body, bullying, homosexuality, marriage, masturbation, nature, nudity, shame, swimming

Frank Answers Briefly About Even More Male Body Issues (2022)

Throughout 2020 and 2021 I received and answered questions that dealt with male body issues, including issues about sex and sexuality. Those Qs & As are archived in blog posts entitled Frank Answers Briefly About Male Body Issues (2020) and Frank Answers Briefly More About Male Body Issues (2021). Many questions were asked in the context of COVID-19. The pandemic is continuing into 2022 with the Omicron variant and may well generate more topics for discussion as we learn to live with it, as well as some questions that aren’t related to the pandemic. As usual, questions sent via the blog platform are sent to my email address anonymously by WordPress. Comments on my answers are also welcome.

Topics

A Healthy Sex Life and a Healthy Spiritual Life – January 21, 2022

When is Nudity Exhibitionistic? – January 12, 2022

The Benefits of a Hand Job – January 11, 2022

What is God’s Word on Homosexuality? – January 9, 2022

How did religiously conservative America require nude swimming – January 6, 2022

Nude Swimming, Bullying, and Body Image – January 3, 2022

So many issues to think about…

A Healthy Sex Life and a Healthy Spiritual Life

January 21, 2022

Dear Pastor Frank,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful replies to my questions in the comments. Just composing my questions for your blog has helped me organize my thoughts.

I am wondering how men can integrate a healthy sex life with a healthy spiritual life and a healthy community life, from around age 14 to around age 114, pre-marriage, during marriage, and post-marriage (or post-menopause, while still married). How can the churches be helpful in this regard, especially with declining attendance reducing the number of men it can reach? Calls for celibacy except when married, to a wife who is willing and able, seem to be a harmful ruse. And it seems like we should explain that, to the next generation of young men. Any thoughts you have would be tremendously appreciated.

Your website seems to be one of the few things that can point the way through our nation’s current conflicts about sex and religion. Best wishes and thank you again. Eric

Sex, religion, and politics – always intertwined

Frank answers: Dear Eric, I appreciate the concern you raise. Young men are few and far between in the declining mainline Protestant churches that have embraced more progressive views on sexual issues. Young adults are more plentiful in the evangelical megachurches where traditional sexual ethics are taught, namely, abstinence except in marriage. The preachers discourage masturbation, but that won’t stop unmarried young men (and women) from masturbating. It would be interesting to hear from them about how they deal with this discrepancy between what their preachers say and what they do. Do they “sin” and then ask God for forgiveness and then do it again? This can be spiritually degrading. (At least young Catholics know it’s only a “venial sin” that is easily forgiven.) It would be better to teach a healthier view of human sexuality. But frankly, the churches haven’t been good at it. Yet if you want to connect sexuality and spirituality, you have to turn to religion.

Am I committing a sin?

We also know that young adults are waiting longer to get married and have children. It’s not just a matter of what they might do to satisfy sexual needs for the long haul before they get into the marriage bed. It’s a matter of whether they’re interested in sex at all. The U.S. birth rate has been declining for years. In fact, the decline in church attendance can be correlated with the decline in birth rates over the last several decades. The fact is that in the developed countries of North America, Europe, and East Asia, their populations aren’t being replenished. They’re declining. So in Japan we find senior citizens working until later in life because their labor is needed. A decreasing work force means that there is less money going into social security funds to support retirees. This is as true in China as in the U.S. You ask about the connection between healthy sex lives and a healthy community life. Here it is at its most fundamental level. Humans, like every species, must reproduce themselves to survive as a species.

So while I see nothing sinful about masturbation, and agree that it is needed by the young who aren’t ready for mature sexual commitments, and by single people generally, and by men whose partners aren’t able to satisfy their sexual needs, we cannot bless auto-eroticism to the neglect of promoting marriage and family.

Today there needs to be more serious teaching about healthy sex lives because it may be that many young adults are unprepared for it. In fact, many men report that they are suffering from a low sex drive (libido). This could be a result of focusing too much on their careers and/or experiencing the anxieties produced by the COVID-19 pandemic. See the Q & A about “Low Libido” in “Frank Answers About Male Body Issues (2020).” But some psychologists are raising the question of whether some men, and many more women, are interested in sex at all. Or do we go though different times in our lives when our sex drive is more in gear than at other times?

Men and women are having less sex. Is it due to low libido or just lack of interest?

To some extent, I think our lack of healthy sex lives reflects our alienation from the very nature of which we are a part. We are disconnected from nature in issues related to global warming and also in the transmission of disease. Remember that most viruses are transmitted from animals to humans (rats, bats, cattle, birds, mosquitos, ticks, etc.). If we were better attuned to nature, we would see that fecundity and procreation is a part of our natural sex drive. The human species is designed to fulfill our Creator’s injunction to “be fruitful and multiply.” Women have twelve times during the year to get pregnant, not one or two like other animals. Men can produce an unlimited supply of sperm which builds up and needs to be emitted, if not in sex or by hand then in nocturnal emissions. But there must be a desire to connect sexually on the part of both men and women, and that seems to be a problem today.

 By the way, I’m open to the possibility that there may be a role for same-sex relationships in the natural scheme of things, simply because same-sex attractions are also present in animal species and in various human societies in different times and places. See “Frank Answers About the “’Nature’ of Homosexuality.” But that won’t solve the matter of procreation.

