I grew up swimming naked at the YMCA. That's where I learned to swim. It was common back then, for boys to be naked in the pool. I thought it was kind of neat, especially in the dead of winter...I didn't have to lug around a wet swim suit and towel (they did provide towels). As I recall, the lifeguards always were wearing swim trunks, but my instructors sometimes did and sometimes did not. There was a bit of irony in these classes; as you advanced from one level to another, you received a new patch - I believe the levels were guppy, fish, flying fish, shark, etc. you got the patch to put on your suit, but couldn't wear a suit in the pool!

While there were no grandstands, no large mobs of people watching us, we did have occasional visitors...usually mothers or fathers who sat on a bench on the deck of the pool. And yes, I do remember other kids (siblings of those taking the classes) of both sexes who were on occasion with them. But you know, we didn't really care. We were a bunch of kids who were in swimming classes, and we loved it...at least I did! Good grief, back then I guess the thought was along the lines that little kids didn't need to have that much modesty.

There were times for recreational swim too, and those were segregated, males and females. As far as I can recall, I was never in the Y pool naked when there were females also in the pool. On the deck, yes...in the pool, no.

I guess it didn't really bother me, I swam in the pools at home naked, and for a while up until I was 5 of so, at a local lake where I grew up. Nudity was something accepted in my household, not something that we were ashamed of.

The whole swimming without a suit thing changed when the YMCA and the YWCA merged and things became coed. I remember there were a few times when some older men went into the pool naked when it had become coed! That change didn't' go over that well for them, but for us younger guys, it was not really a big deal.

Nowadays, the locker rooms at the Y almost require folks to remain covered at all times! What a change four decades can bring. What's all the fear and modesty about? Is is homophobia? Fear of being seen? Poor body image? Lack of self-confidence? Whatever the reason, I firmly believe modern folks have a much lower self-esteem, a confused sense of modesty (can't be naked in the locker room, but look at what you wear, what you watch on television and what you watch in the movies), and a confused sense of their own sexuality.
Redbuns Redbuns
61-65, M
11 Responses Sep 30, 2011

I remember in the early 1960s being driven in a bus by the YMCA camp to use the indoor swim pool in or near Flint, Michigan. I was amazed that they had dark marble walls in the shower with recessed lights (can lights or something waterproofed) that made the experience of showering something sensual and exotic. I remember getting a lecture from the head man that we were to shower WITH SOAP before entering the pool, and that included "wash your butt, and your crack". This was the first time that I had ever had that instruction, and so, we did so, vigorously. After that visit, I don't recall being bused there from our summer camp again. However, we were occasionally taken to "Myers Lake", which had a rusty, dilapidated "bathhouse" that was little more than corrugated sheet metal nailed to two by fours to give some "privacy" for the changing areas. This was the first place I ever saw a black person and I was amazed to see what parts of their bodies were "flesh colored" and which were dark brown. These were my earliest experiences with being nude in front of other boys, and though nervous, we all survived just fine. I remember how very hot and dark it was in there, under the summer sun. How HOT it was waiting to go inside, but after swimming in the cool lake/pond, how good that steamy hot tin room felt to get you warmed up again. Strong memories.

It's a shame that easy-going confident approach has been replaced by prurience and restriction.

I am age 66 and learned to swim at the YMCA. Sometimes when I was at a swim class my mom would come to watch. Other moms would sometimes be there with there daughters. I had no problem with that and still wouldn't if it were possible to still swim nude at the YMCA.

From the time I took my first swim lesson to High School, I never wore a swim suit at the YMCA.

During life-saving class there was some close body contact, yet no one objected to the fact that all students were naked.

During my High School years, I volunteered to assist as a pool attendant. First during younger boy swim sessions, later on during the Saturday Father-Son swim sessions.

All the fathers and sons swam in their birthday suits and the pool attendants were also nude.

There were never any mothers or other women in the pool area during boys or mens swim sessions.

When the boys came for lessons, the mothers were not allowed pass the front desk. No execptions.

For younger boys, we would meet them at the front desk and escort them to the locker room. If this was their first time, we would inform them of the no suit rule. We never had anyone object to undressing in front of other boys and take a group shower before entering the pool area.

I think the world would be a better place if we went back to those care free days.
Today boys are too shy to get naked in front of other boys, let alone girls.

