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. I noticed none of these boys, in the photos of this article, appear overweight! They appear physically fit but I don’t think it was just from swimming. Back when most of these photos were taken there probably was no television, or many sets, & certainly no personal computers or “smart” phones. But there was much more open space to run & hike.

    Another factor: there wasn’t as much processed food before the 1950’s. Most mothers didn’t drive then so boys rode bicycles ( I remember “balloon” tires) or walked to get anywhere.

    I noticed one photo was taken at a C.C.C. camp back in the 1930’s. There was a public TV documentary (“American Experience”) a few yeas ago about the Civilian Conservation Corps. Like that photo, none of the lads in that documentary were out of shape. Knowing how much physical labor those kids did, for $30/month – of which $25 went to their folks, it was no mystery. The CCC boys burned a lot of calories planting trees, diggin’ irrigation ditches, building shelters (with rocks) & diggin’ latrines. Their projects provided amenities in many Federal, state & and local parks.
    Working outdoors cultivated a love for nature motivating
    many of them to become U.S. Park Rangers & Scout Masters.

  2. Comment by post author

    Here’s another comment that came to my email via the “Question” feature. Please post comments using the “Comment” feature.

    I have told a few people about the guys having to swim naked in our outdoor pool at Birmingham High in Van Nuys, Ca. Nobody truly believes this took place! This topic came across my attention in a You Tube suggested watch. I was so curious and surprised to see all of the different articles about the subject.
    I attended high school from 1961 until I graduated in 1965. We had to swim naked in our pool, rain or shine, cold or hot, extremely chlorinated and green from water imbalance. The story about naked versus swim trunks was that the school didn’t want wet suits smelling up the gym lockers!
    We also were made to go off of the high dive each time we “got to go swimming “ and a ten or twelve foot high dive with a seven foot fence around the pool made for some heckling from other students passing by. The macho guys flaunted their bodies and the skinny shied away with us chubby guys who were mortified by the whole process.
    I was and still am very allergic to chlorine! This was very much like a sexual harassment situation!
    The high school was an old World War Two army hospital! The whole story was interesting.
    John C.

    • Are you aware of other California schools where boys swam nude? I have listed a few at, but it seems like there should be more.

      • Thom Rafferty

        Why should there be more, Paul LeValley? There shouldn’t be any. You list schools from 27 States. That means there are 23 States where no boys were ever forced to swim nude in school. Even among the States on your list, the schools listed are a minority. There are over 37,000 High Schools in America, public and private. You have a few hundred on your list. This is why so many people like me are shocked when they learn it happened anywhere and some still refuse to believe it. Because it wasn’t the way things were done back in the day. It was an isolated phenomenon and it was weird.

        • Comment by post author

          Hopefully Paul LeValley will see this and respond. I would report that there were more schools–many more! For example, Paul lists Bennett High School in Buffalo, NY because I reported it. But it was the policy of the Buffalo Board of Education for all high schools. It wasn’t just Lane Tech in Chicago in which boys swam naked, it was all high schools throughout the Chicago Public Schools system. I know of schools not on Paul’s list that had naked swimming. For example, Evanston Township as well as New Trier. Our commentator Billy reported that many schools in the South didn’t have pools. Swimming wasn’t a big sport in the South. But boys were not deprived of swimming naked if they signed up for swim classes at YMCAs and Boys Clubs. Many schools built pools only after the practice of naked swimming had ceased.

          We understood that in municipal pools and on public beaches where girls were present we wore swim suits. But in male only situations in schools, the Y, summer camps, or in secluded outdoor areas, the pants came off! You pronounce as “weird” what you didn’t experience. For the many of us who experienced swimming naked, it wasn’t weird; it was normal.

        • Don

          Mr. Rafferty, you are just plain wrong. It occurred everywhere. Not all schools had swimming pools. In fact, most did not. But even where there was no pool, boys showered in communal showers, no stalls. And before 1979 or 80, I never went to a YMCA where men wore trunks to swim.

  3. Phillip Spendley

    Firstly thank you for a very well-researched article, which made interesting reading for the Wife and me!

    You are probably aware that a similar situation existed in the UK too; I learned to swim at age 8 (Primary School), and we all swam naked (boys and girls alike) since it was considered that there was no need for segregation nor costumes (which were pretty awful anyhow). In Secondary School naked swimming was compulsory. It wasn’t being naked that was the problem (many of us enjoyed social nudity since we would have been swimming and sunbathing naked during our last years in Primary education); rather, it was the outdoor unheated pool that seemed freezing all year round! Interestingly our PT Teacher was a Naturist, and he certainly didn’t discourage social nudity – for example in PT classes the clothing was shorts only, and if you forgot then you exercised naked. Indoors (heated) this was hardly a penance, and outdoors (in the UK “summer”) being naked was fun, so those of us who were “proto-Naturists” tended to have particularly bad memories where PT kit was concerned 🙂 ! Getting an all-over tan whilst in school was quite fun.

    As for “causing problems in later life”, all the boys I went to school with seem to have had normal family lives, and very few (if any) have been involved in sex crimes or paedophilia (the current big thing!). From a sample size of 68 I’d say that our naked experiences were a pretty good thing, and have led to far more body acceptance than for those who have not had these experiences.