Same-sex attraction and breaking racial barriers

Rooting the sex drive in nature is also the clue for the relationship between healthy sex lives and a healthy spiritual life. The passion that drives a man and a woman to intercourse has a mystical union character to it. We lose our individual selves by being joined into a united self through coitus. But in, with, and under this experience of two becoming one flesh lies the relentless drive toward creation. Although masturbation is common, entirely normal and healthy, sex finally involves intimate interactions with another person. This presents a minefield during adolescence, when it is easy to make mistakes and get hurt or hurt others. Youth are advised by churches to keep themselves sexually pure until the right partner comes along while the mass media promotes a hookup culture that encourages having sex with multiple partners until the right one emerges.

The problem from both directions is that the aim of each approach is satisfying one’s own needs and desires; hence, finding the partner who gives me satisfaction. A true sexual maturity occurs when a commitment to another person leads to a desire to satisfy that person’s needs and desires. Two people looking to satisfy each other’s needs and desires will result in lovemaking that moves from eros (passion) to agape (self-giving). People know from their experience whether their lovemaking has been about more than lust and whether their sexual delight is more than selfish.

This is a healthy sexual relationship that is also expressing a healthy spirituality since agape love is “of God.” And a sexually and spiritually mature couple will extend their mutual love to others in raising their children and in meeting the needs of their neighbors. This is what the churches and their pastors need to be teaching. This is what healthy sex and a healthy spiritual life is about.

Finally, to return to the issue of celibacy, it plays a part in the overall life of a faith community when it is chosen voluntarily as a way of life. Celibacy is embraced as a vocation (calling) instead of marriage as a way of devoting oneself to prayer and works of mercy on behalf of the whole Christian community. It cannot be required and it should not be imposed. It should be freely chosen and publicly declared. But those who undertake a vow of celibacy should be supported in their calling by the whole church as well as by a celibate community.

Pastor Frank

I recommend my article about chastity and pornography which explores some of these issues in greater depth.

When Is Nudity Exhibitionistic?

January 12, 2022

Question:
Hi Frank, I am Bernard…and a nudist…and a reverend. I love being naked and being seen naked. I am not an exhibitionist, but I see no need in hiding my nudity and penis from people. My friends always see me naked. I hate wearing clothes and shoes. Where is the line between exhibitionism and natural nudity? I have my opinion, but would like to hear the opinion of a colleague.

Dear Reverend Bernard,

I think this will be a very brief answer because I haven’t thought about the distinction between enjoying nudity and being an exhibitionist before. Our perspectives may be different because you describe yourself as a nudist. I do not claim to be. I think a lot of people enjoy having nude time in their home. I do. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people working at home during the COVID pandemic practiced more domestic nudity. (See Frank Answers About Naked Freedom During COVID-19.)

In terms of being nude in front of other people than one’s spouse, I have participated in a naked men’s yoga class, occasionally in a men’s exercise class, and I used to visit the Korean spa near my home before the pandemic set in. I have not gone to any nudist campgrounds or had the opportunity to be on a clothing optional beach. Maybe you have done these things. I know some people, including a pastor, who have. You admit to being naked in the presence of your friends. I would guess these are friends who are used to your nakedness, and not just any visitors to your home.

So when does nudity become exhibitionistic? I think in any circumstance where it is forced on others unexpectedly, as if to say, “look at me.” If we had company and I trotted out to greet my guests in my altogether, and they were unprepared for it, that would be exhibitionistic. If I flouted civil ordinances prohibiting public nudity, that would be exhibitionistic (for which I might be arrested). But if I was participating in a group whose purpose was to experience nudity (like a yoga or exercise class), that would not be exhibitionistic. If I was with with a friend in a wilderness area and we wanted to go skinny dipping, that would not be exhibitionistic. (By the way, it’s not illegal to be nude in U.S. national parks.)

That being said, we should also note that some social protest events are deliberately exhibitionistic. In these events, being naked would be making a witness to the cause. I wrote about this in answer to the question about whether Christians can participate in public nakedness.

Frank Answers About Christians Participating in Public Nakedness

I would add that opportunities to be naked should be welcomed by those who are comfortable baring it all, including some of the events I mentioned in my blog article. An easy one for many people would be the annual Naked Gardening Day on the first Saturday in May. You can just move your nudity from indoors to outdoors and enjoy (hopefully) the warmth of the sun on your body and get down into the dirt of the Earth.

Finally, we should note that some people are naturally exhibitionistic, even when dressing up for special occasions, especially if they think their body is worthy of being displayed to others. You’ve seen those deep cleavages and low backlines on women’s dresses and men’s shirts being stretched taut by bulging muscles and tight jeans emphasizing the package in the groin. You don’t have to be totally naked to be exhibitionistic. If Reverend Bernard has a better definition of exhibitionism, he’s welcome to post it in a comment.

Pastor Frank

The Benefits of a Hand Job

January 11, 2022

Question:
Dear Frank,

Thank you so much for the immense public service you have provided by your thoughtful answers to sexual issues, based on your lifetime perspective. I have been reading about sexual issues for several years now, but I did not find your website until I googled YMCA naked swimming, and your discussion popped up.

My question is: Has any writer, Christian or secular, advocated non-penetrative sex as a solution for premarital sex, and same-gender sex? It seems that high school and college couples, before marriage, could better test their sexual compatibility by giving each other orgasms using their hands, thereby avoiding the risks of unintended pregnancy and disease transmission from penetrative sex. (If they can’t give each other good orgasms using their hands, that would seem to be more telling than seeing if penis fits in vagina.) It also seems that young male-male couples could give each other good orgasms using their hands, skipping anal sex completely.

