I've got a confession. I'm a skinny-dipper.
Get me next to an isolated pool or pond in the summer and I shed my shorts in a flash for a plunge. I once lived naked for a week on a beach in Hawaii and dream of doing it again.
All the senses tingle. You feel alive, adventurous, a little sexy -- even when you're alone. It's just not the same with a Jantzen clingling to your skin.
"Magical," says a 33-year-old Washington free-lance editor, who stripped to the buff for a moonlight swim with three couples sharing a lakeside cottage on a recent weekend.
"Once you've been swimmiong that way," agrees a mid-40s bachelor, "you don't want to do it any other." Along with several other couples, he doffed his suit one weekend last summer at the home pool of a Washington media name.
"I felt like a seal. Taking off one tiny piece of clothing made such a difference. It made you feel like you were slipping through the water. I felt I could undulate under the water. It was so soothing and comfortable."
Among friends, he says, there's "no embarrassment," though maybe a little sub-surface peeking. "Everybody was splashing around like kids."
Some people may find the whole idea outrageous. But in privacy or among family and friends, it seems harmless. Though, as Georgetown psychotherapist Al Baroff notes, "group pressure" might influence the unwilling. In that case, "People can resist."
"Skinny-dipping -- nude swimming," writes Harvey S. Wiener in Total Swimming , "is a sensual turn-on . . . Romance, wetness, bare flesh, body contact: water bristles with sexuality." "Sensous," agrees Baroff. "You're taking part in a sensuous act."
A working wife in her mid-20s recalls her first suitless dip -- at a teen-age religious camp:
"ywe were in the swimming pool at night -- six or eight of us. We started with our clothing, but somebody began peeling off."
"It wasn't all that sexual," she begins, and then starts over. "It was sexual being a teen-ager and naked and just romping around."
Still, it seems, sex isn't the only factor among skinny-dippers. There's also the fun, the feeling of freedom, and the kick from doing something a little risky and maybe a little naughty.
At the beach at Assateague last summer, the same working wife swam out beyond the breakers with a female friend, where they slipped out of their suits. "It was so nice. We just floated on our backs, getting an all-over tan in the water.
"There were some people on the beach, but we were too far out to be seen." Even so, "We just giggled like schoolgirls."
At Ocean City one night a few years ago, says a writer in her 50s, somebody said, "Hey, let's go skinny-dipping. So, a whole bunch of husbandless wives' scurried out to the surf. "It was all very asexual." But a lark.
A former counselor at a young-teens girls camp says she and her charges used to go for nighttime swims in the nude. "My girls were so excited. They enjoyed the sneaky part of it. They were doing something you wren't supposed to do.
"I allowed it, because I thought it was fun and a part of camp life. This goes back many years when this sort of this wasn't even discussed."
As a result, "We had a camaraderie, a closeness in our group."
Psychiatrist Terrence Chastek of the Psychiatric Institute of Washington links grownup skinny-dipping with recapturing elements of play, innocence and youthful rebellion from our childhood. From adoloscence, we experioence "a sense of breaking the rules, of doing something you're not supposed to do -- though harmless. From infancy, we get "innocence -- when you were 3 or 4 you could walk around the house bare bottom."
"We were born naked," says Washington psychologist Lawrence Tirnauer. "I think we all find a kind of release in being naked in all the senses -- physically and emotionally." Skinny-dipping can be asexual, he says, or, "if we're honest with ourselves," it also can be seductive and exhibitionist."
Beyond the psychology, a skinny-dipper can also find practical reasons for going without bathing suit.
Carol (first name only), a manager of Pine Tree Associates, a 600-member nudist park near Annapolis adds: "You don't have tan lines."
Roland Senecal, spokesman for 25,000-member American Sunbathing Association of Orlando, Fla., a national nudist group, cites the comfort of a naked body -- "especially in the ocean when you get out of the water. "With a suit, he says, you suffer "that unforgettable feeling of salt and sand inside."
Or it could be you want to get out of the heat and you forgot your trunks. At a New Jersey lakeside wedding last summer, says one of the guests from Washington, a group of sweating ushers and bridesmaids dropped the formal garb on the shore for a refreshing dunk before returning to the reception. She joined in when she discovered, "Hey, my boyfriend's out there."
Finding a spot to strip at our crowded parks and beaches is not easy. After all, skinny-dippers generally arenot streakers intent on baring all to a sometimes unwelcoming audience. And who wants to face a possible charge of indecent exposure?
Once a group of us thought we were secure in a small, off-the-trail pool in Shenandoah National Park, far enough away not to offend families hiking in the back country. We deposited our clothes on the bank and dove in au naturel . Only after splashing and scampering on the rocks for several minutes did we spot on the hillside above several people who must have been watching all along.
A close friend and his female companion sneaked over the fence to swim naked in the pool at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown a few years back. For a while, they had a great time. Then the night watchman caught them. Dark thoughts of public disgrace, he says, filled their minds. But after a stern lecture, their captor sent them away free.
The next day, though, my friend had to go back during visiting hours to find their shoes they had forgotten under a bush.
But, if you're alert to the possibilities, you'll find a place. Last month at a lakeside cabin, I arose at dawn before anyone else was up for a quiet swim in the cool morning mist. Anyone I met at that hour, I figured, had to be another skinny-dipper or too sleepy to notice.
In Hawaii, on the northern coast of the island of Kauai, I hiked for 10 miles along a cliffside trail to an isolated beach at the end. ythe first people I saw were a honey monning couple. On their way to explore the nearby woods, they were dressed only in backpacks and sandals.
It was, I quickly learned, the proper attire for the dozen or so campers who found their way this far off the roadway. I joined them, but not without some regret a day later when usually unexposed skin got an overdose of sun.
That week was exhilarating. A grown man, I played at being an island native -- padding about the woods, diving into the surf, showering in a waterfall, sharing a meal of freshly caught fish and wild fruit. And all the time, without a stitch on.
One of the most delightful episodes in a thoroughly likeable movie, "Return of the Secaucus Sevebm," us a woodlands skinny-dip almong old colelge friends. Middle-aged couples in Alan Alda's "Four Seasons" take a (shy) plunge in the sea, too.
Skinny-dipping "has been around a long time," the one-time camp counselor points out. "Since Adam and Eve.