Locker Rooms 

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. 

According to the NYT article, this is because:

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.


About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

2 responses to “Locker Rooms 

  • Bryan D. Spellman

    I haven’t been to a gym in years, but during the time I did have gym memberships, I noted that things changed drastically over the years. Early on (1980s), men had no trouble being naked in the locker room, even having extended conversations with each other in the nude. By the late 1990s, I watched younger men come into the shower room still wearing their shorts/trunks, but wrapped in a towel. They would go into the enclosed shower (no gang or open showers here!) and only then, presumably, remove the towel and clothing, being careful to completely wrap up again before emerging from the shower stall. By the early 2000s, I was astounded at the number of men who would show up at the gym wearing their workout clothes under their day wear, strip down to their gym clothes, work out, then proceed to put their work clothing back on over top of their now sweaty gym clothes without ever stripping nude or climbing in a shower. Makes me wonder what has happened to us as a people.

  • jacki perrette

    When I was growing up – probably around the time your parents were growing up – we were required to take showers after gym class. None of us particularly wanted to do it, but we did. We laughed and talked just like we did in the hallways of the school. We were individual in our resposes to the situation. Some people avoided being seen as much as possible and others didn’t seem to mind. It was just something we all had to do.
    As far as our showers, the teachers weren’t doing a very close watch on how much actual washing was happening. They did a quick look to see wet arms and lower legs. We had our towels wrapped around us from armpits to knees while we walked between the showers and the lockers.
    The actual shower room was very large with spigots at intervals throughout the room. ( and the actual showering, we hurried in and out not really visiting with anyone.
    As an adult, my locker room experiences have varied. For about 7 years, lap swimming was my exercise of choice. I did that at a city community center. All us swimmers showered together in one room – no stalls, no curtains, spigots coming off the walls at intervals. We didn’t leave our suits on. No one thought a thing about it. Several years later I joined the Y and worked out on Nautilus macines, free weights and an elliptical. I showered and went to work afterwards, but the showers there were all individual and no one was naked in front of one another. I didn’t follow suit. I still dried and dressed at the locker. Pulling clothes on in the shower stall while still damp was an unpleasant thought. I am not proud of my physical appearance, and I’d rather not show myself off, but I’d still rather get dry and use products like deodorant, powder or lotion before putting my clothes on.
    I do think that the reticence of others to be seen nude also makes them avoid looking in the direction of someone else who is getting dressed or undressed.
    I have mixed feelings about the way showers are handled in schools these days. There are several influencing factors in decisions to do away with the practice. The result has been that nudity in circumstances such as this are an unknown experience for individuals growing up today. They are bound to avoid it.

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

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