I note that both the New Testament, and the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, use the Greek term arseno koites (“man coitus”) to describe the wrongful male-male activity, which appears to mean anal sex. This prohibition would have made sense in those times, since there were no condoms and no antibiotics, so anal sex could have been a life-threatening activity. By naming this one specific activity, these passages imply that other forms of male-male orgasm-sharing are okay. (Otherwise the Bible writers would have used broader language, such as, “Do not hug, caress, or massage another man while naked.”)

I see that Paul’s words about same-gender sexual activity in Romans 1 appear to be part of a sermon against judgmental self-righteousness, not against having non-penetrative orgasms together.

I also see that St. Augustine specifically said that his goal when writing his theories about sex was to “please the emperor”. We can see that  Roman emperors in those times would have wanted to shift the focus of Christianity away from being non-judgmental, forgiving, and merciful, as Jesus taught, since that would undermine their right to rule the empire with harsh severity. They would have wanted to shift the focus toward the supposed sinfulness of ordinary sexual men.

With these things in mind, it seems that some modern Christian writer (free from the distorting influence of the Roman emperors) should be suggesting that hands-on premarital orgasm-sharing without vaginal penetration, and male-male orgasm-sharing without anal penetration, are the Christian way to live, and that young men and women should put their energy into helping “the least of these,” as Jesus taught, rather than trying to avoid orgasms up until marriage. (Jesus emphasized, by quoting Hosea twice in Matthew, that God doesn’t want your sacrifices, he wants you to be merciful to people.)

I have searched for such a writer without success. Do you know of one?

Again, thank you so very much for your work.

— Eric.

Dear Eric, thank you for your affirmation, question, and commentary. Your actual question is easy to answer. I don’t know of any Christian writer who has recommended masturbation (hand job) as a Christian way to avoid penetrative pre-marital sex. Christian teaching has not been open to masturbation, even though it is not mentioned in the Bible, because it “spills the seed” that should go for procreation, although its benefit of relieving sexual tension has been recognized by modern clinical sexology. Generally speaking, masturbation has been recommended by health authorities as the safest form of sex. This has been especially emphasized during this time of COVID-19 and its variants. However, I did answer a question from a young woman about satisfying her boyfriend with a hand job to meet his sexual needs while she waited for a marriage commitment before having vaginal coitus.

The answer is entitled “Sex Without Having Sex” (November 18, 2021), Scroll down to the most recent entry, which in that string of Qs & As is on the bottom. The Q & A to which I refer encouraged the couple to practice mutual masturbation before marriage.

I also answered a question from a man who felt guilty for masturbating to satisfy his sexual need (with a buddy!), even though he had his wife’s support. In Frank Answers Briefly More About Male Body Issues scroll down to “Man Masturbates with Buddy with Wife’s Approval” (May 21, 2021). Masturbation as a help within marriage has its benefits as well as before marriage (both solo or mutual).

I think engaging in mutual masturbation would force men to pay more attention to the woman’s body, especially in foreplay and what it takes to bring a woman to orgasm. Too many boys and men rush to the finish line, leaving their female partner unsatisfied. Masturbation should be the culmination of foreplay in which the couple explore each other’s body and eventually lose themselves in passion.

The same applies to man-on-man sex. Gay men appreciate the male body and spend more time kissing and caressing than straight men do. I would note what I wrote in Frank Answers About the Bible and Anal Sex (February 14, 2019), that not all gay men like anal sex. It takes a lot of effort to make it sanitary and it can be quite uncomfortable. I suspect that most gay men are quite satisfied with hand jobs and oral sex and have perfected their techniques.

As to anal sex in the Bible, which is assumed in the Greek term arseno koites (“man coitus”) that St. Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:9, I doubt that the ancients were aware of the hygienic issues involved in the practice. In the Q & A that follows this one, I suggest that the sexual actors Paul mentioned had less to do with sexual positions (e.g. tops, bottoms) than with prostitution, especially sacred. This, I believe, is also what Leviticus 8:22 and 20:13 was concerned about in calling male-on-male sex an “abomination.” I think Paul, as a Pharisee-trained Torah scholar, was drawing a comparison between parallel situations.

I agree that Romans 1 was more about “not judging” than being judgmental. The practices he mentions (men and women exchanging their “natures”) are examples of God “giving them up in his wrath against all ungodliness.” The passage concludes in chapter 3 with the judgment that “none are righteous” and “all have sinned and fall short of our glory of God” (3:23). That’s why we need to be “justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (3:28).

In terms of “hugging, caressing, massaging another man while naked,” that probably occurred in the Roman baths, but like the queers of Paul’s time (kinaidoi) it is unmentioned. But we know that ancient Christians practiced nude baptisms. Candidates stripped naked, received a full body anointing with olive oil, and received the laying on of hands in blessing and the kiss of peace when they emerged from the pool. This was done with those of the same-sex since Christian modesty forbade this kind of intimate touching of the opposite sex. Women deacons officiated at the baptism of women.

