nakedness, nudity, social history, swimming, youth

Frank Answers About Swimming Naked

I recently attended a reunion of the class of 1961 of Bennett High School in Buffalo, NY. As part of the weekend events we were given a tour of our high school to see what had changed and what remained the same.  When we went to the pool our tour guide said, “you men will probably remember the barbaric practice of having to swim nude.” Shocked to hear him say this so matter-of-factly I blurted out, “it wasn’t barbaric, it was a good tradition.” I looked at a couple of the guys in our group, with whom I probably had swimming classes, and they seemed equally surprised. The guide asserted, “Well, I think it was barbaric. I don’t know what the rationale was for such a practice.”

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

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

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

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

boys swimming class 1950s

Fig. 2

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

Fig. 3

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

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

Fig. 4

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

Reasons for this Blog Article

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

Fig. 5

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

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

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

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

Fig. 7

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

Fig. 8

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

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

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

Reasons for Swimming Naked in Pools

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

Fig. 10

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

boys-shower-life-magazine-1941

Fig. 11

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

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

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

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

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

Fig. 13

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

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

The Recent History of Naked Swimming

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

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. Some think that showering nude with other men is a “gay thing.” But some boys and young men are afraid of being naked in showers with other boys and men because an erection might expose them as gay (having  same sex attraction), whether they are gay or not. We are not as sexually liberated as we like to think.

.boy-in-towel-in-locker

Fig. 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

45 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sept 6, 2017

    I believe I can bring a unique perspective, though no resolution, to the controversy on Pastor Senn’s blog about whether it was normal at one time for boys to swim naked in the presence of females. One argument against the deniers is that they cannot know how different things were in the 1950s; a decade that most people are not old enough to remember. I started puberty around the time I turned twelve in February, 1955. Believe me I remember the Fifties and early Sixties very well.

    During those years I had plenty of reason to think about genital privacy. This is because, in those years, I was treated for emotional problems at the Orthogenic School in Chicago. I mention the Orthogenic School, though not by name, in my Frank Answers March 23, 2017 entry. I also attended the University of Chicago Lab School. For awhile I was affiliated with both institutions,.

    Before I go farther, let me say that I believe the Orthogenic School helped me a lot and that I currently support it. But there was a problem. As an adolescent, I was not always able to get genital privacy from female counselors. The problem lasted until after I turned sixteen in 1959. Eventually the policy changed. I refer people to THE CREATION OF DR. B., Simon & Schuster, by Richard Pollack(Pages 203-4)for a comprehensive discussion of the privacy issue and for confirmation of my what I say.

    In previous posts on Pastor Senn’s blog, I have discussed the psycho/sociological issues that surrounded adolescent boy nudity in the presence of females. I have also raised questions about photographic and other evidence about whether female audiences and instructors were present when adolescent boys swam naked. And I have speculated about whether the sexual revolution may have for awhile brought about a more relaxed attitude toward nudity. All I have to add is personal experience that predates the sexual revolution. I share my Orthogenic School experience to challenge people who think it was natural for girls and women to see teenage boys naked back in the Fifties.

    I worried that I would become an object of scorn if others knew about my privacy problem at the Orthogenic School. I even had the irrational fear that I would be ostracized. My mother tried to encourage me to adjust to my situation. She also talked to my stepfather. According to my mother, my stepfather said that he would have been initially disinclined to undress in front of women. But he thought he could adjust if the situation called for it. He may have had a point. A lot of the Orthogenic School boys did not seem to mind the lack of privacy.

    I don’t believe my mother or my stepfather had experienced any YMCA type venue in which it was normal for adolescent boys to swim naked in front of women. Had they known of such situations, they would have told me in order to make me feel that I was not so different from my contemporaries.

    Back in my inhibited Fifties, embarrassment about naked children was pretty powerful among some people. I heard that one of my stepfather’s professor colleagues allowed his little girl to frolic outside in the nude. I believe she was only two. People actually complained about this. I was told that a neighbor woman did not want her sons to see the girl naked.

    Gotta wonder what this woman would have done had she blessed her sons with a little sister. This woman was probably a bit extreme, but not off the charts. I have written about the well known double standard(Frank Answers, Mar 23, 2017)that mandated less bodily privacy for boys than for girls. But would this woman would have wanted her boys as teenagers to swim naked in the presence of a female instructor and/or a mixed gender audience?

    In adolescence I wondered what boys my age would think about the lack of privacy at the Orthogenic School. So, while outside the Orthogenic School, I discussed my situation with a contemporary. I was fourteen. I believe the boy was thirteen. The boy seemed shocked and said I should rebel. Later I discussed the situation with my analyst. He was also quite surprised. He said something like, “Wasn’t that your right?”, meaning the right to privacy. At another point, he said, “You were victimized.” That may put it a bit strongly. I was NEVER molested. Over the years, I have discussed my Orthogenic School experience with various people. Nobody suggested that my treatment was normal.

    Many years ago I discussed amorous issues with a woman my age. The discussion veered to her experience with and feelings about male anatomy. She had no brothers. Outside her home she had seen the penis of only one little boy. A woman I briefly dated told me something similar. Apparently boys were not on frequent display.

    There is a Dear Abby column in which a mother asked Abby if it would be proper to allow her son to skinny dip at the neighboring home of two fourteen year old(one version says twins were eleven)twin boys. She wrote that these boys swam naked while their sisters, 15 and 13(one version says nine and 13),wore bathing suits. To this mother’s surprise, her son had told her he didn’t care if he swam naked alongside the suited girls.

    Abby wrote that there was no reason for the mother not to allow her son to enjoy the swim “IF IT DOESN’T BOTHER HIM.”(italics mine). In other words Abby did not seem to think the boy should be FORCED to have girls see him naked. I believe this is how most people would have felt in my youth.

    Here is an interesting paradox. I believe it was acceptable for mothers to take their little boys into a woman’s locker room where they were seen naked by women and girls. But, when these boys emerged poolside, they were decked in bathing suits. In my experience, one hardly ever saw naked children at public pools and beaches in America.

    Little boys in bathing suits/adolescent boys naked in front of women: Perhaps Pastor Senn should call his blog a tale of two cultures. Based on various posts, it begins to seem as if these cultural variations were a function of geography and heritage. It would be interesting to hear from a man who in adolescence transitioned from one culture to the other.

    Gavin F.(Frank Answers, Aug 30)says his nudity was not forced. But should an adolescent have to trade in his bathing suit for his birthday suit in order to swim competitively? Pastor Senn’s blog features high school phys ed stories about nude swim classes presided over by women. Weren’t these classes mandatory?

    I would like to leave a message for today’s young men; men who have been patronized with comments that they are too young to know how things were in my Fifties youth. We boys and men were generally quite comfortable when we were naked together in locker rooms, open showers and swimming pools. At the University of Chicago Lab School we were issued bathing suits for co-ed classes but otherwise swam nude.

    So why weren’t bathing suits issued for all male classes? Nude swim probably cut the laundry bills. What’s more, we were guys! Nudity JUST DIDN’T MATTER. And a female swim coach was simply off our radar. Or so I believe. I don’t remember a single erection during naked swim. NOTHING in my youth prepared me for the drumbeat of erections that pulsate through some of the posts on Pastor Senn’s blog.

    As already noted, my Orthogenic School residency gave me reason to think about the propriety of adolescent boy nudity in the presence of women. I felt different and stigmatized because I perceived my Orthogenic School situation to be a stark exception to social consensus. That youthful and current perception may be accurate, partly accurate, or more inaccurate than I realize.

    My memory compels me to question Gavin’s belief(Frank Answers, Aug 29, 2017)that people are in denial because past customs conflict with current experience. Gavin is on somewhat persuasive ground when he encounters denial in women who witnessed the nude swimming. They might have forgotten the nudity because it was unimportant at the time; not because past practice conflicts with current perceptions of propriety.

    If memory has been erased by denial, how explain the numerous posts on Pastor Senn’s blog? How explain my memory? Finally, I believe Gavin becomes completely unpersuasive when he compares denial about nude swimming to the deliberate cultural erasure under Stalin.

    My purpose here is not to question Gavin’s truthfulness. Gavin and I have one thing in common. Our perceptions were forged by the people and institutions with whom and with which we came into contact. Our differences may be split by an astonishing perceptual/experiential volatility because we were formed by two cultures housed in one country.

    An intriguing conundrum: I think many people from my generation rightly believed the nudity standards in some European countries to be more relaxed than the nudity standards in the U.S. Did they miss the boat about differences in their own country?

    Lena(Frank Answers, Sept 4, 2017)writes about boys nude swimming –

    “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.”(Italics mine)

    Is this a good way to socialize boys? What about respect and warmth?

    Tom Wallace Lyons

  2. Avatar

    Rob R

    Here’s an interesting article just posted by WBEZ Chicago about nude swimming in the Chicago school districts. Click on the audio link and listen to students and teachers experience swimming nude.

    https://www.wbez.org/shows/curious-city/baring-it-all-why-boys-swam-naked-in-chicago-high-schools/c9a3a9e2-6ae3-404b-80e5-0c4bf4d5a0be?utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CuriousCityPodcast+%28WBEZ+Podcasts+%7C+Curious+City%29&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedburner

    • Frank Senn

      Thanks for the link, Rob. Amazing that the Chicago Public School system wouldn’t talk to a radio reporter (WBEZ is a respected PBS station in Chicago) about its own policies. It’s too bad the reporter didn’t also investigate the YMCA’s practice, which predates swimming classes in the public schools. I wonder if Y administrators would talk to a reporter about the practice of nude swimming. I wonder if they would even know about it. I once asked the youngish program director of my local YMCA if she knew when naked swimming ended at that Y. She wasn’t even aware of it. The cultural memory of this practice has been suppressed. That’s why it’s received from those of us who did it like a false memory. So we must tell our stories. Whether our experience was good or bad, it at least verifies that it once was the practice.

