Welcome to the second blog post about Swimming Naked. On 2016/08/15 I posted a Frank Answer About Swimming Naked. That article was a response to a negative comment about the practice made by a retired male teacher who took my Bennett High School class of 1961 on a tour of the old high school at a class reunion. When we got to the pool, he said, “You men may remember the barbaric practice of swimming nude.” I didn’t think of it as “barbaric” and wrote the article as a response.
My post has generated 50,000-plus page views and 300-plus comments. This response was undoubtedly due to the released memories of men who had the experience of swimming naked more than fifty years ago in public schools, the YMCA, Boys Clubs, and summer camps. The long string of comments (some quite long) became unwieldy and Word Press suppressed them from view. But don’t worry, the comments weren’t lost. You can find them in “previous” and “next” lists at the bottom of the “Frank Answers About Swimming Naked” article. Also, ANY OF THE HYPER-LINKED NAMES ON THE COMMENTS BELOW WILL TAKE YOU TO THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE AND TO ALL OF THE COMMENTS.
However, the discussion was very enlightening and civil. I have sifted through all the comments and culled out some to be an an anthology of the most substantive issues involved with the swimming naked discussion. Because even this curated commentary is long, I divided it into nine parts, each part beginning where there is a noticeable new direction in the discussion because of new voices entering the commentariet. Like chapters in a book readers can read a part and return to read the next part.
I subtitled this commentary article “Discerning the Truth” because a lot of questions were raised about certain practices that generated discussion about whether it really happened or whether reports or photos are reliable. I also added images and some brief new comments of my own to break up the long string of comments. At the bottom of this commentary article I added my comments reflecting on the issues raised in this entire string, which seeks to discern the truth about naked swimming in the U.S. public schools, the YMCA, and other indoor and outdoor venues. Comments on this commentary article and my final commentary are invited. Enjoy the read!
Definitions: I use the word “naked” to refer to the state of being undressed. “Nude” is the pictorial representation of nakedness, as in art. It’s hard to be consistent about this distinction because most people use the term “nude” for “naked.”
Fig. 1. Photo of junior boys swimming in a New York City pool by Eliot Elisofon (1911–1973) published in Life magazine April 15, 1940 .
Among the issues raised in the comments to my blog article (see http://www.frank-answers.com/frank-answers-about-swimming-naked/), I think the big three are these:
How did the boys feel about being forced to swim naked? Is it proper even to say they were “forced” since it was an assumed practice?
Were there ever female teachers and coaches in swim classes or swim team practices when the boys swam naked? Did boys swim naked in front of female spectators?
How reliable are vintage photos that purport to document naked boys with suited girls or women judging boys’ swim competition events? Have they ALL been photo shopped?
Boys swimming naked in front of females was far and away the major bone of contention in the comments. But some of the testimonies of boys’ experiences with nude swimming indoors or outdoors were really wonderful.
PART 1: On your mark, get set, GO!
While I remember those days, I wasn’t an active participant. What I mean to say is that while I attended an all boy Roman Catholic High School in Brooklyn, we didn’t have a pool. The Metropolitan Baths as they were known were used by those of us on the HS swim team. We wore speedos. However, when competing against other schools, some did compete nude. For my friends who went to our neighborhood public HS, in the late 60’s-early 70’s nude swimming classes were mandatory. Some did confess to feeling “uneasy” at first… That is when they were entering HS as freshman… But as Frank writes, I did note a certain camaraderie…aka “male bonding”. As for the fact that there were areas of the US that allowed for women, family members etc to be present at nude swim meets…honestly, that leaves me a bit freaked out… Today this is much different as we know… Is it for the best? I don’t believe so… Will it change? I don’t see it happening. Thanks for sharing this Frank.
Fig. 3. Swim team, probably from Bob’s time.
I found your article about naked swimming in the past very interesting. I was wondering why people at the time did not think men needed privacy. I’ve heard some stories that males swam naked in front of their parents or female classmates and at the time it seemed no one felt it awkward. It reminds me of Ancient Greek culture, that at the time males often stayed naked while females were clothed. I would love to hear your opinion about this. Do you think people in the past held different attitude toward male privacy? Why could they accept naked men being in public pools or among clothed people but modern people require men to hide their genitalia? In my view, I think men should be entitled to be naked when swimming or on the beach or other decent occasions that nudity is expected. After all, males are different from females. If a female is naked in public, she exposes herself to male raping; on the other hand, men don’t have this concern. I sometimes wonder why men need the equal modesty as females. Penis is an organ and it’s ridiculous to be afraid of this. If men can be naked in public like in the past, it also provides a good chance for females to know male body and they will have more knowledge for their future relationship with men. What do you think, Frank?
In reply to Linda
Dear Linda, I’m glad you found my article interesting. Attitudes toward nudity differ from one culture to another. Even within a culture social mores change and the laws change over time. As you suggest, societies have felt that women need to be protected from unwanted aggression like rape (think of burkas in Muslin societies). Women are usually covered in the genital area (as in the painting of the young Spartans in the article). Why cover the vagina? I think because it is the entrance into the giving and birthing of life, which is something human societies want to protect. In various societies there has been less concern to cover the woman’s breasts (as you see in the painting of ancient Spartans).
My article documents the tradition of men and boys swimming naked even in clothed Western societies. In the U.S. social mores dictated that the modesty of women should be protected in public. (Private skinny dipping is another situation.) Now after a couple of generations of the boys also being socialized for modesty, I doubt that most of them have any desire to return to the practice of swimming naked. As for girls being able to see boys’ naked bodies to know what they are like, I don’t think the boys would like being sexuality object lessons.
Frank added a comment and image on 07/27/18
However, I guess in the 19th and earlier centuries girls would have seen naked boys swimming outdoors.
Many of the photos shown on the internet of mixed swim meets have been photo shopped so they are probably fakes. I also do not think any swim meets were done in the nude as there is no evidence to support it.
Boys and men did swim nude and there are many Life Magazine articles which showed nudity (including full frontal) during the 1940s through the 1960s. This does make me think there was an over all acceptance of male nudity by people as long as it was wholesome and for the young.
In Reply to L B
Thanks to L B for pointing out that photos of mixed sex swim meets with boys swimming naked may have been photo shopped. The one I selected for this article looks to me like a 1960s era snapshot. Even so, I raise the question in the blog article of whether it is authentic. As for whether some boys swam naked in competitions, there is personal testimony, including Bob Raines’ comment above.
Frank added a comment with photos on 2018/06/08
While many of the photo shopped pictures are of naked boys with suited girls, some are just of boys. Here’s an example of a photo shopped picture of two swimmers on a diving board seen on the internet. The original photo is by Dave Martin, who photographed University of California at Berkeley swim team members. In the original (Fig. 8b) the boys are wearing swim suits.
In reply to Frank Senn.
The Ys and community centers also had family days in which everyone was invited to attend. The boys (including up to late teens) still swam in the nude (even though swim trunks were optional at some places). The family days were more than likely optional, but I do think most of the boys would be teased for being cowards had they not shown up for those days.
I also do think there were meets and practices where the boys swam in the nude possibly in front of girls. I am looking for solid evidence as I am a writer for a blog and I am curious about such things going on during the 1940s-1960s when morality was dictated to us through television and movies.
The Life Magazine and other newspaper articles from that era do suggest male nudity was not as taboo as we are led to believe.
Thank you for your comments and responding to mine.
Fig. 9. Father and son swimming at the YMCA
Tom Wallace Lyons
I would like to know what my contemporaries and others think about whether it was proper to have female swim instructors supervise nude adolescent boys in high schools and in places like the YMCA. As a contemporary of Frank Senn, I can attest to the fact that there did not seem to be much embarrassment about nudity among men and boys. However I believe that, in the home, boys often ceased to bathe and dress in front of their mothers as they entered the outer precincts of adult sexual viability. In other words, genital privacy from women was a powerful marker for that all important separation of the boys from the men. If I am right, it stands to reason that nudity in front of a female swim instructor could have hurt a boy’s pride in his emergent manhood. And how could a boy not have been embarrassed if his own mother had not seen him naked for a year or more? Since my nude swimming in high school was strictly with males, I can only write from conjecture. So what do others think? Tom Wallace Lyons
Frank added photos with comments on 2018/06/28
Fig. 10a. I saw this photo of an older teenage boy posing naked with his mother on the internet and wondered if it could be authentic. Nah, it’s another photo shop job. Thanks to our commentator Al for providing the original.
Even suited, however, he doesn’t look too happy to be photographed with his mother. But the comfort level of older boys being naked in front of their mothers varied according to family and cultural context. See the stories told by Gavin down below. See also my response to Tom’s theory in the Concluding Reflections.
I’m 44 years old; sadly missed this era by 15 years or so. However, growing up in the late 70s/1980s I notice a vast difference in the way boys were raised to think then compared to now. It wasn’t a big deal for me & my brothers to play in the ditch after a big rain & take our clothes off at the back door & head for the shower (even as a young teen). As I look back to the 80s, it was ‘head knowledge’ of culture that girls needed more privacy.
I loathe the times we live in now. It’s amazing what the ‘pedophile scare’ of the 90s did to every day culture. While it’s a good thing to hunt down & punish those who do vile things to children, the sheer trauma of these media reports (in the 90s) created a hypnotic effect that caused politicians to write new laws that were clearly based on fear & emotion, not logic. As a result, pics of a mother’s babies sent to be developed caused some mothers to get a visit from law enforcement (just one of so many countless examples of how the innocent get the shaft over these laws).
As you said, nudity is sexualized now, even among children; that’s what I find sickening. I wonder if we will ever return to a time when boys can develop that ‘self confidence’ (at a young age) again? What do you think?
Billy Riddell added in a reply to Frank Senn.
We’re talking about sexual development & how females seek a man who has SEXUAL self confidence, not just physical self confidence. Most of these Millennials can’t even change out of their undies in a locker room full of MEN without doing a towel dance. That’s a sick psychological condition formed by mommy who (through the current wave of pedophile fear) convinced them that every male nude with him in a locker room aged 18 and over is a possible pervert wanting to screw you. Pure paranoia, pure psychosis (based on a witch hunt for villains).
Fig. 11. A modest millennial in the locker room. The same model as shown in the original article, Frank Answers About Swimming Naked.
22-yo Millennial (via email)
I’ve been thinking today about why men (or people in general) are so quick to cover themselves in locker rooms. I think women do it a bit less, particularly regarding their breasts, but men for sure are quick to cover the cock! Beyond size, and pubic hair grooming (since many younger people do this), there is this whole ‘issue’ in the gay community of public bathrooms and locker rooms being the perfect spot for anonymous ‘blow ‘n go’ etc. I do not and have not taken part of any of this, but many do. It seems that covering up and changing quickly, etc. has become the best way to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation. But, gay experiences in public areas aside, men are and I’m sure always have been sensitive about cock size! I know I am.
Frank added a comment and photo on 2018/06/25
Dr. Annabel Chan Feng Yi, doctorate in clinical psychology from Victoria University of Melbourne, Australia, carried out an online study in 2013 of 738 men about their body image. Most were concerned about their penis size—not for performance in the bedroom but in comparison with other men in the locker room. “Men’s pre-occupation with size was rarely to do with pleasing sexual partners or even appearing as a better sexual partner,” Dr Chan wrote. “It was often more about competition with other men. Many felt most insecure about their size in environments where other men might see them, such as gym change rooms.” The men surveyed ranged in age from 18 to 76 years old. I guess the 22-yo gay millennial commentator was right.
Fig. 12. Older boy doesn’t want the younger boy to see his penis while he’s peeing.
In reply to Billy Riddell.
I think there is a lot of truth in that. [Boys not wanting to expose themselves in locker rooms] Fathers are absent in the house and women worry about boys and convince them of predators at every turn. Still though, they are afraid of each other. I’ve been in locker rooms and you cannot help but notice the boys showering in their suits and changing under a towel. Yet they are not spooked by me showering normally (I’m old enough to be their dad). My theory is they’ve seen too much internet porn and think of nude showering or changing in a locker room to be the opening scene to an explicit gay orgy. Ironically, seeing explicit nudity has made them uncomfortable with innocent nudity.
Though I missed the nude swim team era by about 10 years, we were comfortable changing and showering with each other. We actually teased the kids who “needed” privacy. If they went to a toilet stall to change out of their swim suits, we said they must be girls under there, since they thought they had something we had not seen. But it was not cruel. When they grew up enough mentally to walk in the shower, they were welcomed and not bullied.
I notice too that how boys dress is very different. Shorts are far from short. Basketball shorts used to be the length of boxer shorts, now they come down past the knee. Swimsuits are more likely to be board shorts, again almost to the knee. Swim suits used to be the same length as basketball shorts. Less than 1/2 way to the knee. Some swim teams still wear Speedo suits, but many wear those styled like bicycle shorts. I’ve seen the full body suits that come all the way to ankles and wrists. After paying close to $200 and spending 15 minutes trying to wrestle myself into a second skin disguised as a “swim suit” I would welcome a return to nude swimming!
Frank added a comment and a photo on 2018/06/19
Full body, neck-to-ankle suits, enhanced with polyurethane, and now rubber, popped onto the swimming scene in 2000 and were cleared for competition at the Sydney Olympic Games. A number of world records have been broken since then, prompting swimming’s governing body, FINA, to ban “non-textile” suits and limit the amount of coverage — between the waist and knees for men, not past the shoulders or below the knees for women. Here Michael Phelps models a “speedo LZR-RACER” version full body suit. This suit provides as much covering as the suits worn by men in the late 19th century, even though it is easier to swim in. Would he really want to swim in this?
Nah, Michael Phelps would prefer to swim the old-fashioned way.
It was in junior high school in the 60s that I was first exposed to swimming naked in school. That’s just the way it was. We did have a male instructor who wore a speedo-like suit, but when it came to demonstrating a certain swimming stroke in the pool, he would shed his suit. I do remember having the female swimming instructor substitute once for our class and we were taken by surprise that she was there. But we still continued class as always, naked.
Funny, both the male instructor and the substitute female instructor attended the same church that I did… Nothing was abnormal. We swam naked. That’s just the way it was.
Being on my school swim team in the 60s, we did compete naked.
Fig. 14. 1960s swim team
Old Time Swimmer
I just came across this blog and found it interesting. I am in my 70’s and had almost identical experiences as Frank: nude swimming class at the Y, at Y camp, high school PE and swim and water polo teams. (We wore suits at most competitions that had spectators, nude when no spectators). I think Frank is right that the main reason for nude swimming was tradition not water filters in the pool. In those days the thought was that nudity was fine with only males. This included swimming, showering, wrestling weigh-ins and practice etc. As Frank says we learned that there is nothing wrong with the human body. At times we skinny dipped when there were only guys at a lake. When we visited a friend’s cottage I joined him and his brother in their custom of swimming nude. We were ages 10 to 13 or so.
I do have some questions:
Required vs. Optional nudity- why was nude swimming REQUIRED if it was only tradition. I once belonged to a men’s health club where suits were option. Perhaps convenience was the reason for male nude swimming–no moldy suits etc. Remember girls did not swim nude.
Nude vs. Naked- Frank likes “naked” – fine with me. When we swam at the Y as young kids we swam in our “birthday suits”, in high school it was “bare ass”. “Nude” was used in student manuals and YMCA signage. Incidentally, our Y instructors and life guards were also naked. In high school our PE teacher never got in the water, he wore T-shirt and shorts. Our coach was naked during practice as we were.
Photos- Thanks for photos that prove the point. I think a couple are photo shopped if you look closely. Back in the day, photos like those in LIFE magazine showing nude kids swimming and showering met no opposition. When a Y swim class opened there was usually a shot of naked guys at the pool, mostly views of the back but sometimes frontal. When we swam naked at our friend’s cabin, his parents took a picture of the four of us arm in arm completely naked and put it in their album. No opposition from any one. This was seen as non-sexual.
I agree with the benefits as things that I experienced but I do not think we can go back to those days. Culture has changed in regard to that kind of nudity. Photos as contained here would not be seen as innocent.
Thanks for your reflections. Interesting blog on so many topics.
In reply to Old time swimmer.
I appreciate your testimony, Old Swimmer. With regard to your questions: (1) tradition is a powerful force. That’s why naked/nude swimming lasted beyond the time when swim wear was made of synthetic material instead of cotton, etc. (2) In a sense all the photos in the blog show nude bodies because flat pictures can’t show full nakedness, such as we see “in the flesh.” My point is that we were totally naked. Nothing was left to the imagination. (3) I tried to choose photos that didn’t look photo shopped. In instances where I found the same picture but the boy was in a swim suit, I took down the nude version. (I’m not able to adjudicate which one is real and which is fake.) But photo shopped doesn’t necessarily mean the boys weren’t naked when photographed. It might mean that two photos were spliced together, like a suited girls’ team was photographed with a nude boys’ team. Thanks for your comments.
Frank added a comments with a photo on 2018/06/08
There are a number of photos of swimming teams that combine naked boys with suited girls. In some the girls are seated and the boys are standing standing behind them, which partially covers their nakedness. In this vintage photo of water polo teams the girls are in the water and the boys are standing above them. The boys’ genitals are partially concealed by the net frame. What institutions would have had both male and female water polo teams and taken a formal photograph of them together? Are all these pictures really photo shopped, as charged? Unless one can find an original in which the men are suited, I think the photos have to be accepted as they are. What such photos would have been used for is another question.
”it was good while it lasted”
Not sure that is entirely true. I was too afraid of doing it in high school and transferred to another where nude swimming was not required. While I have read from some folks that nude swimming for boys improves self-discipline, I do agree that no long term emotional damage was done to anyone who went through it. Also, I have read where women teachers and other attendants did appear at nude male swim meets and that female assistants supervised distribution of towels to boys as they left the pool area. On another site, there was a discussion (along with photos) of a European high school swim class in which boys swam nude while the women swam in bathing suits. Those who discussed the matter said this was an authentic class and not something posed or scripted. Others have said this has also happened in the USA but don’t know if this is entirely true.
I just came across this link which reveals how male nude swimming was considered perfectly acceptable in private company back in 1970: http://themedusamachine.blogspot.com/2015/10/when-social-nudity-was-healthy-and.html
Note that while the boys were nude, the women all had full body swim suits. Even Dear Abby agreed that this was the norm at that time! This is why it would not surprise me to learn that this may have happened at some schools in the USA in those days (again, I have never seen proof of this) though it is likelier to have happened in European schools.
In reply to Ric.
Thanks for sharing the link to the medusa machine blog. Some interesting stuff there. There’s a YouTube video documentary on the history of nude swimming in the YMCA and in the schools, in 3 parts. Here is pt. 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGt_HUSSyQQ. Parts 2 and 3 will follow from watching part 1.
Old Time Swimmer
In reply to Frank Senn.
As I mentioned earlier, at the Y no one (instructors, life guards, fathers and brothers at family night) ever wore a swim suit. At first, I did not want to go to swim class for that reason but was forced to go and got used to it. On the high school swim team we never competed nude in front of women or girls but the father of one of my friends said he did as a high school student. As for Ric’s comments and link. Similar to the Dear Abby column, I did swim nude at a friend’s cottage when I was age 11 to 13 or so. His parents did not allow him or his brother to bother with swim suits. My parents said we should do as they do. The house was on a small lake but not private. We were nude when there were guests, male and female, and swam that way with girls our age visiting with our parents who wore swim suits. It was not an issue for boys to be seen naked but improper for females.
We mentioned earlier that photos for magazines and local newspapers confirm nude male swimmers as completely acceptable as Ric and Frank indicate. In the 40’s soldiers were seen in published photos swimming nude. Even if some photos are photo shopped they are probably blended pics of male swimming class or teams. It was cultural and times have changed. Unfortunately there is more body shame now.
In response to Old Swimmer
Where do these vintage photos come from on the internet? I think some photos of boys swimming naked outdoors in the earlier twentieth century are from family albums. There are also photos taken by soldiers of their comrades swimming naked. There are also archival group photos from the Y and other health clubs where full frontal nudity was displayed. Private photos and archival photos can easily be leaked out. My hunch is that these are some of the sources of many vintage photos on the internet.
Frank added a comment with photos on 2018/06/14
Here’s a vintage photo I found on the internet of boys sitting naked on a plank above the water that probably served as a diving board. It may remind Old Swimmer of his days as a young boy at his friend’s cottage.
Not surprisingly, there are a number of photos of German soldiers bathing naked in rivers during World War II for two reasons: 1. Germans like to swim naked and 2. they record everything.
Here’s a vintage photo from the 1940s of naked men who are members of the New York City YMCA . Such a photo would surely have been taken by an officially designated photographer, perhaps even displayed on a wall, and then kept in the archives.
Tom Wallace Lyons
In reply to Old Time Swimmer
Re: Old Swimmer’s comment: “—photos of naked guys in the Y pool or in swim class were not considered invasions of privacy or indecent until the 70’s or so.” I question whether these pictures constitute evidence that privacy for adolescent boys was not respected in the mid-Twentieth Century.
Let us consider LIFE’s October, 1941 picture of boys in the shower. The boys in this picture appear to be posed in a manner guaranteed to preserve what I refer to in my November 14th. entry as “genital privacy.” But what about Frank Senn’s frontal nudity pictures and the pictures of nude young men in the presence of women? Are any of these pictures in respectable mid-Twentieth Century magazines, newspapers or yearbooks? Most of these pictures have no description as regards to identity of publisher or provenance. The partial exception is the “swim team” members picture which names the young men. WHERE was this picture published? Was it published?
If memory and observation serve me, male genitals were NEVER displayed in mainstream mid-Twentieth Century publications. This indicates a social consensus for genital modesty. Hence my conclusion that there is no clear pictorial evidence of male adolescent nudity in the presence of females during swim class in YMCA type places and high schools. This does not mean that it did not happen. One of Old Swimmer’s friends told him his father competed nude in front of females.
Some writers discuss visits to families during which boys swam nude in the presence of females. This practice surprised and “alarmed” a mother of teenage sons. She asked Dear Abbey if she was missing something when her husband told her the practice was “completely normal.” Abby says the mother was missing the “American Way of Life.” Really? Had nude swimming for boys been the American Way of Life, the mother would have been old enough to know this by the time her boys were adolescents.
It is hard to know how many families expected teenage boys to go naked in the presence of females. Some boys may not have minded. But some adolescent boys may not have liked forced nudity; especially when their parents ordered them to conform to the norms of their hosts. Were they teased afterwards by their suited sisters? When I was fourteen, my grandmother told me that a guest should be “sacred.” In other words, try not to make a guest uncomfortable. I can only wonder what my grandmother would have thought of those families that hosted nude swimming.
Family practices do not allow us to extrapolate a norm for community institutions like the YMCA and high school swim classes. There is an over-arching question that may never be answered: How often did community institutions expect, even force, American adolescent boys to swim naked in the presence of females? Am I right to hope and believe that it was not often? What do others have to say? TWL
Frank added two comments and photos in response to Tom’s comment on 2018/06/10
First, here’s that photo of the four nude and named swimmers that Tom mentions in his comment. Because of the questions he raised I deleted it from my article. With the names and a reference to a competition this could seem to be from some newsletter or yearbook. But would such a publication be disseminated with full frontal nude boys in it? I doubt that. But might a photo like this have been posted in the corridors or offices of the YMCA that also had swim teams?
Second, family practices differ. Some mothers actually encouraged family nudity. Here’s a photo of a mother taking two children into the water with every body nude. More likely European than American. Perhaps Scandinavian.
Old Time Swimmer
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
TWL and Frank,
I believe that the institutional practice of nude swimming was based in tradition and culture that continually evolves. Today the nude swimming we mentioned in this blog would never happen, but I think it disappeared gradually as society become more sensitive to it and perhaps less comfortable with human bodies. For example, the LIFE magazine photos did observe “genital privacy” in the 30’s and 40’s. Notice that you would not see photos like that in mainstream publications today. Perhaps some photos like the nude boys posing may have been taken at a swim practice or the Y. However in the 20’s and earlier “genital privacy” was not observed. Note this website: https://sites.google.com/site/historicarchives4maleswimming/home/historic-photographs/vintage-photograph-gallery.
As for women present for institutional naked swimming, I still find no clear proof as the website cited agrees. For example, it has been more than 50 years since my friend’s dad said he competed nude. Can I swear on the Bible that he actually said that? Not sure. Perhaps he was exaggerating or spoke about a “closed” competition. Some on this blog say they competed nude with mixed gender spectators. I cannot say it isn’t true except to say I never did it in my swimming days when male nude swimming was common in school, at the Y, and summer camps. Of course not all boys were comfortable with this practice and some hated it; others had no problem with it. Private situations of nude swimming are in a different category.
Looking back now, i realize that growing up in the 1960’s, I spent a heck of a lot of time in the company of naked guys.
It’s very odd that this never occurred to me before.
Yes, we certainly did swim naked in high school gym classes, and add in the pre-and-post class showers in communal 20-head shower rooms.
(As an aside, I’ve seen comments about the occasional substitute female PE teacher, but in my school we had a woman who always ran the class. It was a big school, there were 3 or 4 PE teachers and rather than have only women run girls classes, etc., each one, male or female, ran the sports they had experience in. This lady, maybe 30ish, had been a competitive swimmer in college and really knew her stuff. I don’t recall anyone ever worrying much about it. Plus, come on: we were supposed to be in the pool swimming, not parading naked around the deck. It was a non issue.)
Anyway, I also played sports in high school making for five or six or seven more communal showers a week with 15 guys.
Regular gym class 3 times a week, 3 more group showers.
In scouts we had a lot of open swim nights at what was called The Natatorium–an old, dirty 1920s era relic of a place not that kids cared. No suits allowed.
Scout camping trips, same deal. (Imagine the outcry today if someone found out you took 50 boys to a lake to spend a day splashing around naked.)
Summer camp, beautiful Lake, no suits allowed. No idea what the rationale was but nobody ever asked.
Sports camps, more communal showers.
Point being, I was not unique. A normal boy could easily end up spending several hours a week naked in various groups of other naked boys.
It was, I think, psychologically very healthy. You learned about non sexual nudity in a safe adult controlled environment.
Not many guys wore towels around, not many guys raced back to their locker to pull some pants on; and when, as was absolutely inevitable, the occasional female – other people’s mom or sisters and/or classmates – got an eyeful, well, everybody blushed a little and went about their business.
Different time, better time. Long gone. A pity
Fig. 22. Vintage photo of boys and adults naked for water activity at summer camp.
He He! I never thought of adding up all the times we were naked with guys in those years. But as Walter says, YMCA swim class and free swims, high school swim class, swim team and water polo etc. all required nude swim. It’s funny when I think about it now but back then it was not a big deal to me once I got used to it at age 8 at the Y. Even at a Y camp, as Walter says, we swam nude in the lake–no pool filters issue. I believe this custom was just a tradition -males have no reason to swim with a suit when it is just males, and more practical. We were told not even to bring swim suits to camp; campers and counselors all swam nude.
However, I never personally experienced female teachers or life guards or girls sneaking in to watch us. Again, this is my experience. I mentioned earlier that we did swim nude at a friend’s family cottage. No explanation other than “the boys don’t wear swim suits”.
Funny that I never added up all the times but we really didn’t need to own a swim suit. It was not sexual or abusive to us.
Fig. 23. Vintage photo of naked boys having a swimming lesson in a public park. Probably in England since the photographer was British.