Augustine, too, experienced the Roman baths and did a lot of thinking about the libido, beginning with his first visit to the baths with his father at age sixteen when he got an erection. He describes it in his Confessions. I don’t think I would draw the conclusion you did about the purpose of a dedicatory ascription such as, “may it please the emperor.” Augustine was truly perplexed about a male sex organ that defied human will (as he noted in The City of God). (Erections come when uninvited and don’t spring up when needed.) I recommend Michel Foucault’s posthumously published Confessions of the Flesh: The History of Sexuality, Vol. 4, Edited and with a foreword by Frederic Gros (New York: Pantheon, 2021), “The Libinization of Sex.” It’s a major contribution to understanding Augustine of Hippo’s theology of sex.

Thanks for the workout you just gave me. – Pastor Frank

“hugging, caressing, massaging another man while naked”

What is God’s Word on Homosexuality?

January 9, 2022

Pastor Frank, I am curious about something.
I’ve tried to research it, ask people, but I’ve never gotten a straight answer. What is God’s word about homosexuality?
I am curious about your views. What are your thoughts on that?

Frank answers: God’s clear Word would have to be mediated through the Scriptures. But in terms of addressing homosexuality as we understand it clinically today as a same sex orientation, the Bible is silent. The few biblical passages that refer to same-sex activity do so in particular contexts that do not involve men who are necessarily homosexual.

The story of Sodom involves presumably heterosexual men wanting to gang rape the visitors to whom Lot offered hospitality (see Genesis 19:1–29). The act wasn’t carried out because those visitors were angels who blinded the men of Sodom so Lot and his family could escape the fire that God would rain down on this wicked city. When the Bible later comments on this story, it faults the Somodites not for their sexual threat but for their inhospitality (including Jesus in Luke 10:11–12). Yet homosexuals have been called Sodomites, presumably because of their practice of anal sex (which is also practiced by heterosexual couples).

In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, “lying with a man as with a woman” is called an “abomination.” That’s a term used to denigrate pagan practices. It suggests the practice of sacred prostitution, which Israelite men and women were performing for pay in the Canaanite temples that still flourished in the land of Israel. The men and boys who participated in that practice were not necessarily homosexuals.

While we’re in the Old Testament, we might remember the stories of Ruth and Naomi in Ruth 1 and David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18–23 and 2 Samuel 1, which reflect a loving bond between two women and two men. While the Bible describes no sexual relation between them, their bonds of affection seemed more than platonic.

Jonathan and David, sculpted by Malcolm Lidbury, 2016

In 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, St. Paul includes malakoi and arsenokoitai, who were understood to engage in same-sex practice, among those who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. The terms probably refer sexually to “tops” and “bottoms,” but who were practicing these acts is unclear. The Temple of Artemis in Corinth could be the setting of cult prostitution, or it could refer to ordinary male prostitution in the port city of Corinth, or even the Greek practice of older men mentoring boys. But this is not homosexuality as we understand it. There were those whom we would regard as “queers” in ancient Greece (kinaidoi, effeminate men), but St. Paul never mentions them.

Romans 1 is a tough nut to crack. Exchanging normal heterosexual practices for same-sex practices is regarded as “unnatural.” In my view, Paul uses physis not in terms of anatomy or in a biological sense, but in terms of custom. According to cultural mores, Roman men should not take the submissive role in sex and Roman women should not take the dominant role. The only males Roman men could have sex with were slaves, who were at their master’s beck and call for sexual gratification. St. Paul doesn’t address this social injustice. I have addressed these issues in an longer blog article, “Frank Answers About the ‘Nature” of Homosexuality.”

Where does that leave us? Christianity has had a ling history of anti-homosexual bias hat sometimes turned deadly. Many Christians regard sexuality and marriage as an all-or-nothing proposition. There’s no question that God created us male and female and the two should be joined together in one flesh to produce offspring. This is the natural order. But nature and many human societies have also made space for same-sex activity among the species and wthin the tribes. We have not yet figured out how this fits theologically (or even biologically) into the whole sexual scheme of things. But if there is a role for same-sex behavior in a basically heterosexual society, this has to be seen also as part of God’s design.

I’m willing to say that male-female marriage is the biblical understanding of sex and marriage, because, frankly, it is. The Bible has nothing to say about same-sex marriage as we know it. But that does not put it outside the scope of God’s grace, as we see in many same-sex relationships. And, frankly, I know many such relationships, including in my own family. I can’t deny the goodness that occurs in these relationships, and their contributions to our social life, as evidence of God’s gracious provision for the wellbeing of us all.

Pastor Frank

How did religiously conservative America require nude swimming?

January 6, 2022

I grew up in a conservative religious family in a small midwestern town. My paternal grandfather would not even allow his children to swim in the public outdoor pool because it was immodest. So I am curious about how boys were required to swim nude in public in schools in conservative, Christian United States of America.

Frank answers: In terms of why nude swimming at least by boys was required in U.S. schools, see the pervious post. Your question indicates a perceived disjunct between Christian views of modesty taught in many churches and the fact that nude swimming in front of others was required in U.S. schools and the YMCA.

First, I would note that concerns about modesty have always applied more to females than to males. This is evident in the provision in the APHA guidelines that exempted girls from swimming nude but specified that they had to wear a plain undyed bathing suit. Schools usually provided these single-piece suits, which were collected after swimming class so they could be washed in strong detergent. Girls picked a suit roughly their size from the bin after showering naked before going to the pool. They often complained about how baggy the suits were after repeated use. Girls and boys had separate locker rooms and showers and swam at different times. They weren’t supposed to see the naked boys, but of course some made the effort to take a peep. In terms of public swimming outdoors on beaches and in pools, older boys and men were required to wear a suit not so much for their modesty as to protect the modesty of women who should not have to see men naked.