    • Old Swimmer


      Thanks for your interesting comment about nude swimming in Primary School with boys and girls together. I have read that this was the case in many U.K. schools in the past. As we see in Pastor Senn’s blog, nude swimming was common in the US. As I related earlier, at the age of 7 or 8 I swam nude in “Tadpole” swimming lessons at the Y, but it was boys only. The practice was the same at summer camp, high school P.E. and swim team practice, but it was all males; nude swimming was for boys. Girls swam separately with bathing suits.

      My question is: did gender-mixed nude swimming continue after Primary?

  4. I am Brad Thompson, owner of the website the Historical Archives of Nude Male Swimming:

    I’m certain you know of this site as a number of your posted images have come from it. I appreciate your detailed description of societal norms and cultural pressures that resulted in the requirement for boys to swim nude during the first half of the 20th century. One matter that you lightly touched one was the presence of females during swim classes and swim meets wherein the boys were mandated to swim nude. After researching this matter for over 20 years and reviewing all possible news sources, journals and books, I’ve come to the conclusion that it did indeed happen; however, such instances were fairly uncommon as segregation was the norm. I also appreciate your citing news articles that were fake as I had been provided such articles to also learn they too were unauthentic, and promptly removed them from the website. Aside from eye witness testimonies and other unverifiable accounts, there really isn’t much evidence that such cross-gender attendance during classes when boys swam nude occurred much.

    There is, however, verified, authentic evidence that during this period there were swim meets wherein both boys were nude, and females — including girls the approximate age of the boys, did occur. On YouTube is a 1939 video of “Fernden School” in England. It shows film of the Boy Scouts camp that summer, and an open swim meet. Although the boys wore suits during the swimming, there were changing benches adjacent to the pool where all boys stripped naked and got into their suits, which can be seen. Some of the boys appeared to be in their early teens and remained nude watching the meet. In the audience a few feet away, young females can be seen watching the meet. This establishes at least some anecdotal evidence that supports a number of the hearsay stories where females were present during swim meets where the boys were nude.

    But to fully understand culture of that era, one must look to the culture that preceded that era, that is, the 19th century and the common practice of nude male swimming at beaches, rivers and lakes throughout the western world. There are many books, journals, news articles, photos and rare video film on my website, which also evidence females were often present during such activities.

    We must remember, it was a very, very different era. Women were not seen as equals to men and not deemed knowledgeable enough to vote. African Americans were also deemed to be a lesser class and were segregated, notwithstanding most of the 19th century discussed they were deemed owned property. So for those looking at customs during that era, we cannot overlay current culture norms as they simply don’t apply.

    Lastly, for those interested, I was interviewed on this subject matter by WBEZ 95.1, Chicago Radio. It was a piece on how Chicago Public Schools mandated nude swimming for boys, and the interviewer, Monica Eng, later told me it was the most popular broadcast in their history. You can listen to the full segment here:

  5. Thom Rafferty

    “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. “

    Those are the only two sentence in that lengthy article that acknowledge that some boys didn’t like being forced to swim naked. Even in those two sentences there is a not too subtle insinuation that there was something WRONG with those boys. The word “shame” is used where “modesty” belongs. Instead of the boys being described as valuing their bodily privacy they are denigrated as having “difficulty accepting their own bodily self-image.” It’s this same narrow-minded attitude that perpetuated nude swim class for boys in public schools even for boys who hated it. Some of those boys probably had PTSD for life. Forcing those particular boys to strip naked against their will was indeed barbaric. The tour guide was right.

    • Comment by post author

      I had, in fact, been discussing body shame inflicted by others in that paragraph. I think most of us can overcome modesty in situations where removing some or all clothes is expected. Feelings that one’s body is too fat, too skinny, too small, too ugly, etc. because one has been told that or because of self-criticism in comparison with other bodies is a much deeper issue.

      • Thom Rafferty

        “I think most of us can overcome modesty” Most is not all. What about the rest of us?
        Forcing underage boys who hated to swim naked to do it against their will was cruel. If you can’t understand that, I don’t think we have a common moral reference plane on which to have this discussion.

        • Comment by post author

          I can understand that this is our current sensitivity and I can agree with it. It was not the sensitivity of that time. And many of us who lived through that period (for me in the 1950s) were oblivious to such issues.

          • Thom Rafferty

            You said, “it wasn’t barbaric. It was a good tradition.” And you didn’t say that in the 1950s. What you could have said was, “I personally enjoyed it. But, no boy who hated it should have been forced to do it. That was wrong.”

          • Comment by post author

            Thanks for telling me what I could have said on the spur of the moment in response to the tour guide’s startling comment.

            In the context I understood the tour guide to be calling naked swimming in itself “barbaric.” That’s why I responded (perhaps defensively), “It was a good tradition.”

            As a general rule, however, I don’t think it’s proper to judge the past on the basis of insights of the present. Views of male modesty were quite different then than they are today. And body shame was a concept practically unheard of in the past.

            We will not be returning to required naked swimming. In fact, no one will be allowed to swim naked in the schools. You should feel vindicated that modesty is now forced on everyone, even those of us who might like to swim immodestly.