  3. Avatar

    Billy

    No one has ever been able to provide verifiable information that boys swam nude in mixed situations, such as public swim meets or mixed swim classes. No one can produce a genuine newspaper article or yearbook that shows photos, or even a written account, of boys swimming nude in any setting in front of girls, female instructors, parents, or the general public. The only thing anyone can produce are made-up CFNM stories and photo-shopped photos that they say are from newspapers or yearbooks, without citing an original that can be found and verified. (By the way, if you notice in the WBEZ story someone mentions that the boys’ swim team wore suits to meets.)

    There is no question that boys swam nude in swim classes at school and the YMCA, but no girls or women were present. I have collected over 100 newspaper articles from newspaper archive websites that discuss the practice, and discuss the objections from mothers that started, primarily, in the 1950’s. I also have over 400 newspaper articles about citizens complaining of boys swimming nude in lakes, ponds, and rivers, in view of the public, and the police making them stop or even arresting them. (Most of those complaints were from women.) The articles date from 1850 to 1970 and are from all over the United States. Now why in the world would there be such a general outrage over seeing boys swimming nude in public, or swimming nude in all-boy swim classes, when public nude swim meets were accepted? That makes no sense at all. The answer, of course, is that public nude swim meets did not happen. If anyone can produce an article or photo that can be verified, I will believe it. Until then, all the stories and fake photos are just CFNM porno fantasy.

    • Frank Senn

      What about the news article in my post from The Wisconsin Press November 11, 1952 that headlines that “Suits for Boys Will Be Optional” because women had been attending swimming competitions?

      It would seem from this report on November 11, 1952 that as audiences began to attend swim meets and YMCA family nights and women were among the spectators it took time before authorities recognized that there had to be some leeway in the all-nude swimming policies.

      As for photos…well, maybe we’re learning in the age of the visual that we can’t do without words to present the bigger picture.

      • Avatar

        Billy

        With all due respect, and I mean that, the newspaper article you reference, supposedly from The Wisconsin Press on November 11, 1952, is a fake. It has been popping up on the internet for quite a while, but there is no record of The Wisconsin Press ever existing. I have checked the websites that list old newspapers or magazines and it has never shown up. No one can produce the full-page version of the article or cite a source that can be found in any newspaper archive. I’ve seen this article posted on forums where the poster claimed it was from a different newspaper that did exist, but when I checked the archives the article wasn’t there.

        As I alluded to before, with all the articles about mothers protesting nude swim classes, it stands to reason that there would be a lot of articles about nude swim meets, if they existed. There are no articles because it didn’t happen. If it was considered acceptable, it would have been reported in the newspapers.

        There are also no verifiable reports that female family members ever attended a nude YMCA swimming event. (I have found ONE article that talks about very little boys removing their suits to swim faster at a family-attended swim meet back in the days of wool suits, but the boys were very young, five or six, and were referred to as “tadpoles”.) In the days of nude YMCA swimming, women were not allowed past the front desk.

        As to the photos, many of the photos in the blog article above are fake or misrepresented. The one said to be from Life Magazine in 1951 was actually part of a photo shoot for an article about University of Michigan swim coach Matthew Mann that appeared in Life on March 7, 1938. The photo wasn’t used, but it appears on the Life photo archive website, along with many others that weren’t used either. (I think the photographer liked photographing nude male students, even though he knew the photos wouldn’t be used.) The photo of boys showering said to be from Life Magazine in 1941 was actually in the January 13, 1941 issue and is a photo of students at Benjamin Franklin High School in Rochester, New York. It is part of an article about democracy in schools and is one of the few photos showing nude males of any age that appeared in the magazine. (Two other issues that had photos of nude male swimmers were the April 15, 1940 issue and the October 16,1950 issue. You can look those up on the magazine archive website.) Those are just a few examples.

        All the photos above showing nude men/boys with women are also fake, as are some, but not all, of the ones showing guys only. I have collected the original and fake versions over the last several years as the fakes appeared on forums such as this one. They usually show up as part of a fake yearbook page, but no one can ever produce a real copy of the yearbook, which would be easy to do if they were real photos. The original versions, with no nudity, show up on genuine school or city photo archive websites and are not that difficult to find.

        There are two things that I have discovered on the internet. One is that some people will go to great lengths to believe what the want to believe even in the face of proof that what they believe isn’t true, and the other is that some people love to try and fool anyone they can fool.

        • Frank Senn

          Well, this is discouraging. I have seen photos with the same boys suited and naked, and have removed from my article any of those pictures. But now the printed word doesn’t appear trustworthy either.

    • Avatar

      With your vast archive, I am hoping you may be aware of some schools and dates that I am not. Please visit http://www.tnsprofessorsig.org/nude%20swimming%20in%20school.html and let me know if you can add schools or expand any of the dates.

      • Avatar

        Billy

        Paul posted a link to a list of schools that had nude swimming. It includes the question “why are southern states missing?” Having lived in the South for 40 years (I don’t now) and having gone to schools in several different southern states, I can tell you that it was extremely rare for schools in the South to have swimming pools, and it still is, except for private schools. Football, baseball, and basketball are the only physical education activities that get any attention in school in the South. For the most part, if a school had a swim team, they swam somewhere else.

  4. Avatar

    Alonzo

    Thank you, Billy, for your comments. What belies so many of the photoshopped pictures is the fact that the creators simply aren’t old enough to remember what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Take another look at the pictures of the boys showering in Frank’s original post (Franklin High, Rochester, NY 1941). You see lots of bare tushes, to be sure, but how many penises do you see? How about zero? You see zero full frontals for the same reason you saw no female full frontals in Playboy Magazine until about 1970—it was considered obscene. There were laws against pornography, and publishing pictures of male or female genitals would lead to felony arrest.

    Years ago, in a nudist magazine I subscribed to at the time, there was an article about a nudist club in the Netherlands that rented time in a local pool on a regular basis for nude swims. One of the pictures was taken when the club shared the pool with a women’s synchronated swim team who wore identical one-piece swimsuits. Imagine my surprise when I saw the same image (only with all of the female nudists conveniently cropped out) to “prove” the presence of clothed women in the company of naked men!

    >Nevertheless, men did continue to bathe naked in less
    >public places, as this photo indicates.

    Though I suspect this image was photoshopped (in this case drawing one-piece suits on three nude women), of course this went on, and still does. And it means nothing more than the men want to swim and sunbathe naked and the women do not. Anyone who has ever been to Black’s Beach in San Diego will see dozens of couples where the man is naked and the woman is not, not even topless. The point being, it’s all completely voluntary.

    • Frank Senn

      As my blog article has evolved I have eliminated some, although not all, of the photos that were questionable and corrected some misrepresentations. I replaced the photo of the four nude boys that seemed to be from a school newspaper reporting on a swim meet with a photo of nude boys posing together at a pool. It doesn’t represent anything in my article other than that boys swam naked. I corrected the information about about the origin of the photo of naked boys kicking at the side of the pool with the information Billy supplied. It has been instructive, at least for me, to learn about the pitfalls of using information on the internet – both words and pictures. I had a story to tell and a point of view to communicate. The images are intended to be illustrative of points in my article.

      • Avatar

        Hello Frank,
        My respects to Billy but if the article in question mentions the “boys swimming nude” and was published in the Sheboygan (Wis.) Press on November 11, 1952 on page 14 it is an authentic article. A search on newspaper archive found it without much effort.

        If it is a fraud it is a very elaborate one as you can page through the entire newspaper and they have convinced the Newspaper archive that it is valid. Not sure if that’s the article in question but it does prove the point.

        Thanks for the blog!
        MPC

        • Frank Senn

          Thanks to MPC for his additional “behind the scenes” research for me. It appears that the article in question is a fraud. It is not found in the Sheboygan Wis. Press for November 11, 1952. There is an article on that page that announces a swimming program and that the boys will swim nude and need only bring a towel while the girls will wear suits and need to bring a swim cap.

          An article in a different newspaper that I saw concerns boys swimming in the YMCA program. The boys ages 4-9 are instructed to bring swim suits on the last night since they will perform an exhibition for their families. So Billy is vindicated on this issue. Even these little boys did not swim nude in swim meets with mixed company present.

          I can tell you as a (church) historian that history is littered with documents that are frauds. So it’s not only on this issue that fake news is manufactured. I have left this “newspaper article” in place in my blog article but added a comment in bold type exposing it as a fraud so that others will not be taken in by it.

          It would seem incredible, given the basic puritanism of American society, that women would watch naked boys, especially adolescents, at public events. On the other hand, the testimonies in the commentaries on this blog that some women coached naked boys (see especially the comments by Elsa and Lena) seem genuine to me. We also have the testimonies of Gavin and others who say, with some insistence, that they swam naked in front of women. In the absence of authentic photos and newspaper stories we will have to weigh carefully the veracity of anyone who reports that he swam naked in the presence of females in school or Y swim meets. Gavin’s testimony, to me, seems trustworthy. So the door on this topic is left open.

