Nudism, Naturism & My Adult Life
When I was 9 years old and a fourth
grader at Lowrey Elementary School in Dearborn, Michigan, my class began to have
regular physical education classes taught by a special P.E. teacher rather than
by our regular classroom teacher. And since our school had an indoor swimming
pool, we had swimming classes as part of the P.E. program. For these
classes--separate classes for boys and girls--boys were required to swim nude.
We heard that girls wore regulation "tank suits." Day after day 80-90 naked boys
in a single swim class would tussle and push, shove, and kid around by the pool
and race, play water polo, and enjoy "free play" in the warm water.
It was the same story throughout the remainder of public schools through the
12th grade, in an intermediate swimming class and senior lifesaving class I took
at the University of Michigan, and during free swims in the men's pools at
Harvard and Princeton. During an intramural swim meet, attended only by males,
in which I participated with my undergraduate college dormitory, some of the
men, including me, swam the races nude. In the pool at the Michigan Men's Union,
swimming was typically nude. The same was true at YMCA pools of the period. At
many pools men were required to swim nude; at others swimsuits were optional.
All of that changed when physical education became coeducational and athletic
facilities at YMCAs and YWCAs, on college and university campuses, and in public
schools were opened to both men and women. With coeducation nude recreation
ended. Today one newspaper reports that boys, who in my generation were required
to take group showers after every gym class, now rarely shower together. Even
football players apparently wear their uniforms home after a game rather than
undress and shower in front of team-mates. Another newspaper reports that boys'
participation on swim teams has declined because of their objection to wearing
brief Speedo swim suits. Men's swimsuits have become big baggy pants that hang
dripping and heavy about the body like some penalty exacted for an unnamed
But I carry in me the imprint of 20 years or more of nude swimming. I liked it.
I liked the feeling of the water on my body, the feeling of freedom floating
unencumbered in the swell. I have always resented swimsuits, uncomfortable, wet,
When we moved to Oakland 30 years ago, our family enjoyed Stinson Beach in Marin
County, a huge, sandy strand. We liked to hike along the surf from the north end
to the south. At the south end are piles of huge rocks blocking the pathway, but
it was possible to clamber in, around, and over the rocks and onto a rock-strewn
smaller beach just to the south. And at low tide one could walk even farther to
the south, around a rocky cliff jutting out into the ocean. One day during a
particularly low tide I followed that route around the cliff and found myself at
the end of a small cove with its own sandy beach nestled against the rocks. It
was filled with nude sunbathers. I had discovered "Red Rock," one of
California's famed "free" or "clothing optional" beaches. Men and women of all
ages, from young adults to graying retirees--singles, couples, families,
friends--and a few children, were sunning themselves, playing frisbee, joining
in card games, reading, splashing in the surf. They were jammed much closer in
this small cove than the sunbathers at Stinson Beach, but they seemed more like
a community of people enjoying one another's company than the isolated families
or friendship groups set apart on their distant towels at Stinson.
I felt out of place there in my suit, so I thought, "Well, here goes nothing,"
and I whipped off my suit, stuck it in a hole in the rocky cliff, and enjoyed
some time naked in the sun, surf, and sand before re-suiting and rejoining my
family up on what I learned later to call the "textile" beach. I initially felt
excitement, but neither arousal nor embarrassment or shame, and, as I got used
to being in the open nude among dozens of other nude beach folk, I felt happy,
pleasant, peaceful. I enjoyed the feel of the sun, air, and surf unimpeded
against my body.
With that experience I decided I wanted to learn more about these people and
this experience. I began to return to Red Rock Beach and soon after learned--it
must have been in the annual nude beach edition of The San Francisco
Guardian--where other such clothing-optional beaches were located and visited
them too. I joined The Naturist Society and, for a time, belonged to the
American Sunbathing Association, now renamed the American Association for Nude
Recreation and read their journals. I discovered and subscribed to Naturist Life
International, published by a rigorous and somewhat conservative Catholic
layperson, who has established a home in rural Vermont, where he and his wife
raise (and homeschool) their five children almost wholly without clothes. There
are two nudist resorts in the immediate San Francisco bay area, Lupin Naturist
Club, off of highway 17 between San Jose and Santa Cruz, and Sequoians Clothes
Free Club, at the end of Cull Canyon Road just north of Castro Valley, and I
have visited both.
What I have discovered is a
congenial, wholesome, hospitable, altogether "normal"
group of people who are like all other people except that they have
grown to be comfortable, to thrive, and to prefer dispensing with clothing when
the setting permits it--in their homes, on clothing optional beaches and remote
hiking trails, and at nudist and clothing-optional resorts. At Red Rock Beach,
Lupin, and The Sequoians I have happened upon people I knew elsewhere--students
from the seminary at which I teach, a psychotherapist colleague, a graphics
designer who has provided me designs for continuing education advertising, a
Graduate Theological Union administrator. I have met interesting people who in
their textile lives are computer engineers, a museum curator, freelance artists,
stock brokers, students, military, other clergy, all sorts and conditions.
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