  6. Juanb

    See also Hawthorne camp in You Tube. Since 1950 they began to use swimmsuit, but by the 40′ swimming was naked.

  7. Juanb

    It’s barbaric to take a shower in front of others? Or be naked in a sauna or a turkish bath? Swim with friends in a river, lake or swimming pool? I did (and do in case of sauna and trukish bath) all, but now seems to be barbaric…. The showers has stall, the youth do towel dance and as far I know, nobody swims naked. I know times is not running for skinny dipping but people have to consider it was “other times”.

    • Thom Rafferty

      No. It was only barbaric to force modest boys to swim naked against their will. Especially since allowing them to wear swimsuits wouldn’t have harmed anything or anyone. And no one should be proud that they were oblivious to the suffering of others.

      • Comment by post author

        Thom, it seems like you had some personal experience of this insensitivity. You’re welcome to share your story, if you are willing.

        • Thom Rafferty

          No victim status for me. Class of 1978 and not from Chicago. The topic resonated with me because of the intolerance of modesty, which I consider a virtue, the blatant lying about the reasons for the policy by those enforcing it and the sheer stupidity of continuing it decade after decade. It would have hurt nothing and nobody to let a modest boy wear a swimsuit. And you’ll never convince me that it would have.

          • Zeno Lorea

            Thom Rafferty, I am most deeply offended by your repeated use of the word “modesty” when what you mean is nothing of the kind. Modesty is a synonym of humility and the opposite of arrogance and pretentiousness. The mental disorder you are referring to is known around the world as “prudishness”, not “modesty”.

          • ron

            “Modesty” is a virtue at appropriate times and places. It’s not really modest to believe that there’s something about your body that’s so spectacular that you’re willing to call attention to yourself to make it clear that you’re different from everyone else. But, the fact is, once you’ve seen 10 naked men, there’s not much difference to see. In a gym I used to go to, I noticed a 50 year old man who seemed to go there about the same time I did on some days. (I never paid attention to what days of the week he went–it didn’t occur to me) The ONLY reason I even noticed the guy is because he wore briefs in the shower and steam room. He was exceptionally ordinary looking–just another man. But I used to wonder what he THOUGHT was so special about his dick.

      • Juanb

        It’s necessary to place in the context of the time. For me it was obvius to have a shower with my classmates. The obligation was to have a shower after sports, be naked in the locker room was’t a topic, it was obvious that it had to be, if not, how were we going to do it? At that time towel dance didn’t exist, not even the stall in the showers. But, in Chile swimming class was with swimsuit. I was only “forced” to be naked at shower.

        • Thom Rafferty

          It’s reasonable to be nude in the shower and momentarily nude when changing clothes. I’m not advocating for the locker room towel dance. I don’t do it myself. It is unreasonable to mandate that boys, and only boys, be nude for an entire gym period. You didn’t do it in Chile. We should not have done it in America.

          • Comment by post author

            So Thom, do you want to venture an opinion as to why we did require nude swimming in America?

          • Thom Rafferty

            Power trip. Forcing nudity on other people is a classic dominance move. It’s used in everything from fraternity hazing to CIA interrogations. The people wearing clothes are always the people with the power. What do they get from forcing people to be nude against their will? A rush! Look how powerful I am! Look at what I can make other people do!

          • Comment by post author

            While your social dominance theory is generally true, it doesn’t account for the more complicated history of swimming naked. At one time even in Western societies males swam naked. That’s just the way it was. The more complex question is how we got from that accepted custom to a situation in which males (and females) are now prohibited from swimming naked in public, except in a few designated “clothing optional” beaches. When did it occur to some people that they could wear swimming clothes even in sexually segregated pools? At the point at which boys could have worn swim suits, why did the school authorities insist on all boys swimming naked? Was it just to show that they could because they were in charge and could enforce conformity? Or was there some validity to the rationales given (at least in their views at the time)such as public health issues, preparing boys for military service, or just promoting “manliness”? Looking at history through the lens of moral absolutes does not help to explain the dynamics of social history. You can look back and say it was wrong to force boys to be naked against their will, but the social historian wants to know why the practice lasted so long into the 20th century, as well as what social-cultural factors contributed to its abolition. Just saying it shouldn’t have happened doesn’t help us to understand what did actually happen.

          • juanb

            But now the students don’t shower after gym class also! On another comment, I read if the coach had to demonstrate something in the pool he took off his swimsuit and got into the pool, as the American Public Health Association recommended. Maybe you’re right about power trip, but there are a few photos with adult naked as well as children.

            Also, in between four wars (First, Second, Korea and Vietnam) maybe it was necessary to do naked swimming because not only the CIA does interrogations…. also the enemies. So, it’s better that nakedness wasn’t a topic for a potential soldier.

  8. Thom Rafferty

    Definition number 3.

    I don’t object to it being called prudishness. I do object to it being labeled a mental disorder. You won’t find either modesty or prudishness in the DSM-5. Some people are prudes. That’s a character trait. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s a mental disorder.

    I can change modest to prudish without changing my opinion one iota. It would have hurt nothing and no one to allow a prudish boy to wear a swimsuit in swim class.