Second, as I explain in my Frank Answer About Swimming Naked, men (and sometimes also women) swimming naked outdoors was a practice of long standing in human history. Wearing a “bathing suit” was unheard of before the mid-19th century when urban beaches and outdoor pools began to be developed. When the YMCA began building the first indoor pools in the 1880s, it was simply assumed that it was manly to swim naked with other men. As a men’s association, there was no reason to wear trunks for swimming or even for exercising. With few exceptions, everyone was nude in the pool, including male teachers. See Frank Answers About Swimming Naked in the YMCA, and read also the testimonies in the comments.

Third, note that the YMCA was a Christian organization–the Young Men’s Christian Association–founded by evangelicals. It existed to promote strong minds, bodies, and spirits. It began the swimming program in response to the high number of urban boys who were drowning. Swimming classes and renting out the pool because a main stream of income for the Y. Members paid dues and had use of the pool as part of their membership package when it wasn’t in use for classes and competitions. The basis for the Y’s physical fitness program was rooted in the physical culture movement that swept across Europe and over to North America in the 19th century. This was a very Protestant-based movement that developed gymnastics in Prussia (Lutheran and Reformed) and Scandinavia (all Lutheran). To this day, public nudity on beaches, in parks, and in saunas and spas is widely accepted in Germany and Scandinavia.

Therme Erding in Munich is the largest spa in the world, and half of the total area is clothing optional.

Fourth, nudity is not forbidden in historic Christianity. Consider, for example, the nearly semi nude artistic portrayals of Christ and the saints in Catholic churches. (See Frank Answers About Nude Art in Churches.) Baptisms in the ancient church were modeled on the practices of the public Roman baths and were performed on naked candidates. This practice continues in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, no matter the age of the candidates. (See Frank Answers About Baptismal Practices.)

Boy baptized in Russian Orthodox Church with full immersion. It appears he’s making the sign of the cross over his body.

On this January 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany, I note that one of the Epiphany events celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Church is boys diving for the cross. This is a kind of religious rite of passage for the boys and they do in a public gathering wearing only swimming trunks (and sometimes a t-shirt designed for the occasion if the weather is on the cool side, as in Tarpon Springs, Florida).

Greek-American boys diving for the cross in Tarpon Springs, FL

The increasing puritanism and conflicting attitudes toward the body in American society cannot be attributed only to Christianity, although it is supported by some evangelicals and Pentecostals. But Christians themselves become confused about the relationship between cultural mores and Christian values when it comes to the body. (See Frank Answers About Nudity and Modesty.) The recent interest in the theology of the body, promoted especially by the late Pope St. John Paul II, provides an opportunity for Christians in all denominations to sort out their Christian views and practices about nudity and modesty in relationship to cultural expectations.

Pastor Senn

Ancient icon of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan by John the Baptist. He is portrayed naked in the water, undoubtedly because this was the practice of ancient Christian baptism.

Nude Swimming, Bullying, and Body Image

January 3, 2022

I’ve read your posts about swimming naked and love the thought of nude swimming with other males. Experiences I have had being nude with other males have been great. They were the only times in my life I actually felt like I was a man. When I was younger, starting in the seventh grade, I was endlessly bullied, harassed, and an object of ridicule because I was small and unathletic. I was a complete loner in high school. I never went to any formal dance because I felt ashamed and I thought that asking a girl out was too difficult. The girls in my high school looked at me like I was nothing but a pissant. I was also smaller than all of them so that was another embarrassing fact.

Reading your blog articles about swimming naked caused me great anxiety and stress. I think if nudity is going to be used for helping boys to become men, it has to be consensual. I’ve never known any time that someone was forced to do something and it was beneficial to them. Even when it was for their own good. 

Pastor Frank: I would like to ask a favor of you. I would like to know your full opinion about boys being forced to be nude for swimming in gym class. Say you were asked to support the argument in favor of forced nudity for boys and you had to make the argument to the school board: Tell me how you would do that? What things would you say to support this being a positive thing for the boys?

Frank answers: Dear reader, thank you for your question. I’m sorry my blog articles about the practice of boys swimming naked some fifty years ago caused you anxiety and stress. I will answer your request to give my “full opinion about boys being forced to be nude for swimming in gym class.” But I want to say upfront that the real issue you raise in your letter is not about boys being forced to swim naked, which I assume you didn’t experience since you don’t mention it, but about your body image (being small) and the bullying you experienced, which undoubtedly reinforced a poor body image. I suspect that your resistance to “forced” nude swimming in spite of the appeal the practice to you is that you see it as a type of administrative bullying. As the subject of much bullying in middle school and beyond (middle school is notorious for bullying by both boys and girls), you are undoubtedly sensitive to bullying of all types.

As for my “full opinion about being being forced to be nude for swimming in gym class,” this was not something that could be debated when I took the required high school freshman swimming class in 1958. From 1926 until 1962 the practice was recommended by the American Public Health Association primarily for public health reasons and no schools or YMCAs would ignore it. Testing showed that bacteria on swim suits was not adequately dealt with by early experiments with chlorination and inadequate filter systems, The APHA recommendation also included taking a nude shower using soap from head to feet before going into the water. No one argued with the policy until after 1962, when it was no longer officially recommended. Even then the practice of nude swimming continued into the 1970s with different reasons for it being argued. And, of course, the practice continued because of the sheer weight of tradition.