          As to boys swimming naked, many preferred to do so and some public officials supported them. From some clippings Billy sent to me, I have appended a collection of genuine newspaper clippings to illustrate this.

          • Frank Senn

            On a positive note, The New York Times Magazine Sunday September 24, 2017 had a cover page color photo of an Estonian family swimming naked in a pond after emerging from a smoke sauna. No disputing this one. The joys of swimming naked continue.

  5. Avatar

    Rob R

    Here’s a new article I stumbled on. If you read the comments, whenever a female was present, suits were worn.

    http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/columnists/andreatta/2017/09/22/andreatta-when-boys-swam-nude-gym-class/694542001/

  6. Avatar

    MPC

    Hi Frank,
    Nice addition of the articles from history! I now know more than I ever thought I would about the subject.

    I think the most interesting part about the articles is the acceptance in the schools and the persecution in public places. There were many, many articles of boys being chased and even arrested for skinny dipping. These were usually spurred by complaints by females or organizations that objected (railroads, shipping, etc…) and yet in the schools and the Y’s that is how the boys were taught to swim.

    The double standard that applied would have been (I believe) just as prevalent in public situations where females were present. The boys swam naked and everyone knew this but when appearing in public they wore suits to maintain their own, and others’ modesty.

    There were exceptions such as Billy’s example of the small boys swimming faster without suits and some of the other posts to this blog, but those situations were probably not common.
    Hence, very few pictures and almost no mention of it occurring in the news or the school yearbooks.

    The boys and their “privates” were protected even at a time when swimming naked was common and completely accepted by males of all ages.
    Thanks again for your blog!
    MPC

  7. Avatar

    Bob

    I stumbled upon this site and thought I would join the conversation with two posts, first detailing my own experience and then offering my thoughts on it all.

    There was no nudity in my family. I had 4 brothers and other than seeing the youngest ones being diapered or bathed, I never saw my brothers nude once we were past the age of two taking baths at the same time. I never saw my Dad nude. I had a sister as well and never so much as saw her being diapered or bathed. My mother did that in private, unlike with my brothers. Once on a hot day when my Dad, me, and all my brothers were shirtless I asked my mother why my sister (who was just a toddler at the time) was fully clothed. My mother said girls had to stay covered. This was the nature of my family.

    As much as I secretly desired it, I never went to camp or went to the YMCA as they were unaffordable luxuries for my family. None of my closest friends did these things either for the same reason. If people swam nude at the Y I was unaware of it.

    Starting in 6th grade us boys were required to shower after gym with all the other boys. It was awkward at first but I quickly got used to it. Come my 1971 freshman orientation at Lowell Technological Institute (now UMass Lowell), I arrived at the appointed time for my swim test, bathing suit in hand. It came as a shock to me when I was told everything off, shower, and get in line. I had never swam nude before and was pretty self conscious standing for what seemed like forever in this long line of naked guys. It was different than Middle School/High School gym showers in that I didn’t know anybody at all, and the fact that I was just standing there. Finally my test came, which I failed being I hadn’t ever swam much. I was required to do a remedial class, and found I really liked swimming nude. I wasn’t self conscious once classes began. I subsequently took as one of my phys ed electives water volleyball, also in the nude. All instructors were male and they were always dressed. There was never a female present.

    My only forced exposure to females growing up was school physicals. The first was in elementary school (I forget what grade). 4 or 5 boys at a time were brought to the Principal’s office where in the outer room where the Secretary sat we had to strip down to our underwear. When our turn came we went into the Principal’s Office where she and the school nurse were. The exam included our having to drop our drawers, though I really don’t understand why that was necessary at that age.

    Come 6th grade, we were to have another physical. Us boys were made to strip down to our underwear in the locker room, then marched single file up the stairs to the main corridor of the school where we waited in a long line leading to the nurse’s office. I was self conscious being the girls, teachers etc could walk past us and though most of us hadn’t begun puberty yet, I was one of the early bloomers which added to my being self-conscious. Upon reaching the front of the line each boy was then examined by a female (nurse I presume) with another female taking notes, and with the next boy standing right behind you as the line snaked out of that office. We had to drop our underwear down for them, and for reasons I didn’t understand, where we stood there naked being examined was in front of a side door open to the main office where anybody coming or going could see us. It was as if the thinking was it didn’t matter who saw us naked. If the girls had physicals, it was done in private somewhere.

    My experiences back in the 50’s/60’s were minimal compared to others but they were consistent with what others have shared in that the expectation was that boys will be nude when and where those in charge wanted us nude.

  8. Avatar

    Bob

    Though common culture and social mores varied from region to region, back in the 50’s/60’s what was perceived as good for the majority trumped individual rights and considerations. If society said boys had no modesty, the modest boy was expected to get over it. The feelings of the outliers be it the fat kid or the under-endowed boy were their problem, not society’s. We were all expected to conform to social norms.

    If a female wasn’t offended by male nudity, then it was OK to require boys to be nude in front of the substitute swim coach for example, the female life guard at the Y, or the school nurse and her secretary. Whether it bothered the boy was irrelevant.

    That 50’s/60’s world no longer exists, nor will it come back. The mindset of the 50’s/60’s didn’t go away completely though. It found a new home in the medical system.

    Back in the 50’s/60’s the doctors were mostly male and intimate procedures such as catharizations would be done by male orderlies or the doctor himself. There was some effort to protect the privacy of male patients. Women are now rapidly taking over primary care (which includes genital checks and prostate exams). It is exceedingly difficult to find a urologist or dermatologist who has any male staff. Female staff does virtually all of the intimate procedures and prep. It is hard to find a male ultrasound tech if you need a testicular ultrasound. Bathing and showering assistance is mostly done by female staff. And so forth. If female nurses/techs, CNAs, etc. are comfortable handling male patient intimate parts, that’s all that matters. The males are expected to comply. Like with modest boys being expected to get over the nude swimming requirement, modest males are expected to just get over any hesitancy with women providing their intimate medical care. Conversely, a woman is never expected to allow a man to do her mammogram. Many hospitals won’t hire male staff into L&D. And so forth.

    It is as if we took the 1950’s/60’s approach to swimming and applied it to the medical system. History doesn’t repeat itself but sometimes it does rhyme.

    • Avatar

      Having worked as an orderly in the 70’s, I recall that we catheterized the male patients so that they would maintain their dignity rather than being handled by the female nurses. When I was patient, the nurse would usually leave the room when intimate examinations were to be performed. But you are correct that nowadays, the male urologist is not even present in the room when the female grabs to pull down your shorts without warning! This is outrageous and I refuse to allow it. In the doctor’s office I insist that either he perform the procedure or that I can do it myself explaining that as a former health care professional, I am capable of hygienic prep and am aware that the Patient’s Bill of Rights guarantees me dignified treatment. That includes the option to choose the gender of those performing intimate acts upon me since that has been a fundamental part of my cultural & religious upbringing throughout my life. If they balk at this I mention that as a repeat victim of sexual abuse by a female as a boy (true) it would be damaging to my psyche. In the hospital, the Administration should be the office to be notified. Stick to your guns and don’t let them shame you into compliance as they may try to do. Remember: you are the victim and this usually works. If enough of us do this, it will may not be necessary anymore.

  9. Avatar

    cronin

    We swam naked starting about age 6 in a deep spot in a rural creek and we continued for years—We swam naked from 7th grade thru college in school. So it was not something i gave any thought to—-Since I was average looking and average build whether clothed or naked, nudity was never an issue—Thinking back, maybe it was a difficult thing for late bloomers or over/under weight guys.

  10. Avatar

    Jack

    One important point that is often ignored about the 50s &60s is the influence the military had on American culture and social mores in those times. Most fathers had served in the military during World War II. They brought with them the experience and values of their war service years. It was not possible or useful to preserve modesty in Army barracks or on board troop ships. Hygiene was very important. Young soldiers and sailors were shown how to wash and shower properly as part of their basic training. (We forget that in 1939 the US was still suffering from the Great Depression and many young men who enlisted came from impoverished backgrounds and were undernourished. For some enlistees the first time thy experienced a shower was during their basic training).

    In the Pacific Theatre the military preferred all service men to be circumcised. Maintaining hygiene in the jungle was particularly a problem and many young soldiers and sailors were forced to undergo circumcision on the way to their postings in the Pacific.

    After the War, almost by a process of osmosis, returned servicemen adopted these standards in their own families and applied them in the various positions they held in the community: sitting on school boards, being a trustee of the local YMCA etc. An oft repeated comment was to the effect: ‘if it was good enough for the Army its good enough for …’

    The 50s &60s was a period of high anxiety in which the population felt that there was an imminent danger of another war starting against the USSR. In those decades the USSR had compulsory national service and could call up several million trained soldiers. The USA did not have compulsory national service but following the experience of World War II, could draft over one million men, if necessary. The health and fitness of young males was therefore of vital importance to the military. Physical fitness and sport became part of the national school curriculum.

    The debacle of Vietnam changed everything. Young men opposed to the War had resisted the draft. The technological superiority of the US military had been no match for the sheer tenacity of the Vietcong. The values that had led to the victory in World War II were being challenged by the counterculture.

    The response of the Military was to redefine its role and devise new strategies. No longer would strategic planning be based on a conscript army. The US would create a standing Army of career professionals. Its influence in the community began to wane.

