nakedness, nudity, social history, swimming, youth

Frank Answers About Swimming Naked

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

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

Advisory: nude images

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

Figure 1. This photo of a swimming class at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois appeared in Life magazine October 16, 1950. New Trier built the first indoor pool in a US high school in 1913 and followed the example of the YMCA in requiring nude swimming.

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

boys swimming class 1950s
Fig. 2. University of Michigan swimming program

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

Fig. 3. These boys are younger than 9th grade, but the diving board looks similar to the one I remember in our high school pool.

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

Fig. 4. Climbing ropes and poles was a regular learning in physical education classes.

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

Reasons for this Blog Article

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

Fig. 5. Could be YMCA swimming instruction.

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

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

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

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

Fig. 7

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

Fig. 8

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

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

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

Reasons for Swimming Naked in Pools

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

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

Fig. 10

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

Fig. 11. Boys showering in a CCC camp in the 1930s

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

Fig. 12

The American Public Health Association removed its recommendation of nude swimming in 1962. But the weight of tradition kept the practice going in many places for a decade or more longer, as many men testify. When all is said, the reason boys swam naked was because of Tradition. It was traditional for boys to swim naked. They swam naked before pools were built. They swam naked before health concerns about bacteria on swim suits were raised. And no one saw any reason to break with the tradition once APHA guidelines were removed. But the practice began to be questioned when cultural mores changed radically during the 1960s and especially in the 1970s. This article is to explore what was done in our social history. I don’t get into reasons why the practice ceased once it was no longer required by the APHA because that’s in the area of speculation.

Did Girls Ever Swim Naked in Schools?

Did girls ever swim naked in high school swimming classes? There are internet sites on which women claim that they swam nude in their high school classes during this same time period from the early1950s to the the early 1970s. The practice certainly wasn’t as pervasive as boys swimming naked. But high schools named by women in Philadelphia, Oklahoma, and San Francisco apparently were places where girls swam nude.

Naturist historian Paul LeValley has researched naked swimming in US schools more thoroughly than anyone else and reported that “what killed nude school swimming was Title IX: equal sports access for girls in 1972.  Good things can have bad consequences.  But implementation was uneven.  At Sarasota High School in Florida, the principal let the boys’ and girls’ coach each decide the dress code for their classes.  The male teacher said clothed for the boys; the female teacher said nude for the girls all through the early 1970s.”

In any event, nude showering was requiring of girls as well as boys by the APHA guidelines.

Fig 13. These are definitely nude girls in a swimming class. Don’t know where or why such a full frontal photo was taken.

The History of Naked Swimming

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

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

Fig. 14. Roman public bathing. Furnaces under the pools warmed the waters.

The Italian Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli (c. 1441/1445-1523) captured in paint these two nude boys getting dressed after swimming in a river.

Fig. 15

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

Fig. 16

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

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

Here’s a photo of boys swimming naked off a dock c. 1914. The men standing around may be the fathers of the youngsters.

Fig. 17

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

Fig. 18

While men and boys swam naked into the early 20th century, they did not do so on public beaches. By the late 19th century public bathing beaches had developed and if men swam at the same beaches as women they were required to cover up. The issue was that in the matter of protecting the modesty of women they should not even see men naked in public.

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

Fig. 19. This photo from Atlantic City in the early 1900s shows some fashionable beach attire for men and women.

The following photo is of swimming instruction at a Boy Scout summer camp ca. 1929. Some boys are in swim suits, others are naked. In the style of the day, male swim suits still had to cover male nipples. Here at Scout camp boys swam naked outdoors in secluded places, as was the custom. But boys who were not used to the practice were allowed to cover up. In my experience of Scout summer camp in the 1950s, there was no nude swimming, although that was the case at YMCA camps.

Fig. 20

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

Fig. 21

In less public places men continued to bathe naked even in the presence of women, as the following photo indicates.

boys nude girls clothed at the beach
Fig. 22

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

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

Fig. 23. Photo of U.S. Marines on Guadacanal in 1943 bathing and having fun with a makeshift water slide.

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

Nude Male Swimming in Art

The practice of boys and men swimming naked was captured by artists. Above I included Signorelli’s painting from the 15th century as historical evidence. A number of late 19th/early 20th century impressionist artists painted scenes of boys and men swimming nude at a time when it was becoming less common. Above this article is “The Swimming Hole” (1884-85) by American painter Thomas Eakins. He took several photographs of young men swimming in a swimming hole in 1884 that served as studies for the painting. This is one of them.

