I came across this fascinating documentary about nude swimming in schools. I have been arguing that our modern aversion to images of the naked child is very recent. This documentary reveals that in many parts of America is was common for boys to swim naked up until the 60’s and 70’s.

However, what I find even more fascinating is how quickly this piece of social history was forgotten. What this tells us is that people can choose to forget once common social customs when those customs have become sexualised, shameful or embarrassing – or deemed politically incorrect.

The documentary is on Youtube and has been split into 3 parts – part 2 is the better section. I do not claim it is a good documentary. It is in need of tighter editing and the director does tend to get sidetracked. However it does contain important documentary evidence that nude swimming was a widespread practice and even a health requirement.

I should add that modern censorship and concerns over child pornography means that contemporary film makers may never be able to depict this historical practice, thus reinforcing the idea that it never happened.

10 Responses to The History of Nude Swimming in Schools

  1. paul trezise says:

    I was a pupil of Marbury School Adelaide in the 70’s http://humanfamily.net.au/?p=1
    the young children swam in the swimming pool without clothes – both boy boys and girls – in fact clothing was forbidden for hygenic reasons, nobody thought that unusual !!

  2. sean says:

    Boys were required to swim nude at my prep school in NZ in the early 70’s. Sadly they’ve abandoned the practice now. ‘Out of step with the times’ I suppose, but it was a lot of fun and turned me into a life long nudist.

    The kids all showered together so swimming nude was not of any great import. Some of the teachers obviously enjoyed supervising and the kids sniggered if they noticed a trouser tent. Also, parents visited for swimming sports and snapped away happily with their cameras, making child pornography without even realising it!

  3. marecek says:

    I was born in 1962 and grew up in San Francisco. All the pools I ever went to were mixed gender (Jewish Community Center nearby, etc.), so I have never seen this. However, I did have a rather odd experience in France in 1998. I was in south central France, the region of Auvergne. My wife and I went to a public pool. She swam without a problem but I was denied admittance because I had trunks rather than a speedo. Apparently the skimpier suit was mandatory, and the explanatory (to the extent I could understand it) was sanitary. Evidently trunks are more likely to be dirty with bacteria etc. and contaminate the pool. Silliest thing I ever heard. I imagine any suit that isn’t washed properly (or put out to dry) after use can get dirty and have bacteria, etc. Anyway, this experience fits in with the experience that full body suits made out of wool tended to get dirty and carry bacteria, etc. Of course my trunks were light-weight synthetic material.

  4. aaaa says:

    In my country kids do nude beach until they are 11 years old. (romania)

  5. Martin says:

    I went to Shears Green Junior School in Kent in SE England in the early 1980’s. Being a junior school it was boys and girls, 8 to 11 year old. We had a (slightly) heated indoor pool and had nude swimming lessons several times a week, girls only on mondays, boys only on fridays and MIXED nude swimming on wednesdays, and (if I remember correctly) saturday morning the pool was open to everyone in the school and it was clothing optional, I used to go with the other boys and girls from my class, most of us swam naked! This went on from the 1960’s to the mid 1980’s. Boys and girls also did PE lessons and country dancing together, we had to take all our clothes off and put on a pair of thin cotton shorts which was all we were allowed to wear, we all went barefoot and everyone went topless, including the girls who were only allowed to wear a t-shirt when they developed ‘boobs’.
    This seems completely unbelievable these days, but have a look at the facebook and friends reunited links and read some of the comments and memories!


    • Ray says:

      Thanks for this valuable info – mixed seems unusual. Things changed rapidly in the 80’s as a result of widespread moral panic over child sexual abuse. What was once considered innocent was given a sinister tone.

      • Martin says:

        Mixed nude swimming WAS unusual in the UK, but did happen! Apart from my school I have only heard of three others in the UK where boys and girls were allowed to swim together naked in lessons, and only one school where it was mandatory, and again that was a Primary school so all the kids would be under 12. It was of course mandatory for boys in a lot of schools where swimming lessons were segregated, and of course in a lot of boys only schools, doesn’t appear to have been as common in girls groups though!
        My abiding memory of school swimming lessons as a small boy was that we didn’t give a damn, it was wonderful to be able to just take our clothes off and jump straight in the water, and while there was quite a lot of teasing and joking went on, I don’t think any of us really cared, once you had seen the whole class naked you had seen them, so it was time to get on with playing in the water!

  6. Martin says:

    The links I gave two comments above are proving a bit unstable, however if you go into either Facebook or Friends Reunited (UK) and enter ‘Shears Green’ you WILL find the links and all the memories from huge numbers of past pupils, boys AND girls who swam together totally naked in the school swimming pool, and who either loved or hated all having to do mixed PE lessons ‘topless’. ALL these activities done with the knowledge and consent of their parents! Certainly wouldn’t happen today!
    Please feel free to email me with your thoughts or comments!

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