    The protest movements of the 70s spawned many “rights groups.” The feminist movement demanded that women be allowed to serve in front line positions in the military. The gay rights movement demanded that homosexuals also be allowed to serve. I take no issue with women and gays being allowed to serve in the military. But the consequences have been mixed.

    During the 1970s prominent paediatricians began to campaign against routine infant circumcision. Now it is almost child abuse to have a boy circumcised unless you have religious reason for so doing.

    The level of obesity amongst children has never been so high. The military are finding it difficult to get recruits who meet the rather low standards of fitness now required for service.

    Boys are so awkward about their bodies that they refuse to shower at school after sport or swathe themselves in towels so no one can see their privates.

    As many posters have commented, the open nudity amongst males of those former times was not all that bad and probably had positive benefits.

    I for one despair at where we are heading. So much is going wrong with our political system, the disintegration of our communities, that I would like to see some of the old values come back.

    • Frank Senn

      I think the experience of military service in WW II (and to some extent the Korean War) is a very important piece in this topic. Many of those who were drafted and experienced being naked with one another in military service already had that experience in school and YMCA showers and swimming classes. I think the camaraderie these men experienced (look at the photo of those Marines on Guadacanal in my article) lasted them a lifetime. These dads became Scout leaders in the 1950s. As I recall, there were swimming requirements for second and first class ranks and earning swimming and lifesaving merit badges were required for the Eagle rank. So troops or districts had to arrange swim nights during the year in addition to summer camp so the boys could work on advancements. At Ys, Boys’ Clubs, Turners—wherever they could rent a pool—the boys swam and showered naked. I remember the experience. It also prepared us for swimming naked in 9th grade high school PE swim class. That’s why I had no anxieties about it. I think the experience of these veterans (serving on boards in the 50s&60s, as Jack notes) is a major reason why the tradition of swimming naked was maintained even after 1962 when it was no longer recommended for health reasons. Some argued that it would prepare them for that situation when they joined the military. Thanks for your comments, Jack.

  11. Avatar

    RON HAAG

    My 1st experience having to disrobe in front of other boys was in the boys side of the local municipal bathhouse. This bathhouse was built as a W.P.A. project in 1938. It had an open group changing area & open group showers for boys. You had to shower before donning your trunks. This was an intimidating rite-of-passage for my underdeveloped 9 year old body, especially in front of rowdy kids from the lower classes. It wasn’t the same as sharing a bath with my brother.

    Some of those rowdies really needed to shower. After shedding our street duds then putting them in wire bins with an assigned no. we were issued a voucher tag with that no. On a couple occasions the bathhouse attendant who took possession of your clothes shouted at a couple of boys who didn’t change their briefs & wipe their behinds enough. They didn’t mollycoddle boys back in the early ’60s! Back then there were no reservations about changing or showering together.

    This experience prepared me for open showers in junior/senior high school & later after being drafted into the Army where the “reception” station had 1940s wood-frame barracks. In addition to open group showers the latrines toilets were unenclosed – not even partitioned!

    In closing I lament the “sexual revolution” putting group nudity in a suspect light. In addition the rise of what became “the new prudery” in the late “50’s & “60’s has emasculated our male culture to the point that many boys feel the need to do a towel version of a burlesque “fan dance.” Your web-page should be common knowledge to today’s young teens & men.

  12. Avatar

    Andy

    Gavin or Lena — if you’re still following this, I have some questions at the bottom of this post if you’re still feeling generous. Sorry about the length, I hope it reads quickly.

    So I just recently discovered this phenomenon — never really been into CFNM stuff … before. I’ve read what I think is most of what’s available online and this page is overwhelmingly the best source of information on the subject of boys nude swimming. (A week ago I would have bet good money that I would never in my life type those words! Really)

    The key issue is mixed-gender spectators.

    The YMCA had a well-documented male-only policy and numerous high schools would have obviously followed suit (pun intended). Close family members were admitted at some times in some institutions but there are occasional reports of open admission to some school-sanctioned events.

    The most important aspect of this we need to keep in mind is that policies would vary from between institutions and across regions. A patchwork of blurry memories doesn’t help, either. Just because something happened at only one school/YMCA doesn’t mean it never happened. Still, these practices are genuinely difficult to believe but their abrupt end is even more astonishing. I’m surprised we haven’t heard from teachers (they would have had to be very young at the time but there might still be a few out there) about why it all ended.

    I prepared a brief, bullet style commentary on issues that I think remain in contention:

    Male spectators were almost certainly admitted.

    Female spectators:
    Mothers were almost certainly admitted if their son was present. Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins may have been admitted but it seems unlikely that adolescent girls were routinely admitted. The first issue that comes to my mind are the feelings of the girls’ fathers on this issue — seriously, how many 60’s fathers would be comfortable with his teenage daughter watching a bunch of boys swim naked at school? I see them as the primary objectors to an open admission policy — not so much the moms, though. This issue is compounded when we consider that each competition had at least one other school present: I struggle to believe that an open admission policy would be widely tolerated by competing schools.

    As an aside comment, I would be more inclined to believe that practices were open admission but competitions remained closed … think about that!

    Photos:
    If mothers were admitted then photos exist and home movies exist — period. I think it’s highly unlikely many will surface because they would have been kept in family photo albums and probably thrown out by grossed-out kids/grandkids.

    Photography in general:
    Cameras were relatively expensive at that time and we shouldn’t expect that younger girls (if admitted) would have had access to them. Besides, who would want to be THAT person in the gallery? Obviously mothers would be absolutely exempt from such scrutiny. Further, flash photography would have been useless given the anemic performance of consumer flash bulbs at that time, which means they would have had to rely on very high ISO film, which was very grainy. By the 70’s much of this had improved but still vastly inferior to what we take for granted today. It would have been near impossible to capture a properly-exposed, in focus shot where there was any movement of the swimmers. I can imagine that many mothers tried to get some photos but failed and stopped trying. Still, even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut — OK, I promise that’s the last pun.

    I flatly reject that any yearbook-style photos of “exposed” nude swimmers were taken. Maybe some random mom might have asked the boys to pose — I can believe that but they weren’t going to publish that sort of thing in a yearbook.

    News reports:
    Open admission, if it occurred seems to be restricted to only a few distinct regions. I’m not surprised it wouldn’t be discussed — it would have just been understood and besides, the nudity of the boys was the hot topic anyway.

    We have two contributors, GAVIN and LENA who offer the most convincing report(s) that they participated/attended open-admission competitions where nude boys competed. Two people is a tiny number compared to the vast number of men who claim women were not routinely admitted. Maybe GAVIN and LENA are legit and this happened — I’m skeptical but optimistic.

    If GAVIN or LENA are still following this and care to contribute AGAIN, I have a few questions I hope they could answer. I do hope to hear from both of you as it seems you offer distinctly different viewpoints on this contentious topic. I realize this was a long time ago but you’re all we have, so please give it your best shot.

    QUESTIONS:

    1. You state that admission was essentially open to your competitions. Was there a different policy for practice sessions? Was there a fee for non-students?

    2. Did it seem that parents universally approved of this admission policy? Do you remember them voicing any opinions on this?

    3. Obviously you attended competitions at other schools with nude competitors — did they also have open admission? Were the crowds there different in any way to your home meets?

    4. How many spectators attended your meets and what was the M/F ratio like? What was the age range – e.g. mostly students, siblings or mostly parents?

    4b. Did the moms bring their daughters? If so, what age girls accompanied them? What were the girls’ reactions to the boys?

    5. You mention girls discussing the boys anatomy amongst themselves but what was their behavior like in the gallery? GAVIN, you mentioned you interacted with the spectators but I’m asking for more of an overview impression beyond just your friends.

    5b. Maybe it’s my own base instincts but it seems that at least some of the girl spectators would try to “distract” the competitors. Was there any sort of subtle (or otherwise) exhibitionism from the gallery?

    6. What girls went to these events? Was it a core group or was it kind of busy for the first couple meets and then they figured they had seen it all and it wasn’t fun anymore?

    7. Was there any effort to segregate the boys’ team practice from the girls’ team? If so, can you offer any ideas why, since the girls team wasn’t going to see anything they didn’t see at boys’ meets?

    Thanks for reading this far and happy swimming — this remains yet another reason I think I was born in the wrong decade!

    • Avatar

      Al

      Andy,

      It’s really hard to acknowledge the vast amount of social-cultural change that sweeps over us constantly, and all the more rapidly in our digital age today. But it does. This huge, staggering 2+-year conversation on Pr Frank’s blog is a case in point.

      There are posts above from people who flatly reject that male public nude swimming ever happened at all in the USA, while others assert that it did, and that it did everywhere, and that females were invited to witness it. Is it possible that most of them are right in reporting their own experience? Yes, quite possibly.

      The problem comes when we take our personal, local experience and try to project it onto others, elsewhere…

      I’m glad that you aren’t one to make blanket denials of other people’s reports, as some others have been doing in both directions above. You are at least asking questions, wanting to learn.

      As a 70-year old male from the Midwest, I did witness it and participate in it. Hey, it was the cultural norm in MY community. Totally normal, as I was growing up, in a largely German-American city that was also heavily Catholic and Lutheran (neither of which religions engaged in body-shaming, as did some other faiths of a more revivalistic, puritanical tradition).