I read that teachers, coaches, instructors were also naked during PE swim class.
How was the sensation to see a naked teacher, instructor, coach, etc… considering that they were middle aged men and you in the pre-puberty or in different stages of puberty, also naked?
I had rugby classes in my school and I remember two or three times that teachers or assistants showered with us after the classes and yeah, it was a little awkward to see an “authority” completely naked with pubic hair and mature penis. Many of us (also I the first time) can’t stop looking at them. At one point one of them said to one pupil, “what are you looking at, nasty boy?”
Nothing sexual but strange. Anyway I remember during showers a pair of classmates who did a bad joke to others and it was very humiliating for them.
I’m from South America and studied in an English school with no swimming pool, but it was common to be naked among the students after PE classes when the shower was mandatory, even if later we went directly to our homes.
Here sharing nudity with fathers or brothers is still not common. Except, of course, in a locker room.
Fig. 24. Vintage photo of boys changing in locker room
In reply to JuanB.
Dear Juan, Thanks for writing. In my experience the swimming teacher always wore a swim suit and teachers did not shower with the boys. Of course, at the YMCA in the old days men and boys might have been swimming and showering together naked. And in the Korean spa I sometimes go to, fathers and sons (and mothers and daughters in the women’s area) are naked together in the pool area. I would say that in these situations of mixed ages boys will figure out that when they get older they will also have pubic hair and larger penises.
In reply to Frank Senn. (I combined several of Juan’s comments into one. – Frank Senn)
Thank you Frank. Old Swimmer said that the coach was naked only during practice in school and all the men were naked at the YMCA. In other web pages I read that when the teacher (in school) had to demonstrate something in the pool, he took off his trunks or speedos.
I understand that men at the YMCA are all “equal”, but not in school when the coach is an authority even if it’s a swim team.
I think that situation does make the people more skeptical about whether it was a big deal or a “barbaric” situation.
Being naked in front of parents is different in my opinion, and yes, by the way, I knew what was supposed to be.
For me it is not a big deal to swim naked with other men, but here didn’t happened. At my club we have a small swimming pool at the sauna and then I bathe (not swim because is too small) naked like others. In that locker room only men over 18 years can enter, that’s why I rarely saw my father naked. He has no problem with that, but when I was in my teens I hadn’t. Maybe if I saw him naked periodically before my puberty, I would have considered it naturally.
At my backyard pool I swim naked if my daughters or maid are not in the house. Only in front of my wife, if we are alone. And never in front of friends, except when I was young in a river or a lake.
But I enjoy very much naked swimming.
However I’m not sure about naked teachers in school. In a Y environment I see like the Korean and Russian baths: all are equal because they’re not “authorities”. Even if there are lifeguards or the teacher who teaches how to swim, because he just does that and probably they will see him later at the pool as one of them.
The example I gave was in the situation of an authority who was in the locker room and group showers. And also a fearsome authority…
I’m not sure about the second time with another teacher because maybe we were more developed … and because he had a malformation in his chest. So I think we didn’t give attention to his sex. But I remember we talked about it.
The third one I remember was an assistant and the older brother of a classmate. We were about 12-13 and he in his early 20s. But we didn’t see him as an authority. Just more like an older friend.
Maybe for you it was not disconcerting because it was normal. But the first time for me I didn’t think it was. Mmm, I think if I were in your situation I would have been disconcerted, as I recalled in my first post. Obviously later I was only focused on swimming.
It’s fun your first experience in a locker room with your classmates compared to me, because I remember the opposite when we started PE class with mandatory showers (at 8). We were happy because that meant we were bigger, and could enter a forbidden zone! A teacher (dressed) was there to control the situation, but it didn’t bother me. He was just like a father and wanted to be assure that we were dry before we put on our uniform. We played with our towels, like Pastor Senn we dunked each other, etc.
For me it was very interesting to learn about American nudity in schools, universities, or YMCA. I think they were very good times. Also I agree with the benefits that you mention about skinny dipping.
I’m 50 years old and, as in the USA, the new generations are more modest than my generation. I agree that now there’s a paranoic conduct with towel dance included, so yes, now it’s not balanced.
Regarding swim meets without suits, and without spectators, see THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE, JANUARY 6, 1928, http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/59857664/, look for “Swimming Suits Blames for Poor Times in Tank”.
I’ve seen no contemporary published articles on woman spectators. As to teachers, I read a plausible account of a man who as a boy learned to swim at the YWCA, and read an account claiming that when the author was a schoolboy, the men’s swim teacher was out sick, and the boys were given the choice of a swim supervised by the girl’s coach, or study hall, and nearly all chose to swim.
Do you know of any photo taken at a swim meet where females were in attendance and the photo was verified as real and not photo shopped? I find it hard to believe that photos that show faces and places could not be verified and eliminate the “well, maybe it was photo shopped” comments. I have seen at least a dozen vintage photos of men’s and women’s teams posing together (male nude – female bathing suites) and being told that they are all photo shopped. These are recognizable people and yet I have never heard of any of these photos being verified by those in the photos or by relatives of those in the photos.
My father recalls
My father graduated in Granite High School in Utah in 1948. It was mandatory to swim naked, he said. He mentioned boys rushing to the pool area naked, when they realized the girls had not fully exited the pool yet (I guess they heard the girls’ screams.) The boys in the back pushed their naked peers into the area with the pool as well as the girls and shut the door, locking a few of their naked classmates with the girls and their female coach.
My mom mention hearing some girls sneaking up in the bleachers to check out the naked boys swimming.
It is funny how society has changed in determining right and wrong, appropriate and non-appropriate.
I grew up with mass gym showering, and jock checks by the coach by lining up by the lockers and having to drop your shorts.
This coach also did a “cup check” by lining up the boys in the locker room and taking a baseball bat to tap each boy’s cup. If you didn’t wear a cup you were docked points and felt a little bend over pain.
Nude swimming should be banned worldwide, esp. in schools. One boy related a story of having to swim naked on ‘family nights’. This required them to come out in the pool area completely naked in front of mothers, sisters, friends, relatives, female teachers, and female classmates. What were these adults thinking? Why were boys and only boys put through this embarrassment? This boy said he was extremely embarrassed. Don’t give me the fact boys are not modest. Wrong. And that it was practiced for over 50 years. Wrong. It should have never happened period. Some parts of the world still make boys swim nude. Should be illegal. I know if I needed to learn how to swim I would’ve taken private lessons with my trunks on. And if I would’ve been forced nude for PE I would’ve refused or asked parents for transfer. My last question is why did they have to swim nude anyway? All reasons were proven wrong. Was it just for adult entertainment? Shame on those who had a hand in embarrassing and humiliating millions of boys over decades (while the females enjoyed a lot of eye candy).
Fig. 27. Boys the world over run excitedly toward the water butt naked.
In reply to Ed.
Well, Ed, I’m sure that girls sneaked peeks at the boys during all the centuries when boys swam naked outdoors. I’m also sure that over the centuries some boys were more modest than others. The point is that boys and men swimming naked wasn’t just a fifty year tradition. It was THE tradition and it started being abandoned outdoors only in the late 19th century. I think it was prolonged in indoor pools because genuine public health concerns were raised related to bacteria on woolen swimming suits, including typhus and cholera, polio outbreaks, etc. The American Public Health Association in 1926 recommended swimming naked. Why would public institutions not follow these guidelines? These guidelines were reissued every three years until 1962, when the APHA finally dropped the nude swimming recommendation. The recommendation was no longer needed to preserve public health due to bathing suits made of synthetic materials, improved filtration systems, and better management of chlorination. After that you begin to see schools and boys clubs and YMCAs dropping the requirement of nude swimming. This coincided with the privatization of life in suburban America (multiple bathrooms in homes), female equal access to pools for swimming lessons and team practice (boys and girls coming and going into the same areas), the increase in public swimming competitions, and “family night” situations such as you describe.
I’m sure that there would be more complaints from those who found the practice of required nude swimming personally objectionable than from those who went along with it. The testimonies are that most boys accepted the tradition after some initial embarrassment. Where there are issues of body shame, which boys can have as well as girls, wearing suits doesn’t help much. Parts of the body are still exposed, unless one wears a full body wet suit.
In reply to Frank Senn.
Bottom line – boys were treated unfairly. Seems like no one cared. All the reasons for nude swimming were shut down long before the practice ended. More boys disliked the practice than you think. Read the forums. Female instructors taught naked boys age 10-14. This was proven by newspaper articles. Tell me it wasn’t traumatic for them. Girls spied on the boys as many later admitted. If they could find girls suits compatible with disease and filtration prevention, they could’ve found the same type for boys. Show me a boy on the edge of puberty who likes showing his body. This is the most difficult time for either sex. Girls were provided suits and handed them in when done so they wouldn’t be stored wet in lockers. The same could’ve been done for boys. Every reason was disproved yet the practice continued. Millions of boys were exploited. Don’t tell me females weren’t involved. One news article said a YMCA hired 12 female instructors for lack of males and they taught naked boys for the four months the boys had the pool. This was just a shameful time in America that should have never happened. A black eye. Females enjoyed it. Most boys did not (again read the forums of boys hating PE). Even if the females weren’t present most of the time, the possibility still existed. And on occasion it did happen. Let’s hope it never happens again. Maybe Title IX will see to that.
Dear Pastor Senn, thanks for publishing this. Brought back memories of yesteryear, a bygone era. We swam nude in the late 60’s and never gave it a thought. The coaches and their assistants were nude also. I never remember women observing us in any way, as the doors were locked during swim classes, and we wore suits for public swim meets. The YMCA, which was still all male, had nude swimming and my dad and my brothers swam nude every Saturday morning.
My sons and their kids are much more bashful nowadays. I gotta wonder when everything changed. God Bless.
Fig. 28. Swimming lessons at the YMCA
Because of strong opinions about boys swimming naked in front of women, I recalled and verified instances of co-ed nude swims at some American colleges and universities in the 1970s. This is another now-forgotten piece of the social history of naked swimming in America. I wonder if anyone reading this blog had this experience of co-ed nude swims in college.
I also added a comment and photo to the article about those speedos that boys had to wear when naked swimming in competitions was abolished. Any comments on those?
Frank added a comment with image on 2018/06/08
In my article I referenced the film The Harrad Experiment (1973), based on the 1966 novel by Robert Rimmer, starring Don Johnson and Victoria Thompson. The book and film had nude co-ed swimming classes, and nude everything else in college classes and dorm living.
I graduated from High School in the late 80’s and we were not required to swim nude. . .but hell, we might as well have. . .we all saw each other naked anyway!!! Swim class was all males and although we were not required to swim nude we were required to wear the oh so fashionable tiny speedo. Plus we had to change in front of each other and shower before and after swim class. And if you’re wondering if we could just shower with our speedo on. . .nope!! Our coach wouldn’t even allow us to put it on until after we showered. It made me wonder why we even wore the speedo at all. We might as well have just swum naked. Now personally (and this is just me) I didn’t like wearing the speedo because it was tight around my. . .you know. . .and felt very uncomfortable. Having been given the choice, I would’ve just swum naked.
Now I’m not saying boys should be forced to swim nude (like my dad had to) but I don’t see what would be so horrific about having all boys swim classes and then giving them the option to wear a swimsuit or be nude. I wouldn’t be surprised if some opted to go nude, especially if a couple others did it too. Maybe someone can propose this.
I too graduated from high school mid-1980s and while we did not have nude swimming, we had mandatory nude showers after each PE class. The showers were the “open communal” type. The girls at our sister school also had the same type of communal showers and had to shower nude. Returned for my 30th reunion and took a tour of the school. Lots of upgrades to the science wing, athletic center and locker rooms. No more communal showers – private shower stalls.
I still swim several times a week at a swim club. It also has private shower stalls. I think the communal showers are becoming a thing of the past, much like nude swimming has.
My wife and I do visit a Korean Spa here in New Jersey. It has a spa section with hot tubs, sauna and both sit down and stand up showers. And an optional body scrub! Separated by gender, it’s probably one of the last places to be nude with others (unless one wanted to join a nudist club). Sometimes you’ll see a dad with his sons (mostly Asian). Recently two young Asian brothers with their dad were debating on going nude. They eventually did and seemed to enjoy themselves. My wife informed me that it is more prevalent on the women’s side, with girls and their moms; or even groups of friends enjoying their time together.
Someone on this forum should see if he can rent a swim pool a couple times a week for men only nude swimming. I bet you would get a large number of members.
Fig. 31. Boys scrubbing each other’s backs in Korean spa
When I was in high school, 1969-73, we were made to swim nude. I was an only child raised by a single mother, so no brothers or dad in the house. First time I saw another guy’s dick & pubic hair was in the post-gym class mandatory showers & nude swimming classes. I hated it at the time as did most if not all of my classmates, but it did us good to learn the lesson that life is full of having to do tough, unpleasant things you’d rather avoid. It built character. I wish my sons could have had the same experience.
And one more thing. Our instructors were always male, always wore swimsuits. They never showered with us, although they were present at the showers, wearing at least a swimsuit, to supervise and give out towels. I wasn’t on the swim team, but the boys who were would wear speedo type swimsuits in competitions where females would be present. So it was a pretty clear and sensible distinction, males only nudity allowed/required, mixed company swimsuits required. Also, I think one of the reasons I disliked having to take swim class nude was that I wasn’t very athletic, was pretty thin and had what I’d call a scrawny physique. But surprisingly, there was no bullying or making fun of anyone else’s body when we were naked showering or swimming as far as I can recall. My theory is most of the other boys were just as self conscious about their bodies as I was, so nobody wanted to go there.
I attended residential special school in England during the 1980s where we had communal bathrooms, each with two showers and a bath. I was there because of a vision impairment, but some kids had physical difficulties that meant they needed help in the bath, for example, muscular dystrophy. So it was normal for housematrons (of any age) to be present assisting such kids while others (aged between 4 and 19), like me, were naked in the showers, completely exposed to them. Once you’ve been seen and having nothing left to hide, there’s nothing left to hide! My point is that I have personal experience of how boys being naked in front of females can be felt to be normal although, at my school, the only other situation where this happened was the pool changing room, and for the same reason.
Fig. 33. A male and a female instructor for boys swimming in Sweden in 1902
Tom Wallace Lyons
|I would like to expand upon the questions I raised about the provenance and authenticity of photographs of frontally naked young males in my December 20, 2016 submission. My purpose is to question the evidentiary value of these photographs as regards the social consensus on modesty for boys. Frank, as 1950s teenagers you and I experienced unembarrassed nakedness in the presence of men and boys in locker rooms and in swim situations. But I think we would have strongly objected had somebody hauled out a camera. And I would be astonished to learn that school or health club officials tolerated cameras in the presence of naked people of any age unless the pictures were carefully posed to ensure genital modesty.|
You write(Dec 20, 2016), “There are apparently also archival group photos from the Y and other health clubs where full frontal nudity was displayed.” If such pictures exist, what purpose did they serve? Who was to see the pictures? I doubt they were used in advertisements.
There are internet stories by men who say that as boys they were forced by parents to swim naked in front of females. I don’t know if these stories are true. But would American parents have wanted their boys to be photographed while naked?
You document the diminishment of modesty when you mention co-ed nakedness at Woodstock and in other situations during the sexual revolution of the Sixties. You probably remember the slogans, Ban the bra, Cure virginity. And there was also streaking. Since Walter Bowman(Jan 4, 2017)grew up in the Sixties, his story about the female swim instructor takes place in a time that was different from the time of our youth. The same goes for “Honolulu”(Dec 16, 2016) who writes about a female substitute who once coached his naked swim class. But there may be a slight stench to his story since he says he and his classmates were “taken by surprise that she was there.”
Our youth dates to the inhibited Fifties. I stated above that I am open to the possibility that, even in the Fifties, female instructors supervised naked swimming for adolescent boys in high school and in YMCA type situations. But photographs of vulnerable boys who had no choice; boys beneath the age of sexual consent? As I have noted, it is one thing to be seen naked; another to be photographed. And, even when the sexual revolution was in full blossom, most parents would probably not have wanted their boys photographed in naked swim situations or in locker rooms.
Perhaps many of the internet photos are genuine. The frontally naked photos you posted generally seem to be of youngsters who might well have have reached the age of eighteen. These youngsters may have been acting on their own rather than under institutional or parental control. Is it possible that some of these pictures were taken in Europe where modesty standards sometimes differ from ours? If these pictures were taken in the U.S., I would like to know about the institutional matrices through which they were released. Without this knowledge, it is impossible to assess their evidentiary value. Frank, what do you think?
Fig. 33. Bathing in lake at Woodstock Music Festival 1969
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
Thanks for your thoughtful reflections, Tom. I tried to choose photos of full frontal nudity in which the boys looked like 18-year olds. As to whether any of these photos are of institutional origin, I can’t say. However, there are group shots that would have required the cooperation of those in the photograph. I saw at least one co-ed swim team photo with naked boys standing behind seated suited girls (http://stillrowing7-swimming.tumblr.com/page/7 – a college team, I’m sure). Was a photo of suited girls spliced into a photo of naked boys or vice versa? I don’t know. But photo shopping has been another accusation used to discredit photos of boys swimming naked.
What purpose would these photos have served? The blog I referenced above (http://stillrowing7-swimming.tumblr.com) includes copies of year book pages with naked swim team members. I’m skeptical about that. But photographers tend to take a lot of photos. The ones not needed were probably put in files that some people had access to. If they got ahold of these photos, they could scan them and post them on the internet. That’s my guess.
It’s interesting that there is so much questioning about the vintage photos. Those that appeared in LIFE and other magazines have also been “touched up,” as all glossy magazine photos are. Because of questions of the evidentiary value of photos whose sources are difficult to trace unless they appeared in magazines, I don’t think photos can be used to “prove” that boys and men swam naked in schools, Boys Clubs, and YMCAs before the practice ceased. But they can serve as illustrations of what men your age and mine experienced. And our experience, as corroborated by others, cannot be denied. We swam naked. And if we were naked in the locker room, showers, and pools, we were full frontal naked to each other and whoever else was within sight of us. As Walter Cronkite used to say in his historical documentaries, “And that’s the way it was.”
Frank added this comment with photo on 2018/06/08.
The stillrowing7-swimming.tumblr.com blog I referenced in the above comment has been shut down. While they’re not swimming, here’s a photo of naked rowers used on the blog.
Some questions here are easily answered. Tom Wallace Lyons asks, “You write(Dec 20, 2016), ‘There are apparently also archival group photos from the Y and other health clubs where full frontal nudity was displayed.’ If such pictures exist, what purpose did they serve? Who was to see the pictures?”
The “Manual of Boys’ Club Operations”, 1947, in the chapter on “Public Relations”, notes on page 312 that “Pictures that show people doing things – boxing, swimming, making a presentation – are much more interesting than posed pictures which are stilted. It helps to snap the photo at a moment when the boys do not know that they are being observed. This results in a better facial expression and more actions.”
Usual professional practice is to take a lot of photos. You then pick the best, and in this specific case, crop the photo or retouch it so it doesn’t show too much. The rejected photos wind up in a file somewhere.
The Northeastern University Library has the Boston Boys’ Club Archives, and a search (https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/catalog?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=boys+club+natatorium) will find a number of such photos.
Here’s a photo, also from Boston, that clearly has been retouched to make it publishable: https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:k930dd800
Regarding another affirmation, “But photographs of vulnerable boys who had no choice; boys beneath the age of sexual consent? As I have noted, it is one thing to be seen naked; another to be photographed,” here are two films, both sourced. They’re both from predominantly Lutheran Sweden, which fits Pastor Senn’s predilections.
At about four minutes into this film (http://www.filmarkivet.se/movies/besok-pa-lundsbergs-skola/) a group of adolescent boys are swimming. In 1912 a movie camera was a very visible object indeed, and other than one kid in a towel, none of them seem to care at all about the camera, whether they’re in bathing suits or nude, apparently also a choice.
About 2:15 into this film (http://www.filmarkivet.se/movies/gymnastiklagret-a-ljungbyhed-juni-juli-1925/) there’s a scene of boys bathing, and again, some in suits and some not, and no attempt at covering up.
The description of the first film seems to indicate that two members of Sweden’s royal family attended the school, and in the second, the Crown Prince is handing out prizes. So we aren’t talking about the exploited poor, either.
Sweden is another country, and there’s a saying that “the past is another country.” Yesterday’s nude swimming may seem odd today; today’s obsession with a photograph somehow harming the subject may well seem silly tomorrow.
Frank added a comment and photo on 2018/06/12.
Here’s a photo of a swimming class presumably from the Old South judging from the inscription on the bottom.
I started swimming at the YMCA when I was 15. We didn’t wear suits for the swim practices or for the swim meets. I remember the first time I was to swim in a swim meet where family and friends could attend. When I told my mother I would have to swim without a suit in front of everyone she told me I should not be embarrassed but proud of how I looked. At the swim meet I walked out naked and saw my mom and sisters in the audience along with girls my age I knew from school and church including my girl friend and mothers I knew from church. There were a few dads and boys there also but most dads were working. It was hard letting them see me naked but I walked out like it was normal. Between heats and when the younger boys were swimming I went over to my girl friend who was sitting with other girls I knew. I acted like I had a suit on and found I could stand there naked and talk to them without being embarrassed. Later my sister told me how much she and the other girls enjoyed seeing all of us boys naked. My girl friend even told me how much she and her friends enjoyed knowing how we looked naked. It was a little strange to go to church on Sunday and sit with my girl friend and other girls who had been at the swim meet knowing that they had seen me naked. Some of the girls told other boys and me how much they enjoyed our swim meet. Our Sunday school teacher had a younger son on the swim team and it was strange knowing she had seen several of us boys naked. She even congratulated us on our wins. The next swim meet it was easier to be naked in front of everyone and we came to enjoy it. We were proud to show off our “manhood.” At the end of the summer a photographer took a group picture of the 13-15 boys team and individual pictures of each of us and posted the team picture of us on the wall of the lobby. We were all naked in the pictures but so were boys in the other pictures. For $1.00 I bought two 5X7 and 4 wallet size pictures of me. My mom put the 5X7 picture in the family album that was always on our coffee table. When relatives or friends came to visit they would look through the album and see me naked. My sister would proudly show my picture to her friends from school. No one seemed to think there was anything wrong with the pictures. In some ways swimming naked did build my self esteem for I enjoyed the attention I received from girls at school. When I attended my 50th high school reunion, several women said that attending the swim meets and seeing us boys naked were their best memories from high school. I told her I enjoyed the memories too.
In reply to David B
Can you send the photo?
Tom Wallace Lyons
David B’s entry(March 9, 2017) has inspired me to raise the following question: Can we get a handle on what really went on in YMCA type situations and in school situations in the mid-Twentieth Century? Probably not. But we might better grasp the issue if we consider the cultural forces that governed and altered male modesty over the last sixty years. Let me emphasize that I am no expert. All I can offer is opinion. Opinions from other people may help develop a more complete picture. Dare I hope that better understanding might lead to more healthy policies in the future? Perhaps.
I will discuss how I believe things were in my mid-Twentieth Century youth. Then I will discuss two tectonic events that probably warped and affected our attitudes about child nudity.
Let me briefly touch upon the social forces behind the double standard which permitted naked swimming for boys but not for girls. Until recently pregnancy was destiny. I believe premarital chastity was considered a virtue because it helped ensure that a woman’s children were conceived with her husband. Modesty of demeanor and body were considered feminine virtues. Men were much more free to “play around.” As we all know, men tended to rule the roost while women tended the children. This may explain why there was more reticence around intimate female anatomy than around the scepter of male superiority.
But I stated(Nov 4, 2016)my belief that genital privacy from women separated the boys from the men. The power of this man/boy separation seems to be deeply ingrained into our culture. There is a tendency not to see boyhood as a building block to manhood. Rather the human male ideal is to shed those qualities that inspire the maternal hug in order to become a MAN on whom women can lean.
This ideal may only be tangentially related to reality. It may not be healthy. The power of this ideal might explain why the word “boy” is an emasculating tool of racial insult when hurled at a black man by a white man. It may help drive the embarrassment some boys start to feel about nudity in the presence females when their bodies are inwardly stirred by those changes that herald the onset of adult sexual viability. As I said previously, nudity before a female may hurt a developing boy’s pride in his emergent manhood. It is all probably a kind of chicken or egg mix of culture and biology.
I graduated from the University of Chicago Lab School in 1963. Nude swimming was part of our phys ed. I asked one of my high school class mates what he would think if a boy wanted to wear a bathing suit. The fellow said something like, “You’d wonder if his dick had been cut off.”
The Lab School swimming pool was used by children from a school for the emotionally challenged. Females helped out in the boys locker room. But this practice was stopped when Lab School boys complained about it.
Three or four of us high school boys were talking about physical checkups. It did not take long for the dread specter to rear its head. The dread specter was of course the possibility that we might be examined by a female doctor. This fate had fallen to one of the boys. He described how her hands had traveled down his body. Then he assured us that he put the kibosh on her probe just before she reached the point of no return.
Suddenly I found myself in a state of total psychological confusion. I believe I complimented the boy on the way he handled the doctor. Then I pointed out that, for both of us, all embarrassment would vanish if we had an attractive opportunity to get laid. So why were we so afraid of something in one situation when we were so eager for it in another? The answer eventually came to me. Genital privacy and sexual intercourse have one thing in common. Both separate the boys from the men.
The Lab School early 1960s consensus seems to indicate no embarrassment about nudity among adolescent boys; the opposite for adolescent boys in the presence of women. This consensus appears to be echoed by a school district in which people were beginning to question whether boys should swim naked together. The Appleton Post, 1961 discusses a survey about nude swimming in an article headlined, “Boys Will Continue to Swim Nude at Menasha High Pool.”
“In a survey where 34 schools were contacted, 31 schools answered. Eleven of these schools require suits and 20 schools do not. The schools requiring suits do so because they are combination indoor-outdoors types, or are located near girls locker rooms.”(Italics mine). Again a social consensus against boys nude swim in the presence of females.
In face of what I believe to be a general consensus, Bob Rainis(Frank Answers, Aug 20, 2016)makes perfect sense when he writes, “As for the fact that there were areas of the US that allowed for women, family members etc to be present at nude swim meets….honestly, that leaves me a bit freaked out.” Same for me.
We are a culturally diverse nation. Can this diversity explain why practices in one part of the country might shock people from another part? Let’s look at it another way. The above news article features debate about whether it was a good idea to have boys swim naked with each other. Before or around that time some teenage boys may have been expected to perform naked before girls and women at swim meets. How can this be?
How true is it?
I read on the internet about a woman who told What’s my Line that she taught at the YMCA. Asked about the nudity, she explained that she only taught younger boys. Stories about nude swimming in the presence of women are often told by people without mention of age. Would a teenager have been grudged a bathing suit at the YMCA if he needed to learn to swim with six year old beginners who were instructed by a female in the presence of mothers and sisters?
The most important question: How often were teenage boys FORCED to swim naked in front of females? And how were they affected?
Frank interjected a photo.
Fig. 37. Vintage photo of a swim meet. I think I spot at least one woman teacher.
David B.(Mar 9, 2017)gives neither his name nor the name of the YMCA he attended. This reticence among CFNM story tellers precludes any possibility for verification. Said reticence stands in contrast to me and Frank Senn. We give our names and the names of the institutions in which we swam naked.
