then it was the Midwest and a very Lutheran town and everybody made a big deal about being nice. That attitude also made it really hard for me to love another girl, but I did anyway, especially as time went on.

    Thanks for the chance to talk about this.

    • Frank Senn

      Thanks for your recollections and comments, Lena. Your matter-of-fact reporting gives a real sense of naked swimming in high school and college in a “nice” Lutheran part of the country.

  20. Louis B

    Very interesting .

    From what I’ve found while Googling around the internet is that the rules of almost all school district governing bodies throughout the USA as well as most colleges and universities were that everybody had swim naked. This was done on the recommendation of the ‘American Public Health Association’, based in Washington DC, who from 1926 to 1962 regularly advised nude swimming for all for pool hygiene in their bulletins, although only boys were forced to swim naked, while girls had to wear cotton swimsuits and swim caps. Most states, towns and cities health authorities gave the same recommendations. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nude_swimming).

    The boys’ swimming instructors were usually men, but there were many cases later at both schools as well as YMCAs, Boys Clubs and community pools, where women coaches and lifeguards instructed the naked boys, even senior class boys,  and supervised them, even in the showers.
    It started to happen during the Second World War from 1941 to 1945/46 when about all medically fit young men between between 18 and 38 enlisted or were called up to military service, and thus included most male swimming coaches at schools and YMCAs, and many men also went to work in factories for war production, and so women were called in to fill all the vacancies as swimming coaches and lifeguards.

    In earlier years families tended to be large, and so having a few brothers most boys were comfortable being seen naked by their brothers and other boys, and even perhaps by their parents and sisters; but as the economy grew rapidly after WWII and the Korean and Vietnam eras, and female contraceptives became readily available, as well as women’s lib etc., modern families started being smaller and with only one boy per family they started to be more shy about being naked in front of other boys.

    I believe that the 60’s/70’s desegregation of schools may also have had something to do with the gradual halting of nude school swimming.

    Would any schools or YMCA’s have anything about the naked swimming during PE classes in their archives?

    Louis B

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