Fig. 24

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

Fig. 25

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

Bathers Henry Scott Tuke 1922
Fig. 26

Skinny Dipping

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

Fig. 27

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

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

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

Naked swimming Saturday Evening Post 19 Aug 1911
Fig. 28

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

Fig. 29

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

Fig. 30. South Branch Cattaraugus Creek – our actual swimming hole

On this warm summer day we didn’t think twice about taking off all our clothes and jumping in. We had spent the school year swimming naked together in high school swimming class and had participated in Scout swim nights at the YMCA. We were used to being naked with one another. We then laid on rocks worn smooth by spring torrents to dry off in the warm sun and connecting with nature in this very natural way.

Fig. 31

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

Fig. 32

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

Fig. 33. Swimming naked in the lake at Woodstock 1969

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

naked swimming
Fig. 34

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

Fig. 35

The Physical Culture Movement

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

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

Young Spartans Edgar Deqa 1861
Fig. 36. “Young Spartans” (1861) by Edgar Degas

Naked public bathing was once common across much of Europe. But during the Victorian Age bathing on public beaches developed as a form of recreation and  bathing attire was fashioned for both men and women. Boys and men continued to swim naked in secluded lakes and streams.

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

Fig. 37

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

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

Fig. 38. A photo from 1955 by the photographer Konrad Helbig entitled “The Three Graces” using unknown models.

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

Fig. 39. German boys swimming nude on a beach in the 1960s.

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

Fig. 40


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

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

Fig. 41

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

Fig. 42

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

Fig. 43.

The above photo shows swimming classes assembled in the old basement pool in the Walla Walla, Washington YMCA.

Fig. 44. Swimming class in the Walla Walla YMCA in which every body is naked.

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

Fig. 45. It’s been reported by participants than when photos were taken bathing suits were issued.

Each local YMCA could develop its own rules about activities. In many Ys the tradition of men and boys swimming naked continued throughout the 60s and into the 70s. Toward the end of the 1960s the YMCA began to admit women and girls into membership and nude swimming by men and boys began to be abolished so that both sexes could use the pool together.

Swimming nude at YMCA
Fig. 46. This could have been a YMCA high school club called Hi-Y. I was a member of such a club ca, 1960. That could be the vintage of the photo judging by the adult’s glasses.

Were Women and Girls Present When Boys Swam Naked?

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

Fig. 47

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

Fig. 48

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

swimming nude at swim meets 2
Fig. 49

Actually, co-ed swimming did take place in some colleges in which the young women were naked as well as the young men. Schools like Oberlin College and Harvard University had co-ed swimming parties. There were scenes of co-ed naked swimming lessons in the 1973 film The Harrod Experiment, based on the novel of that title by Robert H. Rimmer and starring Don Johnson and Victoria Thompson, in which a small liberal arts college experimented with young men and women living together, sharing dorm rooms, and having opportunities to be naked with each other in classes.

Fig. 50

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

However, swimming competitions on the Olympic level, both nationally and internationally, required suits on both men and women. This example of boys’ pre-speedo swimming briefs is just a notch above swimming in underwear.  When wet, nothing was left to the imagination!

Fig. 51

The End of Boys Swimming Naked

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

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

Fig. 52

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

Fig. 53

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

Fig. 54. So it would seem.

Benefits of Boys Swimming Naked

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

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

Fig. 55. Naked boys horsing around in the shower

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

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

Fig. 56. Swim team in Speedos

Social Norms

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

For men of my vintage, nakedness was an acceptable social norm if boys were showering and swimming together in indoor pools. It was also considered okay to swim naked in secluded outdoors lakes and streams if girls weren’t around.  By and large, these venues for being naked with other males are closed off today (although we are seeing a proliferation of “clothing optional” beaches and an interest in naturism).  Lacking situations to counter the inculcated social norm that we should not be naked (i.e. show one’s “private parts”) in public, most boys today have acquired such a sense of modesty that they don’t even like to be naked in front of one another in locker rooms and showers. I notice in the YMCA locker room that young men do the “towel dance” to keep covered while changing clothes and leave their bathing suit on when they shower while the old guys walk around “butt naked.” These millennials had no experience of being naked in front of other men.