Like other writers, David B apparently perceives his experience as an aberration when he tells his mother that he is expected to perform before the community in the nude. His mother’s response seems to be an elision. She says he should “not be embarrassed but proud of how I looked.” Hmm. Since when did a mid-Twentieth Century bathing suit hide a muscular body? Does David’s mother mean that her son should be proud to show his genitals? Whatever she meant, David B and others became “proud to show off our ‘manhood.’” And David B was told that the girls enjoyed “knowing how we looked naked.” This makes his swim meet sound like an experience to which the girls were unaccustomed. Was this swim meet an aberration? Is it just fiction?
Time now to look at a tectonic trauma which may have driven the sexualization of children and our attitudes about their nudity. Let us start with a question: How do we know that prosecutors love child molesters?
Answer: They have created so many of them.
Like purveyors of adult entertainment, prosecutors seem to know that sex sells. There is more publicity for sensational pedophile prosecutions than for tax evasion prosecutions that don’t involve celebrities. And prosecutors don’t seem to face any consequence for their avarice and incompetence.
I refer here to the witch hunt that began in the 1980s. Many innocent people had their lives shattered through accusation of and incarceration for sex crimes against children. This witch hunt hysteria should have been checked by the very people and institutions which either abetted it or created it. Those responsible include the courts, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and various denizens of the mental health pantheon with their pseudo expertise.
Fortunately this witch hunt appears to be on the wane. But the fanaticism remains manifest in draconian punishment even for minor acts that do little or no damage. People probably still fear false accusation. I know a man who avoids friendly talk with neighborhood children. He does not want his motives to be misconstrued.
The witch hunt was followed by another tectonic development: The internet and the enhanced potential for surreptitious photography. When Frank Senn and I were young, there was always the possibility that some joker would photograph us in a locker room. But our youth predates the era of ubiquitous cell phones with their tiny cameras. And Frank Senn and I did not have to worry that our genitals would be immortalized in cyberspace. Is locker room, towel dance modesty driven by modern technology?
Now to Caipora(March 2, 2017). Caipora says, “Usual professional practice is to take a lot of photos. You then pick the best, and in this specific case, crop the photo or retouch it so that it doesn’t show too much. The rejected photos wind up in a file somewhere.” Caipora writes this in answer to my question(Feb 17, 2017)about respectable institutions harboring pictures of naked boys; pictures that long pre-date the internet.
Allow me to emphasize: The internet was born in the wake of the witch hunt. So let me imagine that I am now a school or YMCA type administrator. I learn about an old file of nude boy photos. I would certainly want to keep these photos off the internet. And I wouldn’t bother to consult a lawyer about criminal or civil liability for possession. Instead I would issue the following directive: SHRED AND BURN NOW! Same if I were a respectable, professional photographer.
I am not even sure it would be legal for David B to send the photo of himself in the nude, as per Juan B’s suggestion(March 14, 2017). Legality may depend on whether his genitals are shown since he is under eighteen in the picture.
To sum up, I continue to question the provenance of nude internet photos for the following reasons. The reasons are institutional canons of basic decency and integrity. These reasons combine with the tectonic impact of the witch hunt and of the internet upon attitudes about modesty.
Are we going to remain hopelessly uptight? Probably. But you never know. Consider the sudden speed with which people came to accept gay marriage and gay partners. European countries are connected to the internet. European countries also have to deal with predators. But some of these countries seem to be more relaxed than we are about the human body. Perhaps we can learn from them and grow. Carry on Pastor Senn!
Frank added a comment and with photo on 2018/06/28
In many European countries, especially in the Baltic region (north Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia), family nudity doesn’t seem to be a problem. A New York Times Magazine (September 21, 2017) had an article about “How Families Around the World Spend Their Vacations” and featured the following photo of an Estonian family swimming in a lake after emerging from a sauna. This photo was ON THE COVER of the magazine.
For the full article see https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/21/magazine/voyages-issue-photographs-family-vacations-around-world.html.
In reply to David B.
IF this did happen, shame on those who allowed it, and shame on the females who participated.
Frank notes: This was the third time Ed interjected with a finger wagging accusation of “shame.” I responded as follows:
In reply to Ed.
Ed, David B’s report seems over the top in comparison with other reports we’ve received. But just saying “shame” does not advance our knowledge of what actually took place. So this is the last shaming you will do on this blog. We have enough body shame in our culture already.
Tom Wallace Lyons
Should we relate an adolescent boy’s desire for genital privacy to questions about shame over body image and body acceptance? Personally I believe these issues are separate. I would like to hear from others about this issue as we move forward with Frank Senn’s social history of naked swimming.
Pastor Senn, I wish you would reconsider your assessment(March 25, 2017) of Ed’s entry(March 24, 2017)about David B. The strong feelings, expressed by Ed, are part of a deeply felt, highly conflicted spectrum of emotions that drive attitude formation and policy determination. Should not the drive toward body acceptance be accompanied by sympathy for all manner of emotion?
On top of that, I really don’t believe Ed’s submission is about what you call “body shame.” David B writes(March 9,2017) about how he liked to show off his “manhood,” and about how the girls enjoyed the show. Unlike Ed I am glad for David B who seems to have parleyed initial embarrassment into what may have been an erotically tinged experience; an experience that definitely boosted his ego. But let’s be explicit: David B’s story is largely about the pleasure he derived when the girls saw his penis. Arguably Ed’s indignant response to David B’s story addresses “manhood” exposure rather than general nakedness. Thus Ed’s submission begs my initial question: Should we equate the desire for genital privacy with body shame?
As regards this question, there are things David B cannot know. One is whether all the boys enjoyed having their “manhood” on view. Another is whether some boys were driven by modesty to avoid the YMCA. Most important: What was the effect on boys whose participation may have been forced by their parents?
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
I do not understand Ed to be shaming the boys who swam naked. In fact, he said that the boys were “exploited.” He is shaming “those who allowed it” and the females for whom seeing boys naked was, as he wrote, “eye candy.” Who allowed boys to swim naked? Certainly schools and clubs. But are the parents who sent their boys to the Y also to be shamed? Where does the shaming stop? Ed has sprinkled his accusations of “shame” throughout the comments on this post. I let those comments stand as one response to this practice. But continuing to just say “shame on those who allowed this to happen” does not advance our understanding of it in its own historical context.
However, there could be discussion around the issue of shame. The implications of Ed’s statements are that naked swimming was a shameful practice. Was it really so shameful? What made it shameful? Just that some boys were embarrassed? Why were they embarrassed? Why is self-image so related to body shame? Because we are our bodies.
I would not equate the desire for genital privacy with body shame; but neither is it unrelated. See the Nov. 29 comment from the gay millennial admitting to “sensitivity about cock size.” Body shame is caused not only by what one thinks of one’s own body but also by what one has been told to think about the body, especially about the “private parts.” A whole new field of somatic psychotherapy is developing to deal with traumas people experienced in their bodies and also what they were told to think about their bodies by society (especially in consumer-oriented representations of ideal bodies), which they internalized. Body shame is becoming as big an issue for boys as it is for girls.
Tom Wallace Lyons
Re: Frank Senn’s questions about shame(March 30, 2017) as it relates to nude swimming for boys in the presence of females. To address this subject I think we need to consider shame in a broader context. There are two kinds of shame. There is the shame we feel about ourselves because of perceived inadequacies or because we have done something wrong. Then there is inflicted shame that comes from the words and deeds of others. I believe Pastor Senn’s questions deal with inflicted shame.
Admittedly the sense of inflicted shame can be very subjective. It reminds me of what Associate Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about hard core pornography. While he found the term hard to define, he said, “But I know it when I see it.” And, as per inflicted shame, we know it when we FEEL it.
In Glendon Swarthout’s The Shootist, John Bernard Books says, “I will not be laid a hand on. I will not be wronged. I will not stand for an insult.”(Italics mine) We empathize with Books because insults make us FEEL diminished and hence shamed through the power of words. Rightly or wrongly, we may FEEL diminished when asked or compelled to do certain things; like naked swimming for boys in the presence of females.
Now we come to the issue of taboo. Some taboos are rationally based. Take incest. Incest can create emotional harm. It can also lead to the genetic degradation manifest in ancient Egypt due to generations of royal sibling marriage. Religious taboos about certain types of food may no longer be necessary. But these taboos are probably rooted in a time when consumption of certain foods was perceived to be dangerous.
Is there a rationale for genital privacy? I consider genital privacy to be an orphan taboo because there does not seem to be any reason why people of both sexes and all ages should not see each other naked.
But the taboo is very powerful. It can create a FEELING of shame because it is codified into gender segregated locker rooms and wash rooms and by legal prohibitions against public nudity. It is even codified in those families in which maturing boys cease to bathe and dress in front of their mothers.
So how might a teenage boy have felt if he was suddenly expected to swim naked in the presence of one or more females? In previous submissions(11/14/2106;12/20/2016; 02/17/2017; 03/27/2017; 03/30/2017), I have discussed how this could have hurt a boy’s pride in his emergent manhood. The amount of perceived hurt to dignity, if any, would probably have been a function of the degree to which a particular boy internalized the orphan taboo about genital privacy. At least those are my views. So what do others think?
Now to Frank Senn’s questions(Mar 30, 2017)about whether it was shameful to have teenage boys swim naked in the presence of females. I see nothing intrinsically shameful about this. But, because of custom and taboo, a boy might have harbored FEELINGS of shame; subjective(I know it when I see it)feelings he could have been hard put to justify. Also some shame might have attached to parents if they were insensitive about the way their boys felt.
As regards YMCA type institutions, I see no shame so long as the institutions were up front about the practice of nude swimming in the presence of females. Admittedly things might have become morally uncertain if a male instructor suddenly became unavailable and had to be replaced by a female. Perhaps bathing suits should have been allowed when this happened.
We may be moving into an age of greater gender integration, sexual orientation integration and gender identification integration. If this trend continues, we might develop a more relaxed attitude about our bodies and hence about genital privacy. Pastor Senn, I believe that is your goal. As I have said before, Carry on Pastor Senn!
I am compiling a list of schools where nude swimming was expected at http://www.tnsprofessorsig.org/nude%20swimming%20in%20school.html. If anyone can add specific places and dates, please contact me. [email protected]
In reply to Old time swimmer.
I learned to swim at our local YMCA. The big shock was when we were told that no swim suits are allowed in the pool. All swimming is done nude. Once we got over that, we undressed, took a shower and waited for the door to open. There were at least twenty boys waiting in the showers, some naked in front of strangers for the first time.
Once in the pool area, everyone forgot they were nude and we had our lessons. That is when I knew I did not want to wear a swim suit ever again. I swam nude all the way through High School and into my adult years.
Fig. 39. Another Life photo of boys swimming naked in a swim meet
PART 2: Louis Responds to Comments: Naked in Back Yard Pools and Other Venues
In reply to Ric.
I remember this in high school in the late 70s. We were in the suburbs though, so it was in swimming pools. Parental attitudes were becoming more conservative, so it happened when parents were not around, though many parents would have been fine with it, mine probably not. I actually met a girl while nude swimming and we dated for a while!
I was spending the night with a friend whose family had a hot tub and pool. His little half sisters were spending the weekend with their dad and his mom was spending the weekend with her boyfriend. My friend and I were nude hot tubing and drinking beer and smoking cigarettes when the phone rang. He went in the house to answer it and said that the girl across the street was coming over and bringing a friend, so we needed to get ready. Getting ready meant that we needed to dump the ash trays, throw out the beer cans and get some clean towels. They walked across the street and the doorbell rang. We met them at the door wearing towels and told them they could change in his bedroom and we would meet them out in the hot tub. We were in the water already when they joined us. It was night and we did not turn on the patio lights, but plenty of light streamed from the house. The kitchen joined the patio and the sliding glass door let plenty of light onto the hot tub and pool area.
My friend and I were not shy, but also not sexual in our nudity. Like in the article referenced above, it was innocent male nudity. We got in and out and went to the kitchen for sodas. (No more beers, it would have sent the wrong message.) The girls saw us, but they did not stare or act shocked. They knew we were nude, because of the towels when we met them at the door, and because they had invited themselves over to a “guy’s night”. We talked and all was very normal. No one “made a move”, got erect, used sexual innuendo or stared. It had very definite boundaries. The girl across the street turned on the underwater pool light to show her friend how pretty the pool was, and we all moved to the pool and swam and splashed around. Mostly they could not see under the water, because it was too choppy, but they saw us on the diving board when we did canon balls. We dried off and all wrapped ourselves in towels and ate potato chips and watched cable TV for a little bit. Her parents were home, so she and her friend left around 12:30 PM.
After they left, we had another beer in the hot tub and turned off the pool lights. My friend began teasing me that the neighbor’s friend liked me and I should have gotten her phone number. I told him I would call and ask the neighbor girl for it, since I already knew her. We were in the kitchen and he calls her and hands the phone to me and says it is for me. The neighbor girl answers and I asked if her friend is seeing anybody. I hear quiet giggling and she hands the phone to her friend. I am awkward, but I ask her out and get her phone number. We dated for a while until her family moved away. It never seemed odd to date a girl i had met while naked and I look back and marvel at how I was embarrassed to ask a girl out, but not to be naked in front of her.
We were all in the same high school and would see each other the next week. What we did was quite normal and never was the subject of any gossip or interest to anyone. It would have been more indecent to fire up a joint, and if we had, they would have left! Looking back, it is a bygone era. There is no non sexual nudity today and girls today would be convinced that naked boys were up to something (I showed you mine, now you show me yours kinda thing) If we had crossed that line, they would have left.
Looking back, several things that existed then are no longer around. It was assumed then that boys did not need privacy. More than that, real men rejected it. Wearing clothes is a part of civilized society, real men are not fully civilized. Real men are wild, and while we can and do wear clothes, we don’t have to. Secondly, it was assumed that girls and women were not aroused by the sight of nude males of any age. (Turns out they are, but at the time it was widely accepted that women were not.) Women played along and did not stare and point. They saw everything, but they did not “look”. This trend continues today, where women can be nurses and bathe men, but male nurses do not bathe women. There is also the element that nudity makes women physically vulnerable, and not men. This was the same reason why nude men cannot be sexually aggressive, as this would be crossing the boundary. Finally, this was the end of the era where women were waiting for marriage or at the very least a committed relationship in their 20s. High school girls rarely put out, at least not in the affluent suburbs of the southwest. While women were waiting for marriage, guys were expected to have already had some experience. Since all the girls were saying “no” we had no experience, but swimming naked and being comfortable with girls our age seemed to imply that we had some experience.
A lost age of innocence when being naked, with no parents around, would not increase your chances of having sex!
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
My theory is that many of these full frontal nude male pictures are authentic and were published. They are misleading and mislabeled though. I believe many of them to be from “naturist” magazines promoting the lifestyle of nudist colonies. It is not uncommon for some clubs to rent out a pool for a weekend and have it just be their group. Other nudist clubs have their own pools.
The pictures in the newspaper and Life magazine of photos of naked boys from behind were normative for the time. The boys are not little kids. Not 8 year olds who have no development. They seemed to not only enjoy swimming naked together, they did not mind being photographed in the pool or in the showers, as both seem full to capacity. If male nudity was uncomfortable for boys, the pool and the shower would have been empty on that day!
Since newspapers and magazines showed pictures of the backsides of naked boys in junior and senior high school, it seems very plausible that community competitions open to families and boys and girls from school would feature nude boys through high school ages. After all, like in the article above, many families had no problem with it. Girls would have seen and probably swam with naked boys in lakes before anyway. In this more wholesome setting, they were farther away, not in the water with the boys!
I swam naked with suited girls from high school. No one made me, I wanted to, and not because I had an ulterior motive as I knew they would not also disrobe.
Frank adds a photo and comment on 2018/06/19
Fig. 41. Nudist families rent a pool for swimming lessons.
In reply to Ed.
I agree about the likelihood of more complainers commenting than those approving of the nude swimming. I have a different experience of nude swimming. I was too late to be a part of the nude swim team era and missed it by about 10 years. For us it was obviously a time we knew about and was not some sort of questionable distant past. Though I was never made to swim nude, I always seemed to want to and was never alone in it.
When I was around 10, we often went to a summer cottage owned by family. My cousins were around my age give or take a few years and we boys swam nude. The girl cousins always wore suits and some of the younger ones wished they could join us and be naked too. We made faces and said: ‘No! Boys only!” it was like a club house, though it was in mixed company. Even though we were in the same lake, boys roughhoused with other boys. Chicken fights, splash battles, canon ball jumping off the dock and just running and screaming. The girls played Marco Polo and less rough games.
After a few years of this, I had started puberty and still wanted to swim naked. My mom told me that it was time for me to think about wearing a suit. I told her that my aunt, her older sister, let my oldest cousin swim nude and he was almost 17. I had just turned 13, so I could not imagine how i was too developed and needed to cover up. I remember my aunt saying to my mom: “you can’t keep suits on boys, not when there is water around.” It was mostly family, but also some friends from cottages nearby. These boys also swam nude in front of girls both younger and older than they were. Unlike the earlier letter to Dear Abbey, we had to put shorts on for meals and be civilized! But how great it was to be uncivilized. We were real boys, not held down by this modern era of feminization where loud crude boys have to be medicated, fully dressed and sitting still at all times.
Later in high school, I swam naked with other boys in pools in the back yards of the suburbs. We would have girls over and not put on suits. they thought this was normal and no one was uncomfortable. They did not start and we did not sexualize the situation. But we also did not cover up. It was the era of nude hot tubbing and we all knew about Woodstock and hippies and group nudity. Though they did not join us in our nudity, they were hardly surprised by it. Again it was our choice and we wanted to. There was no debate among us guys about “should we wear suits”? They were girls from our high school and we would see them in class and the hallways. We were not worried or embarrassed.
Probably the girls look back with fond memories about being able to see us naked, but also at times later in life when they are pushing a guy away for making unwanted advances they probably remember us being gentleman. Though we were naked high school boys, we had better libido control and more respect for them.
I went to an ashram for a yoga retreat a couple years in a row. Men and teen boys skinny dipped in broad day light, though women did not. At night many women did, though others wore swim suits. I had not even packed one. And it seemed most of the guys did not have suits. Those few who covered up were swimming in underwear. After swimming in near total blackout, we came back to the campfire and made smores. The women wrapped in towels, but the guys sat on theirs or on the logs arranged around the fire. We were not women, so we did not want to cover up and be like girls.
Since then, I’ve been to nudist clubs and it was the first time I’d seen women fully nude all the time. It was not embarrassing and did not sexualize the situation.
I’m surprised by all the men who say they were uncomfortable and that it was abusive and forced. I wish I’d had the opportunity for nude swim teams, instead of nude swimming just during vacations or from time to time during high school. I would not have been embarrassed nor would I have cared who was in the stands watching.
Frank added comments and photos on 2018/06/19
Swimming nude in India is ambiguous. Indian society is very modest in dress, although naked boys bathing in fountains and rivers is tolerated. Yoga retreats in India today discourage nudity. Yet nude swimming undoubtedly happens by special arrangement, as this photo suggests.
The biggest naked swim in the world occurs among the Hindu nagy sadhus (naked holy men) every four years when they gather for the Maha Kumbh Mela on the banks of the holy river Ganges and its tribularies by the millions. Since the local towns set up fairs these mega events also attract other pilgrims and tourists in the millions. An estimated 30 million gathered on a single day on February 10, 2013; an estimated 120 million people visited the Maha Kumbh Mela over a two month period in 2013.
In reply to Dan.
Yes to the part about building character. I am younger and never had the forced nude swim team experience, though I would have been fine with it. I had been skinny dipping with family and friends in mixed sex situations. It was by choice and i was not alone, but joined by classmates, cousins and other boys. As i look back on us now, we were mature for our age. We were not shy about public speaking, were eager to try new experiences. Spoke right up, made good eye contact with adults and were the first of our age group to have jobs. We were outgoing to customers and just very socially adept. Not at all shy!
Fig. 44. A confident young man!
In reply to Frank Senn.
I’ve commented above that I was nude by choice when swimming in suburban back yard pools in the 70s with suited girls. This was in high school. I shared one experience above, though there were several over the course of 4 years. It was non sexual innocent nudity. Had we tried anything, the girls would have left. If they had made lewd comments or stared or pointed or giggled, we would have told them that they were too immature to stay and that they needed to leave. We did not flaunt it, but covering ourselves would have meant that we were needing to put suits on, so we did not cover up with our hands and act like we were doing something wrong.
I’ve seen movies from the past suggesting that nude boys were not offensive. Pollyanna opens with nude boys from the orphanage swimming in a swimming hole. At this time, all movies were “G” rated and this would not have been embarrassing to families who came to a Disney movie and got mooned in Technicolor. That was 1960. 3 years later the British adaptation of the book “The Lord of the Flies” is released in black and white. It is shown to American audiences too. It features boys aged 9 to about 14 who are nude through much of the movie and can be seen front and back We read the book in high school and saw the movie in the late 70s as a part of the class. No one thought it was exploitative of boys. Again this would have been before the motion picture rating system so boys who had started puberty could be seen nude (front and back) in a “G” rated movie. The full movie can be seen on YouTube and is not edited. We may say that these were movies from 50 years or more ago and that more recent movies would be rated “R” and have only adults skinny dipping. Movies like “Yentyl” and “A Room With a View” come to mind. But I recently saw a movie from 1995 called “Now and Then” It features four 12 year old girls who learn about grown up life. We also see them as grown ups and see how their lives turned out, requiring 8 actresses. One thing they learn is what naked boys look like as they catch their nemesis boy neighbors skinny dipping while they are exploring the woods. We see them from the back as they cavort in the water, but after the girls steal their clothes and ride of on their bikes while taunting the boys, we see them chase after after on foot and are mooned again. The boys in the movie are about 11 – 13 years of age. We only see them from behind, but it is not only for a brief second or from a great distance. The movie is rated PG-13.
I doubt any of the boys in the movies, even in 1995, were exploited by their nudity. Being boys, they probably enjoyed mooning movie goers all over the country on a giant screen! As for me, I was never required, but enjoyed swimming nude, with or without women around. No one made me, and I benefited from it and was never uncomfortable.
As for the boys who swam nude in class, in front of female instructors or audiences. Is it really fair to say they were forced? They had to know from past boys, older brothers, seeing other naked photos on the lobby, or having been spectators at other swim meets and seeing naked older brothers. I find it hard to believe with articles in the paper, photos in the YMCA lobby, Life magazine photo spreads, that boys were taken by surprise. Though swim classes might have been a requirement in some schools (they were in mine, but coed and suits required by this time), swim team would have been an option, as would classes at the YMCA. I contend that boys knew and by going they consented to the public nudity. They could always have chosen another sport or none at all.
Fig. 45a. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mexican, 2001). Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna cavort in the showers nude, flipping towels at each other. They are briefly full frontal.
Fig. 46b. Y Tu Mama Tambien. There’s a scene of Gael Garcia Bernal swimming nude underwater and, yes, his penis is noticeable.
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
Reply to Tom Wallace Lyons: Though David B’s story seems a little fantastical as he is overly enthusiastic to be nude in front of his mom and girl friend and the girls from school, I do believe that nude swim meets were seen by the community. The Life magazine photos show high school boys naked in the pool and in the shower. If it was acceptable for boys to be naked in a family magazine, why would it not be acceptable for family members to see the boys they knew swim naked. Yes I realize the boys would have been seen from the front, but many, especially those in more rural areas, would have swam nude in lakes probably with suited girls from school as well as sisters.
Though I was too young for nude swim teams, I enjoyed nude hot tubbing and swimming in the back yard polls of the suburbs in the late 70s and early 80s. I was in high school. Sometimes it was with only other guys, but sometimes with suited girls from school. I share a story of some night swimming with a guy at his house and 2 suited girls, but it was plenty bright enough to see everything with the light coming through the windows of the house. Other times it was daylight and we were still not shy about it. We were not trying to seduce these girls, so the nudity did not have a motive. As hard as it was to believe, it was innocent.
I wanted to swim naked at my house, but we had an above ground pool in our backyard and, according to my mother, “not enough trees and too many neighbors”. There was my mom, my sister and 2 younger brothers. My younger brothers wore nothing, they were 11 and 6. My sister wore a suit, as did my mom. My dad and I wore men’s bikini underwear, which at the time looked like Speedos, but was unlined, so it dried off quickly once we hopped out of the pool. Since they were not actually suits, the chlorine removed the dye and killed the elastic pretty quickly. Soon they offered only slightly more concealment and support than a wet t shirt. My dad and I would then suddenly find that our underwear drawers had been raided and all of the worn underwear gone and replaced with new! We would come out to the pool in it and thank her, even though it never occurred to us that it needed replacing.
I see you commenting that little boys who had not started puberty did not mind swimming nude with family members watching or female coaches teaching. Yet when they began to become men, junior and senior high school ages, they felt a need to cover up as a rite of passage. To be naked in front of women after puberty had started would have been the same as being told that you are still a little boy and that you have nothing to hide.
My experience of being in high school was different. Though I was not required to be naked in high school swim competitions, I was naked by choice in back yard pools throughout the suburbs. Other boys and young men were as well and as often as not suited girls our age joined us. We felt it was a grown up thing to be comfortable being naked in front of girls. At this time, Woodstock had been 10 years ago and these young men and women were older than we were by about 4 – 10 years. It was common knowledge that hot tub parties were clothing optional and we wanted to be grown up like they were. Getting naked in front of girls was a way of proving you were a grown up man and not a little boy anymore.
Although our Woodstock and California/Aspen ski lodge hot tubing knowledge included naked women, we did not expect the girls we knew to be naked. We just went nude because we had to be more sexually mature, because we were men, they were girls. Of course we were actually virgin high school boys (since none of the girls we knew were putting out, we were not getting any), but our mature comfort with adult nudity created the illusion that we were experienced men. The girls wearing swim suits reinforced the reality that they were not going to have sex with us. Their nonchalant comfort with our nudity was their way of being grown up. We were good kids in the community. We had good grades, drove cars and had after school jobs where we wore neck ties! We were not bad kids looking to be rebellious. The point being that good upstanding successful high school boys wanted to be naked in front of girls their age, so they could prove how grown up they were.
Though what I describe above would seem to be filled with sexual tension, it was safe and comfortable. Today, with young people watching porn on the internet, they would be asking me: “Then what happened next?” Well, we would put clothes on and go out to a fast food place and eat burgers and fries, then drive the girls home and see them the next week at school.
I once dated a girl I met for the first time while swimming naked. I was at my friend’s house on a Saturday night and his mom and sisters were gone for the weekend. A girl who lived across the street called and he invited her and her friend to come over. They wore suits and we did not. The girl across the street knew we would not be wearing suits, and had probably told her friend as well. They were not surprised or uncomfortable. We hot tubbed and swam and talked. Later they went back across the street and I said to my friend that I wished I had gotten her phone number.
My friend had me call her up and ask her out. I was actually more embarrassed about asking her out than I was about having been naked with her for 3 hours earlier! Weeks later the four of us were together again. Same pool, same wardrobe, same lack of parental supervision, only day time. We are sitting around the edge of the pool with our feet in the water. The girl across the street tells the story of how we met, against the protests of my girlfriend.
She knew I was over there, because my car was in the driveway. She described me in flattering terms to her friend who then wanted to meet me. The phone call that night was to get invited over. My girl friend had borrowed a suit from the neighbor girl so they could come over and join us. I asked my buddy if he knew that I was being fixed up, and he says: ‘Yeah, because she asked me if you were seeing anyone and i told her no, come on over.” I turned red with embarrassment, not from being naked in front of girls, but from thinking that it just happened and was not planned. It made no difference and we dated for several months and went to school dances and meeting the way we did did not make things weird between us.