    Feel free to hate prudish boys. Just don’t force them to swim naked against their will.

  9. I have been struck by the use (above) of the word “force.” In what sense it is accurate? How could I think about this?

    I contacted four high school classmates and two others who were also swim teammates, all whom I had not contacted in years. I asked, “did you feel forced to swim naked?” I worded it that way to give my question its strongest form: I understand “nude” to mean “I choose not to be clothed,” and naked to mean, “I am compelled to be without clothes.” I wanted to signal that I was open to any response.

    Two of my four classmates responded that they did not like swimming nude in middle school at first, but then it became (in their words) “no big deal.” (Swimming was a required sport in gym class grades 6-10.) Two others said they never minded; my swim teammates (with whom I was nude in practices always, and often in public meets) responded that swimming nude did not make a big impression on them at the time. (This agrees with what one late teammate told me before his death several years ago.). Both said they would prefer to swim nude now but it just isn’t done and they don’t expect it will be (“even though it just feels better”).

    I also asked them if they remember anyone else who really objected to swimming nude. After pauses three remembered a boy in 6th grade (Jr High was 6-8 grades) who really didn’t like it, was “sick” a lot during the swimming rotation in gym class, which lasted 4-5 weeks. Then his family moved, for other reasons. Two boys (one swim teammate, one classmate) remembered a very athletic boy who really did not like swimming naked but did it anyway, then transferred to Brother Rice HS in Birmingham Mich., but was back in Grosse Pointe a year later. (Boys also swam naked at Br. Rice, if that is relevant.) He was a classic three-season athlete, and much later in his life came out as gay (well, his marriage to a man was announced online). I admit I just did not have the nerve to contact him, because I don’t want to perpetuate very adolescent, “I heard that . . .” or words to that effect, and it’s hard to ask a personal and potentially painful question decades later and out of the blue, when I have had no other contact with him.

    So if the word “forced” is used, apparently some boys did feel “forced” and even if they were a minority, that did not or does not lessen their pain or discomfort. Their reality was and is their reality. I hope I do not appear to minimize that.

    All six boys (men) mentioned (without prompting), “I don’t remember thinking about it very much” and most had not thought about this in years. The two who initially did not like it very much also did not like having to be naked in the showers required after gym class. (I remember a teacher checking to see whether our hair was wet after we had dressed; I don’t remember any teacher standing in or near the showers watching us.) One of them said, “there were many other things that were a lot bigger and more embarrassing.” (I did not ask what.) Although those two did not like it much at first, they got used to it, and it does not seem to have loomed very large in their memories.

    I have really searched myself, moreover, about whether I was in fact “forced.” I am left asking, what is the boundary between social expectation and social compulsion? I think that the concept of “double consciousness” from W.E.B. Du Bois gets to the point. (This concept is nuanced and immensely important for African Americans and I do not trivialize it –but just let me run with this comparatively minor example.) It seems reasonable that those who feel or felt “forced” would have felt internally conflicted by swimming naked, and would have developed a form of double consciousness, both “I strongly dislike having to do this,” and “I have to regard myself through the eyes of the adults who demand this and the majority of boys who do it, and I do not want to appear to be weak or deficient or inadequate in some way.” That was the case with our very athletic classmate (I expect).

    I felt something like this as a gay man before I really accepted myself as I am. I felt strongly attracted to other males; I hated myself for it; and I regarded myself through the majority, hetero point of view and did not want to be a “fag” (understood as inadequate). I finally overcame that when I really understood that God wants me to be exactly who I am. (I emphasize: swimming nude certainly did not cause me to be gay –I was gay long before that, and would have been anyway. I also understand that I had an otherwise unusual upbringing, which was all circumstance, not a cause. I was often nude at home because I chose to be. I actually enjoyed being nude but that’s another story.)

    I have to report that I just did not feel a double consciousness about swimming naked. I believe that if I had felt forced, I would have developed some form of that. I chose to be nude, not was forced to be naked. (I did feel double consciousness about, for example, appearing to date girls, or other hetero-normative activities or attitudes.)

    What some boys experienced as a social compulsion was for many others of us simply a social expectation. As an expectation it ranked (in my memory) alongside having to have short hair in the later 1960s, or wear a tie on meet days (both very un-cool then). It was just there and I did it, and I was really much more focused on swimming than on being nude (or wearing a tie, or short hair). The later was really a means to the former.

    But for other boys it was unquestionably a much bigger deal, and a source of conflict, then and now. Was society “wrong” to expect us to swim naked or nude? Moral calculations are in such cases a very hazardous thing. I believe that this social expectation or compulsion was far smaller and less wrong than, for example, the many layers of American racism, or prejudice against gays and lesbians, or anti-semitism. Unlike those issues, society has really changed and I cannot imagine any return to a generalized expectation that boys will swim nude or naked in school and on competetive teams at public meets. Whether society in this case is or was “wrong” is very much a matter of personal experience and perspective –unlike racism or anti-semitism which has a host of evil, real-world consequences that make that moral calculation far more certain.

