Cleanliness versus Godliness

Excerpts from Chapter 2


The information we have considered so far sketches the rough outline of swimming history in Britain. But there is more to this history than meets the eye. Having considered the facts, we will now dip beneath the surface and look at the reasons behind the swimmer's demise. In time we will look at the seaside holiday and the popularity of sunbathing, but first we will consider the reasons behind Christendom's war on swimming and bathing, as we examine two perceived opposites: cleanliness and godliness.

The Good Book

Carnal Thoughts

The Swimming of Witches

Dirty Waters

A Cruel Cut

Double Standards 


the down side, the success of this order against mixed bathing resulted in a marked decrease in the number of those attending the bath. Even so, the link between immorality and bathing continued. In 17th century London, the sweat-ing baths were notorious as havens for male and female homosexuals. The rub-bers and attendants were seen as nothing more than perverts. Many were pro-fessional catamites, willing to work in the establishment without wages purely because of the opportunities working there presented. The Christian faith faced a real dilemma. On the one hand it wanted to promote a lifestyle devoid of pleasure and especially sexual pleasure, whilst at the same time the benefits of bathing could not be denied. Yet how could they allow the general population, and especially common people, the privilege of bathing, when they were perceived as being immoral in the extreme? Over in Japan, a bathing culture had developed which proved very ap-pealing, especially to the working classes. A Japanese proverb: 'bathing buddies are the best of friends' illustrates the attraction. They also had concerns over segregation, not of the sexes, as was our experience, but rather of the classes, as they were keen to maintain their social structure. Despite mixed nudity, the history of the Japanese bath lacks the scandal of the Roman and British experi-ence. Daily, families bathed together with their children, and they felt no shame in their nakedness.  Here in Britain, the people had been so restrained by religious oppression and feelings of guilt that once clothing was removed for bathing,  the sensation of freedom and nudity led them to lose all self-control. The working classes were seen as devoid of all morals and restraint, and so they needed to be taken in hand for the sake of their health and salvation. The upper classes were seen as little better, they would indulge their every whim without thought to propriety. This left the middle classes to restore balance and control, and this they did through their professional positions and political offices. Thus the middle classes took responsibility for the shaping of British culture.   A Cruel Cut  Over in America, the 1860s saw circumcision introduced to control childhood sexuality. John Harvey Kellogg (Seventh Day Adventist) was a leading pro-moter of circumcision along with his other health cure - Kellogg's Cornflakes, which, it was said, could free a person from the urge to masturbate. In his book

of 1888: Plain facts for old and young, he states: 'A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anaesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, es-pecially if it is connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases.' Patients in hospitals for the insane were observed to be habitual mastur-bators and it was assumed that this vice was the cause of their insanity. It was then believed that semen was manufactured by harvesting resources from the blood stream and that masturbation depleted essential reserves, debilitating those who abused themselves to the point that they would become physically and mentally enfeebled.  Clerics felt no need to rely on the Bible for guidance on the matter (see footnote 55). Despite the fact that the Law of Moses omits to cite the practice and that it is not specifically mentioned elsewhere in scripture, they felt sure that it was an unnatural act (it could never be procreative), and therefore it was judged to be a mortal sin, greater in gravity than fornication or adultery. As the guilty supposedly faced eternal damnation in a fiery hell, it was felt essential, especially for children, to be protected from such a fate at all costs. Childhood mortality was then much more common, thus a sense of ur-gency impelled many parents to welcome the circumcision of their children as a route to salvation. Although unable to stamp out the practice of self abuse en-tirely, by removing much of the organ during surgery they sought to reduce the frequency of indulgence by decreasing the pleasure obtained.   Reinforcing such attitudes, in 1891 the English surgeon Jonathon Hut-chinson advised the operation as a measure to prevent disease and disorders, but his premise remained the same. He writes:  'Measures more radical than circumcision would if public opinion permitted their adoption be a true kindness to many patients of both sexes.'  Regarding one unfortunate he continues:  'Clarence was addicted to the secret vice practised among boys. I performed circumcision. He needed the rightful punishment of cutting pains after his illicit pleasures.' 

This change of tack would have dire consequences for many children. When masturbation was considered merely as a sin, true repentance would lead to sal-vation.  However, once it was perceived that a child's health might be in-volved, people became much more worried. Ideas that circumcision helped pre-vent all manner of diseases gained quick acceptance in both America and the UK, especially among the upper middle classes.  Hysterical claims were made promoting this outrageous practice; hailed as a cure for anything and everything, which was really a cover up for the abuse that medics had inflicted on countless terrified boys.  When problems surfaced, they could not bring themselves to admit that they had made a terrible mistake. Great stress was now being placed on cleanliness and the operation came to be seen as an essential modification to the human male. Many felt confident, thinking that because God introduced circumcision in Bible times there could surely be no harm in it. This was a view that our European partners remained unconvinced about, and their reluctance to 'jump on the bandwagon' meant that the sexual mutilation of boys was thankfully limited to the Anglo-American union, along with those countries over whom it held sway. In Britain today, we still circumcise more than 22,000 boys each year,  12,200 in hospitals (mostly babies), along with thousands more in private clinics and in the community, figures grossly out of proportion to numbers in the rest of Europe. In America roughly 80% are circumcised, com-pared to about 2% in Sweden. 	Circumcision, as practised by Abraham and his descendants, was an op-eration that removed only a small amount of skin. The change to today's drastic type of surgery is the result of a knee jerk reaction to the evangelical success of the early Christians. During the 1st century, Jewish religious leaders were horri-fied to see thousands of Jews deserting their faith to become Christians. What made things worse was that these Christians would not circumcise their infants. Added to this, some of Jewish descent were having their condition reversed, in order to compete in the Greek Games  (competitors ran naked and Greek cul-ture  

Skinny dipping

















"...a thought-provoking and stimulating book, written in an accessible, direct and conversational style. It should be of interest to every outdoor swimmer." Brandon High The Outdoor Swimming Society