It was common knowledge that other guys swam naked in backyard pools with other guys and with suited girls from school or with brother, sisters, and moms. Mostly though it was chaperoned like my experiences. Very rare for a guy to be naked and alone with a girl regardless of what she was wearing. There was something wild and untamed about being naked. It was very manly. Allowing girls to set the boundaries of the situation was a subliminal way of saying that we were real men, wild and naked, but you can tame us and you have nothing to worry about.
Fig. 46. Pondering life.
Tom Wallace Lyons
I thank Louis for his very thoughtful and VERY interesting May 11, 2017 posts. The posts respond to issues I have raised about how boys might have been affected had they been expected to swim naked in front of women.
To respond to Louis I believe we need to bring into Pastor Senn’s forum a new issue: Dignity. The issue is important because of ways in which perceptions of dignity may impact body acceptance.
Two facts about dignity: Dignity is hard to define. It is considered to be a human right and recognized as such in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Let me attempt a brief, personal definition of dignity:
1. The right not to have things done to us that could be reasonably understood to hurt our self-respect or our self-esteem.
2. The right not to be asked to do things that could reasonably be charged against our self esteem and our self-respect.
Let me be the first to admit that the term “reasonably” is extremely subjective; that in law the term can make a mockery of due process since people may disagree about what is reasonable.
In previous posts, I have made two points about the possible effect upon adolescent boys who were expected to swim naked in the presence of females. There may have been visceral embarrassment. And there may have been hurt to a boy’s pride in his emergent manhood; A VIOLATION OF DIGNITY. Pastor Senn(Nov 14, 2016)said that I “raised an interesting point” but that my attitude about adolescent boy nudity in the presence of women could be “cultural.” I will attempt to show that, even within a culture, concepts of dignity may be less defined by objective predicate than by personal opinion and social consensus. Should claims to dignity be obviated when they cannot be objectively sustained? How answer that.
On to Louis. Is it possible that 20th Century cultural shifts gave Louis a perspective diametrically opposed to mine? Louis describes nudity for high school boys with suited girls in back yard pools and hot tubs. He writes, “We felt it was a grown up thing to be comfortable being naked in front of girls.” Louis further elaborates, “Getting naked in front of girls was a way of proving you were a grown up man and NOT A LITTLE BOY ANYMORE.” (italics mine). And I think that similar nudity in my inhibited 1950s youth could have made boys feel just the opposite. Admittedly this is just an opinion.
Louis dates his post-Woodstock experience to the 70s and 80s. Apparently Louis was a post sexual revolution teen cognizant of the co-ed hot tub culture for older men and women. He wanted to be like the naked men even though he did not expect the girls imitate their naked female elders.
How explain the contrast between my perspective on dignity and that of Louis? Perhaps the 1960s-70s sexual revolution led some adolescents to perceive genital privacy from women as ancillary to the inhibitions against which the revolution was directed. Perhaps Louis and I are simply different people?
Whatever the case, let me share an experience I had in 1970-71. I interviewed a couple of female representatives from the women’s movement. They would not talk to me one on one, but only as a team. They seemed to be angry. When I used the term “women’s lib,” I was told I should say, “women’s liberation.” They introduced me to the term “ms.”
We discussed whether certain jobs should be gender based. I asked whether women should hand out towels in a Turkish bath. If memory serves me, the women responded quite sensibly that this was a very minor issue in the context of broad based gender discrimination. One of the women remarked that she thought a “fat old man” might like to walk around naked in front of women as if he were a three year old boy. Let me try to parse this contempt: The manly qualities, attractive to women, have fallen casualty to age related decrepitude and corpulence. The only pleasure left to a fat old man is to go naked in front of a captive female audience. Hardly dignified.
This issue of dignity surfaces in CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE by Dr. Charles A. Crenshaw, one of the doctors present when President John F. Kennedy was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital after he was shot. Dr. Crenshaw explains that general hospital policy was to completely strip all trauma victims so as not to overlook any wound. But Kennedy’s briefs were not removed. Dr. Crenshaw speculates that this was “—–out of respect for the man, the DIGNIFIED position he held, and the principles for which he stood—-.”(Italics mine).
Louis appears to have been a free spirit. He writes about how he swam naked with suited girls at a summer cottage. When his mother wanted him to don a swim suit at age thirteen, he argued that his aunt did not require his nearly seventeen year old cousin to suit up(Louis’s post should be read in entirety). When we contrast my perspective to that of Louis, it becomes clear that perceptions of dignity can be highly volatile.
Louis’s free spirited youth appears to be somewhat contemporaneous to the fight by female reporters to gain access to NFL and other professional sports locker rooms in order to interview the players.
Lisa Olson was one of the pioneer reporters. Olson was severely harassed when she entered the Patriot’s locker room. She was taunted. Men walked naked in front of her. One of the men fondled his genitals in her presence. After an investigation, former Watergate prosecutor Philip Heymann determined that Olson had been “degraded and humiliated.” Fines were levied and the team’s general manager was fired. When the news became public, Patriot fans went into action. Olson received hate mail and death threats. Her apartment was burglarized; her tires were slashed. She left the country for about eight years. The conduct was unforgiveable. But it seems to show the depth of feeling some people have about genital privacy. Despite the fact that the harassers may have been close to the age range of Louis, their feelings about dignity differed greatly.
Female reporters probably have won this battle, but I believe tension still simmers. In 2010 TV Azteca reporter for Mexico, Ines Sainz, entered a locker room to interview Mark Sanchez, the New York Jets quarterback. In the locker room she was said to have been subjected to lewd comments for which she later received an apology from the Jets owner Woody Johnson.
Subsequently Washington Redskins running back, Clinton Portis, stated that men were likely to have something to say to a pretty woman in a locker room where guys walked around naked. The statement was made on 106.7 THE FAN where Portis was featured weekly. Portis also suggested that a woman’s interest might be aroused by one of the men when fifty three bodies and fifty three “packages” were on display.
Did Portis make an inappropriate statement? Or did he simply express his opinion? And how differentiate the two? Whatever one thinks, Portis subsequently tendered a team distributed apology which stated in part, “it is a tough job and we all have to work and act in a professional manner.” In other words, don’t even hint that there is any sexual issue about women in the locker room. This may have been one more win for women. But what about the First Amendment?
Female reporters seem to have some interesting ideas about how men should experience their locker room encounters with the other sex. The reporters comment about the crowded, smelly nature of the locker room, the deadline pressure and how they are professionals who concentrate on the jobs they have to do. In other words, it is all quite sexless, so there should be no embarrassment.
In her article, “Women Need Locker Room Access,” written for espnW.com, Ashley Fox says, “But I think more and more, because athletes have now grown up with women covering them in high school, then college, and then the pros, it is expected more than anything.” Perhaps time has brought about a cultural shift in which more men have become like Louis. But how reconcile this with Pastor Senn’s description of the heightened modesty that characterizes today’s youth? Could it be that today’s professional athletes have lost all expectation of dignity?
Gail Shister writes about the issue in NEWS + OPINION. Her title is, “Women In The Locker Room: I Wasn’t There to Sniff Jocks.” She describes her passion for sports and the hostility she faced. She also had a sense of propriety as evidenced by her entry into the Inky’s “then-decrepit sports department.” The first thing she noticed “was the female pinups on the walls. A few days later, after everyone had left, I trashed the girlie pics. I thought about replacing them with PLAYGIRL foldouts, but decided to take the high road. The boys got the message.” Apparently pictures of naked women create a hostile environment for female reporters.
So what about athletes who feel that the presence of female reporters constitutes a hostile environment for THEM? Shister has words of reassurance. She writes, “My passion for sports reporting had nothing to do with swinging dicks.” This indifference to swinging dicks unites Shister with the millions of women who bathe little boys every day. How CAN an athlete be embarrassed?
In “A woman’s eye view of the men’s locker room,” written for the Globe and Mail, Shawna Richer writes, “Yes, athletes can be partly dressed and, rarely and briefly, not at all. They are fit people and comfortable with their bodies.” In other words, embarrassment about genital exposure should be the preserve of the less fit. Richer describes the athlete’s locker room as “their office, but a shared one when journalists are present.” The difference between professional athletes and bankers: Bankers dress FOR the office. Athletes dress AT the office.
Dr. Joel Sherman is a privacy advocate whose blog is “Patient Modesty and Privacy Concerns.” To this blog, he has added a post called “Privacy & Reporters in Locker Rooms A Physician’s view.” Sherman describes the locker room situation as “likely the most egregious violation of personal privacy that our society sanctions and indeed encourages.” An anonymous writer, perhaps a bitter athlete, posts the following to Dr. Sherman’s blog:
“It seems that any individual person should never be obligated as part of their job to undress in front of the opposite sex, or in any other manner need to face personal/sexual humiliation as a prerequisite of keeping their job. The whole thing seems to me like a “work rights” issue.”
Arguably there is no judicial decision that subordinates genital privacy rights of male athletes to the rights of female reporters to enter sports teams locker rooms. The precedent setting sex discrimination case(Melissa LUDTKE and Time, Inc., Plaintiffs, v. Bowie KUHN, Commissioner of Baseball), available on the internet, was brought by Melissa Ludke, a female reporter for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED which was owned by Time Inc.
Time Inc. and Ludtke sought a judicial ruling that would allow Lutdtke to enter the locker room of the Yankee clubhouse in Yankee Stadium. The purpose was to guarantee Ludtke the opportunity, enjoyed by male reporters, to interview players as they came off the field. That was the time to get the best quotes. The ruling that secured equal opportunity for Ludtke was considered necessary to ensure that Ludke was not at competitive disadvantage to her male counterparts. Thus the court found for Ludtke when it concluded that Ludtke had been deprived of “equal access and due process rights.” This is only a brief summary of the case.
Privacy concerns were addressed and determined to be a manageable issue in the Yankees clubhouse. This is because each locker was recessed in a cubicle. The defense conceded that privacy could be secured with swinging doors or curtains. Also the shower and toilet facilities were not in view of the locker room. The court noted that the adjacent washroom could be concealed by the addition of swinging doors. If players moved about, they could cover themselves with towels.
Some important points: The Ludtke case has apparently been treated as law of the land even though the litigation seems to me to ONLY address the Yankee clubhouse with its particular architecture. Said architecture ensured that privacy could be secured through minor adjustments. If all locker rooms were laid out like the one in the Yankee clubhouse, there would probably not be a privacy issue.
Privacy needs versus female access seems to be an issue of extreme volatility. The issue pits the all important gender equality claims against claims of dignity. Perhaps this subject should be addressed by Pastor Senn.
Frank added a comment and photo on 2018/06/10
On women interviewing athletes in their locker room see this article by Ashley Akers: https://brokenclipboard.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/a-womans-place-in-sports-journalism/
Louis raises the question(May 11, 2017)about whether boys were “forced” to swim naked. People interested in the issue of force should read “THE GREAT IVY LEAGUE NUDE POSTURE PHOTO SCANDAL,” by Ron Rosenbaum. The article was published in THE NEW YORK TIMES, January 15, 1995. It is available on the internet. The article tells about how, in the past, freshman college men and WOMEN were instructed to pose nude for photos in which pins were attached to their skin.
The purpose of this pseudo science photo study is hardly relevant to this article. It is a bit hard to understand. Rosenbaum writes, “By using body measurements and ratios derived from nude photographs, Sheldon believed he could assign every individual a three-digit number representing the three components, components that Sheldon believed were inborn—genetic—and remained unwavering determinants of character…” The components were “ectomorph,” “endomorph,” and “mesomorph.”
By the time of Rosenbaum’s article, the posture photo studies had receded into the recent past. Imagine the explosion of editorial outrage that would have finally erupted had these studies been discovered to have taken place at colleges for students who were predominantly black. Slave rape and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment might have been evoked. It would have been one more chapter in the history of racial exploitation.
But, as Rosenbaum writes, “It was a bonfire of the Best and the Brightest.” The study included men and women from the seven sisters and ivy league colleges, some of whom were destined to become quite famous. Many of these students were from wealthy mover and shaker families; families with the power to protest. Was any protest recorded? Apparently not. I believe that, when it comes to nudity, there may be more volatility than consensus about what should be permissible in our time and what was permissible during a time many of us are old enough to remember.
As per the question, were the students forced? It is hard to say. Rosenbaum, himself a Yale subject of the study, writes, “It didn’t occur to me to object.” He also states, “There was no piercing of the skin, only of DIGNITY”(Italics mine). Rosenbaum quotes author and Wellesley graduate, Judith Martin, who says she was RETROSPECTIVELY appalled “that the college FORCED this practice on their freshmen” (Italics mine).
Not all indignation was retrospective. Washington University in Seattle hosted the nude posture photo dog and pony show in September, 1950. A student complained to her parents. Her complaint galvanized a bevy of lawyers and college administrators who “seized every photo of a nude woman, convicted the images of SHAMEFULNESS and sentenced them to burning.” (Italics mine) The film was also burned.
Arguments flared about whether the project was pornography disguised as science; whether the destruction of several thousand photos constituted a witch hunt/book burning. One thing seems certain: A practice carried out at elite eastern colleges was stamped out at Washington University. The eastern colleges and Washington University probably exemplify the volatility of opinion about the appropriate circumstances for nudity. Rosenbaum viewed negatives of the photos of the men and women. The men seemed to take the experience in stride. Rosenbaum attributes this to the communal nudity at athletic squad weigh-ins and draft physicals. But many women seemed “deeply unhappy.” Rosenbaum saw “what looked like grimaces, reflecting pronounced discomfort, even anger.” Rosenbaum speculates that the misery may have had to do with body issues, religious orientation, memories of parental molestation.
There may have been another issue. Rosenbaum does not state it explicitly. But his article only mentions men as the movers behind the nude posture study. Apparently the women were expected to pose naked in front of men. How were they supposed to feel!
And how could this be? I can only speculate. There may have been a perceived nexus between the “science” behind the posture photo study and the science of medicine. The studies were, in a sense, medical. And the studies were carried out at a time when women yielded their modesty to doctors who were predominantly male.
Suppose these nude posture stories appeared on the internet under anonymous authorship. Suppose there was no mention of specific institutions or people. The stories would be harder to believe than internet tales about naked adolescent boys who swam under the aegis of female instructors. Still I remain skeptical about David B(March 9th, 2017).
I close with some final answers to Louis. First let me continue with the Louis’s question about force(May 11, 2017). I refer Louis and others to Walter Bowman(Jan 4, 2017). Bowman describes a nude phys ed swim class taught by a female instructor. Since this high school class was phys ed, it was probably required. So arguably the boys were forced. The same probably applies to Honolulu(Dec 15, 2016)who swam naked in junior high. The boys were generally taught by a man, but they were “taken by surprise” when a female substitute teacher appeared. The experience does not appear to have bothered Bowman and Honolulu.
Louis(May 20, 2017) mentions photographic evidence of the probability that boys swam naked in front of their families. I have already documented my skepticism about the photographic evidence(Dec 20, 2016, Feb 17, 2017, Feb 29, 2017). Louis writes(May 11, 2017), “I’ve seen movies from the past suggesting that nude boys were not offensive.” Offensive is not the issue. The question is how often boys were seen naked by women in swim meets and other situations. Louis mentions three movies, POLYANNA, THE LORD OF THE FLIES, and NOW AND THEN. I don’t believe there is any frontal nudity in POLLYANA. If memory serves me, frontal nudity in THE LORD OF THE FLIES is very sparse. And we cannot extrapolate cultural norms in the U.S. from a British fictional film about boys marooned on an island. This leaves us with NOW AND THEN in which twelve year old girls learn “what naked boys look like as they catch their nemesis boy neighbors skinny dipping while they are exploring the woods.”
WHAT NAKED BOYS LOOK LIKE: Gotta wonder where David B.(March 9th., 2017) was when they needed him.
Tom Wallace Lyons
June 2nd, 2017
Frank added comments with images on 2018/06/10
A 1980 R-rated film that showed beautifully-photographed scenes of nude swimming was The Blue Lagoon, starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins.
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
Tom raises an interesting point in the matter of DIGNITY. In a clothed society in which we are covered head to toe, being forced to undress before strangers can be a violation of dignity. We all experience it in medical exams. When I was young we might have sat naked on the examining table even with female nurses coming in and out of the room. God forbid that the doctor was female. Today patients are covered with hospital gowns with those embarrassing open backs.
Rites of initiation in traditional societies usually involved nakedness, at least for boys, and included rites that were performed on the body, like circumcision or branding. But when the boys were drawn into the circle of men at the end of their ordeal, shame was replaced with dignity. Often the conferred dignity was being invested with some symbolic festal garment. I commented in my article that boys swimming naked in high school was like a rite of initiation into high school. It was an ordeal at first but in the end most boys were proud that they went through it and initial shame was replaced with the dignity of accomplishment.
The most volatile issue among the comments concerns boys or men being naked in front of girls or women. The Adam and Eve Everyman story keeps getting played out in every generation. Having transgressed the limits we are ashamed and we show our shame by covering our “private parts.” God recognized the new situation of broken trust and in an act of grace fashioned garments of animal skins to cover bodies that are now perceived to be naked. (Read the whole amazing story in Genesis 3 because it is our common story.)
Modesty for men and women, particularly in their interactions with each other, must be maintained to preserve a modicrum of dignity and mutual respect. The admission of female reporters into men’s locker rooms transgressed this social arrangement and the male athletes sometimes responded badly, sometimes by accentuating their nudity as an act of protest. I suppose male reporters in female teams’ locker rooms could be a similar situation.
Common sense dictates that when untoward social situations arise different arrangements must be made. So when it turned out that women would attend boys’ swimming competitions the boys were made (at least eventually) to put on swim wear. It would seem to me that mature adult athletes can figure out how to handle the invasion of female reporters in mature adult ways. Being interviewed by sports reporters has become a part of their job. For the sake of everyone’s dignity all reporters should be kept out of the shower stalls. But in the open locker rooms individual athletes should do what makes them feel comfortable. If they don’t want to appear naked in front of the reporters and the ubiquitous cameras they should wrap a towel around themselves or put on their pants. Teams could even provide robes for their players. Figuring this out is not rocket science.
Private backyard hot tubs and swimming pools and family contexts and college co-ed pool parties aside, most boys don’t want to be naked in front of females. And societies have wanted to preserve female modesty. That’s why boys could swim naked but girls couldn’t. Too bad that on this long list of comments, we haven’t heard from the girls who watched or swam with naked boys–or as swimming teachers or coaches had naked boys in class or on teams.
Fig. 49. Naked college boys and girl in hot tub
I too found Louis’ comments to be quite interesting. Growing up, I had but two experiences swimming nude with a female present, and they were in marked contrast to each other.
My first experience came during the summer before I entered the 8th grade. I visited my friend Matt across town whose parents recently added an in-ground backyard pool. His parents were away when I got there. After a while he suggested we go swimming. When I told him I hadn’t brought a suit he said I didn’t need one, that we’d swim naked and it was lots more fun that way. I asked him if his parents weren’t due back soon and he said yes but that’s no big deal as he swam naked all the time and they were perfectly OK with it. Admittedly I was a little worried about getting in trouble with his parents (and with my parents if they found out), but my deepest fear was the thought of Matt’s mom seeing me naked. How could I ever face her again if she saw me naked?
We splashed around and had a good time for about a half hour when we heard his parents’ car pulling into the driveway, and I was terrified. His parents came into the back yard and, like he said, didn’t bat an eye at the fact we were naked. I groaned to myself when his mom said they’d be joining us in the pool. It was like a bad dream I wished I’d wake up from soon.
His parents walked to the patio door and exchanged a few words with each other. Then his dad turned and came back to the pool, while his mom went inside. His dad went over to one of the folding chairs and nonchalantly removed every stitch of clothing before entering the water.
After a few minutes Matt’s mom came out wearing a cover-up—which she then removed to reveal she was wearing a two-piece bathing suit!!! Nowadays her swimsuit would be called a retro or high-waisted bikini, but in the early 1960s it was probably considered daring. I’d never seen an adult woman in a two-piece suit that exposed her navel, nor had I ever seen a woman in a suit with leg openings cut high enough to reveal the bottom inch or two of her butt cheeks.
I thought I was going to die of embarrassment. Matt and his parents, however, acted as though it were perfectly normal for a bikini-clad woman to swim in the company of three nude males. She said not a word about the “elephant in the room” (the male nudity). Rather, she asked me quite matter-of-factly how my summer had gone, was I looking forward to the start of school, and so forth.
As the afternoon went on, my embarrassment went away, to the point that not only did I feel very comfortable being naked in her presence, but I actually enjoyed the experience enough to make sure I was naked in her line of sight as much as possible.
Matt told me later that sometimes his mom would swim topless, but only at night when it was dark and only if he and his dad were the only other ones present. He also told me that most of his friends had swum naked in his pool in the presence of his mom. He said his dad would wear a suit if there were other women present, although there were a few times, when another couple came to swim, his dad and the other man swam in the nude while his mom and the other woman wore bathing suits.
I came to understand that his parents and some of their friends considered nude swimming to be a “guy thing,” which males could do with the acceptance, approval, and even the accompaniment—but never the participation—of females.
Though I didn’t think to ask, I wondered later on whether family friends ever brought their sons—and their daughters— with them to swim and if so, whether he and other boys swam naked in the presence of girls their own age, perhaps sisters or female classmates. I suspect they did.
My other experience was very different! In case I had fantasies that male nude swimming was an acceptable norm, I got a rude awakening a few years later. In high school, I dated “Julie” for the better part of a year. Her family had a pool in their back yard, in which I swam many a time after school and on weekends. Julie was an only child whose father didn’t get home until 5 or 6 weekdays, and whose mother was a polio victim confined to a wheelchair, unable to come into the backyard without help. This meant that on weekday afternoons, we had the pool to ourselves.
One afternoon, remembering how much fun I had swimming naked at Matt’s house a few years before, I slipped out of my trunks, set them on one of the steps to the shallow end, and began swimming in the nude. Big mistake. I had never seen Julie so pissed off as she was that day. She made it clear that either I put my trunks back on immediately or she would break up with me. I did what she asked, but she still stayed mad at me anyway for several days.
PART 3: Bob Dess and Others Weigh In
In reply to Gray Bare.
Same for me, Gray Bare.
My mom dropped me off for swim lessons the first time at the YMCA, and at the last minute casually mentioned that “I did not pack a suit because they won’t let you wear one anyway.” It did not bother me because I was always a nudist by nature. but it was def not something people cared much about. Some of the boys were experienced and could not toss their clothes off fast enough. Others were new and a bit apprehensive, but soon enough we all were just swimming together, and with a confidence that our bodies were flawless.
In reply to Frank Senn.
Frank, those who want to “verify” that boys or men were naked in front of women have an agenda. It is not really difficult to add genitals to a picture with photo shop, but that is not the point.
I know for a fact that sometimes boys were naked in front of women, or sisters, etc. Usually it was because, as mentioned in many comments, that the boys could have cared less. Most of them grew up with moms who were ignored as to seeing them naked at home, so thought nothing of it even in more public situations.
I personally never participated in or heard confirmation of a nude swimming meet with females present. Still I would not doubt it happening in other parts of the US or even other states in my region.
Since we swam nude in HS, it was totally common for us to swim naked when our Scout group rented the HS pool and had a free swim evening. Mothers (and Den Mothers) came with their younger aged Scouts (Cubs) to the same event. It did not stop us from stripping down to swim, and some of the Cubs also joined in. NONE of the adult males swam nude.
In reply to Frank Senn.
Frank, I know his posts goes back a while, but from the comments he first posted I think that ED totally missed the point. If you study historical experiences you have to avoid putting judgments on what happened.
Jesus met the Disciples while they were fishing, hence naked. A lot of other Biblical stories also tell of naked men who we revere. It would be wholly incorrect to say that anyone was shamed, it was just cultural.
Nude swimming really was just cultural, at least in my experience. Some may not agree with what was, but it is hardly something to berate from the perspective of today.
In reply to Frank Senn.
Pastor Senn, the interest in such a post is because those of us, like yourself, who experienced this are tired of being called liars and fabricators. That is the reason that I hesitated to judge anyone’s personal memories of experiences. Still I find some “recollections” to be far-fetched and probably laden with “wishes” more than accuracy.
That said, yes, It is important to save as many real stories as we can before the last of us “Y-Kids” have passed on. I use the moniker Y-Kids to mean those of us who grew up in the era of nude swimming for boys. Particularly as we had more exposure to shared same gender nudity in school and at camp, those of us who had experience with swim lessons at the Y became the comforting friends to those who had never been naked with others in public. For many that was first time showers after gym class. Then later nude swimming classes. Every time something new happened, those who were shy seemed to get thru it and over it because others had no concern because of previous exposure (no pun really intended, but a good choice of wording).
References to pictures from that time period being destroyed make sense because of today’s panic, but totally ignore that in doing so whole troves of “supporting documentation” are lost. I remember a YMCA camp brochure that had a picture of boys running to the swimming area in the buff. Such a brochure would verify the reality of camp life at the time (c1950s), and the openness with which parents accepted this “rite of passage” for their sons.
Well, I have gone on again. It’s just so sad that we act irrationally when a bit of contemplation would make us see what is historic as compared to perverse.
Frank added a comment and on image on 2018/07/8
I couldn’t find on the internet one of the YMCA brochures both Old Swimmer and Bob Dess mention. However Camp Flying Cloud in Vermont was notorious for boys living like American Indians in loin cloths or just running around naked. Our commentator Gavin (see below) had this experience.
Back home in England, nude was the way to go, and it’s inherent in boys, whether it feels like something you’re doing wrong and getting away with, or in our case, simply what seemed natural. It is sad that this country sells everything with sex and then nudity becomes a forbidden thing.
Fig. 52. “The Green Waterways” by Henry Scott Tukes (1858-1929), a prolific English impressionist painter of nude boys and young men, mostly at the sea.
John W. Wirtanen
I remember it well in the 1960s and no matter what the article says about supposed benefits, I HATED it. And, making boys feel less ashamed of their body? Maybe for those well endowed, but the ones I knew who weren’t definitely did not like it nor feel less ashamed. Glad that this stupid practice was ended. If someone wants to do it with friends, that’s a different story. But, to have it forced upon you with no options is wrong, wrong, wrong.
In reply to John W Wirtanen.
My naked swimming in high school was in the late 1950s. I never heard any fellow students complain about it, not even kids like me who were small and not “well endowed.” But John’s experience was in the 1960s. That was the decade when we see newspaper articles questioning the practice (like the clippings I included in the article), and by the end of the 60s many schools and Ys had ceased the practice. One has to look for social factors that made the difference in attitude. I think one factor was the advent of showers in the home, multiple bathrooms in suburban homes, with increased privatization of family bathing. I grew up in a house in the city that had one bathroom with a bath tub that everyone had to use and if we were seen by family members trotting around naked (at least until the full onset of puberty) that was no big deal. Perhaps in the 50s we were more likely to go along with social conventions than in the more rebellious 60s. Ironic to think that from today’s perspective one social convention people rebelled against was naked swimming.
One final point: if you are ashamed of your body, clothing it won’t deal with that issue; it will merely cover it over.
In reply to Frank Senn.