And I did in Illinois, Rockford to be specific. '62 to '67. I don't know of any male in my age group who didn't. I know it was mandatory (for boys) in public schools in Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and those are the ones I know of personally. Search this and you find accounts from all over. It seems to have been universal up to the 70s sometime. The rationale was pure bullshit, something about the suits clogging the filters, as though the girls's suits were magically fiber free.<br />
My best guess is that it was just some nonsensical right of passage for young males at that time. Since then, sexual equality, panic over pedophiles, not to mention changing body imagery (who can actually live up the current norm of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, et al) have made people curiously more modest. Not that I ob<x>ject. I hear some people talk with dewy eyed nostalgia of those days. Call me weird, but I actually didn't enjoy humiliation!!<br />
As for female observers, I can't add anything personally, but I don't find it impossible for that time period. Remember that women were considered sexually harmless; a steady stream of Mary Kay Letourneaus may have divested of us of that naivete, but back then, women were all virgins, and all future mothers. I once got into it on one website with a guy who claimed he had swum naked at swim meets with his 18 yr old girlfriend observing. That he was able to give a date (1969) and a place (Von Steuben High School in Chicago) gave him some credibility. I used to think about that as I walked past Von Steuben on my way to the train in the morning. I also went to college (1973 Northern Illinois University) with a woman who said she had spent the past summer as a lifeguard in a YMCA pool in Indianapolis where the boys and men swam nude. None of us believed her, but she was adamant, and remarked that she was glad it was over, since the experience had left her somewhat "stimulated," shall we say.<br />
If it seems odd now, remember that the past is another country, and they do things differently there.

I have heard some of the same stories of nude male swimming in the inner city schools of Chicago (south shore??) from my friends around your age. That is almost unfathomable for me--a suburban kid who grew up with a bathing suit and co-ed swimming.


I personally swam nude at the YMCA in Waukesha Wisconsin in the late 1960s. At that particular Y, at that time, swimsuits were optional during swim class and recreational swim. There was family swim several times a week and during those times swimsuits were required. Even though optional, the policy until recently had been mandatory nude swim for males. Many kids in the pool didn't wear bathing suits. Another thing few people mention is that many public pools measured hair length for boys and girls -- if it was too long a swim cap had to be worn to keep hair out of the filters.

Thanks for the comments everybody.<br />
Apparently different people had different experiences. It's sort of he said/she said situation.<br />
There's a website that has LOTS of documentary and photo evidence of female teachers for boys nude swim classes and mixed-gender spectators at classes and meets. Apparently EP won't accept links so just Google:<br />
Historic Archives - Nude Male Swimming

Thank you for your story as it puts more light onto the subject for me. The reply by breath0air gives some insight into why it happened.<br />
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You talk about the females seeing boys naked, the thing is I have heard some stories of boys as old as 14 being naked at swim meets and practices with women and girls present. I even saw a story by one guy going to university telling how the guys had to go naked. I know it was not consistent everywhere as to what was the norm but did you hear any stories of older boys and men forced to swim naked and at times in front of females?<br />
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As for why the change in forty years, things change but the societal attitude to nudity is a huge change in forty years. I have after reading some comments started thinking there maybe a homophobic component to the change.

I don't ever remember seeing anyone without a suit at a swim meet. I was never good enough to make a swim team, never really wanted to I guess. The females that occasionally graced the deck of the pool were not a normal occurance...and it was mothers much more often than girls our ages. The internet is filled with many stories, but as for my own experiences, I really can't say that I was forced to swim naked in front of females unless you count my days as a young boy at the local lake; I didn't have any swim suit until the summer after I turned 5. The YMCA required men to swim sans suits, but I think that any observation by females was accidental and not "forced" or common, but it did happen.

Thanks, I realise there is exaggerated and totally fabricated stories on the net. I had a feeling going by the stories I read on the yahoo archive site it was not common or forced to be nude in front of females. But I have read some stories where the it appears to be some pre-arranged girls swim class walks in on boys class by 'accident'.
Pleased to hear from someone who experienced the phenomen first hand.

Noel, see my memory posted elsewhere in this forum about my experiences in Junior (7&8th grades) and then Senior High (9-12th).<br />
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Yes, boys were required to swim nude. Girls were not in the class, but when they swam, they were in a uniform one piece red suit. Mixed Co-ed phys ed classes were not required as late as 1974 when I graduated from high school in mid-Michigan. I suspect when Title 9 passed, and female and male gym, phys ed and other classes became co-ed, that was the end of it. I don' t know what kind of uniform suit was required, but I can immagine.<br />
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Coaches ALWAYS were clothed. Never saw a coach nude, but I do know that they changed in the office, as I saw one with a supporter as he hopped on one leg pulling on his swim trunks. He seemed not embarassed to be dressing in front of the other coaches, but a little surprised to be seen by me. (Coach's office was off limits to students.)<br />
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I was once told that this practice of nude swimming was a function of scandinavian culture imported to the northern and mid-western states. The strong Baptist and Catholic church in the deep south would never have allowed this. Or so I have been told. Nothing to back this up.