      So just in case Lena &/or Gavin don’t see your post and respond to you, here’s my feedback for you.

      Yes, I and all my young male friends learned to swim during elementary grades at our local YMCA, and we and our high-school age male instructors were nude in the locker room, gang shower, and pool. Not an issue for us. It’s all we knew. That’s just what guys did. Occasionally, when one of the male instructors at our Y couldn’t be there, there might be a female replacing him, but she would always be dressed in a modest black tank suit, while we kids were naked. Again, normal to us in central Michigan… All that we knew was that boys swam nude, girls covered up.

      (We had no girls’ classes to compare to, though. The girls took swim lessons in the YWCA pool, downtown.)

      That’s what happened up at our family’s lake cottage in northern Michigan, too. Dad (who’d served in the Army in WWII) wore a swimsuit on land (within sight of other vacationers in nearby cottages), as did my brother and I; but once out in the lake at the end of the dock, where the water was above his waist, off came his suit and he enjoyed himself, just as he had in the service. At home, Dad slept nude and navigated the hall between shower and bedroom uncovered. At my grandparents’ house, granddad had an open shower down in the basement: no curtain, no doors, no modesty about it. But only the guys used it. Mom and Grandma always took baths upstairs, instead. I watched and quietly learned the plan…

      So it went. Totally normal behavior, or so it seemed. Body shame did not exist for me.

      Until high school… Our own boys’ lockers, showers, & swim classes in HS were nude, and so was swim team practice. I didnt go out for swim team, but I saw it happen, because the pool was right next to the lunch room, and due to overcrowding, the pool gallery was open as an overflow study hall during daily lunchhour. There were no signs, no rules… But sometimes girls came in to “study” along with guys. Hmmm…

      I know for certain that moms and adult females came to swim meets, but I cannot tell you if there was an age limit for that in my high school. I didn’t notice.

      What I do know is that swimming meets naked or in suits was the prerogative of each team. In our conference, some covered up, some didn’t. But they respected each others’ values. If both teams normally swam nude, both also did at the meet. (You had less drag in the race and it was easier to set new records without a suit.) But if either team covered, then both would. Which was just fair, after all.

      Which is when it began to dawn on this young mind of mine that not everyone on our planet lives by the same values. Hmmm…

      It was during college and grad school that I traveled for the first time in my life, going from coast to coast, from Canada to the deep South. And that was also the time in the late 60’s-early 70’s when covering up became the norm everywhere. But not all at once. It clearly was fought by men in certain Y’s (DC downtown, California, Chicago), while I visited elsewhere to learn that they had NEVER heard of nude swimming (the South, especially). Catholics and Lutherans had no problems with it, Baptists and Methodists were different… Hmmm… More learning experiences for me…

      And then I later moved to Germany for my job from 1986-92, and surprise…! There I discovered that public nude swimming by BOTH genders, together, was entirely normal. There would always be a division at beaches and park pools, though, with the “Textiles” over here and the “FKK” (“free body culture”) people over there. And they were separated only by a sign stuck in the ground, not by a fence. What if you were textile and didn’t want to see the naked bodies on the other side of the sign…? “Don’t look!” I was told by German friends of both persuasions, more than once. Hmmmm… More learning… (And Germans are still that way to this day, as I observed on a visit last summer…)

      So what’s the point here? Several…

      1. We don’t all think alike. Indeed, our expectations and values seem largely to be formed by the cultural norms in which we grew up. Me for example: I grew up in a non-body-shaming culture, and I am still that way to this day. The younger men at the Y where I work out today are almost universally self-shamers, while the older men my age are not. But we set guys do respect our younger friends and we cover up for them. Not because we have to, but because we want to be their friends.

      2. Published pictures? I can’t remember anything like that in my home town. So your question, Andy, took me back to a dusty box where I still have my HS yearbooks. And no… no such pictures were there. Pr Frank has some clips up above that purport to be from yearbooks and local papers showing nude male swimmers, and indeed those clips can be googled today. Are they legit or photoshopped…? Who can say? But having lived thru the era, I don’t doubt that they could in fact be real. Male nudity just wasn’t an issue everywhere back on those days.

      3. And a lesson for today, perhaps…? In our latter-day world, it seems that we are just as diverse in our values as Americans were back in the 60’s and 70’s; but today, we’re way more aware of those differences thanks to the Internet. And we seem to be more threatened by them, more willing to call out anyone who disagrees with us, less tolerant… Have we simply forgotten or repressed the pace of cultural change that we live in?

      When cultural values have evolved as rapidly as they have in the last decade (…think male-female roles, race, sexual identity, fashion, international relations, gun policies, privacy expectations, etc etc etc…), respect for the human body (or body shame, as the case might be…) seems like small potatoes to me After all, everyone over the age of 5 no doubt knows what the other gender’s physical body looks like. Why do we act fearfully when we see one another?

      Perhaps it’s a call to show more respect for one another and to stop yelling at one another and to listen to one another more than we do. And let our neighbor be who they are, while simply being who we are, with mutual respect, and without fear or shame.

      What do you think? Hmmm…

      • Frank Senn

        Thanks, Al, for your response to Andy, and the synoptic view you present. I have just a couple of quibbles. One is that your comments about lack of body shame in Lutheranism and Catholicism does not mean that individuals raised in these traditions didn’t have self-inflicted body shame or have it inflicted on them by others. I remember talking with a young adolescent (one of my confirmands) who was a star swimmer and a good looking kid who said he had ugly feet. Where did that come from? I told him that maybe his wide feet helped to propel him in the water like Michael Phelp’s long arms and torso.

        That said, it is noteworthy that naked swimming seems to have flourished in places like Buffalo, Ohio, Michigan, Chicago, Wisconsin, and Minnesota where there are lots of Catholics and Lutherans. The Germans and Scandinavians, who settled in these places, came from countries with state Lutheran churches and cultures that accepted naked swimming. That prompts me to wonder if this cultural/religious comfort level with the body didn’t factor into an easy acceptance of nakedness and perhaps a lack of sensitivity to those who came from backgrounds with more emphasis on modesty.

        The other point is that there was discussion in the comments about whether photos of naked swim teams were included in yearbooks, as some claimed on the internet. I’m not aware that any of the images in my article fit that category. In any event, I didn’t claim that they were yearbook photos and I would be surprised if this were the case.

        Thanks for an informative and sensible approach to this topic—and for reminding us that we live in a big country with different local standards.

        • Avatar

          Andy

          Al, thanks for relaying your experiences. The lunch room example was particularly unexpected.

          People seem quick to rush to “body acceptance” sort of issues in these forums and perhaps it’s reasonable but I’m not sure it captures what was happening.

          I think these practices were the result of the intersection of several influences.
          1. Modesty wasn’t (and still isn’t … but we have to kind of look for it) considered a masculine virtue. It wasn’t manly to be shy or care about superficial things like one’s body. Sadly, this probably led to some peer pressure type abuse but that’s an entire different conversation.
          2. Suitable swimsuit materials weren’t widely available until recently, which bolstered the argument for tradition. Further, nude swimmers can move faster and besides, it feels better.
          3. There was widespread, delusional ignorance of sexual abuse until only recently – no, Weinstein didn’t invent it. I don’t believe this ignorance was even a principle influence but it probably prevented reasonable critics from speaking up and in light of tradition it was just ignored.

          On a personal note, one of my HS gym teachers was way too interested in the boys’ showering. His eyes belied his interests but surprisingly no one really seemed to care that much or I suppose we knew there was little we could do about it. Everyone seemed to accept/joke that he was gay and I NEVER heard a single rumor of physical abuse (he was actually a kind man) but being eye-raped was unpleasant and I’d rather I didn’t have those memories. Please don’t make this single issue into more than it is — it’s just a comment.

          Did swimming naked make kids gay? No, Gavin said it well when he said they were already gay. It sure did give them a pretty cool place to hang out, though! ;-). BTW, I’m not gay, if anyone was wondering and I was born in the late 70’s, which might be why I find all this so interesting … well, one of the reasons.

          Photos … there is an abundant supply of porn available and I’m not sure the world needs even more. I always feel like the photo issue (I mentioned it, too, I know) smacks of sexual desire. I suppose it is for many but my interest centers on the culture surrounding these activities and KNOWING who was permitted to partake/witness might help frame the investigation into why something so steeped in history and tradition seemed to suddenly vanish.

          Al, you mentioned that a few girls wandered into that other area. Was that understood to be somewhat “off limits” for them or might they have feared that they might acquire a reputation from being seen there? Were they “matter of fact” about it or did they react the way I might expect — giggling and pointing. I’m beginning to think that it was so common as to be an almost irrelevant issue to folks back then.

          The social dynamics at play here are absolutely fascinating.

          On an aside — people often say/write that boys HAD to swim naked when I think what they’re missing is that boys GOT TO swim naked. It was a privilege that wasn’t extended to girls. This is a subtlety that seems to get lost in the interwebs but I think it’s key to understanding why this tradition ended.

          It seems the feminists may (Insert wild guessing) not have even cared that the boys were naked but the net result was rather than the girls gaining liberty, the boys lost it.

          ***
          Al, on an aside — I remember my playing pool many years ago with my (very old at that time) neighbor in his basement and he told me about how many people they managed to fit in their 1 bedroom house for Christmas one year. Apparently the men slept in the basement and used the shower in the corner! I remember he mentioned that things were different back then and men weren’t shy (no, he wasn’t coming on to me). Go figure … exact same story.