Frank, in addition to what you say I think the prevalence of phone-cameras and spy cameras has played a role in the cultural shift about male nudity, especially in locker rooms, showers and pools. It is surprising, though, that the rebellious and “open” 60’s may have led to rebellion against naked swimming.
Nude weigh ins for wrestling teams lasted longer than naked swimming. The reasons for the practice was to verify the accurate weight of the boy wrestler and to the absence of any skin disease. But the presence of cell phones with cameras has put an end to that practice.
Fig. 53. High school boy wrestler weighs in
I’m only 30 but I was raised by my grandparents and grew up somewhat “old school”. When reading “The Sugar Creek Gang” series I noticed that they always swam naked.
I think part of the reason why it was ok for males to be naked, even where females may be present or could happen by, is because women are typically the caregivers. Mothers and older sisters would be expected to change diapers and wash/mend clothes regardless of the sex of the child. Also women tend to be less eager to see men naked; therefore male nudity wasn’t considered sexual. In fact this still occurs to some degree today as I remember there being a squabble a few years ago about a janitor or someone preventing a female sports reporter from going into the male locker room after the game until they checked to see if it was ok. Had it been a male reporter walking into a female locker room you can bet the fuss would have been directed at the reporter.
I’ve often wondered about the oxymoron of a “bathing suit”, especially when today’s suits for women leave little to the imagination. Even relatively modest suits are form fitting, then again so are most regular clothes. On the other hand men’s bathing suits and clothes hide much more. Perhaps that’s partly why female nudity is now more acceptable than male nudity. Some may claim this is due to the “objectification of women” but I think it has more to do with the “demonization of men”, i.e. that if a man is naked he is a threat but if a woman is naked she is vulnerable. In addition the conflagration of nudity and sexuality means that it’s more acceptable for a group of women to be naked around each other than it would be for men, just like two women kissing is more considered acceptable than two men kissing. I think that in today’s climate, with the lack of common sense and good judgment, it would be very difficult to legally de-conflate nudity and lewdness in such a way that nudity would be acceptable while prohibiting lewdness.
My first experience with mass nudity was in Marine Corps boot camp when it came time to shower, which we did “by the numbers” (the drill instructors telling us which part to wash and when). After getting to the fleet there was little full nudity but being in an all male infantry unit there were plenty of partially nude hijinks.
Fig. 54. The Sugar Creek gang all grown up. 🙂
PART 4: Enter Gavin: The Discussion Takes a New Turn
I’m late to this party, because I hesitated to respond. Accusations have been aired that could hurt potentially. As one who has been targeted by alt-right trolls for something else I wrote (academic, misunderstood, about a completely different subject), I don’t want to become a target again. It was just really annoying (and more than a little frightening). So I will not use my full name, but I am willing to verify all that follows with Frank should he ask me to.
I am a part-time archivist; one of our professional commitments (Society of American Archivists, Code of Ethics, 2012) is “Archivists may not willfully alter, manipulate, or destroy data or records to conceal facts or distort evidence.” (https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics ) I truly hope that no archivist has ever destroyed photographs or other records of of nude swimming. (Archivists may decide responsibly about access and use, however.) Many archived collections and items can or would prove far more controversial, about any number of things, than any of those old images. (Hello, Richard Nixon’s archives.)
I am the proprietor or curator of the blog that was mentioned,
Whether some of Frank’s (or any other) photographs have been photo shopped is unverifiable and cannot be settled short of publishing archive-verified originals (now legally risky), full revelation of many personal details (also risky), or confession of misdeeds (on the internet, also possibly false). My question is why: why would anyone bother to falsify those photographs and spend the amount of time necessary to do it well? (that’s really time-consuming). What exactly would that prove or demonstrate? That some people’s memories are not faulty, or are? Frank raises excellent and interesting questions about shame, body image, and social norms, and everyone recognizes that nude public or semi-public swimming will not come back. Does remembering it and writing about it somehow encourage pedophiles? That’s beyond credibility. Does it peddle an agenda of sexual licentiousness? Why would Frank or anyone else bother? Does it somehow shame the church? I truly believe not (as an Episcopalian of Scandinavian and come-over Yankee ancestry, I take the Incarnate Word very seriously, even though I’m not a very good Christian). Does this whole topic reveal an axe to grind; is it tendentious? I don’t find it so.
Here’s the real anxiety that I believe pervades those who for some reason find this topic difficult: does it (or did it) encourage young men to become gay? Anyone who knows human sexuality also knows: it doesn’t work that way. If it did, hundreds of thousands of life-long old straight guys would have been living lies; that certainly strains credibility. I am gay, but believe me nude swimming did not cause my identity; I would have been gay had I never done it. I knew I was different from earliest childhood and quite apart from anything else, including swimming, whether nude or clothed. If any reader wants to take me to task for perversion: go ahead, I have heard all the hatred that no one should ever have to hear, and you will assure yourself you are “righteous” even if you call it “love.” (I believe that God will judge you and me on very different and far more weighty grounds of justice, mercy, hospitality, and serving others.)
I know that younger men in particular seem to exhibit some kind of real anxiety about nudity around other men in clearly non-sexual situations, such as college pools, YMCA locker rooms, and even (according to my nephew) the Marines. I believe that the change in social and sexual mores since the 1960s have had positive and a few negative consequences beyond anyone’s control. Women, LGBTQ persons, racial and ethnic minorities, and physically disabled people in particular have seen positive changes that have made “normal” straight white guys anxious. Social and economic boundaries have increased (in my view), not decreased; I totally “get” anxiety but I also know what is feared is often much more powerful than what is actually the case.
To any man, young or old, who worries about sharing a locker room or swimming nude with a gay man, I say: don’t worry, you already have. The result was what, exactly? Only those sorry individuals with boundary problems, power problems, or clinical mental illness will seek sexual contact with those who don’t want it. For example, regarding the handsome, in-shape young man in my own YMCA locker room this morning: I would have to be blind not to notice, but I certainly would never gawk, and I have no interest in becoming emotionally or sexually involved with you. Straight guys sometimes just don’t or maybe can’t understand that gay guys aren’t interested in them. My own “gaydar” is faulty and 100% more apt to miss a man who is gay than to mistake someone who is not.
To any man who swam nude with other males (years ago or recently), I also say: you swam nude with gay guys, you just didn’t know it (and maybe neither did they). The result is what, exactly? Some kind of contamination? I am sure that one of you, somewhere, was at some point hit on by a confused or questioning guy, gay or straight. Aren’t there worse things, really? Say no, and move on. Teenagers do experiment sexually. If you did, just let it go. One experience need not warrant a lifetime of hate.
The unspoken fear of visible sexual arousal is also an element here, I believe. Yes, that happens (it occasionally happened to me), but much less often than some might fear. It’s part of being human; a pubescent boy’s hormones are what they are. I believe that incidents that are personally embarrassing can lead either to extend one’s empathy or to amplify one’s aggression. I’m sure someone will find my remarks offensive. None intended, but at the same time: cut a boy some slack. Sexual arousal is a mysterious event. Such events are a world away from flashers, who merely seek the power to shock, or real sexual offenders who seek to offend the innocent exactly because they are so.
When I tell my story (linked at the bottom of this post), I will reveal that sometimes –often in certain years– I was naked in front of clothed women, both older and girls my age. For some respondents, that was somehow wrong, or clearly I enjoyed “showing my penis,” or some such language. Even then, I wasn’t really *that* shallow. I do not remember that females seemed to turn away or act uncomfortable. I was not “uncomfortable” (euphemism for afraid) either. I have or had a small exhibitionist streak in me, but never one that led me to inappropriate behavior in the wrong places. Timing is all. I never felt exploited, forced, abused, or violated by being nude in front of others, including females.
Being nude early in my life in situations where some others (male, female, older, my age, younger) were clothed taught me a paradoxical truth: in such situations, a nude person actually holds the power of honesty or candor, and has nothing to lose or to hide. I learned, as a youth, that power is a contrary thing not always held by those of obvious position, status, or wealth. I did not seek out CMNM or CFNM situations or fantasies, but I recognize that those situations were not as crystal clear as they might have seemed. I don’t recall that the females in them either seemed or really were particularly violated, oppressed or burdened, either. At the occasional extreme, if I or another boy became aroused, it happened. Life went on. The only time I felt “violated” was once when I ended up in a friend’s backyard pool (not a party) alone with a girl who was plainly attracted to me; I was nude and she wore a one-piece. At one point I sat on the edge of the pool while she floated and we talked, and it occurred to me that my penis was right in front of her face. Oops. I went back into the pool, and she looked disappointed. I felt that maybe we had crossed some line, and I was more careful after that, if nude, not to position myself badly or “man-spread” the wrong way.
Tom Wallace Lyons wrote about “genital privacy” as some kind of dividing line between boys and men. I don’t believe I ever really felt this; though perhaps others did. My mother and sisters had certainly seen my genitals at every stage of development, and commented on it from time to time (I have an average endowment). My mother was a psychotherapist, and accepted human sexuality at every age. Of course we maintained boundaries; I inherited from her a quiet self-confidence that has served me well. On the HS team, we had two female assistant coaches –women from University of Michigan who really knew their stuff– and I don’t recall ever being embarrassed to be nude in front of them, or at meets. I think a dividing line was reached at the end of high school; that summer was the last time I was nude (with other swimmers) in a pool at a party that included girls. For me “genital privacy” was not the issue; conforming to “adulthood” was the social norm. At Princeton many of us were very casual about nudity in the residence halls (then all men, officially until 1969 but practically through at least 1972); no “genital privacy” there; but I stopped being nude at home when I returned for Christmas break. Later on my mother and sisters did see me nude (at Lake Michigan, for example) and it was no big deal. They probably saw me aroused as well, because on warm summer nights I slept nude on the back porch, and I was never the first one up.
Social norms are very powerful, and their hiddenness is what gives them power. Norms express and declare behavior but deny their own presence: I don’t think Foucault was 100% correct but he made some elements of social power remarkably clear. One respondent asked, “who made those boys swim nude,” and the answer is “no one” –that “no one” names the power of social norms. They did it because it was the norm, it was expected, and they complied. Norms also declare what is shameful, to be hidden: I recall young boys being embarrassed to be nude with so many others, but not shamed by others. The embarrassment was transient; shame is a powerful sanction. I use “sanction” purposefully, because it has two diametrically opposite meanings: a “sanction” can both prohibit and permit. As a norm, Shame both concealed the power of “you must wear clothes everywhere,” and also permitted the power of “but you may swim nude here.” When I was in junior high I was not ashamed to swim nude but the very next hour I would have been terribly ashamed (and embarrassed) to attend any other class nude.
Social norms only change under great pressure, and the changes always elicit resistance. The norm that permitted boys to swim nude also required girls to swim clothed; when the “norm” of dominant male and submissive female power changed, it elicited great protest and unexpected consequences. One consequence was that boys could no longer claim the social privilege of sanctioned (prohibited/permitted) clothing and nudity. Another consequence was that girls would be treated henceforth (theoretically, if not in reality) as athletically equal to boys (Title IX, etc.) and social behavior gradually changed to permit and encourage athletic girls. Another consequence was that gay men, lesbians, and other LGBTQ, would claim equality with heteronormative cis-gendered people, and a social behavior changed too: boys not only must wear clothes when swimming, but must wear clothes in changing areas such as locker rooms. That later norm is now so well sanctioned and the consequent behavior so entrenched that young, straight, cisgendered men automatically accept it when their grandfathers might well have considered it “un-normal.” That is social power expressed in “norms.” “No one” makes them do it; the norm conceals its presence because ultimately it is arbitrary and by convention. Consequently it is also fragile, and nothing occasions social anxiety like a behavioral norm suddenly revealed to be fragile and in some measure arbitrary.
Thanks for listening. If you want to know my story, I wrote it here. Great work, Frank: “glory be!”
Fig. 55. Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow hug after win at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016. Are they both gay? Does it matter? Who would object to be being on a team with these guys?
In reply to Gavin.
Wow! What a powerful testimony to actual practices of swimming naked and what an honest personal story you append to your comment. It’s an honor to have an authority like you on the subject of boys swimming naked in school and the YMCA comment on my effort to respond to a teacher’s unwarranted and ignorant view of a practice that all the men in my class reunion group had experienced in 1957-61. I guarantee that there will be no personal attacks on my blog.
I would observe, however, that most of the skepticism that has been expressed by commentators to my article regarding the reliability of photos or personal stories has concerned whether boys actually swam naked in front of females, especially in institutional settings. This relates not so much to fears that boys will become gay by swimming nude with other boys as a perceived violation of norms of social decency. But apparently it happened, even though some of us who swam naked did not experience those situations. Perhaps our problem is that we imagine our embarrassment if we were thrown into such a situation. Can we get over that mental hurdle and imagine that after initial embarrassment we might become comfortable with it?
In any event, let’s not continue to reiterate points previously made. New stories and fresh social insights are welcome.
In reply to Frank Senn.
Interesting blog on the “revisionist” history of swimming that we have today!
It is almost impossible to explain to younger people (my son and daughter) the lack of concern that used to be prevalent in our society but has been so thoroughly removed. Currently boys swimsuits are growing larger than girls suits and I have seen the full clothing style of the 20’s and 30’s on the beach and at pools.
I lived outside the US for most of my youth so the bathing was often sans suits but my parents were careful to keep the new American values and swimsuits in place (could have been RC values too as Y’s and scouts were not common).
I was not blind however and observed that others had different ways of swimming that involved less clothing. My two best friends in Canada came back from Cape Cod every Summer with no tan lines at all but when asked about this my mother simply remained silent.
However, we returned to the US when I was 11 and I began swimming at the local outdoor pool and then at the Y with the high school team when I was 13 or 14 (’74 or ’75)
We wore the racing “speedo” suits (with a 1″ rise on the hip if I recall correctly) and I thought they were great! Not quite naked but pretty darn close…
The reason we wore the suits was as described by the older boys because we had a female coach and before that there had been no swimsuits at all.
Our team warmup suits were collar to ankle wool and team photos were taken in those which were nothing less than torture. They were a hold over from the earlier days and probably a very conservative town that allowed naked swimming at the Y but didn’t want the pictures in the paper or the yearbooks.
The Y did have the naked swimming policy for boys in previous years as I have found reference to the classes by an actual author who wrote about his experiences in the same town.
It was a different time that I am now trying to convey to my son who wears the jammer style suit and a real Speedo underneath just in case the larger one should slip down during practice. He won’t wear a “drag” suit but sometimes a combo of three jammers and “frenchies” as we call them.
In races he wears just the jammer no matter how many times I have told him the smaller suits are faster!
Thanks again for an interesting blog,
Frank adds a comment and a photo 2018/06/08.
Here’s a picture of swimming jammers in case old swimmers like me don’t know what they are. We’ll give the Sportz company a free ad.
“fears that boys will become gay by swimming nude with other boys”
While I find it interesting that younger men view the all-male nude swimming of the past as a “gay thing,” that men or boys who chose to swim nude together must have been gay, or —better yet— that PE instructors who required nudity in the school pool must have been gay, perverted child molesters, in reality the social norm was so thoroughly ingrained that any man or boy who expressed reluctance or misgivings about being nude in the company of other males was suspected of “being light in his shoes.” No one dared to cover himself with a towel while walking naked in the locker room. To do so would lead to being publicly called a “sissy,” a “girl,” or worse, a “fag.” “Hey, it’s all guys here, so why is Tinker Bell covering himself up?”
Of course, in reality gay men or boys (closeted, of course) participating in all-male nude swimming must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven. Just like the fairly common male fantasy of being in a pool full of naked women (I’ve actually been in the latter situation a few times—it felt weird, believe it or not).
Or just like the bodybuilding magazines that were for sale in many all-male gyms back in the day. The bodybuilders shown were always nude, and often full frontals. (Jack LaLanne posed for bodybuilding magazines as a young man. Google “Jack LaLanne nude” and you’ll see.) And the feeling was, why not? The buyers were all male bodybuilders, so why should the models cover up? In reality, those mags served as soft porn for gay men, much as Playboy did for straights.
Fig. 57. Are they gay or just good buddies?
In reply to Ed.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but I went to school with a woman who spent the summer of 1973 as a lifeguard in a YMCA in (I think) Indianapolis, or somewhere in Indiana, where the boys and men were nude.
She seemed to find the experience both shocking and pleasant, although she did say she was glad the summer was over, since the experience drove her into hormonal over load.
Or do you presume she was lying? If so, I can’t fathom any reason she would have done so.
In reply to Old time swimmer.
You should check the Sheboyban (Wisc.) Press for Oct 31,1940. On the front page is an article entitled “Swimmers And Non-Swimmers Learn How to Handle Selves In Water At Classes Held Here.” Above the article are two pictures. One of a girl’s class. The girls are wearing swimsuits and caps. Below it is a boy’s class. They’re all nude, but properly positioned in a sitting position around the pool with their legs crossed to hide the “naughty bits.” Except for one kid. He’s on the diving board, with his back to the camera and his bare butt easily visible.
The caption beneath the photo says “There’s one striking difference between the boys and girls at the recreation department swimming classes in Central High on Saturday. The girls wear suits. The boys pretend that the pool is some “ole swimmin’ hole and go in minus everything except their dignity.”
If that’s not bad enough, they actually proceed to give the kid’s name and address!
It’s apparently not enough to employ the old, entirely accurate observation that the past is another country, they do things differently there. You have to stretch your imagination to grasp just how different it was.
Growing up, I attended a high school in Wisconsin which required the male student body to swim in the nude. I just cannot believe that we did not find this unusual in any way… but we didn’t. I distinctly remember that girls occasionally wandered into the pool area to pass messages from the office, to retrieve items from the pool area, etc., but no one thought anything of this. Anyone who thinks that we were unaware of our bodies, or the bodies of our classmates, is greatly mistaken; we were very much aware, but swimming nude was simply the norm. Humans bend over backwards to subscribe to social norms, and we were no different as teenagers growing up in the Midwest.
The nude swimming ended rather abruptly after an incident involving a school board member and his twin daughters, who were classmates of mine. I was actually in the pool area when the incident occurred. My best friend was ridiculously blessed at quite an early age, and there was nothing he could do about this fact. Of course, I thought it was mildly amusing (who could possibly ignore a scrawny teenager who was easily 3 times the size of his peers), but I never found his public display of nudity offensive. Well, Mr. School Board Member didn’t find anything remotely humorous when his daughters were literally at eye-level with my friend’s endowment as he stood on the diving board platform waiting his turn. The girls were red-faced and giggling as their stammering father inadvertently escorted them through the nearest doorway (which happened to be the door to the boys’ locker room). Sadly, this pillar of the community returned to the pool deck a few seconds later to scold my friend and our PE teacher. I recall him shouting something like, “How dare you allow that pervert to parade his family jewels in front of my girls?” Really, really unfortunate.
Ironically, at the commencement of the next PE class, we were all given school-issued swim trunks, and everyone put them on, no-questions-asked. I did feel quite sorry for my friend, who took more than his share of ribbing over the incident. We still talk about this all these years later, although he still blushes just a little to this day. Nevertheless, it is difficult for me to believe that a similar situation had never occurred before, but there you have it. Those innocent days are long gone, my friends.
Frank added a comment and photo on 2018/06/22
So put the boy diver into a speedo. You can cover his erection, but you can’t hide it. It’s what boys get with a surge of blood into their penis.
PART 5: Enter a Woman Teacher of Naked Boys
I would like to comment on Bob’s thoughts concerning why and how nude swimming was ended at his high school 50 something years ago. My own experiences as a young female gym teacher played out in a similar fashion. My high school in northern Minnesota was also a party to nude swimming for young men, although it was becoming controversial upon my hire. The issue was the female staff who were becoming a greater proportion of the teaching faculty. I found myself having to cover gym classes for male teachers who were out for the day, or otherwise engaged. At first, I didn’t think much about all the naked boys, until one young man changed the equation.
Charlie was the star on the school’s football and basketball teams. Tall, muscular, with movie star good looks, he was honestly a distraction for any red blooded female, let alone a 22 year old female gym teacher fresh out of college! As the boys lined up along the side of the pool for attendance, I concentrated mainly on my clip board… until I came to stand in front of Charlie. Upon my word, that young man posed the largest distraction one could possibly imagine. Compounding the issue, I was a virgin and a little too enthralled with men as physical objects. After recovering from my swoon, I knew that I had to remove myself from the situation permanently, so I met with the vice principal to delicately explain that women had no place in a pool reserved for unclothed men. When he pressed me on my assertion, I stammered a bit, but could not admit that Charlie’s extremely ample endowment had forced me to this conclusion. I argued that the boys seemed uncomfortable with the arrangement, and I shamefully lied about some of the students becoming aroused as I looked on. The next school year, nude swimming ended, and I think I had something to do with that decision, although I cannot be certain.
To be clear, I am definitely not trying to sexualize the institution of nude swimming – not at all. However, men are men, women are women, and sometimes things happen which remind us that we need to admit that we cannot always be purely objective when the birds and bees are complicating things. Am I proud of what I did? No, not in the least. But, I think the practice belongs to a more innocent time. Liberated women cannot pretend to be unaffected by so much raw sexuality, and Charlie was enough to make any woman forget her place in the social order.
Fig. 59. A possible “Charlie” type boy?
In reply to Elsa.
Thank you, Elsa, for your candid testimony. I’ve been waiting for women to enter the discussion since the most controversial topic in the comments has been about naked boys being seen by members of the opposite sex in public institutions like the public schools. When men report it as happening, others have wondered whether some of the stories they tell included elements of wishful thinking. You testify that it happened, admit the “raw sexuality” that such a situation produced, and validate the supposition that bringing boys and women together in PE classes and swim competitions contributed to the end of the practice of boys swimming naked. Commentators (being male) have been concerned about what the boys thought about being naked in front of women. Your story reminds us that women also had concerns about being in the presence of naked boys.
Thank you so much, Frank, for allowing me to tell my story. “Wishful thinking” is a wonderful way to phrase what I was feeling at the time ( I could not have said it any better), and there really is no place for this kind of behavior in our public high schools. Why put people in this position when it is completely unnecessary?
On a side note: Part of my experience was being caught off guard by my own desires and proclivities. Specifically, I had no idea that seeing an incredibly well-endowed young man would cause me to question my personal code of ethics… but it did. That’s another reason the practice of nude swimming needed to be ended in my school — the road to self-discovery can be fraught with obstacles, both moral and philosophical. Over the years I have struggled with physical wants and desires, and although I would never cross that line between authority and youth, I hope I am wise enough to avoid putting myself in the path of temptation from the very beginning. Thank you for your wonderful forum!
Frank notes: Tom Wallace Lyons and Thomas Mendip asked — peppered — Elsa with questions looking for more detail about her experience with “the magnificent Charlie”. She responded to both of them, and also expanded the theme of nude swimming into the adult experience.
To the “Two Toms” Above: I am shocked by your interest in my experiences! I never found them to be remarkable in any way. Unfortunately, I simply cannot identify the school, since I was naive enough to use Charlie’s real name. It would be really easy to identify him if I were to provide the name of the school. It was mid to late 1960’s, that I can tell you concerning the time frame.
As to your other questions: No-one ever discussed my interactions with the boys in the pool, although the community was discussing the topic somewhat quietly. As I wrote, the practice was coming under some scrutiny upon my hire. One mother brought the subject up at a school board meeting I attended, for example. Thinking back, the issue was not me being “inappropriate” with the boys, rather, the issue was the healthiness of the boys parading in front of a sexually mature woman.
And, no – Charlie had no idea that I was attracted to his nudity. I only filled in that one time, as far as I can recall. He would have been much more distracted by the constant teasing and horseplay of his classmates.
My story isn’t really about the practice of nude swimming. Instead, my story was about my own sexual identity in relation to the nude swimming class. If one of my girlfriends had said to me prior to my supervision of the naked boys, “Are you aroused by naked men with enormous penises?” I would have laughed at the absurdity of the notion. However, the situation with Charlie instigated my surprising reaction and my conclusion that exceptionally well-appointed men were most definitely interesting to me. That was the problem – I should never have been faced with this realization under those specific circumstances.
In all fairness, I was not the only woman who was intrigued by Charlie. I became aware that many girls in the school were very much infatuated with the rumors swirling around Charlie’s prowess. But, once again, I was ashamed for feeling the way I did.
I have since swum nude on many occasions. I have swum with both men and women in the buff, and I greatly enjoy the experience. I have never, and still do not, find the activity sexually arousing, although I did swim with a gentleman in a friend’s pool in New England who possessed a “Charlie-like” endowment. All of the other women in the pool were enthralled with this man for obvious reasons, but no-one lost her perspective or her sense of propriety. Harmless fun, but not with children present!
Tom Wallace Lyons
Thomas Mendip – Let me address your July 6, 2017 question about the double standard which may have allowed females to coach naked high school boys even though it would have been unthinkable to have male instructors coach naked high school girls. I believe I have an answer to that question in my March 23, 2017 post. If you do me the honor of reading that post, I would like to know what you think.
Elsa’s story raises some interesting issues, especially since she was not even a decade older than her youngest students. And she might have been quite attractive. It would have been natural for one or more of the boys to respond to Elsa the way she responded to the magnificent Charley. Had one of the boys been so smitten, he might not have had the recourse available to Elsa who was able to protest the practice. Instead he might have had an erection.
Elsa writes: “At first, I didn’t think much about all the naked boys, until one young man changed the equation.” It would be interesting to hear from some of those erstwhile boys what THEY thought. Prior to Charley, did Elsa or anyone worry about how the boys might have felt?
This brings me to your idea that a female coach might have helped naked teenage boys develop a positive image about their bodies. Is a teenage boy’s body image enhanced when he is forced into a situation wherein he must allow a female coach to see his penis?
Thomas Mendip – Your July 2, 2017 post discusses a woman who said she was a lifeguard at the YMCA in 1973. You believe it was in Indianapolis. By 1973 nude swimming was being phased out at the YMCA. You might check to see if the Indianapolis YMCA still had nude swimming in 1973. Indianapolis was and is a large metropolitan area. If the YMCA was in Indianapolis, it would not have been hard to recruit a male lifeguard. Did you ask the young lady why she was chosen to watch over naked men and boys?
In reply to Tom Wallace Lyons.
Indianapolis may not have been the correct city. I remember it was in Indiana, as I recall about the YMCA, and it was in the summer of 1973. The conversation took place at the first party of the year that fall. This was at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois. We were all taking about our summer jobs. One woman said she was glad the summer was over. Another asked why. Her response was a rhetorical question: How would you like to spend the whole summer looking at naked men? We were all taken aback, requested clarification. She said she had spent the whole summer as a lifeguard in (I think) a YMCA somewhere in Indiana where all the men swam nude. (She didn’t mention boys, but one assumes they must have also swam there, and nude; it was the custom then.)
All the males in the room were mainly from Chicago and suburbs, where nude swimming for boys was mandatory; I was from Rockford, 90 miles away, where boys were also nude in swim class. We knew about nude swimming, but had never heard of a female being present. We thought she was exaggerating, they must have been wearing revealing costumes, such as speedos. She was, however, quite adamant—they were au naturel, bereft of clothing, wearing their birthday suits, buck nekkid! From the breathless tone she employed, her eyes frequently bulging as she talked,we inferred that she probably wasn’t aware of this when she took the job. She did say the experience left her “terminally horny.”