Fig. 57

Was Naked Swimming a Gay Thing?

Finally, I must add this issue because the accusation is often made today that swimming naked is a gay thing. Ironically, back in the 1950s and 1960s boys who were shy about undressing in front of other boys were regarded as “queer.” But by the 1990s boys who wanted to swim naked were regarded as a “gay.” I don’t think that a major reason why the practice of naked swimming began to cease in the 1970s and definitely by the 1980s was homophobia, even though these were the decades, following the Stonewall Riots in 1969, of the gay liberation movement. But I do think it contributed to the reluctance of boys to shower after physical education classes.

Was there an element of homoeroticism in boys swimming naked? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t mean naked swimming is a gay thing. The Kinsey Report on Male Sexuality demonstrated that relatively few males were exclusively homosexual or heterosexual. Responses to questions indicated that many men had experienced one or more same-sex encounters. Only a small percentage rated their sexual attraction as only same-sex or opposite-sex. But in the wake of gay liberation, and the reaction to the greater presence of homosexuals in public life, homophobia gained traction beginning in the 1970s and throughout the 1980s and definitely by the 1990s. Men and boys feared being identified as gay. They sought to demonstrate their straightness by using homosexual sexual slurs against boys perceived as gay. Fear of being “hit on” by gays in showers and locker rooms contributed to a desire not to be naked in these venues. But gay boys also feared being exposed, for example, by having an erection in the shower or locker room and being harassed for it by other boys. Boys became homophobic—afraid of men. Incidents of sexual abuse of boys by coaches or other boys also stoked these fears. Even today, we are not as sexually liberated as we like to think.

Fig. 58. What was natural interaction between boys in the 1950s and 1969s became threatening by the 1980s and 1990s because of homophobia.

Nevertheless, it is an issue we need to raise because boys are not as comfortable being naked with one another today as they were in the 1950s and 1960s.

Fig. 59. The 1960s – a time when it seemed natural for boys to be together nude.

In Conclusion

I’m sure the practice of men and boys swimming naked in public pools is long gone. In my view, it was good while it lasted, for the reasons I’ve given. But I also recognize that there are issues to deal with today that we didn’t have to deal with back in my day, like spy cameras in various places around the school (including the locker rooms), iphone cameras, and now how to handle transgender boys and girls in the showers and locker rooms. I also recognize that many boys were uncomfortable with the practice and that some bullying might have occurred, although I didn’t see or experience it.

I don’t expect that this is a practice we will return to. Nevertheless, I’ve found that there is a lot of curiosity about this custom of boys and men swimming naked in schools and the YMCA fifty-plus years ago. Readers are welcome to post your own experiences of swimming naked in the comments section below. While this has been mostly a male-oriented post since it’s the boys who swam naked in school, female readers are invited to share their experiences and observations. The reactions of millennials and the younger generations to this social history are also welcome.


APPENDIX: Boys Will Swim Nude

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


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

Fig. 61
Fig. 62

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

Fig. 63

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

Fig. 64

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

Fig. 65

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

Fig. 66

Here’s a reference to “Bare Ass Beach” “where only boys swam naked in the creek” in a locally published history of Uniontown, Ohio beginning in 1932.

Fig. 67. Uniontown, Ohio “Bare Ass Beach”
Fig. 68
Fig. 69. Boys on this swim team are nude; coaches are dressed. The boys appear to be high school age.

About the Comments

For previous comments before the ones posted below see “previous” and “next” at the bottom of the page. I have curated two additional articles composed of anthologies of these comments. Go to “Frank Answers About Naked Swimming — Commentary Part I: Discerning the Truth.” The first pingback at the end of these comments will take you directly to the second commentary article, “Frank Answers About Naked Swimming — Commentary Part II: Experiencing Nudity.


  1. Ed

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

    • Comment by post author

      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.

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

      • Ed

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

        • Louis

          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.

        • akr47

          So Frank what do you think about forcing all girls to swim naked in front of men & boys? Would you accept the practice if some girls find it okay or positive and some might not like it at first but as you said be fine once they get used to hit?

          Would you tell your grand daughters, daughters and sisters to follow the rules and it might benefit them as you suggest for boys?

          Thank you.