          -A

  13. Avatar

    My (tardy) response to Andy’s questions (and thanks to Frank for letting me know):

    “1. You state that admission was essentially open to your competitions. Was there a different policy for practice sessions? Was there a fee for non-students?”

    There is so much I can’t recall very clearly. So far as I remember, admission would have been completely open for competitions –anyone could walk in. I can’t imagine that they would have made any money from swim meet admissions, anyway. In my HS in the 1960s there was no “security” at all, no cameras, guards, the doors were wide open all day –so unlike now. Practices were supposed to be closed but people did wander in. Unless you’re practicing, practices are inherently boring (sometimes boring even when you are practicing). I don’t remember anyone leering at us, but then I was concentrating on swimming, not on nudity. I think that anyone who came just to look would have been recognized as a creep and told to leave.

    “2. Did it seem that parents universally approved of this admission policy? Do you remember them voicing any opinions on this?”

    My father was pretty generally absent even when he was “present” –long-term PTSD from WWII, I’m now sure (a word that did not exist then–he had been a Marine in the Pacific, and was damaged by the war and the Marine cult). My mother was unusually permissive and open-minded, her own rebellion against pervasive conformity and in her own way. She actually enjoyed me being nude at home –she taught me that nudity is a choice, and naked is just a lack of clothes. She was way, way out of the mainstream on this. I was the only son, and could do as I pleased as long as I earned good grades, and one thing I liked was being nude. As for the “admission policy,” I can’t remember that either of them ever commented on it. I think it was just a custom of open admission and not a “policy” that anyone had really decided.

    “3. Obviously you attended competitions at other schools with nude competitors — did they also have open admission? Were the crowds there different in any way to your home meets?”

    I don’t know whether they had open admission, but my guess is, they all did. Nobody paid to see high school boys swim. I don’t recall anything about the spectators really –the “crowd” was sometimes actually pretty thin, in part because my team was really good, so often it was assumed we would beat our competitors, and people did not bother to show up there. I just don’t remember much about spectators at away meets.

    I second Al’s report that some school teams did wear suits, and if they did, we did. That didn’t happen real often, and felt really unnatural. I believe that those teams were not usually included in the group meets. (Maybe they had their own groups meets; I really don’t know.) At any rate, I don’t remember swimming in a mixed suit/nude competition. Just about all the swimmers I ever knew then preferred swimming nude because it reduced drag. We did have suits, we just did not use them very much. We did wear them for team pictures for the year book, or newspapers. I’m sure there are many yearbook pictures of suited teams who actually practiced and competed nude. Doing it was one thing; publishing it another.

    “4. How many spectators attended your meets and what was the M/F ratio like? What was the age range – e.g. mostly students, siblings or mostly parents?”

    Attendance varied. Every season I swam went well except one (last half –many swimmers went absent because of a run of the flu), and for the last half of the season the gallery was mostly full –maybe 200? There were usually 24 boys on the team, so maybe 50 spectators were family members. Weekend group meets were much larger and better attended, and then the stands were overflowing because 4-5 teams were competing. I have no clue what the M/F ratio –probably close to 50/50. When we were young –elementary and middle school–it was all parents (mothers), sibs, and grandparents. In HS it changed to mothers, some sibs, and a lot of high school friends of either sex. The meets were almost always later afternoon, and dads were not expected to get off work (even lawyers, like my dad).

    About the group meets: four-six teams times 24-26 boys equals roughly 96-144 boys, in a natatorium with 8 swim lanes and side benches basically for two teams –which meant that swimmers not in an event or next-up were sitting in an area they had claimed in the spectator seats closest to the steps to the pool. That many nude boys is not really very titillating, and most of them were wrapped in towels or robes to stay warm. Maybe you begin to get the picture: a lot of boy skin, a bit more than now, but no leering. Some boys were pretty cute; most were not particularly. These meets were all day on Saturdays, so then you have to feed these boys, keep their street clothes somewhere –usually we put on some clothes to go out of the natatorium to get food in the hallway outside, because there it was a lot colder.

    “4b. Did the moms bring their daughters? If so, what age girls accompanied them? What were the girls’ reactions to the boys?”

    I guess moms brought their daughters. My sisters (1 older, 1 younger) came sometimes. They had seen me nude tons of times at home. I remember that the girls were older elementary to high school ages. I don’t know what their reactions were, because I was down in the pool area. I don’t recall anyone running screaming out of the nat–it was just normal that we swam nude. I presume they all knew that, or became used to it real fast.

    “5. You mention girls discussing the boys’ anatomy amongst themselves but what was their behavior like in the gallery? GAVIN, you mentioned you interacted with the spectators but I’m asking for more of an overview impression beyond just your friends.”

    Of course, I don’t know what the girls discussed among themselves, since I wasn’t there. The girls watched — I guess they cheered (we could hear that –remember, pools/natatoria are really echo chambers). I don’t recall any whistles or disrespect from girls (a few from boys from time to time, but swimmers sticking together could take care of them real fast). Did the girls like seeing us? I guess –they certainly acted like they did. A few must have giggled, a few embarrassed once or twice, until they saw that we were totally cool with it.

    “5b. Maybe it’s my own base instincts but it seems that at least some of the girl spectators would try to “distract” the competitors. Was there any sort of subtle (or otherwise) exhibitionism from the gallery?”

    I’m not sure what you mean –like, female near-nudity? I don’t remember anything like that. In Grosse Pointe and schools like that, everyone was so damned polite, a class thing and not just the “Midwest nice” thing. In any case, I didn’t look at the spectators much. I was much more into the swimming, and supporting my team mates.

    “6. What girls went to these events? Was it a core group or was it kind of busy for the first couple meets and then they figured they had seen it all and it wasn’t fun anymore?”

    There was a core group of male friends, sisters, and girlfriends, like every team has. I suppose some girls came to see and then did not return because honestly it was not all that sexual. They saw were swimming, and when not swimming, were often wrapped in a towel or robe because they could get cold. In most venues, the spectators were opposite or above the pool, not very close. There were a couple of older pools where the spectators were right in back of the swimmers’ bench, a few feet, and there I could definitely feel eyes on me. We swam nude, did warm-ups and event-preps nude, were up on the blocks nude, etc. so they saw each of us numerous times and 100% nude, just not 100% of the time.

    “7. Was there any effort to segregate the boys’ team practice from the girls’ team? If so, can you offer any ideas why, since the girls team wasn’t going to see anything they didn’t see at boys’ meets?”

    In my experience, girl’s swim season was in the Fall, September to early November, and boys from mid-November through early March (–unequal, this was before Title IX). So, we didn’t practice together a lot. My school natatorium had two connected pools, a smaller at right angle to the larger one, like an “L” so if we were practicing at the same time (did not happen very often), they could see us. (The diving board and deepest part of the pool was at the right-angle of the “L” so both pool bottoms ramped down to it –which means the girls would have seen the nude divers more often.) I don’t recall that was a huge deal with the teams. Gym class was definitely gender-based and girls were not allowed to see the boys in any sport, and vice versa. I think that it is the experience of those gym classes with swimming, showering, and “forced nakedness” that some men remember so negatively.

    “Thanks for reading this far and happy swimming — this remains yet another reason I think I was born in the wrong decade!”

    Andy:

    Granted this makes a long post longer, but I just want to emphasize to you how normal all this was. I did experience nudity as sexual, but it was not only sexual all the time, or equally in every situation. The vast majority of the time the sexual element was implicit, not explicit (in my experience). Nude swimming was just the way the world worked, and it wasn’t perfect, either. At the time, what mattered to me was the swimming, not the nudity. In memory, that it was “nude” becomes more prominent than that it was “swimming.”

    Regarding sexual predation: Yes, it definitely happened, and yes, it was brushed over. I can’t speak of what women faced (which was bad; I’m just sticking to my own experiences). I knew boys whom men came on to, but usually only after the man, in the power position, was pretty well convinced that the boy was already “that way” –the risk of exposure otherwise was just too great. It was still unwelcome and annoying but hardly violent or threatening. On several occasions when an older man came on to me, I was mildly annoyed, but also a little flattered. Like every teenage boy, I liked being noticed. No man ever came on to me in a rough, rude, or threatening way. I was athletic, lean, smooth, and 6’3″, so that helped prevent trouble for me. I never reciprocated the interest of any older man until I was 17, and after that they were generally positive relationships.

    I did have experiences of being “eye-raped” (or clearly leered at), as one man put it, but I think that’s too strong an expression. Most boys are not really all that beautiful clothed or nude, but many can have a kind of goofy charm. Ironically the times I felt most “looked at” were times when I was clothed such as at church, the tennis club, etc., but I was aware that a man, woman, or girl my age had seen me nude, I just ignored it, because I was strong enough. I now understand better that I was probably pretty cute and attracted some attention, wanted or not, clothed or nude. I don’t deny that I had an exhibitionist streak and learned to enjoy being nude in public, and being looked at, as I knew deep down was happening. I never felt exploited, but I acknowledge that others may have.