My experience was the same as most of us in the American public school system. Boys were nude; girls wore suits. Separate classes, male teachers for the boys, females for the girls. I see no reason to be reluctant about the time and place (nor do I understand why anyone else would be, given that it was virtually universal, and decades ago, anyway): Rockford, Illinois, Jefferson Junior High School (1962-1965) and Rockford East High School (1965-1968).
I never recall any females in the swimming pool. On occasion, we would see through the translucent glass at the entrance a female figure, a girl who was dispatched to collect attendance records from each room in the school. Seeing her always induced, in me at least, that well known manifestation of fear, the pucker factor! Yet, on two occasions, I remember the school nurse, an older woman with gray hair, breezing in the pool without any notice (to us) as though she somehow belonged there. She was inspecting our feet for an outbreak of some kind of infection. On one occasion, we had to sit on the floor, our legs out in front of us while she examined them. On the other, we had to stand up against the wall, with our hands on the wall, feet back, legs spread, feet uplifted for inspection. On neither occasion did I feel any embarrassment, at least no more than the usual. The girl at the door was terrifying because she was another student, but the nurse was an adult woman, and an authority figure. I was no more humiliated by her presence than that of the other boys or the guy who taught the class.
It was about 10 years ago that I stumbled on the subject on nude swimming in school, by accident, at a website. I was dumbfounded to discover that this commonplace practice, no more than 30 or so years past and experienced by millions of men still alive and able to testify to it, was largely considered a fantasy or the work of trolls. Then I remembered Nancy, the woman I referenced in the first paragraph. Looking for accounts by boys in nude swim classes with female teachers, I also found accounts by women who taught them. Again, dismissed by the majority, most of whom were younger, as some sort of fantasy. I began to wonder about these subjects, specifically, how wide spread was it, really. So, I’ve collected hundreds of these forums, stored as pdfs or odts, over the years. Some names here are even familiar from those other forums. Caipora, for example, has posted useful information in a number of them. I even tried my own thread on Topix, entitled with the simple interrogative “Did You Swim Nude In High School?” I asked only that people supply dates and places, but like so many of these forums, as I feared, it degenerated into deniers (a character who posted as Maltamon was particularly notorious) and trolls who did nothing but flame each other. Before I could copy it, Topix, with no announcement, deleted it last month, after it had run for 7 years! (Parenthetically, I must thank the good Pastor for this forum; it seems to be the only place we can discuss this reasonably and rationally.)
Which leads me to point one of number of points concerning your question “Can we get a handle on what really went on in YMCA type situations and in school situations in the mid-Twentieth Century? “ That’s an intriguing question. I think that the internet as a form of human communication is a dreadful failure; people don’t talk to each other, they scream; the anonymity that was supposed to allow for free communication has, instead, induced distrust. If the testimony of all of us who experienced this doesn’t persuade that it was real, what would? This was only a few decades ago and you don’t need an archaeological dig to establish its reality—you ask the people who were there. In a broader sense, it begs the question about all of history itself. If an event only a few decades old can’t be established through eye witness testimony, how can we trust that we know what actually happened at Gettysburg, at Hastings, in ancient Rome? Was Churchill right, and the victors write history? That might explain it; the victors ended nude swimming. Or is Napoleon correct, and it’s just an agreed upon fiction. Maybe Rosemary Woods really kept her foot on that record button for 18 minutes!!
People want photographs as evidence, but it has become easy to doctor them. Suits can be removed and genitals grafted on; just as easily suits can be put on nude boys. I suspect there are photographs, and I’ve seen a number of them on the net. I even traced down one. It was a picture of a naked male college swimmer about to dive in front of some clothed female swimmers. I tracked it back to a college in Pennsylvania and found it in their 1974 year book, with the male in a striped swimsuit. Real pictures probably won’t surface, although I’ve seen them on European websites, where people aren’t as afraid of the “morality” police as here.
I was an English major, which means I find it difficult to say good morning in less than 250 words, so I’m going to shut up for the moment and let you respond.
Meantime, I’m going to attempt to address your other points.
Live long and prosper!
Frank added a comment on 2018/06/10
There are reports of female as well as male lifeguards at YMCA camps. Is that what this photo that is ubiquitous on the internet shows?
Another photo shows the same group a few years later.
HOWEVER, Further internet detective work by our commentator AL (see his comments below to THIS blog article) shows that these photos are originally Russian and have been photo shopped.
Fig. 60b. Russian swimmers 1946
Fig. 61b. Russian swimmers 1949
In reply to Elsa.
Again, thanks for your post. I’m sorry if either of us in any sense offended you, but your experiences are so unique, I just had to ask. You may not have found them to be remarkable, but every guy in my age group, millions of them, swam nude in high school, yet not one ever had a female teacher, even as a substitute. A woman teaching a swimming pool full of nude male teenagers is certainly a rarity, if nothing else.
I understand the situation, simple temptation, and something that came as a shock, even to yourself, but you still have my admiration both for realizing it was wrong, and for making this post. Although, when you consider it, what did you do wrong? You expressed female heterosexuality by looking at an attractive nude male. Fantasies aren’t illegal or immoral, only actions are. Which was why I asked about his age. Was he too young for you even to fantasize about without guilt?
I actually was most concerned with the way the boys took to this situation, or how they seemed to you to take to it. As I said in the post above, I don’t think it would prove damaging to them, and might even have a positive effect upon them.
Hello, Everyone! I had no idea that I would be commenting so often on this site (and about this topic), as I rarely engage in posting on any site, ever. However, this topic caught my attention, given my background.
I was not offended by anything anyone posted! Quite the contrary. I feel like the offender. Craving this young man for even a split second was a violation of the trust that had been placed in me. To offer more detail, the guilt probably was not instantaneous – it likely built up as I heard other females at the school make comments about his manhood. You see, they all speculated, whereas I had seen him with my own eyes. It’s strangely funny that he was much more gifted than the rumors which circulated. But I was never, ever going to make any corrections to their breathless descriptions! Talk about opening up a can of worms….
Excepting Charlie, supervising the class was a nonevent, in my opinion. Maybe the only reason I remember doing it was because of Charlie. Actually, a male friend of mine who taught at the school a few years before I did could not remember if the boys swam nude or not. His wife, who was a student at the school, could not remember either. They browsed through their annuals, and they did see what appears to be a young man’s naked backside in one of the activity photos included in the book. Having attended swim meets, she knows for certain that the boys did not swim nude when competing. I’m not sure if this helps.
My last comment: What is the big deal, at the end of the day? Who is harmed if people see one another naked? I never understood this particular hang-up, but I do admit that throwing young people in the mix does seem to make the question a bit more interesting. Just a thought – If every man had exactly the same size/shaped penis, would male nudity even be the least bit controversial? What about female breasts? The variety is the nub of the problem.
Frank added a comment with photo on 2018/06/19
Yes, penises come in various sizes, depending on full or semi erections or flaccid state, as this vintage photo shows. It was probably often like this when boys swam naked.
In reply to Elsa.
Elsa, I think we have overburdened you with questions you really can’t answer.
You may have thought the class was a non event. I can guarantee you the boys didn’t. The question both Tom and I pondered was whether they thought it a positive or negative. (I’m guessing positive.) The reason I asked if their body language betrayed anything is because I can’t ask them!
Nudity isn’t a big deal. But what we’re dealing with here is institutionalized, mandatory, forced nudity for boys alone. It’s the mandatory part that is of the essence, and always brings up the same questions—what was the point to this? Why not girls also? What were the school board and parents thinking of? As Tom asked, what impact would it have on a young boy to be forced into nudity in front of an adult woman. (You were thoughtful enough to enlighten us about the impact on the adult woman.)
From what I’ve read from other women who taught nude male swimmers in the same time period, the impact was fairly positive. One woman who had substituted, as you did, for a male teacher said the boys were given a choice of study hall or being nude in her class. None took the study hall. Further, the next time their male teacher was out, they specifically requested her as a substitute.
Frank added a comment with images on 2017/06/08
For a break in the discussion with/about Elsa and women teachers for naked teen age boys, I share a scene from the 1978 East German film Sieben Sommersprossen (Seven Freckles) in which the teen lovers swim together nude in a lake. It is a Romeo-and-Juliet-kind of story set in a summer camp and beautifully filmed. And it gives us a nude female swimmer.
So, at 67, I’m the kid on the block, eh? [I told Thomas that I was older than him. – FS] I suppose that comes as no less a shock than the fact that I am 67. I could swear I was 25 just two weeks ago. Well, “old timer,” in the interest of advancing the discussion, I should like to assert my opinions on the matter at hand, to wit, nude male swimming. Understand that I confine my opinions to this one subject: mandatory, institutionalized, male swimming, as was practiced, apparently in almost every school in the country in the past. I do not refer to nudity by choice, since I can’t believe there would be, from any quarters, an objection to this. After all, if you don’t wanna be nude, keep your clothes on; and if anyone objects, they shouldn’t be forced to watch.
My experience was the usual, mandatory nude school swim class. I only survived it because I wasn’t there. I read an interview with an actress who had to appear nude on stage for 45 minutes in a play in Chicago. Asked how she did this, she said she “wasn’t there.” Her body was, but her mind was elsewhere. So was mine, anywhere but there. Walking through autumn leaves, riding a bike, anywhere I could be in some nice, normal, sane place where they let me wear clothes like a normal human being. It wasn’t the nudity per se, but the forced aspect of it—we were given no choice. Had we, I probably would have gone with the flow and done what the majority did, go nude or not. I am going to assert, despite anyone’s protest, that the normal human desire for privacy is not–NOT!–a pathology. In my case, it was exacerbated by the fact that I was the fat kid. I already had been bullied and teased for years before I was forced to remove my clothing to enhance the degradation. By the time I was 20, I had ballooned up to 300lbs; I lost 125lbs of it, but not till college.
You can probably understand, therefore, why I hated to be forced into nudity. To me, it seemed as though I were being punished for something. (Forced nudity is used as a punishment, after all.) As far as I could tell, and sites such as yours seem to affirm this, boys were divided on the matter, a lot (at least saying) they were ambivalent, some detesting it as much as I did, and others claiming they enjoyed it. In the last group, not surprisingly, were the jocks, who loved any excuse to flash their bulging biceps, rippling abs, and massive pecs as a subtle reminder of just who occupied to top rung on the teenaged food chain.
What I couldn’t understand was the why? What had I done wrong, and why did my four sisters escape this kind of humiliation. I thought I was being punished for having a penis; or they were being rewarded for having boobs. Which ever it was, the vast discrepancy between our treatment in swimming (the girls attired in near armor of tank suits, and us completely nude) didn’t make sense. It was only much later, in fact, when I began researching this stuff that I began to understand what had been going on. And the explanation doesn’t reside in the official pronouncements of the APHA, the YMCA, Red Cross, or the school board, or swim coaches, or anyone in authority; it seeps out from between the cracks of the mortar holding together what we generally call a culture. (The big advantage I got from growing up in the 50s through 70s is that I learned always to question the official explanation for everything!)
You had stated tradition was the reason. I concur, but with the knowledge that while traditions often last well past their use by date, they never the less serve a function. So, one is tempted to ask what was the point to this tradition? I’m not naive enough to believe the stuff about the suits clogging the filters . (If the filters clog, clean them.) Or I might question the magic in the girls’ suits that prevented it. (Look it up; they were made of the same fibers, but became magical on a female form.) Nor any of the pat explanations for the supposed virtues of group male nudity—that it’s a form of bonding; that it enhances body acceptance and self confidence. Girls apparently didn’t need body acceptance or self confidence!
I believe the most powerful force on the planet is group sanctions. It can make people put on uniforms and go kill other people, or be killed; it can isolate people, forcing them into lives of despair because they are “different” than the group, or make them hide that difference; it can, allied with the equally intractable power of mythology, send whole societies into collective psychotic episodes (Nazi Germany) or convince vast numbers of the citizens in them that they should spend their lives in pursuit of ideals which they would never dare to question, but which leave them empty. Admittedly, used correctly, it can quell aggressive impulses and make for an open and accepting world, but that’s more the exception than the rule.
I think mandatory nudity in young males was simply an extension of a set of societal expectations we would now call “gender roles.” In those days, boys and girls were on different career paths. The girls were there to make babies, essentially their only function. The boys were to be the cannon fodder with which the endless wars are propagated. We were both supposed to take the roles assigned to us without question. We were both supposed to become what George Carlin called “worker/consumer units.” In that time period, in the working class town where I lived, the next stop for a lot of boys was the army. I knew several who returned from Vietnam in body bags. Modesty had to be stamped out of boys. Only manly men could “bring home that coon skin,” as LBJ put it. Conveniently, nude swimming was just part of a set of rituals, almost a rite of passage, by which to accomplish this; it was already sanctioned officially and part of a tradition, and boys who were reluctant to do the manly thing of parading nude with their fellows could be ostracized and humiliated into compliance. Boys were, after all, already socialized against complaining, less they be considered unmanly. Privacy was considered a female thing.
Lurking in the background of the manly/unmanly thing is something that can’t be ignored, given the time frame. I’m referring to homosexuality and the rather unenlightened view people had of it in those days. There was a time when homosexuality was equated with pedophilia, and American families lived in dread of the possibility that their apple cheeked young boy or darling little princess could grow up to be a lesbo or a fudge packer. It’s certainly not one of the enumerated reasons, few as those are, but it surfaces in comments from that time period about the necessity to identify gays. One reason for male nudity was supposedly to do just that. How this would work is beyond me. Would the boys who became too excited be suspect? Or, since homosexuality in those days was equated with effeminacy, would shy boys warrant watching. I don’t know; I can’t think like that. I can only say, that having researched the prevailing attitudes of the day, it seems to be a part of the mix of things that made male nudity a requirement, and I bring it up because I think it was one of the reasons for boys’ nudity.
We all know that societal norms change slowly. So much so that you barely notice the tectonic plates moving beneath your feet. The women’s libbers liked to take credit for it, and should have some it, but the reason women entered the work force in huge numbers starting in the early 70s was largely economic, cultural norms shifting to accommodate this utilitarian fact. The massive shift in wealth caused by our dear friends the Arabs when the jacked up the price of oil had a profound effect on the middle class. Unless you made an extraordinarily good income, one was no longer enough. Women had to enter the workforce, and with that came this huge change in those gender roles. It’s so profound that we no longer even notice it, but parents now days accept that their daughters, as well as their sons, will have careers. (MOM was the girls’ career in our day.) And along with it came this huge shift in norms of modesty.
As female modesty has decreased, male modesty has increased. Had there been an internet in the 60s, does anyone believe teenage girls would have been sending nude selfies to their boyfriends? And before anyone starts decrying the “feminization of boys,” understand that the sexes exist only in juxtaposition to each other, and a certain bit of male modesty would benefit boys who are otherwise too naive to know and those who are too aggressive for their own good. Dennis Hastert was a wrestling coach at a school in a time when boys swam nude. Wonder how much time he spent hanging around the pool? And please, don’t tell me I’m being hysterical. I know the current obsession with pedophiles is over blown, but I also know they exist and children do need to be protected. We’ve manifestly over done it, but then, like most things, it’s a pendulum, and it will eventually find an equilibrium and stop swaying to extremes.
While Title IX factors into it, I don’t find it too much of a coincidence that both the end of conscription and the Arab oil embargo both occurred in 1973. And almost immediately, boys’ nude swim classes began to disappear. Granted, it took about a decade, as far as I can tell, but it started around then, and we now live in a world so radically changed, both for good and bad, that the whole thing seems to those younger than us like an urban legend.
Frank, thank you again for this site. It’s the only (and I mean only) site I’ve found where you can discuss this subject rationally, absent trolls and flamers. If Elsa could post here, that’s a pretty strong endorsement. I would hope those younger than we, who don’t believe nude swim classes were real, would visit here in the hope of understanding both how the world now is so different and how we got from that point to this.
In reply to Thomas Mendip
Thank you Thomas for your candid personal testimony and your insight into the forces that maintained a tradition even beyond its expiration date.
Fig. 64. Gender roles in the 1950s shown in “Leave It to Beaver”
PART 5: Just Swimming Naked: Yeah and Nay
I attended High School in the late 60’s in Brooklyn NY. By this time the rules had changed so that swimming nude was optional, though forgetting to bring your swimsuit was not an excuse to miss class. I would actually never learn to swim well until my early 20’s, though I did receive some half hearted lessons from the PE teachers in school. Mostly I just tried to practice in the shallow end of the pool by myself. I do remember leaving the swim suit in the locker on the last day I ever had swim class in HS, I wanted to try it. The worst part about it was having to sit bare ass on the cold wooden bench while attendance was taken before being able to get into the pool.
A few years later, a friend who had been on his HS swim team volunteered to teach me how to swim. The local JCA had a swimming pool, and it was open two nights a week for men only, (two nights a week for women, and was ‘family’ at other times). My friend’s family was a member there, and I was invited to come along when he and his father went. I wore my swim suit the first time we went, but after noticing that many men there skinny dipped, I would do that every other time we went.
To this day I prefer to swim nude, and since my wife and I live in a private house where our neighbors are hidden from our view in the back yard, I can do so in my own pool (which alas, like most home pools isn’t big enough to really do laps without having to reverse directions after just a few strokes!).
It has certainly been a great education to read all the comments folks have made. I’m 77 years old and have had extensive experience with naked bathing in both private and public settings over these many years. The first time swimming naked was at a water filled old quarry outside the city of Chicago. I was 10 yr. old at the time. The other kids called it Bare Ass Beach. I found out why when we arrived. We were all neighborhood boys ages 9 through 15. They stripped off all their clothes and went swimming naked. I was shocked, having been raised by a Mother who for religious reasons taught my sister and I that wearing clothes all the time except in the bath tub was the rule. I was a born rebel in those days and still am today. I stripped and went in the water with the rest of the boys. We would ride our bikes two to three times a week to go swimming. A year later my 6 yr. old sister joined us. She had learned from the neighbor kids what we were doing at the quarry so many times and wanted to go swimming also. She had no problem stripping down naked and joining us. I was a bit embarrassed at the time being naked with my sister but got over it quickly. She then talked a couple of her friends into joining us and soon there were about an equal mix of boys and girls swimming naked together. This lasted for a couple more years. Then someone drowned and the Police had the property owner steel fence the quarry. No more swimming.
The experience served me well. When I was a freshman at a Chicago Public High School I was required to take swimming. The boys were mandated to swim naked. Didn’t bother me a bit but some boys refused. Lots of trouble for them.
Entering the USAF and standing around naked, marching from one place to another with 90 other recruits was not a problem for me either. I’ll never forget the Drill Instructor saying “God did NOT make all men equal”. He was certainly correct when you compared the sagging lengths of 90 penis’s all lined up in a row. Never forgot the image.
My first wife (I had two) was very modest. A prude you might say. Also a Virgin as I found out on my honeymoon. Took quite a bit of talking to get her out of her bedclothes and into bed for sex. Lights out of course so I wouldn’t see her naked body. Come to find out she had a sleeping libido and enjoyed intercourse and the expressions of love and tenderness that accompany it a lot. We had two wonderful children. A girl first who is now a Lawyer and part time Superior Court Judge and a boy who is now a metallurgic engineer for Alcoa Aluminum. First wife was killed by drunk driver after 25 years, second wife died from injuries suffered in a auto accident 5 years ago. We were married 27 years. So, here I am putting up with the problems of old age such as a swollen prostate and associated bladder problems. Oh well, such is life.
There is a Nudist Resort in Sun River, AZ. that the second wife and I used to visit every week end and camp out. I haven’t been there since she died. Nice people there. It is a 2 hour one way trip and I just don’t have the energy anymore to drive that far so stay home and socialize with the local Senior Citizens groups here in town. I have met only one fellow Nudist. An 86 yr. old lady who also doesn’t want to travel that far to get naked so she comes over to my house and we soak naked in my back yard Jacuzzi which is surrounded by an 8 ft. high wooden fence for privacy. A Jacuzzi is a great healer for old worn out muscles. No body issues for either of us we both having been married for 50 plus years. Met her at my Church social one Sunday.
Fig. 65. Vera Playa Naturalist Club Hotel
I am a widowed heterosexual male, and I find swimming naked feels very liberating and natural. I have visited nudist clubs and beaches, and everyone seems very comfortable being nude in a mixed-gender environment. I think that nudists have a much healthier attitude towards the human body than non-nudists, and I think that it is good to bring up children in an open environment. Children are taught by our society from a very young age to be ashamed of their nakedness, and girls and women are objectified in advertising, music, porn, and popular culture. Violent porn and some music even sends the message that men can force sex upon a woman. This is why we are experiencing a rape culture. Society’s response to all of this is for girls and women to be taught to cover up and to be ashamed of their bodies because “boys will be boys.” I think that is pathetic. Men need to take responsibility for their actions and respect women and not blame it on women dressing “too provocatively,” etc. All of this is why it is refreshing and seems very natural to be with men and women who practice naturism.
I was subjected to forced nude swimming in Junior High from 1962 thru 1965 in Butler, PA., at the YMCA and Boy Scout camp. We were not prepared for this because we came from small schools to a centralized junior high school and even if there were rumors, we wouldn’t have believed them. The school swimming pool was located between the boys and girls locker rooms. Back then, kids flunked school so the age group could have been 12-17 year olds if some flunked 2 years. Our gym teacher’s name was H. Weightman, newly graduated, I’d say in his mid-20s at the time. He also taught the class nude. We alternated with the girls, one week we had swimming, the other we had gym. I don’t remember how many times we had the girls’ gym teacher for a substitute, but I remember the first time vividly. She was also in her mid 20s and I thought, back then, very good looking. You have to realize that being a gym teacher was on the low end of the pecking order for teachers back then and they were all athletic. It was also a time when teaching didn’t pay well and teachers taught because they wanted to teach. She wore a one piece dark blue or black suit that went high up on her chest, no cleavage showing, and looped down in the back, well above her butt. I can still see us all sitting on the bench naked and her coming up with her clip board which had the attendance sheet. We each had to stand up in front of her and give our name as she checked off the attendance. At that age you have no control over an erection and probably a 1/3 to 1/2 the class had erections as they stood up and gave their names. I don’t remember much else about this experience or the others when she taught. But consider this: our graduating class in 1968 had 869 students. For simple purposes, let’s say that they were split evenly between boys and girls. That would mean that she viewed around 435 naked males between the ages of 12 thru 17 in one week. She had to have raging hormones at that point.
When the girls’ swimming and the gym teacher was out, the girls all went to study hall in the cafeteria. I have my theory on why the boys were not given that option which I’ll discuss later in another post.
I went to McQuistion Grade school for grades 1 thru 5. There were only two bathrooms, one for girls and one for boys. We would all go as a group to the bathrooms. All the teachers were female. It was not uncommon for the teacher to accompany the boys into the bathroom. There were probably a half dozen urinals that went from the floor to a height of about 4 feet. The toilets did not have doors or dividers. The teacher would monitor us as we relieved ourselves always saying hurry up and quit playing around.
College wasn’t much different. I went to the University of Cincinnati 1968 thru 1973. Freshmen year I was in Dabney Hall – an all male dorm. There were about 20 rooms to a floor, two boys to a room. Rooms were about 10 x 10 with bunk beds, desks and closets. There was one large bathroom with toilets and urinals to the left, sinks and a gang shower to the right. There was no doors or dividers on the toilets. Nudity was quite common. Maid service was included weekly in freshmen dorms. The maids were all black, middle aged – we’re talking 1968. When a woman entered the floor, she had to shout “Woman on Floor.” It was common to have the maid cleaning the bathroom while someone was naked showing, urinating, or defecating. Occasionally, some of the cruder boys would lie naked in bed, look at naked magazines and masturbate while she cleaned. Nothing was ever said.
Rather than make this post real long, I’ll post at a later date my experiences at the YMCA and scout camp.
The best history on nude swimming can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/historicarchives4maleswimming/home. It will take you about 4 hours to go thru all the material and pictures.
See my post above, this is a continuation…
The YMCA in Butler also required nude swimming for men and boys. It had a gallery where the mothers, aunts, cousins, daughters and friends could watch you swim naked and watch you they did. Why? Most families had only one car, dad was at work, mothers were “stay at home” and they weren’t going to drop you off at the Y go home and drive back. That was unthinkable back then. The “learn to swim” programs were only about 1 hour to 2 hours long. Again, I recall very little because I have buried these experiences deeper than my high school experiences.
I went to Boy Scout camp in Slippery Rock, PA – Camp Bucoco in the early 60’s. I was in Troop 16 sponsored by Armco Steel Corporation. We had to have a physical before going to camp which Armco provided. I don’t know what day of the week the physicals were performed, but they were done in the administration building by the company doctor and a lady. We were all brought down by our parents, usually the mother, along with any siblings. We went to the conference room and stripped down to our underwear handing our clothes to our parent. We then lined up for the physicals, which were a joke. Our parents, sisters and others stood by the wall behind the doctor holding our clothes. We approached the doctor and gave our name to the lady with him. The doctor checked our hearts, took each arm and felt them and turned them over and felt down each leg. We then had to drop our underwear to the floor. We turned around and he felt down our spine. We turned around again and he took our penis in his hand, looked at it from side to side and underneath and then rolled it with his fingers, felt our testicles, and made as cough left and right. Many of the scouts had erections during the exam. He never wore gloves or washed his hands between exams. We then pulled up our underwear, walked over to our mothers, and got dressed. There were usually about 20 to 30 of us scouts. It seems that the moms always found an excuse to stay until the last scout was finished. I don’t really remember if we swam naked at camp or not, but I don’t remember bring a swim suit, so I guess we did.
If you think there is a lot of bullying today, there was more back then. Towel smacks, ball whacking, name association with respect to penis size and pubic hair – baldy, pencil dick, rooster, horse, etc. was common. Just before our freshman year ended (1965), we were told we could wear swim trunks that could be purchased at Troutman’s – the only department store in town. Within two swim classes all the boys were in suits – nylon. That says it all about how the boys felt.
In summary, I hated swimming naked as did almost all the boys in school and the YMCA. Swimming naked was degrading, humiliating, embarrassing, shameful, traumatizing, and gave feelings of betrayal, anger, exploited, anxiety, and fear. Many of us complained to our parents, the coaches, teachers, etc. that we did not want to swim naked, but no one would come to our defense. All agreed with Dear Abby on the subject that there was something wrong with us. Abby was a proponent of boys swimming naked in front of girls, also. She was the Doctor Spock of that era. Again, see https://sites.google.com/site/historicarchives4maleswimming/home/archives—mid-20th-century-to-current/stories As I said before, it has the best history of nude swimming. It will take you about 4 hours to go thru all the pictures and stories.
Better link – takes you right to Dear Abby. https://sites.google.com/site/historicarchives4maleswimming/home/archives—mid-20th-century-to-current/news-articles-and-columns
Bottom line — We were paraded naked in front of women for their pleasure and sexual fantasies. Greatest nude show on earth. I think this is the real reason boys were required to swim naked and it had nothing to do with filtration systems. Like most men who went thru these naked experiences, we have blocked them out and buried them deep. No one likes to talk about them unless they are gay.