Hello,<br />
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This subject fascinates me. I posted the following to a forum I'm on about male shirtlessness, but the moderator rejected it as inappropriate. (No hard feelings, I accept his call.) But I did think it is relevant to the larger discussion on shirtlessness, as it might provide some insights into social attitudes towards varying degrees of undress, which apparently have been very different, even very recently---a theme that comes up often on that toward shirtlessness.<br />
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I was surfing the Net recently and stumbled upon a nude sleeper forum with a thread on widespread MANDATORY nudity in swimming pools at the YMCA. This was not only for boys, but for men, and I'm interested in the adults in this practice. My brother had told me about a biography of Russell Kirk in which he described his own nude swimming in public schools in the 30's, but I thought even at that time, this was just a rare practice that happened in the inner city slums, and was phased out long ago, NOT continued into the early 70's. (Once source claimed in England it was mandatory for him in 1984!)<br />
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Here and there, an anonymous Internet commentor scoffs at it as an urban legend, but many older people insist it was required and they engaged in it. Wikipedia seems to authenticate it, and they're pretty good at researching confirmation.<br />
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Some said doors were strictly locked against girls and women. Others said mothers and other females came in freely to retrieve their sons and brothers. Some say nude swim races were held and the whole family came as spectators, as well as other (clothed) female athletes to events held in the same area where nude men were visible.<br />
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Some said sometimes "instructors" wore swimsuits. Others said one or more instructors were also nude (which would make sense, since they'd have to teach in the pool, and suits were strictly forbidden in it.)<br />
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My questions, to ANYONE, who might have been an instructor, lifeguard, referee, coach, etc.:<br />
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How old were you?<br />
Did you teach nude, as a requirement?<br />
Were you nude at races with spectators, as a requirement?<br />
Did you know you'd have to be nude before you were hired?<br />
Did women see you nude when teaching, refereeing, or any other job?<br />
If so, how often? Was it common? Rare?<br />
Were you nervous? Aroused? Or did you totally de-sexualize it? Was that ever hard?<br />
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If all this is more than just an urban legend and the testimonies are true, this is a fascinating period in our history. Here we've all but banned "shirts vs. skins" and school showers, we're steadily moving toward banning VOLUNTARY shirtlessness, and 40 years ago, or later, swim teachers were REQUIRED by management to walk around and do their job in large public pool rooms, buck naked, in full view of Ward & June Cleaver. It boggles my mind.<br />
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True? False? Or somewhere in between?<br />
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Noel, I think the practice of enforced nude swimming was far more common than many of us realize today. Back before equality of the sexes, ERA and gender equality, the YMCA like many men's clubs was somewhat exclusive to men. Women rarely if ever were seen on the grounds, except in secretarial, clerk or cook positions. So, it require nudity in pools OR in the gym, wasn't that much of a stretch. I have personally seen b&amp;w photos of calethenics classes being conducted in the nude, but not all men were nude. Some in gym clothes, usually in "wife-beater" tees. I can't speak to coaches, teachers or instructors being forced to be nude, but in the 1960s in mid-michigan, I know there was such a policy at a YMCA in Flint, where you were required to swim nude. As someone else has said, it appears to be in the northern states possibly scandanavian or germanic or check cultural influences. Also, I personally was involved in swim meet PRACTICES in our mid-michigan town where the boys practiced in the nude, much as the boy's phys ed swim classes were held in the nude. However, not all meets were nude...and when traveling, a suit was expected. I had a personal friend who was severely handicapped with an unequal leg and limp who was on the swim team because he could stroke and kick like a mother in the water. He would often practice nude and hobbled around in the locker room in the nude, and no one ever challenged him. He is my strongest memory of nude swim practices indoors at either Junior High or Senior High School pools. Hope this helps.

When I took my first swimming lessons at a YMCA in Canada in the 50's my friend told me as I was preparing to go into the pool that we might have to swim nude, unless there happened to be a girl's class before us. It turned out that we never were required to swim nude, though I found it odd that my friend was half expecting it. I was probably 10 or 11. When you think about it, being that we were required to shower nude together near the edge of the pool, it would not have any shock to continue that way into the pool without putting on trunks. I remember that the instructor told me once to wash my feet again with soap. Not a bad practice for hygenity, but not something that would be likely done today. Looking back at how this got started I find it odd that there was an acute awareness of girls being bashful or modest but no consideration that boys might share the same traits. If I were to guess I would suggest that someone high up in the Public Health System back then lusted after young boys and was able to influence the decision to require boys to swim nude but not girls. I cannot see any other explanation that would really fit into the way things happened and how long it took to change. At the present time our bias has gone full circle and now one of the worst things imaginable that you can do to incite hatred is to allow your child to swim nude, even in your own backyard pool.