    I don’t wish to appear to minimize in any way Thom Rafferty’s concern that modesty be valued, or Tom Wallace Lyon’s questions. Neither do I wish to deny my own honest experiences and memories, and those of other boys.

    I believe that while nakedness or nudity was not experienced as “forced” upon boys in earlier generations, neither is modesty “forced” on everyone now. Boys now just experience the world as far more modest, for better or worse. These boundaries between social expectations over against social compulsions are very fluid. Expecting or compelling boys to swim naked or nude was not simply a “power trip,” nor was objecting to that social expectation or compulsion a mental disorder, and it seems a stretch to me to understand this painful memory as an instance of genuine PTSD. Labels like that impede understanding the nuances that I think go to the heart of this change in social experience.

    Some boys then experienced a social compulsion that transgressed their personal boundaries and may have resulted in a negative impact on their healthy growth — regardless how clearly they articulated that to themselves or others. Other boys now probably experience the current levels of modesty as discouraging a healthy exploration of their physicality and healthy growth –regardless how clearly they articulate this to themselves or others. A very large number of boys have experienced the varying mainstream expectations for their generations without questioning them. On this particular question, I don’t calculate that any of them are wrong or right. “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfills Himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

    I would like to de-escalate the heat of this exchange or conflict. Let’s exchange points honestly and courteously, and without those labels.

    • Thom Rafferty

      If I’m not allowed to say boys were forced to swim naked, may I say they were forbidden to wear swimsuits? And what did the school administrators get out of doing that? Surely you’re not going to say they honestly thought that pool filters could tell the difference between girl swimsuit fibers and boy swimsuit fibers and would automatically and irrevocably clog up if they came into contact with a boy’s swimsuit fiber.

      • Comment by post author

        Thom, you’ve made it abundantly clear that you think the practice of boys being required to swim nude in the schools was wrong, at least in not making provision for modest boys, and nothing will change your mind. With this narrow focus you didn’t even acknowledge that your postings caused Gavin to do some “soul searching” about his own attitude at the time and that he even reached out to classmates and teammates whom he had not contacted in years to ask what they felt about it. You caused someone to reflect on his attitude at the time even though he personally concluded that he didn’t feel “forced.” So declare victory and move on.

        My view is that the practice was simply a tradition. In the BBC series “Victoria” about the life of Queen Victoria there are shots of a male servant shedding his uniform and running into the sea butt naked (except that in the PBS version his butt was blurred). When Victoria went swimming she stepped from a beach house directly into the sea wearing a full body bathing costume. It dragged her down and she had to be rescued. “Victorian modesty” required women to be covered and eventually led to men also being covered on public beaches so as not to offend female modesty. The APHA guidelines in 1926 recommended that EVERYONE should shower and swim nude in pools, but it made provision for female modesty. Even when the recommendation of nude swimming ceased to be made in 1962 school administrators found other rationales to continue the practice of boys swimming nude. Traditions are hard to break. What the school administrators “honestly” thought cannot be determined. Maybe some of them, like you, thought it was wrong. The social factors that might have caused such a precipitous break with a long standing tradition are worth teasing out. But that discussion is not advanced by just saying it was “wrong.” You’re beating a dead horse. There will be no return to required nude swimming in the schools.

        Those who felt “forced” and didn’t like it are welcome to share their stories, as well as those who simply accepted the social convention and expectation. Personal stories will advance our understanding of the practice better than moral pronouncements about it.

        • Thom Rafferty

          You’re right. I responded to the wrong thing first, his semantics about “forced” versus “social compulsion.” But it all means the same thing, no choice.

          I do appreciate the original research Gavin did on this topic. I’m particularly grateful that three of the people he interviewed remembered the same “classic three-season athlete” who did not like swimming nude. This boy clearly isn’t covered by the broad brush of “boys who had difficulty accepting their own bodily self-image” that you wrote about in your article. He had every reason to believe that his body was awesome. He simply valued his personal privacy rights. He was modest.

          I also noted two men he interviewed of whom he wrote, “Although those two did not like it much at first, they got used to it, and it does not seem to have loomed very large in their memories.” Nothing done to anyone has ever been justified by them getting used to it. Most non-smokers were “used to” second hand smoke back when smoking was allowed everywhere. But it was always unjust to subject the non-smoker to second-hand smoke. And I say that as a former smoker who did that back in the 1980s. I don’t say that it wasn’t wrong because that was “the times” and I certainly don’t say that there was something wrong with non-smokers who didn’t like it.

          • Comment by post author

            I want to thank Thom for the milder tone of his last comment and also for bringing up the issue of “personal modesty.” It’s not an issue I had thought of before. Most of the men I’ve heard from who say they didn’t like the requirement of swimming naked in school said that it was because they were self-conscious about their body (e.g. size, weight, etc.). I was attuned to this because I have an interest in issues of body shame.

            Gavin’s “classic three season athlete” seems to present a different issue — in Thom’s view a preference for personal modesty — , although the athlete participated on the swim team anyway.

            Where does a sense of personal modesty come from? It can be inculcated by family values or social mores or religious teaching. Perhaps a boy coming to terms with his same-sex attraction might want to avoid nudity around other males. It has ways of showing when naked in the showers. Or maybe some boys are just shy
            The issue of “personal modesty” can get complicated. We may be modest in one situation but not in another.