Fig. 66. Men enjoying naked swimming
Beginning in 7th grade we boys had always showered together in a common shower room following Physical Education classes. You couldn’t be excused from the class without showering and after the first day of group showers we never thought a thing about it. I entered high school in the fall of 1964. My high school had an old tile pool in a basement room, vented by a big fan to the exterior of the building. The men’s PE classes always used the pool nude. I didn’t consider it barbaric at all but completely natural and wonderfully comfortable. I remember having swim races in those P.E. classes and how much fun those competitions were. I was a horribly skinny kid, but I swam well and I loved the days when our PE coach would send us to the pool. I think the whole experience helped me overcome my sense of insecurity about my body.
Today, the coach would be hauled before a judge if he had his students swim naked. How sad that young men today don’t develop that innate comfort while being naked together.
When I got to Navy boot camp in San Diego we had to take a swimming test in the first day or two. Due to some problem that day we reversed the normal order and took the swim test before being issued our uniforms…so we had no swim suits. This was in the all-male days of Navy boot camp, and our company commander simply marched us to the pool building, had us strip off our clothes and take our swim test nude. What could have been more natural? Nobody gave the nudity a second thought….and we didn’t have to pack a wet suit into our bag of new uniforms. Barbaric? Absolutely not. Natural, fun, exhilarating? …..Yes indeed!
Glad to have experienced these days that some young men cannot even imagine.
Fig. 67. Adults having swim practice
In reply to Thomas Mendip.
Wow, that’s quite a testimony. I’m reading this topic with absolute fascination. I somewhat see the nude swimming thing as part traumatisation and part liberation. I’m 20 and I swear to god, even my mum has not seen me naked (except my first and only girlfriend at 19) since I was 5 years old. Maybe except one time at 15 when we went to the hospital and it was found out that I needed an emergency operation. I was panicking and got sedated. I can’t remember anything else until I woke up naked. Somebody had to strip me, I guess. What I wanted to say is that to this day I have not overcome my irrational fear of nudity but I wish that I had. No matter btw the consequences, and from what I understand fathers used to beat their sons, I would not have swam naked, ever. Beat me ALL you want, I’ve weathered the storm. Sit me in the corner for 6 hours, send me to bed hungry, I don’t fucking care. I would not have done it. I envy the boys who made it through somewhat ok. From that I guess it’s pretty clear that I’m a little wrong in the head. So, yeah, I envy the boys who made it through. I don’t like it when girls and women get involved into this issue. I’m younger than most here it seems and for my generation, this would be sexism and extremely humiliating. Then there’s the whole LGBTQ stuff… But running around somewhere with your friends just to find a suitable stream or lake to take off your clothes in dive in? That’s liberating, especially if the girls could not do it. That would even be a privilege. There are so many facets to this. But I agree, forced no. Especially in the presence of females. Gosh, you guys are all so damn eloquent. Excuse me, at this point I leave my standard I’m-not-an-English-native disclaimer.
In reply to Richard.
What is this strange fascination of Americans with boys’ penises and testicles? It’s honestly disturbing… In my understanding, to this day, if you want to participate in a school sport like say cross country, someone at some point is going to have your balls in their hands. Where I’m from, you undergo quite a few routine check-ups during childhood. I have soooooo many memories of sitting in my underwear in a cold room waiting for a doctor but not once has anyone ever requested to touch my private area. This request would have fallen on deaf ears.
In reply to Rob R.
If this subject intrigues you, try this website: http://www.voy.com/223876/685.html
There are two threads here in which nude swim meets with female spectators are discussed.
I have been reluctant to bring this up here, because the subject has been discussed with such civility and when you bring up this topic, you always get a “spirited” debate going between the believers and doubters. But this, coupled with the Burnley Grammar School photo (referenced in my post above) represents some of the most fantastic (in the literal meaning of that term) stuff I’ve ever read.
There are about forty posts in these things. Most of them are from now adult women, who must be in their sixties or seventies, recalling nude male swim meets they witnessed as children. Some of them are fun to read because they have such a quality of the joy of discovery.
But that falls apart when you read the testimony of the boys. Half a century later and they still feel the humiliation. Only two male posters, which appear to be the same person, anyway, had anything positive to say about it.
What’s shocking is that the women, whom you might have thought would have gained some small bit of a perspective after decades have passed, are totally dismissive of those boys complaints. So much for female empathy.
My opinion is that these are real. They’re no more preposterous than other accounts I’ve read, and in the absence of anything objective (there aren’t going to be any photographs), you have to take the tenor of the posts as an indicator of their veracity, and these definitely aren’t intended to titillate.
Take a look at these and let me know what you think.
Live long and prosper.
Fig. 68. Burnley Grammar School. Boys shirtless in gym class was not uncommon in England and America throughout the twentieth century until the 1960/70s.
Photographic proof of women supervising boys swimming can be found in the City of Stockholm Digital Museum, here:
and also here:
Photoshopped “evidence” with no source is common on this subject. These links are directly to an official online archive, with dates (1902 and 1903) and locations, and high-resolution copies can be downloaded (click on “Ladda ner” on the left). Lest there be any question what we’re looking at, in the archive another copy of the first photo is labeled “Swimming pool with swimming lessons “. It is labeled as being at “Norrtullsgatan 18” and Google Maps does find a school with the same name at that address.
To be ideal, these photos would have to be fifty years later, the kids about five years older, and the location across the sea. Even so, they serve as proof that it did happen.
The board software omits the final parenthesis in the links; copy the link and add the parenthesis by hand, and they will work.
Teenage schoolgirls and boys taking a swimming test together, with bathing suits, in 1944, can be seen here:
Boys and girls (they can be detected by bathing caps) together in a school shower in 1939
That brings us somewhat closer to the present.
Good post about nude swimming way back in the 1950’s and 1960’s What I remember from my school days from 1951 to 1961 (back then ten years at school was quite normal for pupils who did not intend to go to university) regarding swimming in the United Kingdom. When I was learning to swim at school, before getting into the water we were naked in a shower washing for hygienic reasons before entering the swimming pool. However, once we had been in the shower we did put on our swimming trunks for our swimming lessons. After the lessons were over, once again we were naked in the shower cleaning ourselves after the swim.
I think if we had to be naked while in the swimming pool we would not have bothered too much as we did not bother the least bit being naked in a shower which was shared by all of us, no partition from the 8 or 9 shower heads which were in the shower room. Nowadays in 2017 apparently they are certainly not naked in the swimming pool and perhaps not even taking a shower as well, not sure about that of course, I’m certainly not going to ask the teenage boy who lives near me “do you shower naked or with swimming trunks on in school?” If I did I would probably get kicked, ‘you know where’
Great reading those stories from back “in the olden days” where nudity was considered normal and not to be ashamed of.
In reply to Noah.
That’s of course for medical reasons, no one is going to do anything they should not do, especially a doctor. If he did he would no longer be a doctor. As far as nakedness in school, of course, boys are curious about how “large” or “hairy” another boy is “down there” when they are going through puberty.
First, I appreciate Elsa’s honest comments about herself and her experiences and the sensitive replies to her openness. This was a good example of respecting another person for who she is.
Swimming nude is just one issue of the larger problem of body acceptance among people of our western culture.
I’m one of the older guys born in the 40’s. My early years were lived in a small town in north Georgia. My swimming was limited to creeks, a lake, the town pool and the country club pool – we were not members. We skinny dipped in the creeks and maybe in the lake but wore bathing suits in the cement pools. I reckon I was naked a few times in the town pool but only when diving off the diving board and my suit slipped down to my ankles and when it was pulled down by other boys – boys will be boys. I don’t know if any girls saw me naked on those occasions.
By junior high, we moved to a close by ‘big town’ in South Carolina. The only swimming I remember during those 5 years in that town was in the lake and in the Hartwell Dam’s backwaters. I don’t recall being naked in either but I do remember skiing with only a jockey strap on one time in the Dam’s backwaters not far from the Dam. That was only because my brother and I were sharing the same bathing suit. I don’t recommend falling while wearing a jockey strap!
Physical Education in junior and senior high schools required us to wear school shorts, tee shirt and tennis shoes. We guys all gang showered together. Never thought about it being bad or humiliating, just what we guys did. I recall the girls in junior high has individual showers. I don’t know about the senior high girl showers since we had a 10-12 grades boys school and a 10-12 grades girls school – yes, these were public schools! The year I graduated was the last year of sex segregated schools.
I remember having a school sponsored basketball physical when I was probably 14. The male doctor checked my vitals and held my testicles when I coughed with my head turned left and then right. I didn’t think that unusual at the time BUT then he had me bend over and he ‘checked’ my prostate – my first prostate exam. He took his time rubbing it and asked me something – I don’t recall his words but now it seems he was asking if I was going to ejaculate. I think I must have said yes and he stopped and took a tissue and wiped my penis. That was unexpected but I said nothing to anyone. I didn’t feel violated and I figured it was just a part of the physical.
In this ‘big town’ I think there was a YMCA and a YWCA. I didn’t visit either of them in the late 50’s or early 60’s so I don’t know what went on there in their swimming pools.
I graduated from high school in 1962 and went into the USAF in 1963. As stated by others, I went through my physical with other males in my underwear. I didn’t think that was unusual. In Basic Training, we guys showered together and throughout my 4 years in three duty stations (stateside and overseas), we guys also showered together. It didn’t seem odd nor wasn’t embarrassing.
In my college years, I never lived on campus and have no knowledge of what the showering arrangements were. The physical education courses I took did not require sweating.
I think it was when I first started college that I decided to visit a well known but little attended non-sanctioned nudist beach. The beach wasn’t very deep but was long. After putting my towel down, I skinny dipped in the ocean and it felt wonderful! I was comfortable being nude in public at the beach. There were not many people on the beach at the time and I chose to walk up the beach – away from my security, my clothes. I passed some individuals laying on their towels and a few couples. I did not stare at anyone but noticed them as I’m sure they noticed my passing by. I did take notice of two young women probably 18-21 years old sitting on their towels with just their tops off. They were kind of snickering to each other. I guessed this was their first time at this beach as well. After going up the beach a ways somewhat passed everyone there, I turned around and ambled back. As I approached the two young women, I noticed they were struggling to open the cap on their tanning lotion. I’m really a helpful guy and always have been, so I ambled over about the 15 feet to them and asked if they needed help getting the bottle open – maybe their hands were already greasy. They said yes. I knelt down on the sand beside them about 12 to 18 inches away from the woman closest to me and took the bottle in hand and opened it without a struggle. I recall their eyes darting back and forth and their smiling very big. I did not react to their being topless or their beauty. I was comfortable being nude in front of them. In fact, I didn’t even think about it. They said thank you and I got up and walked on down the beach. If they had asked me to stay and talk, I would have as if we were all dressed (hidden). As I walked away, I thought about what happened and realized that I might have been the first man they had ever seen naked up close. Maybe that accounted for their innocent childlike behavior. Later when I took another stroll up the beach and passed them, I looked and waved. They waved back. Now they were totally naked. Yes, I noticed but I had no physical reaction because I did not start thinking about them sexually.
After graduating from college with several degrees, I taught mathematics, physics and physical science for 7 years in public schools before feeling led to go into the Christian ministry. After seminary, I served 30 years in the pulpit ministry during which I visited many people in their homes, care centers, assisted living facilities and hospitals. I saw people at their best and their worst. I remember one nice elderly lady telling me during a hospital visit that through all of her years she had tried to be modest but after being in the hospital for several days, she felt she had lost it and even wondered why had she even tried to be modest in the first place for all those years. She had a revelation! She had discovered people were just people whether in a male or female body, they were just like her and she was just like them. Her discovery left her relaxed and less uptight about her circumstances. She recovered from her ailments.
When attending our conference’s Men’s Retreat at our church owned camp, we guys slept in open bay barracks just like in Basic Training. When we walked to bathroom building to the gang showers, most of the time we only wrapped a towel around our waists. Commodes were in private stalls. After showering, most of us walked back to our barracks with only a towel and dressed after we got back to our bunks. There were no curtains on the windows and I recall only a few men putting on their underwear while still wearing a towel.
When I volunteered in Summer Youth Camp, we adults had our own housing away from the youth. The boys used the same barracks and the same bathroom buildings we used when we attended Men’s Retreats. As I recall, the girls had the same facilities as the boys – on the other side of the camp.
Over the years, I came to the conclusion that we people are all eternal spirits created by an eternal God and only living temporarily in a physical body – an old philosophy. I came to believe that the physical body was important as it provided an abode for the spirit and hence we needed to take care of our physical body as well as our spiritual body. Most important of course was our eternal spiritual being which like other forms of energy, could not be destroyed – unless the Creator chose to do so by absorption into him/herself (no gender).
With this philosophy in mind, I reasoned nudity is not our problem. Our problem is the way society has chosen to look at another person. Different societies look at each other differently. By looking I am referring to evaluation, judgment, treatment and expectations. The eyes through which we see are generally covered with many layers of prejudices – we prejudge others based on our own values whether we share them with society or not. We put people in boxes, we categorized them. The people we really know we put into separate boxes. When we talk about nudity – even the Pope said the naked human body was not shameful – our problem is our own exploitation of our prejudices – societal and otherwise. Why should a male body be viewed differently than a female body? Most all people are either male or female with all the same parts. So why does society (some would say culture) make different demands on people just because they are male or female? Why not treat everyone the same? Treat everyone as equal? As a spiritual being in a physical body?
We all know how distorted our perceptions are regarding the different sexes. Advertising sells sex and uses our society’s accepted norms to sell just about every product. Why? Because when we hide our physical bodies, we make them unknown to others and what we don’t know, we are curious about. Which is sexier, a naked woman or a woman in revealing underwear? Or a naked man or one in a speedo with a sock stuck in the front?
Naturists, nudists, probably have it right. Even the Old Testament and New Testaments had it right. The human body is the human body and there is nothing shameful about it! Behavior can be shameful and destructive but not the human body. In my opinion, the leaders of society have misled the people and have created a false sense of modesty and shame and have convinced their followers they are right – little by little perceived reality changed until it conformed to their opinions. If you didn’t agree, you were usually labeled with a demeaning name or shunned or both.
If a person is asked why he/she is wearing a ‘bathing suit’ to swim, how might he/she answer? “Because I like the way it looks on me … because I always have … because it hides my flaws … because everyone else is … because it hides my private parts … because I’d be exposed if I didn’t … because I have to or go to jail … because I’d feel embarrassed/ashamed … because I’d be naked (in front of others).” The next question is, “Who told you that you were naked …?” God asked in Genesis 3.11a. And so what if you are? Before God asked his question, it says, “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2.25. Duh, what did they have to be ashamed about? Was that not how they came into the world? Back up a chapter and we read, “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…. …God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Genesis 1.26a and Genesis 1.31. God said EVERYTHING He made was good – VERY GOOD. Next question: who are we to judge God and tell Him He was/is wrong? By whose authority?
Society. Rules. Laws. Set by whom? And why? Why is a woman allowed to be topless in public in New York City since 1992 but not in Atlanta? Why is it that Vermont has NO state laws regarding public nudity (unless you flaunt it) but other states do? Why did San Francisco ban public nudity in 2013? One article said, “Supervisor Scott Wiener, who introduced the proposal, predictably sounded like a buzzkill after the (6-5) vote. ‘The Castro and San Francisco in general, is a place of freedom, expression and acceptance. But freedom, expression and acceptance does not mean anything goes under any circumstances,’ he said on Tuesday. ‘Our public spaces are for everyone and as a result it’s appropriate to have some minimal standards of behavior.’”
So, who decides what is appropriate for EVERYONE? Society? Or at least 6 people on the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors who decided from all the people living in San Francisco?
In 2011, I wrote my book titled 2025 Five Days in Paradise. I looked at what might be IF society put away their prejudices and accepted one another as equals and treated everyone with honor and respect. You can check it out on my website: http://www.2025paradise.com. In my book which I set in the summer of 2025, Grandma and Grandpa enjoyed a 5-day visit with their grandchildren in a community called Eden in Florida. Their grandchildren grew up in a time when public nudity was acceptable and hence they had no problems with people being naked – it was natural, not a big deal, not a problem for them. Their lives demonstrated that life could be a lot lot simpler. They didn’t have the hangups the adults grew up with. In this book, I raised a number of questions and offered some answers. In fact, when Supervisor Scott Wiener was making his proposal to ban public nudity and made his basic reason known – health concerns with nude people sitting on public seats – I sent him the answer I had written in 2011 as how that had been handled by 2025. Obviously, it didn’t sway his thinking.
Just think, if we ALL had grown up naked with love and acceptance by our parents and society, acceptance of our individual personalities and bodies, how many of our sexual hangups would have totally disappeared. Surely someone reading this would raise some questions like, “You can’t be naked all the time!” And he/she is right. Clothes become what they were originally meant to be, a utility. Wear what you NEED depending upon the circumstances. When you jump out of an airplace, you need a parachute. In cold weather, wear all the clothes you need to protect your body. Cooking with grease popping, wear an apron. In space, wear a space suit. Protect the body. Going to school – I address that in my book. “But businesses would be affected!” Yes, some would diminish and others would grow. The advertising business would have to find a totally different way to advertise – they might have to focus on the product itself, on its usefulness and value.
A few final questions: How would people address public nudity if everyone were blind, sightless? Upon what would we judge one another? O yes, we’d surely judge everyone just as we do now but upon what basis, what characteristics? Tone of voice, language, laugh, touch, behavior, intelligence, where a person works, who they hang out with? Maybe we wouldn’t judge a person because they were nude but we’d surely find something that would allow us to box people. Just remember, a person is NOT his/her body. A person is who he/she is in mind and spirit.
Frank added a comment and images on 2018/06/29
The 1982 movie Summer Lovers , starring Daryl Hannah, Peter Gallagher and Valérie Quennessen, introduced American audiences to the carefree nude beaches on the beautiful Greek Islands. You get scenes of the sun-baked island of Santorini as well as a menage a trois. The Greek Islands are certainly like five days in paradise, or however long your vacation is.
Thank you, Ken, for bringing into the discussion the “spiritual” dimension and sharing your experiences and views. I agree with much of what you wrote. My only philosophical disagreement, which I will simply note without argument, is that as an orthodox Christian I hold to the unity (inseparability) of body and soul. Souls have no existence apart from a body. Also, embodied mind theory proposes that the mind is part of the body. We are inseparably body, mind, and soul. Those who are interested may read “Frank Answers About the Body—God’s and Ours”
I read most if not all the comments and notice several basic issues: inherent discomfort/body shame/inhibition and modesty.
Here is an excerpt from American Nudist Culture by Larry Darter, regarding American’s feelings of inhibition when it comes to nakedness. “We define a taboo as a behavior that is forbidden, or disapproved of, within a society or culture. The behavior in question is forbidden by society because it is considered morally reprehensible, or socially unacceptable. While Americans have been willing to question, and even discard, many of the attitudes of moral values of past generations, the nudity taboo seems as firmly rooted today as ever in cultural and oral fabric of American society and collective psyche. The sensitivities of most Americans are so offended by nudity that it can produce powerfully negative emotional responses, ranging from disgust to outrage.”
To understand the roots of the inhibitions that most Americans feel with regard to nudity, one needs to look no further than our Puritan and Victorian heritage. By virtue of our connections with the first American Puritan settlers, the development of American social mores were strongly influenced by the Puritan and later by the Victorian views of morality. Both placed an emphasis on sexual restraint, and on living by a strict and conservative moral code.
Americans are conditioned and socialized to internalize the view that nudity and sex are inseparably linked. This view is passed down from well-meaning parents to their children, generation after generation. We are told that the parts of the human body used for sexual and excretory functions must not be exposed to others except under clearly delineated and socially acceptable circumstances. Exposure of the genitals, or female breasts is categorized as indecent and immoral. We learn at an early age that keeping the sexual parts covered is simply the accepted standard of modesty in our society.
As a result of this upbringing, many of us grew into adults who were inhibited by our own nudity, to the degree that being seen naked by anyone caused us great discomfort and shame.”
And then the issue of modesty, read this excerpt from Augustine Rae’s “The Freedom of Naturism: A Guide for the How & Why of Adopting a Naturist Lifestyle”. “The problem with modesty has to do with the fact that different cultures define, understand, and express it in very different ways.”
In Papua New Guinea, for example, some tribes have their men walk around about butt naked by our standards, save for penis gourds that leave their balls hanging. In some Philippine tribes, women define modesty by covering themselves from their waists to their ankles, and never mind the rest. Until recently, the Waorani women of Ecuador signified modesty by tying a string around their waists, and that was about it.
Naturism is antithetical to all of these. It does not seek to conform to any societal definitions of modesty – quite the opposite, in fact. It believes that going about naked (sans penis gourds, sarongs, and waist strings) whenever possible, is the ideal condition because it’s natural, hence its name.”
All people are conditioned by culture, society and family expectations. If we know that, why don’t we cut folks some slack and let them be them and us be us? What of acceptance?
Fig. 70. Naturist campsite in Origan Village, Puget-Theniers, France
I responded in this conversation back in June –and thank you to all who made generous responses. (There were a few others . . . ) I know my experience growing up was different from most boys. Because I know that it really happened, I’m a little sad when I’m told “You made that up,” even though just the idea of boys swimming nude in schools, the Y, and on school and club teams, seems incredible now.
That unwillingness even to consider it (refusal more the “skepticism”) is denial, and this subsequent denial is what interests me now.
Several respondents have focused on the question of pre- or post-pubescent boys swimming in front of grown women, or for that matter girls their age. I did this often enough that it was a non-event, and only years later did I begin to think, “Wait, what? Things have changed.” It was not beyond the thinkable then. Social mores change, but the ideology of those mores has difficulty conceding that.
Frank added a photo and comment.
Fig. 71. Looks like a co-ed swim meet with other females present.
Elsa’s contribution has been wonderful and valuable, and entirely respectable. In retrospect, the question why mature women were assigned to supervise or coach naked boys are reasonable insofar as they certainly would not be assigned to do so now. (There must have been other women in Elsa’s position: I wish we could hear from them now.) Several contextual realities have also been pointed out.
– Public school teaching was not a “top line” profession then (still isn’t); PE instructors have never been prestigious; many boys hated PE generally, much less swimming (fear of water), much less swimming nude;
– Women somehow were not expected to have sexual responses to naked boys, because ideologically they were regarded officially as non-sexual until “awakened” in marriage. (Reality of course was different –all the women PE teachers and coaches I remember were single, and I’m sure, some of them lesbian);
– Boys were not expected to show any sexual response in the presence of other boys because the situation was simply not regarded as sexual, and only a “pervert” would see it as in some measure sexual;
– Boys bullied each other, then as now, about body type, clothes, nudity, or just about anything at hand;
– Adolescent erections happened but were never mentioned –compare with how they can happen currently in wrestling meets, and no one utters a word, and were probably more memorable in the mind of the erect boy than anyone else;
– Homosexuality was utterly “other,” and ideologically impossible in communities such as the “nice school” in the “nice town” where I lived (Grosse Pointe, MI); no one expected to see them, and consequently no one saw them.
One of the ironic, unanticipated consequences of the visible “gay liberation” movement since 1970 (a societal change I have supported and participated in it fully) has been the increasing anxiety that has crept over many heterosexual young men who fear they might be gay (which equals “bad” in their eyes). They (like so many others) just don’t get it that gay men and boys usually know who else is gay, and aren’t interested in those who are not. For those who are gay, merely mentally noticing a hot guy does not equal or automatically lead to acting on that knowledge. Confusions do occur, but I’m sure statistically tend far more towards a gay man construing another gay man as straight than a straight man as gay. That statement unfortunately rams sexual identity into a binary: many boys might be naturally bisexual if they were not so anxious, and might be willing more to explore, experiment, and then move on to the cis-gendered heterosexual identities many have.
I believe that such anxiety has been projected sometimes onto imagined “pedophiles,” quite apart from those real pedophiles whom I acknowledge do exist. Men who have unresolved developmental issues have caused major problems and personal damage, such as Dennis Hastert or many so-called “celibate” clergy. This is another consequence of denial: the ideology of binary sexualities can so distort a young man’s sense of his identity that as an adult he can only act out his anxiety and desires in a destructive manner.
The kind of denial current decades ago was different. I remember that it was entirely possible for an adolescent boy to travel world-wide openly with a older man whom today would almost universally be recognized a gay man. (I should know: I did this.) “Respectable people” believed that they could not possibly have known any man who would be a “pervert.” (This is the source of the famous lines “I have never met any homos,” just like “I have never seen a transgendered person or transvestite.”) This was a time when national network audiences laughed and loved Liberace without any acknowledgment that he was “that way,” no matter how howlingly obvious it might be to viewers now.
Frank Senn is eloquent (on this blog entry, and elsewhere) on the spirituality of the human body, the theological significance of the Word made flesh and the “grace upon grace” that we have all received. (As an Episcopal Christian I have a very high regard for the Incarnation). I have come to believe that the subsequent societal denial that such public nude swimming by young males ever took place also holds religious meaning. It is an ideology, a false consciousness, and theologically is a striking example of the social consequences of bearing “false witness” –the denial of what really happened.
This false witness has become especially powerful through its uncanny alliance with particular or partial truths. Yes, some boys were definitely bullied because of their physical appearance. That happened then along with nudity more than because of it, and happens now (alas) when everyone is clothed. My heart goes out to those boys, then and now. Towel-snapping and other physical abuse were tolerated, alas, because of the same, distorted code of masculinity (another instances of false witness) that “required” such nudity then and “prohibits” it now. Undoubtedly bullied boys felt they were “required” to be nude, even as a kind of punishment –but that is not the whole story, nor every boy’s experience. I was never “required” to be nude: I was expected to be nude, and in concert with other boys I complied. Maybe that’s just a polite way of saying “required,” but I really don’t remember anyone saying, “Now you have to take your clothes off, because you are boys and you deserve humiliation.” Quite the opposite: many of us wanted to swim, which simply meant taking our clothes off, just as we had to get wet, and did not feel humiliated at all.
My heart also goes out to all those boys (sometimes I was one of them) who were terribly frightened that others would discover that they were “not normal,” but “homo,” “perverted,” or “queer,” and then face violence and rejection. Prejudice is an act of commission, but equally springs from an ideological false consciousness of power, privilege, and prohibition. In this case of false witness, the nudity at that time could have become an opportunity for self-exploration, but was turned into stumbling block to authentic self-acknowledgment.
The retrospective total denial of this young, male, social, athletic nude swimming bears false witness because it distorts the past by enforcing codes that have grown up in subsequent decades, and then requires those who could remember to trim their memories to fit their requirements. This denial is ideological, like Stalin’s vanishing Commissar. Art and photographs were falsified in Stalin’s Soviet Union in order to “un-remember” Nikolai Yezhov, in a manner memorably satirized by George Orwell. In that same manner, I have been flatly told by several women my age (at reunions, for example) that they could never have attended a swim meet in which the boys competed naked, when in plain fact I was one of the boys, on swim teams with their brothers, and they were present as spectators (I know for a fact). But now according to them, it did not happen because it could not have happened –and the swimmer, like the Commissar, vanishes.
Such denial also stings because some of the boys I swam with were (or at least later came out as) gay. A number of them subsequently died prematurely from HIV/AIDS. To deny what we did together is to un-remember them at their most powerful, beautiful moments –and moments that were in some ways also their most sexual and vulnerable. It denies the reality of their lives during the only, short time they had. My team-mates have remained loyal to each other over the years, and very fondly remember those who have died (whether for reasons of health, warfare, or violence). To deny that we all swam nude together would be, for me, to deny the way we were, and that we were.