    The only times I felt nervous about exposure was when we did the team (or relay) huddle immediately before a meet or event. We would stand in a tight circle shoulder-to-shoulder arm-in-arm with a fair amount of unavoidable body contact while the team captain would speak and we would break with a cheer. The body contact, body heat, and adrenalin (we were all wet) after pre-meet warm-up—could be enough to bring on an erection or half-erection. I was not the only boy who did this, and I doubt that the others who went hard (or started to harden) were all gay (some were, it turned out later). Usually I could move pretty quickly to a towel or robe, since the first event was never mine (200 medley relay), and let it go back down. I wrote above about when I jumped back in to get wet before a major event (like the 500, my main event), came back up on deck, adrenalin high, walked to the blocks, totally exposed (and in a visually obvious position), and felt, “oh man, here it comes” – hardening. I only went solid hard a few times in meets, but more often in practices, and especially team showers, and that was enough to earn my team nickname, “Hardway.”

    I remember pretty clearly a kind of semi-exhibitionist occasion that occurred many times immediately after a meeting, especially a home one. My school had a pretty good student newspaper, and one of the sports reporters would invariably want to talk with a swimmer after we won a meet, especially a group meet (and often we did—time for standard sports journalism clichés). I stood at the end of the swimmer’s level at the bottom of steps from the spectators’ gallery and talked with the cub reporter (always a boy), and usually my mother, sisters, parents of friends, friends from school and church, both male and female. Several times the young curate from my church was there as well. I was totally nude, a towel draped over my shoulders, while they all were clothed (of course). I was not the only swimmer that did this; often there were one or two others there. In 10th grade my informal role on the team became as a sort of team spokesman; I was usually a quiet boy (introvert) but spoke well and had a sense of humor about the whole thing. I know I enjoyed this, which is why I became good at it, and deep down I knew they were looking at me, and I liked that. The girls there I knew pretty well as friends, and while they might have enjoyed looking, our friendship was based on more than that. Only decades later did I hear the terms CFNM or CMNM, but I knew some of the reality of it then.

    What I learned from all these kinds of experiences is that in a paradoxical way when a boy or man is nude (and not at all ashamed, but confident) while others are clothed, social power can belong to the nude boy, rather than the clothed persons. When I was nude in such situations (then and after), I brought complete honesty and 100% commitment to the occasion: there is no hiding, no turning back; you’re all in. That does not mean, however, brutal or rude candor: a boy who is nude, confident, and polite can be especially powerful. Other might look at those situations and say: you were a victim; your dignity was taken from you. I respond: my dignity and humanity grew stronger because those came from within me, rather than being conferred by social convention, such as clothing. I had the confidence to respond to those who might smirk when I was clothed (later, or at another occasion): you saw all of me; I’m not ashamed of anything, and what are you hiding?

    I know that my experience is different from others; other men look back and feel now that they were exploited or somehow forced to participate in something they did not want to do. I know that my experience is also unusual and my parents (especially mother) was “different” as people say so politely. You can read more about my life at the link below.(For some reason Tumblr took down my previous blog.) I don’t have the time to maintain that newer one very often, alas, but there it is.

    Thanks for your questions! — Gavin

    https://lesfilsducalamus.tumblr.com/aboysownstory.html

    • Avatar

      Andy

      Gavin,

      Thanks for such an immensely detailed response.

      I read your answers to my questions and I see a recurring theme — normalcy. Your descriptions consistently describe a community so used to these practices that they were effectively rendered unimportant. I’m not dismissing your recollections or even the veracity of your story. On the contrary, I think your response(s) illustrate why there is so little (reasonably) valid information available: No one cared enough to document it because it just wasn’t an issue at the time.

      The societal norms that changed in the 60’s remain, for me, the most elusive part of this practice. It’s as if someone woke up one day and realized the boys were naked up there!

      Thank you again for contributing so much to this conversation.
      -a

    • Avatar

      Ken Ely

      Gavin –
      I appreciate your paragraph regarding the social power that can accrue to a man or a boy who is naked among clothed people if he carries himself with confidence and integrity. I have never been in such publicly nude situations as you found yourself with the swim team but I have been naked when others were not and I can support your assessment that, when you’re naked, you’re 100% there and you possess a moral ascendancy over anyone standing in the protection of clothing.

  14. Avatar

    Billy

    It is such a shame to see your blog get hijacked by the CFNM porno-story crowd that always tries to take over this kind of discussion.

    Just because someone writes a long story, it does not mean that any of it is true, even if they make up names and dates (which they know none of us are able to verify.) Just because someone uses a female name, it does not mean that they are really female. These same stories have shown up on every forum I have seen on the internet that has a discussion about nude swimming in school. They never include proof.

    Of all the legitimate outlets I have seen discuss this subject (National Public Radio, Garrison Keeler’s radio show, commercial radio talk-show hosts, newspaper columnists, alumni association blogs, historical society websites, etc.) none have ever said that there were ever female instructors in boys’ swim classes or nude public swim meets. Not even once. Many, like the WBEZ radio program linked above, specifically mention that suits were worn during swim meets. But that doesn’t stop those who are determined to make up stories for their own titillation, or those who want to believe them (for the same reason.)

    If any of these stories were true, they would show up somewhere in legitimate sources.

    It would be better for you to eliminate this topic from your blog entirely than to lose your credibility by helping to propagate these fake porno stories.

    • Frank Senn

      I can’t vouch for everyone’s veracity, but I know personally two of the persons (Bob Raines and Al) who have posted comments testifying that boys sometimes swam nude in competitions. Al also posts that adult women and moms were present during meets. Al and Gavin experienced this in mid-Michigan at about the same time. So I must take their word for it and draw the conclusion that it happened sometimes in some places.

      • Avatar

        Andy

        Frank,

        I think I’ve come to the same conclusion. The application of standards seems widely heterogeneous but the overwhelming consensus seems to indicate that Gavin and Lena represent outlier experiences.

        I agree that these forums have and continue to be hijacked by the erotic fantasy crowd, which has only made any attempt at piecing together this odd bit of American history even more difficult. Never mind that the participants in this are only getting older.

        I’ll check this page from time to time but I think I’ve learned enough about this topic to accept that conflicting memories and porn seem to have collided and just made a mess of it all.

        I wish you all the best.
        -a

        • Frank Senn

          The study of human history is messy because humans are messy. This is why commentators like Billy have strict standards. They have seen the falsification of documents and photos. So they look for reliable sources of information. But if boys swam naked in front of women in some communities and this was taken for granted, there was no news to report. So we must rely on human memories, which can be spotty. Here there’s a rule of thumb too: two or three witnesses. We have two witnesses (Al and Gavin) who independently testify that in the early 60s in mid-Michigan boys swam naked in competitions if this was agreeable to both teams and that females were in attendance. One witness independently corroborates the testimony of the other. So we’re not dealing just with the CWNM fetish.

          As Richard and others testify, there were (and still are) instances of boys and men being naked in front of clothed women in medical exams. This was humiliating for boys even if naked swimming wasn’t. Humiliation is what I understand pornographic CWNM to be about and it usually leads to sex. That’s porn and there’s none of that in these comments.

          When I first posted this article I had no idea what landmines lie ahead. I don’t want to explode one, so I am calling a halt to further discussion of boys swimming naked in front of females. However, my assessment of all that I have read on this subject is that if for some it is unthinkable that there was a general admissions policy that included women watching naked boys in schools and YMCAs, I think it is equally unimaginable that pools in busy schools were so hermetically sealed that girls or women teachers (or moms at the Ys during the 50s) didn’t get in—as Ed pointed out with disapproval in his several comments.

          Reliable information about this is spotty. But I think we have learned a lot in these 200-plus comments and there is still more to learn. Not the least is when, where, and why the tradition of boys swimming naked ended. This is probably as varied as the practice of naked swimming itself. It would also be good to hear about naked swimming in other countries. And maybe where in the world naked swimming can be practiced today. So comments are still welcome.

          • Avatar

            MPC

            Thank you Frank for hopefully bringing an end to an off base and unnecessary part of the discussion.

            To return to your original post and reiteration of the question as to why it ended…

            Was it women’s liberation that contributed to the end of the practice?

            Several of the articles mention that as females were admitted to college pools and other areas where male only swimming had been accepted the practice of both sexes wearing swim suits was instituted.

            I believe it was a female senator who first visited the US Senate pool in 2008 and it led to debate over why no females frequented the pool. The final reason given was the lack of swimsuits on their male colleagues as the males felt more comfortable swimming that way.

            This is well after the time we are discussing as the “end” of naked swimming but apparently it was still prevalent in the hallowed halls of the nations capitol.

            To my knowledge swimsuits are now required in the Senate swimming pool.

            Was it the liberation of women and their undertaking new roles and responsibilities that brought about the change?

            Thanks again for an interesting blog!
            MPC

          • Frank Senn

            I believe that women played a big role in ending the tradition of boys swimming naked. We have the newspaper stories from the 1960s of mothers objecting to school boards concerning their sons swimming naked. Then the YMCAs admitted girls and women into membership in the late 1960s/early 1970s. During the 1970s and early ’80s the YMCAs began to convert into “Family Centers” and their pools went co-ed. With girls in the pool boys wore suits. Individual Ys have some autonomy in their administration so this didn’t happen everywhere at the same time. Title IX in 1972 made physical education programs in the public schools equally accessible to girls and co-ed gym and swimming classes were implemented. But not everywhere at the same time. So in some schools naked swimming lasted longer than in other schools.

