top of page

The History of Organized Male Nude Swimming in the U.S.

Peter Covino in a pool in Quogue, NY in July 1993

BAMMER47: Did you know that, until the 1960s, it was a widespread requirement that boys who swam in segregated groups in public school pools and in other private recreational facilities in the US did so completely in the nude? Girls, however, were always required to wear full suits.

The first indoor recreational pool in the country opened in the Brooklyn YMCA in 1885 and it introduced the custom, which was widely practiced and never questioned for almost 75 years. Nudity among members of the same sex didn’t become sexualized until the last few decades.

Water polo match at the NY Athletic Club (early 1900s?)

The origins of this practice related to the fact that early men’s swimwear was made of wool and loose fibers would clog the relatively unsophisticated filtration systems that existed then. Nude swimming was enforced to make sure the pools didn’t break.

Although more comfortable swimwear that didn’t shed fibers became available in the 1920s, the practice endured for 40 more years for another reason: nude swimming was deemed to be more hygienic. In fact, it was an aquatic director’s job to inspect men before they were allowed to jump in the pool, ensuring they didn’t have open wounds or infectious diseases.

Societal norms began to change in the early 60s and the practice gradually disappeared. However, I fondly recall being required to swim nude in the all-male pool at the prestigious private New York Athletic Club (NYAC) during my first years in the city, from 1976 until at least the mid-80s. (Gay men of my age sorely miss that aspect of those years!:).

Thomas Eakin's painting: "The Swimming Hole" (1884-5)

For more info, click here.

Today’s photos are of various shots I’ve taken at different swimming pools over the decade, plus a vintage shot of the NYAC pool (pic #2) and another of Thomas Eakin’s famous painting “The Swimming Hole (pic #3).

Antonio Beck, Nick Calabrese, & Darren Kearns - East Hampton (1999)

Acapulco swimming pool scene during my 1984 vacation

Pool from inside a Fire Island Pines house where I guested (1983)


bottom of page