Synopsis: A ramped up sex ed doco packed with gratuitous nudity, lesbian liaisons, and candid interviews with colourful pioneers of Sydney’s gay and transvestite community. Narrators Sandy Gore and Michael Cole take viewers through the alphabet of sexual behaviour from “A for Anatomy” onward.
eyelights: its surprisingly sex-positive message. its sexiness.
eyesores: the lameness of the last half of the alphabet.
‘The ABC of Love and Sex – Australia Style’ is a quirky sex ed documentary made in Australia and released in 1978. It was referred to in the ‘Not Quite Hollywood‘ documentary and had been on my list of so-called OZploitation films that I had to check out.
In some ways, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a sex ed film: it covers all the main aspects of sexuality and love, without delving into the specifics of either, like the sexual acts or emotions. It’s a general overview just as one might expect.
It is narrated, but there are no substantive interviews aside for some footage of a troll-like Swedish sex researcher, who talks about her country’s approach to sex, also providing general advice a handful times throughout the doc. It’s pretty generic stuff.
But the film wasn’t meant to be dry. In fact, it attempts to lighten the proceedings with a tongue-in-cheek approach, starting with a claymation sequence of a schoolteacher introducing the subject to a bunch of kids. This setting would return to bookend the film.
Then the credits rolled over a musical sequence featuring two girls in leotards dancing distractedly next to large letter cubes – the first featuring the letters ABC on them, naturally. This was slightly weird because it made me think of ’70s public television.
Then the documentary started going through the alphabet, associating a word to each letter (scrawling them on a blackboard, no less) and providing explanations and advice for its viewing audience – some at length and others in a more cursory fashion.
Here are the highlights:
A = Anatomy: This one began with a particularly attractive couple, who were stripped naked to reveal their anatomical features.
B = Birth
C = Contraception
D = Dreams: For this one, they enact some fantasies, including sex on an airplane, sex in an elevator, using mirrors and sex in a cinema. Some of it was surprisingly titillating.
E = Erotic: This was memorable because it showed a couple eating a feast in a hyperbolic way; it was comical, if anything. I particularly loved the pig’s head on the table. How sexy! They also covered Erogenous Zones to some degree in this segment. I was amused that they confused rectum for anus. I’m not sure many people would be comfortable having their rectum caressed.
F = Fun
G = Genitals
H = Homosexuality: Although the narration is very objective and accepting of homosexuality (more so than one might expect given the era), the footage is really stereotypical, showing bitchy and swishy gay men. Ugh.
I = Innocence or Ignorance: This one talks about the double-standard between men and women and discusses the importance of sex education.
J = Jealousy: They talk about the double standard again, with men being allowed to be polygamous but expecting women to be monogamous. They do a reverse role-play, with two women in a bar, acting like men often do. Nice touch.
K = Kiss
L = Love: This is basically a lengthy scene of a couple making the sex (!). It’s somewhat explicit, and not the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a classroom sex ed film. I’m not complaining, naturally.
M = Masturbation: Although they don’t show a man doing it, we spent some time with a young woman caressing herself. It’s pretty hot.
N = Natural or Normal: Although it covers what is “natural” or “normal”, for some reason it goes back to the letter M by discussing Masochism.
O = Orgasm: I was hoping for “Oral Sex”, but alas…
P = Pornography
Q = ?: Strangely absent
R = Rape: It’s a good thing that they discussed this, to try to lift the veil around rape. However it suggests that this can only happen to women. And it also says that no women fantasize about it, which we all know isn’t true (fantasy and reality are different things – the brain works mysteriously). Otherwise it was a good segment.
S = Seduction
T = Temptation
U = Understanding
W = Words
X = eXcellence
Y = You
Z = …
What I found unfortunate was that the first 2/3 of the documentary focuses on the first half of the alphabet and then it breezes through the rest at light speed. Although they covered a fair bit already, I would have liked them to expand on each a lot more.
What surprised me was how explicit it was; I had expected it to be suggestive, but not to show as much as it did. To think that three and half minutes were cut from the original film to be passed by the Australian Censorship Board. I’d love to see the uncut version.
It was really sexy at times, though. Where porn isn’t erotic, this was subtle enough that it left a lot to the imagination. And it was shot in a way that made the participants alluring, caressing their bodies slowly and posing them in enticing ways. It was unexpectedly yummy.
But it was very ’70s – delightfully so. I really loved the diffused lighting, and found the kitschy pseudo-disco and r&b soundtrack amusing. The hairstyles very much dates it, but I quite like natural, long hair on women, so that was appealing to say the least.
The most surprising thing to me was how sex-positive, wholistic this was. ‘The ABC of Love and Sex’ is a documentary that promotes sexuality as a healthy thing, without a restrictive agenda or much of a subjective bias. I was quite impressed, given my expectations.
For something dated nearly 40 years ago, it’s much more receptive to other perceptions of sexuality than merely the vanilla, heterocentric ones. The narrator is always saying that what’s normal for one person might be abnormal for another – and vice versa. Pretty progressive.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by ‘The ABC of Love and Sex – Australia Style’. It’s not exploitative, and it’s not too dry either. For a 90-minute sex ed film, it’s quite entertaining… and sexy. Granted, it doesn’t cover everything (ex: safer-sex), but it’s a good general overview.