Only after it was no longer an APHA recommendation could the practice of required nude swimming be debated among parents, schools administrators, and the boys themselves (most of whom preferred to continue swimming nude — see the newspaper clippings in “Frank Answers About Swimming Naked”). After 1962 it could be argued that bathing suits should be an option for boys who didn’t want to swim naked in front of other people in deference to their sense of modesty. Since the practice has been completely abolished for some time now, the proposal today would have to be that it should be an option. I would not argue for “forced” or “required” nude swimming, but that an option be provided for it. And the argument for that is your own testimony. “Experiences I have had being nude with other males have been great. They were the only times in my life I actually felt like I was a man.”

Quite frankly, I don’t expect to see an allowance for optional nude swimming in high schools or in the YMCAs, which won’t allow men even to be shirtless in the exercise room or gym. If you love the idea of nude swimming with other males there are a growing number of clothing optional beaches in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Mexico as well as some naturist camp grounds in several states. Korean spas in about a half dozen states have mandatory nudity in sexually segregated bathing areas which includes open showers, hot tubs, a steam room, a cold pool, and body scrubs. Fathers and sons often use these facilities, which means boys can experience being naked in these spas. You don’t have to be Korean to use the spa, which also includes saunas, massages, a food court, relaxation areas, and a movie theatre in the common areas, for which the spa provides shorts and a top. (The Korean King Spa in Niles, IL isn’t far from my house and I used to go there before COVID with friends or colleagues.)

There’s a lot of personal body scrubbing as well as professional body scrubs in a Korean spa.

The experiences you had with nude men are adult experiences. From my experience, men who engage in a group naked practice (e.g., yoga, exercise) are very accepting of one another’s body shapes and sizes. Boys too in the teen years have bodies that are all different sizes and shapes. Being naked puts everyone on a level playing field. That was one advantage of swimming nude in high school. Even the bullies had to expose themselves. At first all men and boys are a bit nervous about stripping down in front of strangers. But after the first time, even after the first few minutes, they adjust to the situation. I’ve seen a couple of men in a naked yoga class and a naked exercise group who began the practice in their underwear. No one is paying attention to them or to anyone else. Everyone’s focus is on their own practice and following the instructions of the teacher. However, after the class got going these holdouts became bold and comfortable enough to remove their underwear. I found the teachers and other class members in these naked men’s groups to be very welcoming and affirming.

What you tell about yourself is not uncommon, although perhaps you experienced a more extreme version of school bullying. I was a lot like you at ages 12 and 13. I was small and thin. And I had to wear glasses because I was nearsighted. So I was the little kid with glasses and, yes, I was bullied by a couple of big classmates in the 7th and 8th grade (but not in high school). By the time my vision was corrected in the seventh grade I had already missed hitting, throwing, or catching the ball too many times to be able to correct my coordination and, in my experience like yours, the gym teachers weren’t always helpful. But I found that I could do some gymnastic practices, like climbing poles and ropes and tumbling. My best friend, who was athletic, encouraged me to try out for the 7th and 8th grade boys’ gymnastics show in my elementary school. (After the show some girls commented on how agile I was. Size didn’t matter.)

As I reflect back, I can see that the other thing I did in high school was to focus on what I could do. I didn’t do sports, but I studied the piano and performed in some school assemblies in high school. I received positive strokes from classmates (male and female) for that. There’s always something one can do to compensate for what one can’t do. It’s usually something one wants to do. It was interesting at my 55th high school class reunion in 2016 that some women commented on how small I was in high school, but they remembered how I performed on the piano. Like you, I didn’t date much in high schools, but I summoned the courage to ask girls to be my dates for the junior and senior proms and they accepted.

Your issues are really about body shame resulting from dissatisfaction with your body size. This may be driven by ideas about ideal masculinity in our society. It’s not easy to go against these standards because they are reinforced in the mass media. I’m sorry that your sense of male inadequacy made life unbearable for you as a youngster and it has probably had continuing consequences into your adulthood. You need to work on your body issues. Just as I would argue that boys being naked together in a swim class would give them an experience of being at ease in their body with other boys and more accepting of their own body, so I would propose that you continue to search out experiences of nude activities with other men. You can look for what activities are available in your area on MeetUp.

Psychological research has shown that the effects of bullying in childhood and youth can have a negative effect on one’s adult life in terms of physical and mental health, employment, relationships, and one’s quality of life. It is really important to receive appropriate therapy. For body acceptance therapy you might look into the offerings of the Body Electric organization that runs weekend retreats. You can check out their web site. For psychological talk therapy I suggest finding a private Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who has received somatic training. This training is based on the work of Dutch psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. See his book The Body Keeps the Score.

I wish you well on your journey of dealing with your body shame and the consequences of extreme bullying in your youth. These therapies might help you to recover the fullness of your life in our body-conflicted society. Maybe some readers will share their own experiences of bullying in a comment.