            In any event, in terms of the issue at hand, boys were expected to swim nude and to shower nude in a class situation. One can be modest but still meet expectations, as would be the case for many of these boys in military service. If one’s modesty is really an issue of body shame (dissatisfaction with some aspect of one’s body, like penis size), the best to deal with it is to get naked and learn to accept one’s body.

            Since Thom did not have the experience of required naked swimming, it would be helpful to hear more personal stories about modesty in relation to the topic of swimming naked.

      • ron

        A couple of things. “What did they get out of it?” That’s an ugly question; more of an accusation, as you intended it to be. And whether provably true, it was believed that fiber and detergent residue in swimsuits was not good for filtration systems. Why not require girls to swim naked, too? Because the girls’ modesty was accommodated because men and women are different. About 30 % of men sleep naked, and about 15% of women do that, 51 percent of women, and only 27 percent of prefer sex in the dark.

  10. JuanB

    That’s right we have to avoid the word “forced”…. because we weren’t “forced” to be dress also.

    • Thom Rafferty

      You don’t think you’e forced to be dressed in public? Try walking through the playground at the park naked if nobody’s forcing you to be dressed.

      • Comment by post author

        Rather than quibble over “required”/”forced” let’s ask a more historically interesting question of whether someone could get out of required swimming class and for what reasons. I know a man who is slightly older than me who got out of swimming (and the experience of swimming naked) and P.E. generally because he was in athletics (cross country in the fall, track in the spring). He worked in the coach’s office during P.E. Were religious issues about nudity respected? The YMCA did not absolutely “force” everyone to swim naked. If you look at vintage photos of the YMCA indoor pools or summer camps you will spot a boy or two in swimming trunks while everyone else is nude. So what kind of exceptions were in place to the general institutional requirements of naked swimming? Would a parental request/demand get a boy out of swimming class? Let’s try to learn more about the actual situation.

  11. Joe Roberts

    As a boy I enjoyed swimming and I was good at it. My dad wanted me to compete but I had a near pathological fear of being seen naked. This may have been due in part to me being uncircumcised which was rare for an American boy in 1962. My circumcised friends noticed the difference and had asked about it but I had no explanation as no one had ever explained it to me. I hated being the object of curiosity and feeling that I was somehow different. I was too embarrassed to ask my dad about my penis but to help me overcome my “shyness” he “suggested” that for family game night (which was every Wednesday after dinner) I wear nothing but a towel wrapped around my waist. Sitting around with my parents and sisters in this state of near nudity felt pretty weird but in time, and with the distraction of a game of Monopoly or Scrabble, I got used to it. After a few weeks it got to the point where I was able to rearrange my towel, or even fold it back for a few seconds, thus discovering that displaying my prepubescent penis wasn’t going to kill me. My dad was pleased but with that I reached sort of a plateau. A few seconds exposure was one thing but prolonged nudity was still a bit too much.

    My dad then “strongly encouraged” me to go nude every Wednesday from the time I returned home from school until dressing the following morning. He explained that since it was only one afternoon/evening a week I should be able to take it. You could call it forced nudity but it had the desired effect. It got to the point where I was able to participate in swim meets and then a wonderful and unexpected thing happened. I discovered that I loved it. I don’t mean to say that I loved just the swimming, but as strange as this might sound I loved being nude with other boys my own age. A few boys were, like me, uncircumcised so I wasn’t the only one. Also I could see that boys came in different sizes and different stages of development but that was completely okay. It didn’t really matter.

    My love for clothing optional recreation has remained with me to this day and my life has been healthier and more enjoyable as a result. Was I ever subjected to forced nudity? Yes I was. Was I uncomfortable with this? Once again, yes I was. But only at first. I’m grateful for it. My memories of swimming nude are among the happiest of my boyhood. For those of you who never swam nude as a boy, well you don’t know what you missed out on. It was grand!

    • Gerald L. Austin

      I think that it is neat that you had your family night, and your eventual nudity among female relatives.

  12. Philo

    My experience with nude swimming was a bit different from others who’ve poster here as it took place in the not too distant past of 2013. I had just turned 13 four days earlier and to help me celebrate my entry into teenager-hood a neighborhood family who we were good friends offered to include me in their weekend getaway to Lupin Lodge situated in the hills of beautiful Los Gatos California. Lupin was (and is) a naturalist resort so full nudity was expected in the pool and other public areas.

    The “Johnsons” had two kids of their own, 12 year old Peter (my best friend) and his big sister 14 year old Samantha. Samantha was the most gorgeous girl I knew and I was secretly in love with her. The opportunity to see her in the nude was like a gift from heaven. My parents weren’t nudists but they were open minded about such things and they had no qualms about me going provided it was what I wanted. However my dad wanted to make sure I had an accurate understanding before hand and so he did some research online and bought a membership on the website. It was all nonsexual but even so it blew my mind as I’d never imagined that boys and girls my age would play together naked. Alone in my room I’d masturbate furiously to the pictures as I imagined myself as one of the kids depicted.