          • Comment by post author

            Hey, akr47, I don’t know whether you have an agenda about getting girls to swim naked in front of men and boys or are using the example of girls swimming naked to challenge the opinion of some that it was no big deal for the boys to do so. As to your question, no, I would not approve of girls swimming naked in front of boys and men in public institutions like schools or the Ys. Nor would I approve of the boys swimming naked in front of women and girls in these public institutions, even though there is testimony that it happened. Nor do I think we will see a return to naked swimming in public institutions, even if the sexes were separated. Too much body shame and concern about sexual harassment. What I and others of my generation experienced was a tradition that had lingered on, a practice that many of us accepted without question, and that some of us saw in retrospect as having some benefits. This has been a discussion about history—trying to recollect what happened and why and what we felt or thought about it. Let’s keep the discussion in this vein.

        • Wayne Benner

          ” Show me a boy on the edge of puberty who likes showing his body”… from what I’ve seen and heard, even today, many boys do like it. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t catch your age. Were you a boy in the 1930s? 1940s? 1960s?

          If you weren’t there, you shouldn’t claim to know how they felt. You said “read the forums”. I’ve read many of them, written by men who were in that situation. I’ve seen far more that have said they preferred swimming naked, than those who said it was “traumatic”. Those were different times.

          I’ve read accounts of boys whose mothers threw a fit about the nude swimming. But when interviewed later in life, they said they had never complained to Mum about it, and that they really weren’t bothered by it.

          Here’s something that I think is very telling. We didn’t have an epidemic of violence, mental illness, and sexual assaults in those days. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but it wasn’t nearly as much nor as severe, as it has been since we’ve virtually eliminated kids seeing anyone naked, for any reason, at any time. Mental health problems started getting more common in the 1970s and 80s. and today it’s exploded into its own epidemic. Based on my experiences in life, including being a nudist and knowing the mental health benefits of being comfortable with your body, and being naked with others, I have to believe that it’s this totalitarian version of modesty that was pushed on boys, mostly by paranoid parents and sexualized media, which has contributed greatly to these problems.

          We’ve done far more harm to our youth by sexualizing nudity, and treating it
          as if it will strike you blind. I think you’re projecting your own feelings, which are valid for YOU, onto generations of boys that lived when things were different.

  2. Rich Malinowski

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

    • JuanB

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

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

      Rgrds. JuanB

  3. Comment by post author

    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 about those speedos that boys had to wear when naked swimming in competitions was abolished. Any comments on those?

    • MPC

      Hi Frank,

      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 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,

  4. James

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

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

  5. JimmyV

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

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

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

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

  6. Dan

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

    • Louis

      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!

  7. Dan

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

  8. Paul Walker

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

  9. Tom Wallace Lyons
    Feb 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Comment by post author

      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 ( – a college team, I’m sure). So 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 ( 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, clubs, and Ys before the practice ceased. But they can serve as illustrations of what men your age and mine experienced. And our experience, as corroborated by others, cannot be denied. We swam naked. And if we were naked in the locker room, showers, and pools, we were full frontal naked to each other and whoever else was within sight of us. As Walter Cronkite used to say in his historical documentaries, “And that’s the way it was.”

  10. Steve

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

  11. Caipora

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

    The “Manual of Boys’ Club Operations”, 1947, in the chapter on “Public Relations”, notes on page 312 that “Pictures that show people doing things – boxing, swimming, making a presentation – are much more interesting than posed pictures which are stilted. It helps to snap the photo at a moment when the boys do 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 ( will find a number of such photos.

    Here’s a photo, also from Boston, that clearly has been retouched to make it publishable:

  12. Caipora

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

    At about four minutes into this film ( 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 ( 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.

    • Comment by post author

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

    • Old Swimmer

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

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

  13. Caipora

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

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

  14. David B

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

    • JuanB

      Can you send the picture?

    • Ed

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

      • Comment by post author

        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.

        • Louis

          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 then 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.