  15. Avatar

    alan

    In 6th grade 1966 about 6 of us out of 40 left our Catholic school once a week to swim at the YMCA and it was probably the last naked year. Once the girls found out they were incredulous and obsessed with find out our stages of development. One boy spilled the beans to his fraternal twin and the next day every girl knew if each boy had a “weiner” or a “weenie”(think cocktail). A few bold girls teased the weenies like crazy and even the shy girls laughed. The weiners were never teased. It was quite cruel and ruined the rest of my year (only 2 weiners). Funny to think of this now as all are 60 and over but very strange then.

    • Avatar

      alan

      Only 6 out of 40 boys went to Y and I think the girls were shocked that boys still swam naked like in the old west when we were only 2 years since the moon landing. Even the other boys had no idea this still went on. I also think the girls only had a vague idea of what “weiners” were for. I know in 6th grade I did not. I still was so ashamed that every girl had a mental picture of me on the diving board naked and there was nobody to complain to. Even the shyest ones would giggle. Thanks for responding. I had not thought of this in a long time.

      • Frank Senn

        It’s amazing what memories from long ago come flooding back when something triggers them—like me seeing the pool in my high school after 55 years and being told by a teacher who never experienced naked swimming what a “barbaric” practice it was. I’m sorry the girls spoiled the experience for you. In my high school I never heard any girls comment on the fact that the boys swam naked even though the girls surely knew that this was our practice. I never heard any boys complain about it either. But we were a decade earlier than your experience and three years older.

  16. Avatar

    alan

    I talked to my long time friend(our ww2 fathers were each other’s godfather in 2 family houses on same block)and we are godfathers for one of each’s kid at 62 yr old. We were not harmed by it [swimming naked]
    .
    1.)We never knew the naked requirement ahead of time and our parents did not know as we took suits each week. There was no need to tell because once they paid we could never back out(probably 2 bucks a week). Our first forays to the pool were very tentative and fearful.

    2.)At this point no one had played any sports except baseball so no one had ever changed clothes in a group much less showered together. It was a big leap for a 6th grader, especially for girls who had never seen another person naked to know that 6 kids were openly nude for an hour a week in a public place, which is why it was considered very odd.

    3.)I (or he) knew nothing about sex until 7th grade and the mechanics probably 8th grade. Most would not unless they had older siblings. We would have no idea why some boys were more developed. I may have only had a vague idea that girls were different but not why. Probably some girls with older sisters knew that the “weiner” would become a more important part of their life some day which, is why they were so inquisitive as to size/development.

    4.)The other boys were no help as they were thrilled that nobody knew what their development was. They stayed out of it. The more developed seemed to have a little more acceptance by girls. They were dull boy scouts like us but kind of developed a little confidence, especially the traitor who told his sister which started this whole mess!

    All in all what was a very passive experience (i.e. parents said get on the Y bus and learn to swim) became a somewhat disruptive experience. It did end though, not sure why. It will NEVER happen again. Young people work out now and don’t even shower at my gym.

  17. Avatar

    Gavin F

    Frank:
    Thank you for raising the discussion of all the issues that your original post and the 200+ responses generated, including some heated comments and landmines. I have nothing further to add to anything I wrote, and I simply thank you for this opportunity. I now know much more clearly that my experience (though an outlier) was hardly unique.

    As it happens, I am also a historian and an archivist/librarian. I deeply respect genuine evidence, and I am keenly aware that “facts” can be falsified. I am quite aware of the value, dangers, and pitfalls of eyewitness accounts.

    I believe that some of the historical developments most difficult to discern –as when (for example) incidental “criminal sodomy” became clinicalized “homosexual character” in the 19th century, and a focus of “homoerotic” relationships is such an example. 19th century males may well have expressed affection for each other that in retrospect is neither exactly “perverted,” (in some generations) or “gay” (in other, later generations). Volumes have been written about those changes.

    I believe that the attitudes that surrounded social, male, nude swimming when it occurred, and attitudinal changes towards young male and female sexuality, are another such historical development that is very, very hard to discern accurately. All the more so because changes in social attitudes are never uniform, consistent, or evenly-distributed across diverse geographies and populations.

    I can only report that my experience is my experience, and that Tom Wallace Lyons’ experience (far up above) is very different, and that neither of us falsely report our first-person memories. I very much regret if some feel that my memories have crossed a line into CFNM porno-story territory, because that has not been my intention. I certainly do not want to damage the credibility of this blog, this discussion, or your other work and publications. I have acknowledged several times that my own experience was highly unusual, as was (I believe) Tom Wallace Lyons’. I have been coping with several unintended consequences of my unusual family life for much of the rest of my life. I hope that you do not follow Billy’s advice to eliminate this topic from your blog.

    To anyone who has been offended: my regrets. To anyone who feels this conversation has become stained with other considerations: peace be with you. To those who have had other, basically similar memories: thank you. For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.

    • Frank Senn

      I want to thank you and everyone who has contributed to this discussion. Gavin, I do not think you crossed a line into any kind of porno in your comments. If I thought you had I would have blocked you. I actually did disapprove for posting a couple of comments that I thought did cross the line. While your family upbringing definitely seems unusual, and undoubtedly affected your attitude toward swimming naked, I heard first hand some similar experiences—just not from Americans. For example, I got into a discussion about saunas with a Finnish college student I met at a church event just a few years ago. He commented on what he perceived to be American puritanical attitudes toward nudity. He told me that in his home even as a older (and developed) teen he would walk around the house naked in front of other family members (including his mother and sister). He also expressed surprise at the shocked reaction of other guys in his dorm when he walked down the hall to the shower butt naked. I told him that that wouldn’t have been considered shocking in my college dorm back in the early 60s. But times have changed—as everyone has noted.

      Yes, the blog remains open. I have slightly edited my article from time to time to keep it as accurate as possible. I’ve learned a lot from the comments. And I marvel as I read through the 230-plus comments on how civil and informative they are. In fact, I think they make a good read. Thanks to all who posted.

  18. Avatar

    Ken Ely

    I’m 69 now and was among the generation that swam naked in high school.
    My high school senior year was ’65-’66.
    I was never very good at school sports, the kind played with a ball, because I could never keep track of where the ball was or where it was supposed to go; but I was a good swimmer and I looked forward to the portion of my senior year’s PE classes wherein swimming was to be taught.
    Our high school was old but it had two pools, one for boys and one for girls. One a day, when we were lined up in the gym waiting for our work-out instructions, our PE teacher announced that we were going to swim that day. He sent us back to the locker room to get out of our gym clothes and form up on the long sides of the pool.
    One of the boys asked, “What do we wear?”
    The answer was, “Your skins.”
    That came as something of a surprise to all of us but we were used to showering together and dressing in the locker room, so we did as we were asked, chuckling at the novelty and calling raunchy taunts at one another across the water while we waited along pool’s sides.
    When the teacher came in, he mounted one of the diving boxes at the deep end and told us how the class would go. Swimming would last for eight weeks (we had gym class twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays). We had two weeks to acquire bathing suits. He did not say that bathing suits were mandatory but since “if you want to wear one” was not included in his instruction, I assumed that at the end of two weeks, we would be expected to wear them. I also thought it funny that we were allowed two whole weeks to get them. I had two bathing suits in my dresser drawer. Didn’t everybody?
    I brought a suit to the next class but I didn’t wear it, just left it in my locker. In fact, no one wore a suit for that next class. Maybe no one wanted to wimp-out and appear girlishly modest.
    The following week, two or three suits were in the line-up but most of the boys still chose to swim naked. I say “chose” because I figured everyone had a bathing suit and I thought that even the poorest fellow among us could have acquired one overnight if he had wanted to. No, I think that most of us could have admitted to enjoying skinny dipping and some of us even acknowledged it aloud.
    In that class were rich kids, poor kids, black kids and white. Without suits, we were all just naked kids, however. It was a definite social ‘leveler’: our rich/poor/black/white differences – at least, to me – seemed artificial. Naked, we really weren’t too different at all.
    The last class of that week, Friday, was the end of the two-week period allowed for getting swim suits. But not the way I calculated it. I reasoned that the first class of the third week should actually have begun our ‘suited’ period. Most of the other boys turned out for Friday’s class in suits; five of us did not. Nothing was said about it by any of the other boys when we lined up along the pool that day but no one took off their suits to join the five of us, either.
    If I had been one of the popular kids, one of the trend-setters, I might have continued to swim naked; but I had been a social maverick through middle school, had continued to be one in high school, and had actually had to fight one or two of the boys in that class in previous years, so standing out in the crowd just was not worth it. I put on a suit the next Tuesday. So did the other four.
    Personally, I regret the lamentable state we’ve come to in our culture regarding male nudity. Some of my grandsons are so squeamish about being naked that they are embarrassed to change into bathing suits in the car at the beach.

  19. Avatar

    AJ

    I would like to thank Gavin F for the insightful share, especially your ability to be true to yourself at the pool in the company of people of all ages and both sexes.

    You mentioned that your mother was open to your nudity at home. Would you agree that her influence was largely responsible for your being perfectly comfortable being bare at the pool? Your sharing provides an important insight on how parents form positive or negative outlook on our body image and sex. Would you agree?

  20. Avatar

    Nick K

    Swam naked in Lackawanna NY from 1968 (Saturday mornings at the High School). Never gave it a second thought, loved swimming and went voluntarily. Then in High School in 1972 swam naked in Gym Class and you would always see the door to the girls locker room opening a crack so the girls could spy on us. Joined the swim team but we practiced with speedos and the nude swimming ended for Gym Class in 1973.

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