    Saturday morning I experienced some pretty extreme emotions during the three hour drive to Lupin. I couldn’t believe that I’d soon me seeing Samantha undressed and that I’d be no different from those purenudism kids. But I was also incredibly nervous. I was 95 lbs. and 4 foot 10 which was pretty standard for my age if a little on the small side. But about 8 weeks before my genitals had begun a rather impressive growth spurt and the first dusting of dark pubic hair had appeared above my penis. I had also cum wet for the first time two weeks prior. In short I had the face and the body of a slender little boy but the fully functional equipment of a young teen. The stuff between my legs just didn’t seem to match the rest of me and I felt that naked I’d be very conspicuous. The photos I’d seen online were of little boys and of bigger boys but few were of boys like me. I had considered shaving off my newly acquired bush but I was afraid I might cut myself.

    At last we arrived at Lupin and it all looked very good. The Johnsons wasted no time stripping down and I followed suit but I kept a towel handy just in case I needed to cover up. Peter was, as I expected, a little boy. Samantha was all that I could have hoped for and more. That weekend there was about eight other kids ages 8 to 14 visiting mostly boys but a few girls as well. The first day felt a bit weird but by the second day I started to get used to the nudity and from that time on everything was great. All us kids pretty much hung out as a pack and out of ear shot from the adults we compared ourselves and talked about “boners” and “whacking off” and such. I learned that for boys my age “things” went through a natural cycle of stiff and limp and there really wasn’t anything sexual about it. As long as you didn’t flaunt your erection people didn’t seem to care. It wasn’t the sort of thing that was going to get you banished from the resort. But that was as far as it went. I remember it as a very happy time, one of the best weekends of my boyhood if not the best. I wish all kids could have similar experiences.

    • Comment by post author

      Lucky you! I hope you had opportunities to return. Thanks for being a young guy who checked out what us oldsters experienced 50-some years ago.

      • Philo

        I’m happy to report that I returned to Lupin with the Johnsons on three separate occasions although I wish it was more. At 13 I knew I liked girls but I also knew that I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship and all the baggage that came with it. My body may have been able but emotionally I wasn’t ready for full intercourse. It just seemed too much. As you might well imagine the Johnsons had seen Peter (their 12 year old) with the occasional erection and it was regarded as a nonevent. They treated me as just another one of their kids so when (on a subsequent visit) I followed suit it didn’t cause a stir. They pretended not to notice and in time my erection subsided. .

        But later, and in private, Samantha complimented me on the size and beauty of my stiffy. I wasn’t embarrassed. To the contrary I was proud. She asked me to demonstrate to her how boys masturbated. We didn’t touch each other at any time but I showed her how it was done and she watched transfixed in amazement. Afterwards she said it was even more amazing than watching Old Faithful erupt. For Samantha the experience was enlightening and for me it was empowering. Although we hadn’t actually done anything with each other I felt that that was the day I’d lost my virginity. I had cum for a girl and there were no regrets for her or for me. At that age I didn’t want anything more.

  13. Jeff

    Once a week our Den Mother would drive us Cub Scouts to the Y where boys aged 15 and under swam nude. Everyone else was dressed or in swim suits. The nudity seemed a bit strange at first but at age 8 we adjusted to it after only a few visits and from that point on the nudity seemed completely natural. The Cubs unable to pass the swim test were coached/instructed by Boy Scouts aged 13 to 15. That’s how I learned to swim and other than a few mouthfuls of pool water it was a great experience. I loved it.

    By age 12 I was competing at swim meets and although being unencumbered by a swim suit felt wonderful I had become aware of the fact that my friends and I were naked. That wasn’t all bad by any means. I was actually sort of proud of the fact that I had a penis and when feeling bold I enjoyed showing it off. But on the other hand it felt a bit odd to think that just about anyone who took an interest could see me naked. The lady from the Five and Dime, or the girl next door, or the mailman; all they’d have to do was come to a meet. The race officials and coaches were all male and always dressed thank goodness. Moms and sister could watch but if we had female instructors telling us what to do when we were naked I’d have been mortified with embarrassment.

    As a 13 year old Boy Scout I, in turn, taught Cubs ages 8 to 11 how to swim. This was under the watchful eyes of their Den Mothers. I enjoyed it but at times it felt sort of weird when the Cubs would playfully climb on my back or when I held one in my arms as he coughed up a mouthful of pool water. With the both of us nude it seemed a rather intimate embrace to share with a boy I knew only casually. It probably would’ve been less awkward had it been a males only environment. But found memories indeed. It was a more innocent time.

  14. My experience was in some ways similar to Jeff’s –nudity in and around the pool was a shared social expectation from early years, so that by the time I was old enough to be thinking about my body image, I had already been nude in public swimming events many times. So it was less of a big deal.

    I do remember the first time in middle school swim meet I realized, I’m nude and we’re nude . . . and they’re not. I did find it empowering, right into and through high school. Strange at first, but also gave us bragging rights: we were not afraid. Hey full-of-themselves football players: wanna do the same?

    There were more than a few times in town when “the lady at the Five & Dime” (or equivalent type of person) would see me and smirk or speak to me with a knowing smile, as if it were some kind of secret that I had been nude in front of her and him and only we knew that. This was particularly the case if I were in a store like a Five & Dime with a team mate.