I believe that this social denial is part-and-parcel with contemporary nervousness about embodied, sexual youth. Thanks to the legal writings of Dworkin and MacKinnon, teen-age boys are legally, socially, and psychologically held to be incapable of consenting to sexual acts –even among themselves, in some states. They are held to be as sexually disempowered as any young woman, a view that arises by comparing them with female prostitutes. The psychological realities of young male desire are much more complex, however, and do not change magically upon a boy’s 18th birthday (or whatever age in whichever jurisdiction). Are or were boys really disempowered in this way? Are they all only victims ? –even if some of them are clearly victims?
Such ideological anxiety betrays a continuing view of human bodies as by definition problematic, a truly monstrous offspring of complicated Christian attitudes towards the body and society that have a very long lineage. (Thank you, Kenneth Vickery.) In previous decades when such sexuality “could not happen” because “nice boys would never do that,” now it “must not happen” because “boys by definition cannot consent” to such acts –which completely ignores their knowing, driving, and volatile desires, and the complexities of human motivations. In some cases, some of them might dearly wish for a mature man to show them the way, but even to suggest that such wishes might exist, is to encourage predatory pedophilia, in the popular view.
In very old Christian language, bearing false witness is an occasion of sin, and I believe that commission of false witness and omission of the truth has occurred. I acknowledge some boys were deeply hurt. Other kinds of denial also hurt. But that is not the only thing that can be said, and I don’t wish to close on such a negative note.
For my part, I am glad I participated in such public, social, nude swimming as a youth. It helped me to realize my differences with my prevailing culture, that I was not (and am not) alone, and that my desires (and actions) were not “perverted.” I began to understand that I could enjoy and acknowledge my body. In that understanding, I received grace, measure upon measure. Gott sei dank! The great work begins.
Frank added a comment and images on 2018/06/08
The 2004 German film Sommersturm (Summer Storm) is a coming-of-age comedy-drama directed Marco Kreuzpainter and starring Robert Stadlober. The story is set to the background of a rowing regatta which climaxes in a summer storm, both in the atmosphere and among the characters. The boys’ rowing team was supposed to compete against a girls’ team, but at the last minute a substitution is made and they compete against a team of queer rowers from Berlin. One of the members of the boys’ team, Robert Stadlober’s character, is gay. While he pursues one of his team members, who is straight…
…a member of the queer team pursues him.
In reply to Gavin F.
Gavin – When you swam nude in the meets, were there spectators? I’ve seen other posts on other forums discussing this topic and some swimmers said there was a mixed (male/female) crowd in the stands and others either said no spectators at all or only men. Just curious what your experience was. Thanks for sharing.
In reply to Rob R.
If this subject intrigues you, try this website: http://www.voy.com/223876/685.html
There are two threads here in which nude swim meets with female spectators are discussed.
I have been reluctant to bring this up here, because the subject has been discussed with such civility and when you bring up this topic, you always get a “spirited” debate going between the believers and doubters. But this, coupled with the Burnley Grammar School photo (referenced in my post above) represents some of the most fantastic (in the literal meaning of that term) stuff I’ve ever read.
There are about forty posts in these things. Most of them are from now adult women, who must be in their sixties or seventies, recalling nude male swim meets they witnessed as children. Some of them are fun to read because they have such a quality of the joy of discovery. But that falls apart when you read the testimony of the boys. Half a century later and they still feel the humiliation. Only two male posters, which appear to be the same person, anyway, had anything positive to say about it.
What’s shocking is that the women, whom you might have thought would have gained some small bit of a perspective after decades have passed, are totally dismissive of those boys complaints. So much for female empathy.
My opinion is that these are real. They’re no more preposterous than other accounts I’ve read, and in the absence of anything objective (there aren’t going to be any photographs), you have to take the tenor of the posts as an indicator of their veracity, and these definitely aren’t intended to titillate.
Take a look at these and let me know what you think.
Live long and prosper.
In reply to Thomas Mendip.
The voy.com site is a bunch of sensationalized fictional crap. It reads like all the posts are by the same person who just changes their usernames. Grammar is horrible – who says “watch me get erected”?
In reply to Gavin F.
I am really touched by your testimony, Gavin. I don’t know what more can be said. Swimming naked was an experience many of us had and until it began to be questioned in the 1960s I believe most boys just took it in stride. It never occurred to me to question the practice. I didn’t even think about it until in recent years people questioned that it happened or said it should not have happened or, like the tour guide for my high school alumni group, thought it was a barbaric practice. I hope young people, even adolescent youth, will stumble upon this blog article and read all the comments that have been made and, as Gavin said, “learn to be less afraid of their own, and each others’ bodies.”
I should have done this at the outset, but I dedicate this article to my best boyhood friend Gary, who died from ALS two years ago. Gary was on the Bennett High School swim team. But he was also my companion with whom I wrestled naked in the pool during free time in P.E. swim class and with whom I swam naked in a wilderness creek and then lay side by side on the rocks sunning ourselves. We were not gay. We were just comfortable in our bodies and not afraid of each other’s body. I’m sorry these experiences are not available to youth today.
Frank added this photo with comment on 07/01/18
Fig. 73. From Gavin’s blog: “I believe that the boy to the right (standing, with his arms on the other boy’s shoulders) may be me. I remember a photograph like this being taken in Florida in a place where the tide comes in quite swiftly to an estuary. But I can’t be sure. If it is me, circa 1967.”
To Gavin and Frank,
It’s been awhile since I commented on this blog but the last few comments gave me conflicting thoughts. I appreciate Gavin’s comments and listing even the venues where swimmers went nude in the presence of women spectators and coaches. It seems hard for me to believe that an adolescent even in those days would comfortably chat with women or girls he knew while being nude. However, so much of what Gavin says is part of my experience in the 50’s and early 60’s. So even hearing third-hand accounts of nude swimming in public venues and now Gavin’s first hand account and that of a friend’s father year ago, it is still hard for me to fathom. I remember reading a column years ago about an American family visiting Europe (don’t remember the country) where they attend a swim meet where the boys were all nude including the son of the family’s host. So there must be some truth to this.
So while this may seem very extraordinary to me, required nude swimming that I experienced seems unreal to many. As I mentioned awhile ago I swam nude at the “Y”, camp, h.s. swimming and a little bit in college. Many find it hard to believe but it was true for me. When I mentioned that our “Y” instructors, life guards, camp counselors and h.s. swim coaches were nude, one person in this blog could not believe that we saw the pubic hair and penises of these authority figures, but we we did and I was not shocked by it.
Like Gavin I concentrated on swimming, not on being nude. It was not strange or extraordinary to me. I never had required nude swimming when women were present. So perhaps that is why I find some accounts hard to believe. But some find my accounts hard to believe since it was not in their experience.
We too shaved from head to toe to compete in a closed meet with a military boarding school. We thought they would have an edge since they shaved.So I share that experience with Gavin.
My friends who wrestled did sometimes practice nude and complained that in multi-school tournaments, nude weigh-ins in large gyms were seemingly open to the public. where they would be seen by parents, girls etc. Like Frank, I do remember wrestling nude with some classmate wrestlers after practice a few times. Was the shaving and wrestling homo-erotic? Yes, sort of, but it did not seem strange.
Did some guys sprout erections? Rarely, and we pretty much ignored them except at the “Y” when we were younger. We would giggle and point until the coach reminded us that we all get them and can’t hide them when naked. We could not bring towels or anything into the pool but our naked selves!!!
The swim suits we wore when competing were made of nylon (no spandex then), they were really skimpy and revealing when wet–so not much real difference from nude swimming. I wasn’t embarrassed concentrating only on swimming
So my experience was different than Gavin’s in regard to nude competitions, but I appreciate his and Frank’s comments as I come to believe what has been posted. Those were different times, indeed. Thanks to Frank for this discussion.
I remember boys swimming nude in the high school and the YMCA very clearly. My older brother Neil and I both swam in high school. I learned to swim well at the Mankato pool but I could not swim for the high school because I had to work to save money for college. Since I could swim well, I earned a life guard certificate and became a life guard at a local summer pool. It paid off when I was in college at Mankato State. This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Minnesota.
Neil was a real fast swimmer since he was a small boy and he swam all four years. He and his team always swam nude since his earliest boys’ teams and I went to see almost every meet he was in, both at home and away. I have to say I enjoyed seeing the boys and they always treated me real nice. He also swam for the varsity team his first two years at Mankato State (when I was still in high school), but they wore suits for meets. They practiced nude though.
When I was in my second year of college the coach at Mankato High School called me and offered me a part-time job of assistant coach for the boys. Mostly I watched them swim, did a lot of organizing for the meets, and ran the practices if he had to be away. The boys all remembered Neil and they behaved really well for me.
It might have been strange for other girls to coach nude boys on their technique and try to build their skill. But I liked the work and I was used to the nudity since I had already seen a lot of boy swimmers. I had seen Neil nude often at home all those years after he took a shower or something.
I did not feel sexual about it because I was beginning to understand that I am lesbian. But in those times I knew I had to get married anyway. So I did get married and moved to Michigan and raised two boys. I love them very much. When my husband died suddenly in his 50s, I knew that I would like to be in a relationship with a woman. It was tough all those years with him, but I handled it, and my wife and I have been together for 16 years. We got married two years ago when marriage equality passed.
I started to think about that nude swimming because Neil died two years ago and I was reminiscing about his high school days at a reunion in Mankato and then with my sons. They just didn’t believe that boys swam nude but they knew I was telling them the truth about it. So I started thinking about it more and a few days ago I found this blog.
I don’t know if the boys thought it was a sexual thing to be nude or not. They really seemed to like it, for sure. I never taught any PE classes so I can’t say what those were like. I guess some boys just feel everything is sexual just because they are boys.
I have read here that some boys were really humiliated because they got erections. I do remember that sometimes boys had erections and a few of them seemed real embarrassed but most of them did not. If a boy had an erection when I was talking to him or coaching him I just kept going and ignored it and so did he. It did not seem so strange to me because my family always had a few horses on our property just outside of town. I saw several stallions with big erections every spring and summer and the boys just seemed to be like that.
I sure don’t think that when the boys got erections it was because I was there. I think they just happened. Its a natural thing for a boy. Neil got hard sometimes and my two sons did plenty of times and I was never embarrassed and I tried to teach them just to accept and love their bodies the way they are.
It was not so strange for girls to go see the boys swimming. We all knew the boys and knew that they always swam nude. The thing that was wrong was that we could not swim nude, although when I have done it I don’t really like it so much. I still like to swim, but I really prefer to wear a one-piece. They’re a lot better made now.
I heard girls talk about what the boys were like and how their bodies were different, and how different their penises were. They were really different and when the boys got their erections they stood up at different angles. I talked about this with only one girlfriend because it just wasn’t talked about back then. I really think the nicest things about the boys were their legs and fronts and backs and shoulders and butts, not their penises.
I think that it really helped the boys who were swimmers behave in school because they knew we had seen them naked a lot, and maybe even erect. They were nice and did not have so much attitude as boys have now sometimes. Sometimes I would see a boy swimmer in school and imagine him being nude in the library or cafeteria or some place. It was kind of fun. But then it was the Midwest and a very Lutheran town and everybody made a big deal about being nice. That attitude also made it really hard for me to love another girl, but I did anyway, especially as time went on.
Thanks for the chance to talk about this.
In reply to Lena.
Thanks for your recollections and comments, Lena. Your matter-of-fact reporting gives a real sense of naked swimming in high school and college in a “nice” Lutheran part of the country.
There have been a number of comments about boys getting erections when swimming naked. Yes, they do whenever there’s a surge of blood into the penis. It isn’t always from sexual arousal. Some men have also reported having spontaneous ejaculations during moments of high anxiety or intensity when they were teens, like when trying to finish a test before the time runs out or a vigorous workout involving the core and pelvic muscles. A swimming competition could produce both situations. I don’t recollect that erections were an issue when I was swimming naked in high school. Maybe I was oblivious to them. But it seems that erections are something boys (and men) are always concerned about when they’re naked in the presence of others. At my age I don’t think erections are anything to be ashamed of. In any event, wearing swim suits doesn’t eliminate erections. You can cover the penis with swim suits, but you can’t hide erections.
From what I’ve found while Googling around the internet is that the rules of almost all school district governing bodies throughout the USA as well as most colleges and universities were that everybody had swim naked. This was done on the recommendation of the ‘American Public Health Association’, based in Washington DC, who from 1926 to 1962 regularly advised nude swimming for all for pool hygiene in their bulletins, although only boys were forced to swim naked, while girls had to wear cotton swimsuits and swim caps. Most states, towns and cities health authorities gave the same recommendations. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nude_swimming).
The boys’ swimming instructors were usually men, but there were many cases later at both schools as well as YMCAs, Boys Clubs and community pools, where women coaches and lifeguards instructed the naked boys, even senior class boys, and supervised them, even in the showers.
It started to happen during the Second World War from 1941 to 1945/46 when about all medically fit young men between between 18 and 38 enlisted or were called up to military service, and thus included most male swimming coaches at schools and YMCAs, and many men also went to work in factories for war production, and so women were called in to fill all the vacancies as swimming coaches and lifeguards.
In earlier years families tended to be large, and so having a few brothers most boys were comfortable being seen naked by their brothers and other boys, and even perhaps by their parents and sisters; but as the economy grew rapidly after WWII and the Korean and Vietnam eras, and female contraceptives became readily available, as well as women’s lib etc., modern families started being smaller and with only one boy per family they started to be more shy about being naked in front of other boys.
I believe that the 60’s/70’s desegregation of schools may also have had something to do with the gradual halting of nude school swimming.
Would any schools or YMCA’s have anything about the naked swimming during PE classes in their archives?
Tom Wallace Lyons
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 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 a while 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 the 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 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?
PART 6: Billy Questions the Photographic Evidence
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.
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.
In reply to Billy.
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.
In reply to Frank Senn.
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 1951 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 added a photo with comment on 2018/08/08
Here’s a photo that’s on the internet. Enlightened by Billy’s research and tutorial, what might we make of it?
Experience with photos on the internet that include naked boys and suited girls has taught me to be skeptical about photos like this one. Was the naked boy added? Or were the girls added? If the boy was in the original photo, was he photo shopped to expose his penis? It’s interesting that the girls are not paying any attention to him. Are the girls are just used to swimming with naked boys in the pool. Or was the boy not actually naked. Or maybe everyone in the photo was intent on what they were doing at the moment. What is the provenance and vintage of the photo? Not high school, because this scene as presented would not have taken place in a high school. The boy especially seems to be a young teen, perhaps 13 or 14 judging by his “growth”, and the girls are not wearing uniform bathing suits. In some YMCAs boys continued swimming naked after girls were admitted into membership. But surely they weren’t swimming together. If a copy of this photo appears on the internet with the boy suited, we will know for sure that this photo is a fake. But without such evidence, can we totally dismiss it out of hand just on our assumption that such a situation would never have happened?
In reply to Frank Senn.
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!
In reply to MPC.
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.
In reply to Billy.
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.
In reply to Paul LeValley.
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.
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.
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!
Fig. 78. 1966 Charlotte High School swim team. The boys are wearing swimming trunks but swam nude in PE swimming class.
PART 7: So Where are we Now in this Discussion?
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.
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.
Fig. 79. Physicals at induction in Word War II
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 they 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.
AL In reply to Thomas Mendip.
Well… Thomas, I have no reason to question your estimate that “millions” of American men who are now your/my age swam nude in YMCA and public school pools back in the day. But there is good reason to suggest you may have missed the mark by saying that “not one ever had a female teacher as a substitute”.
Several posts in this series have suggested the opposite, as does my personal experience in mid-Michigan, where female swim instructors – always adults, always discreetly clothed in black tank suits – stepped in from time to time as substitutes when our otherwise all-male swim coaches and student assistants (who were also nude, just like us boys) had to be away.
And yes, women of all ages (mothers, grandmothers, sisters, girlfriends) also sat in the pool gallery during swim classes at the Y and for swim meets at school.
And yes, there were swim meets in which both teams competed naked in our part of the world. But always on a par with one another. Recognizing that swim suits caused “drag” and made competition unfair, if both teams normally swam nude, that’s how they would compete (thus potentially setting school and regional records more easily!). But if either team preferred suits, then everyone wore suits. Just to respect one another.
Yes, it did happen. It happened to me and my friends, and I’ve heard plenty of anecdotal reports from other men my age that it happened to them, too. This has never been a problem for me personally. Having grown up in a German-American community, I was simply acculturated into the environment both at home and in the community, with no reason to think it was anything but normal.
So I am reading this incredible 2-year series of posts (…having discovered Pr. Frank’s blog just yesterday while researching a different topic entirely…) with interest and amusement and new insight into how much our childhood upbringing shapes our lives, from the kindergarten classroom to the graveyard.
Thank you, Pr. Frank, for moderating this site with so much balance, care, and wisdom. The truth will set us free.
Fig. 80. Added by Frank 2019/06/12. Vintage photo I came across of a boys swimming team posing nude. The coaches are clothed, which suggests to me that the photo was intended for some kind of posting or distribution.
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.
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!
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.
Open admission, if it occurred it 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.
- 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?
- Did it seem that parents universally approved of this admission policy? Do you remember them voicing any opinions on this?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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!
Frank added a photo and comment on 07/01/18
Fig. 81. There aren’t many photos of spectators watching nude boys swimming. But this nude swimmer went up into the stands – still nude – to watch the rest of the competition. You can spot other nude swimmers in the stands. I can’t pick out any females in the stands.
In reply to 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…)
Fig. 82. Germans nude on a beach in this 1986 photo
So what’s the point here? Several…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 added photo and comment on 2018/07/01
Fig. 83. German boys on the beach in the 1960s
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, as 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.
In reply to Gavin F
I don’t want to belabor this, but your post, like Elsa’s, is so extraordinary, it piques my interest. Might I pester you for some elaboration? You’re under no obligation, of course, but I am curious about a couple of things.
People say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, but what they miss is that a given item that seems extraordinary now wasn’t in the past. When I’ve encountered accounts like yours, they have clustered in the northern middle west US (Michigan and Minnesota) or in New England. In England, they seem to a private school phenomenon, but occur anyway. (Reference the Burnley Grammar School link above.)
I was wondering about the female coaches and whether or not they were permanent fixtures, or like Elsa, subs. If they were permanent, did they also teach boys’ swim classes?
How large were the audiences at these events and what percentage do you think were female? At the Voy forums, most of the posts were from female witnesses, but they seem to describe pretty much what you experienced. Except that these girls seem to have been pretty young at the time.
Did your girlfriend ever attend these events?
Live long and prosper?
I do understand that this seems incredible, especially now. I really rarely speak and certainly never write about this, except with those who would be receptive, because in the contemporary world such memories and claims are ludicrous. I don’t want to try to force anyone to believe anything. I just know what I and others did.
I did not have female PE instructors. I just don’t recall any situation with substitute teachers (we may not have had any female substitutes, so moot point).
The female coaches we had were assistant coaches, and were or had been swimmers at University of Michigan or Michigan State. We did not always have them –not 12th grade year, not before 9th grade– and they did not run every practice. They also worked with the girls swimming season in the Fall so I think this was a “year” contract for them, since several of them also assisted with track & distance running in the Spring (we ran clothed –thin clad, not a lot left to the imagination, but definitely clothed).
One of the female assistants was the diving coach one year (my 10th grade? I think) so she worked with a several nude boys regularly. I really only remember the female assistants very clearly when the head coach was away for some reason.
Look: my head was in the pool, in the swimming. The “nude swimming thing,” no matter who the coach was, is something that looms large in retrospect, but not at the time. I was concentrating on trying to become a better swimmer, and with doing my best on my school work. My home life was in a different world than school, which was fine with me then and now.
And, um, I had only casual girlfriends. I had a number of good “social” girlfriends, and I was reasonably popular with the girls because I did not come on to them. I knew the reason that I did not come on to them was that I did not really want to, but it was easy to cover that with good manners. Yes, the girls came to see me and the other boys, and yes they definitely saw all of me. I do remember standing on the pool level nude and talking/yelling up to my friends, male and female, after the meets — I did not feel in a huge hurry to put clothes back on. I think they thought I was kind of cool. These same friends certainly saw me when I socialized in mutual friends’ & team-mates’ backyard pools naked in the summers.
The swim team was an intense, small world. Swimming, then and now, is not particularly a marquee sport in HS.
May the force be with you, my friend. And may young people learn to be less afraid of their own, and each others’ bodies. Thanks, Thomas, for your courtesy and questions!
Frank added this photo and comment on 07/01/18
Fig. 84. Vintage photo of nude diver. It looks like all the spectators are male.
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 us swimming, and when not swimming, we were often wrapped in a towel or robe because it 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!”
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 relationship.
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.”
Fig. 85. “Hardway?” I found the photo on his blog. Added it 05/05/2019
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
Fig. 86. Teammate giving massage and enjoying it.
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.
In reply to Billy.
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 women and moms were present during meets. Al and Gavin experienced this [independently] in mid-Michigan at about the same time in the mid-1960s. So I must take their word for it and draw the conclusion that it happened sometimes in some places.
In reply to Frank Senn.
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.
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 are difficult to discern –as when (for example) incidental “criminal sodomy” became clinicalized “homosexual character” in the 19th century, and a focus on “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.
Comments from 2018 continue in Frank Answers About Swimming Naked — Commentary, Part II: Experiencing Nudity. Here are my Concluding Reflections on this string of comments.
I wrote the original article in response to a challenge to the practice of boys swimming naked in the public schools. I sought to explain/defend the practice on the basis of the time immemorial tradition of men and boys swimming naked outdoors, which was simply moved indoors when the first pools were built. I was shocked to hear a former teacher at my high school call the practice “barbaric” because I had simply taken it in stride along with other experiences of swimming naked at Scout Swim Night at the YMCA and outdoors with friends.
I was also surprised by the comments coming in on my article and the issues they raised, which were simply not in my frame of reference. I thought swimming naked was healthy for the body, mind, and spirit. But some testimonies indicate that required nakedness was not a pleasant experience for every boy. Some argue that it should not have been done in the first place, although I cannot go along with Ed that it was maintained as “eye candy” for girls and women who managed to peep. I do think there’s cogency to Thomas Mendip’s suggestion that required naked swimming for boys (and modest swim attire for girls) served to reinforce gender roles at the time. With the change in gender roles (and Title IX promoting co-ed physical education), the practice of boys swimming nude died out. It apparently did not occur to anyone that girls might have also been given the opportunity to swim naked. Many of them took the opportunity once they went to college and enjoyed “skinny dipping” at and post-Woodstock.
Thomas Mendip also brings up the issue of body shame when it comes to swimming or showering naked in the presence of others. One could regard oneself as too fat or too skinny. The 22-year old gay millennial also mentions “cock size”. Most men think their penises are too small (this is not only a gay issue). If you are insecure about your penis size, you don’t want to parade it in front of other boys and men. This issue wasn’t further discussed in the comments. Why not? Maybe it should be discussed because it may have been a factor in the reluctance of some boys to be naked in showers and swimming classes. Or is this something men are too embarrassed to discuss?
What took me by surprise (although I guess it shouldn’t have, but it hadn’t been my experience) was the immediate visceral reaction to the thought that naked teen age boys might have swum naked under the tutelege and coaching of women (see the very first comment by Bob Raines) and—God forbid!—in the presence of female spectators in the stands at swim competitions or YMCA family nights. Tom Wallace Lyons jumped in early with the proposition that since teen age boys no longer wanted to be naked in front of their mothers, “genital privacy from women was a powerful marker for that all important separation of the boys from the men”. I’ll grant the first proposition as generally true, but I’m not so certain about the second. The testimony of several commentators (David B at the YMCA, Louis in backyard pools, Gavin in schools) indicates a level of comfort with being naked in the presence of females — for some boys! Getting naked in front of their girl friends was, in fact, a marker of their manhood, whether the boys wanted their mothers to see them in that state or not. (A lot of stuff goes on in adolescence that you wouldn’t want your mother to know about.) Tom wrote a number of long comments that expressed sensitivity to naked boys being exposed to women, especially if it was unwanted, on the basis of his personal teen age experience in an institution. But the evidence suggests that naked boys were exposed to women coaches, maybe even naked ones like this vintage photo suggests .
We had two female commentators who testified to teaching or coaching naked boys (Lisa and Lena, who presumably wore swim suits). Lena took her experience in stride. Lisa reported her response to the sight of the “magnificent Charlie” and lied to the school vice principal that the boys got aroused in the presence of a female instructor when, in fact, she was the one who became aroused. I expressed surprise that, given the tradition of female modesty, administrators would place a woman in a class of naked teen age boys. Thomas Mendip suggested that in those days women nurses and PE teachers were considered asexual. What I didn’t consider was that female modesty applied to them being clothed, not to women witnessing naked males. Yet originally that’s why men had to cover up when swimming in outdoor public places. Caipora informs us that that’s the reason magazines and newspapers didn’t show men’s genitals. They didn’t care about the sensitivities of the boys but the sensitivities of their readers. Undoubtedly clothed women were in the presence of men and boys swimming naked outdoors for centuries. Before the Victorian Age maybe not all the women wore swimming costumes.
Discussions about photographic evidence, and some of the evidence that I have provided, indicates that the truth of the situation cannot be verified by photography except for the few photos that appeared in reputable magazines. There are clearly some institutional photos (YMCA, Boys’ Club) that capture scenes of boys and men swimming naked. But naked boys in the presence of females? Forget it. We must rely on eyewitness reports.
Both Gavin and Al testify independently that there were female spectators in the stands at swim competitions. These witnesses are from mid-Michigan in the mid-1960s. The 60s were a more “liberated” decade than the 50s, but I don’t think that was the reason women were admitted to the stands to watch swim competitions in which boys swam naked. I think, first of all, that swimming was becoming a more popular sport that drew more spectators, including women and girls; and, second, boys swimming naked was simply taken for granted as a part of the culture. But, as Old Swimmer reiterated several times, the culture was changing. Sooner or later even those “backward” parts of the country in the upper Midwest caught on that the boys should wear suits in public competitions.
In spite of personal testimonies (Bob Raines, Lena, Gavin, Al) that seem credible, Billy denies that boys ever swam naked in public swim competitions because there is no public media evidence to verify it. But if it was a practice that was taken for granted in the culture, why would it be noted in public media? After Gavin’s last report Billy laments my blog being “hijacked by the CFNM porno-story crowd that always tries to take over this kind of discussion”. That may be the case on some internet sites. But no pornographic stories are told on this blog. Those fantastic stories on the CFNM sites usually end with sex. But the reality is that if the standard down through the centuries has been males swimming naked/females swimming modestly dressed, whenever there was interaction between the sexes in the context of swimming it was a matter of naked boys/clothed girls, as illustrated in 19th century paintings of boys swimming naked and girls clothed.
We’re not done with debates about boys swimming naked in the presence of females, as is evident in the continuing comments under my article, www.frank-answers-about-swimming-naked.com. We haven’t even begun debating the affect of homophobia in the 1970s on ending naked swimming in the schools and the YMCA. By that time gays were coming “out” and people were more aware of it. There were also instances of coaches using their power position to prey on male students, but these only came to light decades later.
My article also described outdoor naked swimming, usually referred to as skinny dipping. These were on the whole more positive experiences because it was totally voluntary. It would be good to have some stories of those experiences on the blog article site. In the meantime, I have posted a second Frank Answers About Swimming Naked — Commentary, Part II: Experiencing Nudity, because this article already became too long.