          • Comment by post author

            Louis, thanks for your comments. Boys swimming nude in suburban backyard swimming pools in the 1970s/80s—there’s one I missed. I have no experience of that situation. I was a seminary professor and pastor serving in inner city parishes at the time. But it’s fair to include this venue in this social history. My article is about swimming naked, not limited to schools or the Y—or even boys, for that matter. I appreciate your matter-of-fact boy’s memory point of view. As for films that showed boys swimming nude in outdoor pools, there was Y Tu Mamá También (English: And Your Mother Too) from Mexico in 2001. There’s a scene of Gael Garcia Bernal swimming nude underwater in a leaf-strewn pool in some cheap motel in Mexico. But earlier in the film Bernal and Diego Luna are laying on the diving boards of a swank club pool (empty of users) masturbating. Then they cavort naked in the shower room. More than a teen coming-of-age or road trip film, it was a powerful story of two free-wheeling kids coming face-to-face with some realities of life, including their own relationship. In any event, it brings boys swimming naked into the 21st century, even though it was not in the US.

          • Louis


            I had not seen the movie you mention, “And Your Mother Too.” It does not sound like a movie that I would watch, nor does it really reflect my memories of safe non sexual nudity with other guys. I suspect that younger guys have seen more movies about sexual nudity between guys, both porn and mainstream, then non sexual nudity between men. Such exposure has convinced them that nudity is always dangerous and sexual. Through complicated procedures they work hard to share a changing area without exposing themselves to each other.

            We are left with uncomfortable sexualized nudity between boys when in fact, there is no risk and nothing is going to happen. I would say that it is not just movies like the one you mention, where 2 boys discover themselves and masturbate together, but also the constant emphasis that there are gay people everywhere. Far from making boys comfortable in locker rooms, it has made them suspicious and hyper aware.

            I grew up in a time when there was no homosexuality. Of course there actually was, but since it was not acceptable, those who were inclined, stayed in the closet. This was an understood given, a social convention that was needed so that boys could share locker rooms, military bunks, college dorms, and nude swim classes. By the 1990s we had forgotten the need for this valuable social convention, and it had to be explained in the form of “don’t ask, don’t tell” guidelines for the military.

            Now there is almost an “in your face” quality about sexual orientation and even girls are being asked to shower with anatomical males who claim to be female, yet the idea of nude high school swimming classes are seen as abusive to boys. It is a strange world now compared to our conservative past that included non sexual nudity.

          • Comment by post author

            Actually, Louis, the film is not gay-themed and the sex in the movie is quite hetero. I would not have seen it either, or even known about it, except that one of my sons brought it home for us all to watch as a family movie when he was in high school. The boys (played by Gael Bernal and Diego Luna) have just graduated from high school. Their girl friends go to Europe for the summer so they set out together on a road trip. They pick up an attractive young woman who, unbeknownst to them, is dying of cancer and wants to experience life to the full. They each have sexual encounters with her and this creates tension between the boys that threatens the bond between them. The woman senses this and has a sexual encounter with both of them. They wake up naked in bed together and the woman is gone. What happened unsettles them. They part company by the end of the film as they go their separate post-high school ways.

            I mention the film here because the boys spend time together in pools and they swim naked. In fact, they seem to take it for granted that they can swim naked in a motel pool (although no one else is using it). They also take a shower together where they engage in the usual adolescent horsing around. There could be a subtle homoerotic undercurrent to this, as I think there was to many of our adolescent buddy relationships (e.g. my best friend Gary and I wrestling naked in the water during free time in our high school swimming class). But as you note, whatever homoerotic feelings we had were suppressed by social mores and those who were truly homosexual stayed in the closet. (We know now that the YMCA was actually a venue for adult gay meetups.) But “coming out” not only liberated gays; it increased homophobia among straight males and probably contributed to the concern to “cover up” in the showers (see the comment I shared from a young gay reader). Now there is the added factor of allowing equal access to locker rooms, showers, and pools by transgendered persons. These are among the reasons I see no likelihood of a return to institutional naked swimming.

        • Bob Dess

          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.

  15. Tom Wallace Lyons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In face of what I believe to be a general consensus, Bob Rainis(Frank Answers, Aug 20, 2016)makes perfect sense when he writes, “As for the fact that there were areas of the US that allowed for women, family members etc to be present at nude swim meets….honestly, that leaves me a bit freaked out.” Same for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Comment by post author

      There is obviously a lot of interest in the topic—more than 20,000 pageviews at this point in time. I suspect the interest is mostly from men who experienced naked swimming in schools, the YMCA or Boys’ Clubs, or outdoors in their youth. I think we have established that boys and men did swim naked in these contexts. The biggest issue among the comments has been whether boys were naked in front of women or girls as teachers or audience at swim meets. Some commentators expressed horror even at the thought; others claimed that they experienced being naked in the presence of females and adjusted to it.