    There were other times when I was with adults or young people in clothed situations, and someone had a sudden moment of recognition: “you’re the boy I saw at the swim meet ” (. . . nude went unsaid). Occasionally that person was awkward for a moment — but I wasn’t.

    A couple of girls at confirmation class at our Episcopal Church, seated opposite me, would put their shoeless feet on my knees under the big table around which we were seated. And then if they were able inch their feet closer to my crotch. It was fairly innocent but unmistakable; because they had seen me nude (swim team mates confirmed this), they seemed to feel they could touch us, as though having seen us nude they had that privilege.

    As I later found out when I was nude with several of these girls at their homes (they remained clothed; parents absent of course), they were intensely interested in boy’s bodies, and somehow knew that I was “safe” and could show them what they wanted to see and know. A sort of improvisational sex ed. They were a lot more interested in my body than I was in theirs.

    As for the physical intimacy with other swimmers, yes we all did the team huddle and hug at the beginning of every meet (and almost every practice), all nude, bodies close. I can’t speak for others, but I really liked that. Sometimes I also showed my predictable response, as did other boys, and no one commented on that then or other times.

    The only time I ever got whistled at was when I was running in warm weather for cross country with no shirt, which I and others loved to do. (Not on official practices, but at “captains practices” that the coach had nothing to do with.) . I often outpaced the rest so I was alone or alongside another faster runner. I felt more of “show off” on the street, shirtless with high-cut running shorts on, than I did when I was nude in the natatorium. It was all so situational, and much more innocent then.

    • Comment by post author

      A definition of the distinction between “nakedness” and “nudity” that I’ve found helpful is from science writer Dorian Sagan, Sex (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2009), p. 7. “Nakedness is pretty straightforward. It is exposure. What you see is what you get. The allure of nudity is subtler. What is still concealed is equal to or greater than what is revealed. What you see is not what you get.” Nudity is sexier than nakedness. A bunch of naked boys is not as sexy as boys stripped to high cut running shorts because something is concealed on the running boys. Hence the whistling. Maybe the same applies to boys in speedos.

  15. Interesting article. I am a 64 year man and in the mid 60’s in Buffalo, NY I was a Boy Scout and we did indeed have a swim party at the local YMCA. I cannot remember if the leaders swam either clothed or naked but I do know all us boys were naked. I never went to a school with a pool so I do not know about the schools.

    Thanks for the article.

  16. Comment by post author

    Francis Chroston sent this comment:

    I could identify with the piçture of the two adolescent boys wrestling in the communal shower after swimming. Such occurrence was prevalent in the course of cleansing off the chlorine after our swimming lesson. The picture of the packed shower with the two sides of students seemed quite disciplined in contrast. I remember some sponges having been hurled around when our form [grade] was in the shower. Occasionally one lad would bring in a coal tar soap bar and this was thrown from one side to the other! If it got a bit raucous the coach would intervene and call time on the shower session, but we were not time constrained as it was the last lesson of the day.

  17. Jeff

    We seem to be a much more consumer driven society than we were in the past and I think that might be one of the reasons why nude male swimming fell out of fashion. For boys today their clothing expresses their interests and identity to a large extent. Getting naked for today’s boys is sort of like giving up who they are.

  18. I swam naked at the Y and in high school. My dad and I skinny dipped when we went camping, and were joined by the forest ranger. Nobody was disturbed by this, and my dad even said it was more comfortable. I have a brother 10 years younger than I am. He is appalled by the idea, and insists that the teachers were pervs. Our instructor was naked about half the time, and showered with the class all the time. Today, I go to the gym and everyone is so hung up that the youngsters take off their skivvies under a towel. I have seen some of them actually look angry when one of us older men just strips. When I was Senior in high school, a state cop caught a bunch of us us guys skinny dipping in the local reservoir. He knew all of us (small town Pennsylvania) and his sister was in our class. His reaction? “Dammit, guys, get your damn pants on and get outta there. We gotta drink that water!” No arrests, no horrified reaction. In fact, about a week later, we swam naked at the Y at the same time. He even razzed me about not swimming bare-assed at the lake, because nobody had to drink the water from the pool at the Y. I’m sure my dad would be up on undermining the morals of a youth nowadays, and no state policeman would let kids off regardless of the remote location of their skinny dip. Equating nakedness with sexuality has not really made our society any better or any healthier, has it?

    • Hi, I wonder how old you are. The fact that your father and others were so open with you is surprising and heart-warming. I’m presently writing a book about when men got “broken” and why. No clue about writing a book, but feel there’s a compelling need for it now with all this messed up male gender identity stuff. I’m 67, and partially understand. Find it fascinating and would love to know more. (I’m in PA, too)

  19. David Jones

    In 1945 and 1946 I attended Loyola Academy in Chicago. Boys swam naked in the pool which was the custom at that time. However the pool attendant offered a sort-of swimsuit for those who asked for one. It can best be described as a white cotton unlined bikini that buttoned on the right side. Maybe a bit of Catholic modesty. Would love to fine one as a souvenir.

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