Pastor Senn

9 Comments

  1. Gerald L. Austin

    Pastor Senn, I wish to commend you for your nice site. I must be very honest, the main subjects of my interest in your site have to do with nudity and sexuality. I originally discovered your site when researching boys swimming nude in high school, with some claiming that girls saw them. I find this VERY difficult to believe. I don’t mean the part about being nude around other boys, we didn’t have swimming in my small high school, but we did have showers in the boy’s locker room. The comments from people who claim that mothers, sisters, and other females were in attendance at swimming meets where the boys were nude really stirs my imagination, but is very difficult to believe as actually happening. And I can’t fathom school yearbooks or local newspapers having photos of nude swimming teams in them. I do wish that we lived in a world where this was actually common! Seeing such nice pictures of nude people is what really draws me to your site. The pictures showing full-frontal male nudity, or pictures showing male genitals, sometimes in sexual situations, are beautiful. I really appreciate them being here. I do absolutely believe that this would be a better world if public nudity were common, and sexuality was not something to hide, but open and practiced with love and gentleness, regardless of the participant’s gender or age.

    • Comment by post author

      Dear Gerald, I didn’t set out to have so much nudity in my blog articles, although I have had an interest in the body ever since my experience with cancer in 2006-2007 and some the first articles already dealt with the body. I have been sorting out many issues about the body, sexual practices, and sexuality in my thinking because of the challenging questions from readers. Answering them has pushed my research and helped me to develop my views. I believe in the goodness of God’s creation, including the goodness and beauty of the human body and the need for human connections through intimate sexual relations. I was surprised, when I wrote the article About Swimming Naked, how freaked out men were at the thought that women might see them nude, whether as coaches or spectators. The comments went around and around on this. But I trust a couple of commentators who witnessed it in central Michigan in the 1960s and I believe it did happen there. That would not be surprising since there were no many German-Americans in that area, and Germany is one of the most nudist-prone countries in the world. In any event, thank you for prowling around my blog and stay tuned for even more male body issues.

  2. Dear Pastor Frank,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my question about “hand jobs” (instead of penetrative sex) for high school and college students. You confirmed that, apparently, no writers have advocated this as the Christian way for young, unmarried men to live. And I appreciate your comments (and relevant photos) about a young man using his hands to better satisfy his partner, whether the partner is female or male. All well and good, so far.

    Meanwhile, however, many preachers and politicians advocate abstinence until marriage, and they want that taught in schools. A leading book with that viewpoint is “Every Young Man’s Battle” by Steve Arterburn, which has sold millions of copies. (You can sign up now for one of his three-day workshops, in a city near you, for $1175, in case you are “struggling” with “lusting” or, heaven forbid, “same-sex attraction”.)

    How should we respond to that? Perhaps by saying: “Hey, Christian young man in high school or college, God doesn’t want your abstinence, or your struggle or battle against the sexuality He installed in you. Instead, He wants you to put down that video game controller, and go massage your girlfriend (or your buddy) to orgasm (and receive one in return), then go together to feed the hungry, or build houses for the homeless.”

    So am I on the right track, or not? It seems that if this is approximately correct, we ought to be shouting it from the rooftops. Such a message could inspire millions of high school and college men to be sexually energized, fully enthusiastic advocates for a better, more caring world, rather than simply preparing to be the next generation of society’s drones.

    Reactions from Pastor Frank, or from any of you readers, would be immensely appreciated.

    Thank you again.

    — Eric.

    • Hunter

      I can’t speak to the religious issues involved as well as Pastor Frank can, but I’m an older millennial who grew up in a church that preached an abstinence-only approach to human sexuality. It quite frankly was really damaging and I wish that I had tuned out that message sooner (I eventually did, but it took me until I was in late 20s to get to that point). There is very strong scientific evidence that sexual expression is a basic human need for both psychological and physiological reasons and that people who are sexually active have better health outcomes than people who don’t.

      Obviously, sex needs to be between two consenting adults and should involve protections against possible STIs and unwanted pregnancies. But beyond that, I definitely favor promoting comprehensive sex education in a sex-positive manner.

    • Comment by post author

      Eric is “approximately correct.” The sexual energy that builds up in young bodies needs an outlet, and masturbation (solo or mutual) provides that in a safe way. Some of that energy can/should be channeled into activities that are beneficial to society. I also agree with Hunter that “the abstinence-only” approach to human sexuality can be damaging, as any form of suppression is. It was because I have heard from so many men about the damage their religious upbringing has caused to their approach to their bodies and sexual lives that I began answering questions like the ones in the three Frank Answers Briefly about male body issues, as well as some other articles on the blog. Keep the questions coming and I’ll do my best in relating whatever insight comes to me from the challenging issues some of these questions present.

  3. Eric

    Hunter says that battling to avoid orgasms, long-term, is unhealthy for young men. It seems that whether orgasms are penetrative or non-penetrative, it is certainly feasible for young unmarried people today to have orgasms together in ways that are quite safe, physically.

    Therefore it seems that the remaining question is whether sharing orgasms, with a girlfriend or a buddy, causes psychological or spiritual damage, of some sort.

    The advocates of abstinence (“purity culture”) say that if a young man shares orgasms with a girlfriend, he reduces his ability to truly bond with his future wife, which in turn increases his odds of a future divorce. That sounds fishy to me. It seems equally plausible that some intimate experiences in high school and college would help a young man sort out which attributes really matter to him, before he commits to a lifetime mate, and that this sorting-out process would tend to actually increase the likelihood of a future lifetime marriage, rather than reducing it. (It seems to me that dating is typically long on anticipation and short on reality.) Is there any actual evidence on this subject?