      There has been disagreement over whether old photos can reliably document such occurrences and even a bit of skepticism about what some guys report. Well, we know that photos can be shopped and stories can be elaborated. We’re now in an era of “fake news” (although we still seem willing to trust the reports of print journalism). So this has become an exercise in how we can get a handle on the past.

      But as pertains to the topic itself, millions of men experienced naked swimming in our country. We need them to shake their memories and tell their stories—and give names and dates of places as Tom and I have done, since it is apparent that conditions differed in different parts of the country and in different decades. In some places boys are in suits by 1960. In other places they’re still swimming naked after 1970.

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

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

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

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

      • Bob Dess

        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.

        • Old Swimmer


          I am replying again with agreement. Yes, I remember when I was about 7 or 8 I did not want to swim nude at the Y. It was not a surprised since the Y was at the end of the street and we heard nudity in the pool was required. Yet, I got through it and continued to swim there even as the classes ended and continued in high school on the swim team. Maybe it was kind of a “rite of passage”. At least, my parents had no problem with it.

          As for photos, i do think some on web and in this article may be photo-shopped or from nudism magazines etc. However, as you say, brochures of the Y and camp had pictures of nude swimmers as did old postcards from the Y (as seen above under Frank’s signature and under the YMCA section, the pool group shot and the guy from the poster). We also had photos in the neighborhood newspaper when a new Y swim class started that showed us lined up at the pool with bare backsides to the camera. In our Y in the corridor leading to the locker room, there were pics of Y activities and a few shots of nude guys on the side of and in the pool. Only men were allowed in the corridor. But no complaints from parents. Those pics may be lost or live on in the internet.

          Even the pic of German boys nude at the beach is not strange since we boys swam nude at a friend’s family cottage by a lake.

          All this confirms that nudity by males in certain circumstances was culturally acceptable.

    • Louis

      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 tubbing 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.

  16. 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?

    Tom Wallace Lyons

    • Comment by post author

      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 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.

  17. 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!

    Tom Wallace Lyons

  18. I am compiling a list of schools where nude swimming was expected at If anyone can add specific places and dates, please contact me. [email protected].

  19. 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 lead 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, 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.

    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

    • Comment by post author

      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.

  20. Alonzo

    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.

    • Old Swimmer

      I never had women present at nude swim at the Y, at camp or in high schools practice. Open competition required suits. A few closed competitions were nude. I am not saying having females present for institutional nude swim never happened but it never happened in my experience.

      However I did swim nude in the presence of females at a small cottage. A neighbor family had a small cottage on a lake that was fairly but not completely secluded. They had two boys and an older late teen girl. The boys were the same age as my brother and I, 10 to 12 or 13 at the time. Their parents always had the boys swim nude to avoid sandy, wet suits trying to dry or be washed. The girl always wore a swim suit. When our mother drove us out the cottage to stay with the family for a few days, she was surprised the boys were nude in the water. My brother and I were not since they told us they swam nude and we went to the Y with them. When the mother explained, my mother agreed and said my brother and I would swim nude also. For some reason, I did not feel embarrassed to be seen by the mother and the daughter. If the neighbors took notice they would see we had nothing on but it didn’t bother us.

      However as we got a bit older (around 12 or 13) and visited. I became more self-conscious about being nude. One time an older couple from the other side of the lake were visiting and sitting on the porch. My friend and I came out of the water completely nude and were going into the house. When we opened the porch door and saw the couple. We shut it right away and did not want to be seen. My friend’s dad said to come in and meet the couple. We sheepishly opened the door and went on the porch covering our privates with our hands. The dad said not to cover ourselves. The man and woman laughed and said not to be embarrassed because they had three boys who spent the summer mostly nude at their lakeside house and said it was normal for boys.

      I think as I approached adolescence I became more self-conscious about nudity with women around. Interesting times compared to now.

      • Alonzo

        Old Swimmer, did your dad and the other boys’ dad swim in the nude also?

        • Old Swimmer

          No, it was just the younger boys, four of us. Only we kids stayed there for several days. Their dad didn’t swim much but boated. By the time, I got to high schools, we moved away and lost contact with that family. I presume once their boys got into their teens they wore suits like their dad did.

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