Early in my blog, I did a post called “Naked Male Camaraderie,” which has been the most popular post on this blog. A friend recently shared a New York Times titled “Men’s Locker Room Designers Take Pity on Naked Millennials.” One of the things I talked about in my previously mentioned blog post was that guys these days don’t like being naked in front of each other, which was part of this NYT article. In the article, it states:
But gyms are still unable to provide the one thing younger men in particular seem to really want: a way for them to shower and change without actually being nude.
Each day, thousands upon thousands of men in locker rooms nationwide struggle to put on their underwear while still covered chastely in shower towels, like horrible breathless arthropods molting into something tender-skinned. They writhe, still moist, into fresh clothes.
If you’ve been in a locker room recently, you know how sad and true this is. When I was in grad school, I used to frequent the gym there. In the locker room they had the gang showers (which was supposedly a major gay hook up area), three private showers, and a sauna. I never saw anyone use the group showers unless they kept a swimsuit on and most guys kept a towel on in the sauna, the only exception being Asian guys. Except for the swimmers who’d shower in their swim trunks the guys who wore speedos tended not to have a problem with being fully nude. So with the exception of swimmers wearing speedos and Asian guys in the sauna, most other guys did the towel dance.
Showering after gym class in high school became virtually extinct in the ’90s. And if Manhattan’s high-end gyms weren’t riddled with ab-laden models or Europeans (or both), there would be few heterosexuals under 40 who have spent any naked time with other men.
A generation ago, when most schools mandated showers, a teacher would typically monitor students and hand out towels, making sure that proper hygiene was observed. In schools with pools, students were sometimes required to swim naked, and teachers would conduct inspections for cleanliness that schools today would not dare allow, whether because of greater respect for children or greater fear of lawsuits.
In a striking measure of changed sensibilities in school and society, showering after physical education class, once an almost military ritual, has become virtually extinct. This is beginning to change, especially with athletes in schools, as health officials are increasingly warning that not showering after gym class leads to MRSA infections, the potentially deadly staphylococcus infection that is resistant to most antibiotics. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has practical advice on preventing staph infections. Showering right after exercise is at the top of the list.
If showering can help prevent a deadly disease from spreading to school children, why aren’t more schools making showers mandatory? There are several reasons, which seem as varied as insecurities about body image, heightened sexual awareness, and a lack of time in a busy school schedule. The lack of showers in schools leads to a shyness about bodies that is virtually nonexistent in older generations. Old men seem to have no problem walking around locker rooms naked but young men do.
In March 2015, Men’s Health had an article about locker room etiquette called “Are You the Gym Locker Room A**hole?” in which they outline their do’s and don’t’s of locker room etiquette. Here’s the problem with this article, they asked a woman about male locker room etiquette. What does a woman know about men’s locker rooms? (No offense to the women who read this blog.) Two of the things she warns against are nudity and conversations in the locker rooms. Really? According to her, men should not be nude in the locker room nor should men talk to one another. I find that utterly ridiculous.
Nudity in America is so puritanical that it’s nearly nonexistent. The NYT article makes some interesting observations about what gyms are doing to attract more members. The main thing is providing more privacy. Men are afraid to see each other naked. They are afraid they won’t measure up, whether that is with whether they are a shower or a grower or whether they are just insecure about the way their body looks as a whole. Men need not fear being naked in front of one another.