    The abstinence advocates also say that if a young man shares some orgasms with a buddy, that too would reduce his ability to truly bond with his future wife. Again, it seems equally plausible that some experiences with other young men would not make any real difference in a future marriage to a woman. (And that such experiences could actually help a young man decide that he would rather be married to a woman.) So is there any evidence regarding this?

    Some abstinence advocates also say that male-male experiences will make a young man “more gay” than he otherwise would be. This also sounds fishy. Are young men so easily swayed away from sex with women?

    They also say that such experiences could eventually lead to a same-gender marriage, which would mean a lifetime of separation from God. (Even if the marriage is legal, and the life involves ample public service, and regular participation in a Christian congregation, as many same-gender marriages currently do.) The Bible makes no mention of same-gender marriage, but it’s a matter of basic logic that mentioning the most common type of marriage does not deny the validity of another less-common type of marriage. So where is the basis for a spiritual argument against same-gender marriage?

    In sum, it seems like the question consists of three parts:
    1. Does careful, safe orgasm-sharing, with a girlfriend, damage a young man’s future marriage and life, psychologically or spiritually?
    2. Does careful, safe orgasm-sharing, with another young man, damage a young man’s future marriage to a woman, psychologically or spiritually?
    3. If a young man ends up in a same-gender marriage, is there anything psychologically or spiritually wrong with that, if the marriage includes public service and regular participation in a Christian congregation? (Or other spiritual community.)

    Answers from Pastor Frank, or other readers, would help greatly. Blessings to you all.

    • Comment by post author

      1. Orgasm sharing with a girlfriend, however it is achieved, does not damage a young man’s future marriage and life, psychologically or spiritually. What matters in marriage is a commitment of spouses to each other, reinforced by a vow before God and civil recognition.
      2. Orgasm sharing, such as a young man’s participation in mutual masturbation with another young man or a group of buddies, does not damage a young man’s future marriage to a woman, psychologically or spiritually. A heterosexual young man will find that loving making with a spouse transcends any teenage circle jerk.
      3. If a young man ends up in a committed same-sex union or marriage, there is nothing psychologically or spiritually wrong with that, whether the couple is Christian or not. I know married same-sex couples who live happy and productive lives, even if one or both partners are alienated from a faith community. Marriage, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, is an order of creation that establishes a household and is applicable to all people, not just Christians.

  4. Eric

    Thank you for the thoughtful answers. So I gather that it’s okay to be Christian and sexual, even when you are not married, or your wife is indisposed. Good to know.

    Meanwhile, I see that national surveys indicate a major decline in church attendance, especially among young people, over the past 30 years. Most Christian writers see this as a serious problem that needs to be fixed, but some say it’s okay, because it’s simply a matter of lukewarm Christians leaving congregations, while true Christians carry on, unencumbered by having doubters in their midst.

    Christian writers, and social scientists, hypothesize several reasons for the overall decline. I like to simply go observe what various churches have to say, and who is attending them.

    At the mainline churches, the music sounds generally thoughtful and spiritual, the sermons are fairly open-minded, and the congregation is mostly gray-haired.

    At the large evangelical churches, the music is long sessions of rock music, there’s a coffee bar in the lobby, the building looks more like an industrial building than a traditional church, and the congregation includes many young singles and families. The sermons sound similar week after week: Christ died for your sins; otherwise God would have condemned you to hell. Two of your main sins turn out to be believing in science (not just evolution, but also geology, dinosaurs, and so on), and not abstaining from sex in all forms, at times in your life when you are not married, or when your wife is not willing or able. (For example, on youtube you can see Jonathan Pokluda, a megachurch pastor in Texas, preaching that when Jesus said to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin, he was referring to masturbation.)

    I presume that two things that most young men highly value are finding out the truth about the world (through such things as peer-reviewed science), and having some form of sexual release throughout their lives. So when I see the many young men at an evangelical megachurch, I wonder if their support for the preaching is a mile wide and an inch deep. I wonder if, in the long run, such preaching turns out to be a major factor in the decline in church participation among young people.

    So my questions are:

    1. Is the decline in church participation a problem that needs to be fixed, or is it simply a sign that the lukewarm Christians are departing, and the real Christians remain?

    2. Despite the apparent youthful enthusiasm at evangelical megachurches, is evangelical preaching likely to be a major contributor to the overall decline in church participation, especially among young people?

    3. Has any church, anywhere, tried to attract young people (with rock music, a coffee bar, and an industrial-looking building,) but with preaching saying that science is generally a good thing, and safe, considerate sex, throughout your life, is a good thing?

    Any answers or thoughts from Pastor Frank, or other readers, would be an immense help. Thank you again.

    • Comment by post author

      Really difficult questions. What follows are not so much answers as factors to consider.
      1. The decline in church participation is a problem for mainline Protestant churches, not evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and in Western Europe and North America, not in Africa, East Asia, and Latin America. The same problem of decline would be seen in Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S. if it weren’t for the influx of Hispanic immigrants.
      2. The worship and preaching at evangelical megachurches is so generation-specific that these churches risk losing the next generation. However, many young evangelicals accept the messages of the preachers, especially concerning sexual practices.
      3. Churches that are attracting young refugees from evangelical megachurches are doing so with traditional liturgy and a deeper theological tradition, especially Eastern Orthodoxy. But this is a trickle, not a flood.
      Consider that the people who don’t believe the science about COVID-19 and vaccinations and wearing masks, also don’t believe the science about sex. Both vaccinations and masturbation are bad for you seems to be the current position of many evangelicals.

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