Synopsis: How did you first learn about sex? Maybe it was a book with colorful illustrations, a talk with Mom or Dad, a corny classroom film, or just a random encounter with a dirty magazine.
Sex(ed): The Movie offers a revealing, occasionally awkward, and often hilarious look at how Americans have learned about sex from the early 1900s to the present. Using clips from an astounding array of sex ed films, this entertaining documentary captures what it was like for the kids – confusion, shock, embarrassment – and as well for those doing the educating (often with moral agendas front and center).
Sex(ed) ultimately shows us that educating kids about sex is not just about conveying the facts of biology and the dangers of STD; what we learn (and how we learn it) affects our identity, our relationships, and our ability to be intimate throughout our lives.
Sex (Ed): The Movie 7.75
eyelights: its historical overview of sexual education in the United States.
eyesores: its brevity.
“We teach kids driver ed partly because we know that teenagers want to drive, but also because we know that people will drive a car for the rest of their lives. That’s not what we think about with sex education, apparently.” – Carol Queen
‘Sex (ed): The Movie’ is a 2014 film by Brenda Goodman. Not to be confused with the sex comedy starring Haley Joel Osment, which (to confuse matters completely) was also released in 2014, this is a documentary that explores the history of sex education in North America.
Taking a chronological approach, it begins in 1883 with the first sex ed class and begins to explore what sex ed is, asking a variety of participants, from educators to the average person, how they define it, what their own experiences were, and what is currently lacking.
Personally, the closest thing to sex ed that I had in school was one awkward gym class wherein the male teacher tries his best to pass on a little bit of information. This was in grade nine, and it only lasted the one class (so, approximately 50 minutes). It wasn’t much.
Thankfully, the internet didn’t exist then, so aside for porn magazines, there wasn’t any other place except the library to get any form of information. And, curious as I was, I spent some time sneaking away books when I visited. Eventually, I started taking them out.
And, yes, I read them.
I also benefited from a relatively progressive parent: my mother gave me a few books that covered quite a lot about various aspects of being a teenager, including some very thorough chapters on sexuality. And, yes, surprising as it may seem, I did read them. And re-read them.
And, no, they weren’t picture books.
But I can’t imagine what it must have been like to not have access to any information, to have to rely on one’s unreliable teenaged peers for knowledge of sex. But this is what most people had to contend with up until the ’70s, really, when the barriers broke open.
And even today, as evidenced in the documentary ‘Let’s Talk About Sex‘, kids are learning from the worst possible sources available and actually believe all sorts of urban myths – all because some people are afraid that their kids might be corrupted by sex education.
Ignorance isn’t bliss, folks.
In fact, as per ‘Sex (ed)’, kids are more likely to partake in behaviour that adults would disapprove of BECAUSE they haven’t been provided with factual information about their bodies and sexuality. Being uninformed certainly doesn’t prevent them from being sexually active.
Case-in-point, teenage pregnancies – which are generally not caused by “accidents”.
In any event, ‘Sex (ed): The Movie’ was quite fascinating because it provided insight into the progress and setbacks in sex ed over the years. It was interesting to find out that some of the first sex ed films were created to inform new immigrants, who didn’t all speak English.
Then the next big phase was during the Second World War, when the government took it upon itself to inform its men in order to avoid a plague of VDs (later STDs, now STIs). They took it so seriously that John Ford was hired to film the dramatic ‘Sex Hygiene’ in 1941.
What’s notable is how women were frequently discussed as the bearers of diseases, as being unclean, even though these diseases were originally transmitted by men. Women were dirty. Men were just being men. Heck, even today, women are branded as “sluts” and men are just horny.
The most stunning film of all the ones featured in ‘Sex (ed)’ is 1946’s ‘The Story of Menstruation’, which was actually produced by Disney (albeit for Kotex). Yes, it was animated. And, yes, it was geared towards teenaged audiences. Sex ed was becoming more commonplace.
A notable fact about sexual education is that it frequently segregated males and females and provided different information to both groups. For instance, boys were told about masturbation and both reproductive systems, but girls weren’t: their changing bodies were the focus.
It’s not so surprising: Women’s sexual power has scared the bejeezus out of so-called “traditional” societies because there’s fear that a sexual woman can’t also be a mother to her children and support for her spouse. There’s fear that the fabric of our society will tear if women lust.
So better that they repress such desires, right?
In women. But not men.
Naturellement. (Le sigh…)
Other interesting films were the dating shorts from the fifties (which have been spoofed quite well by ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’), which were well-intentioned but naive, providing teenagers with mixed messages: girls should protect their virtues and guys their sexual health.
‘Sex (ed): The Movie’ is enhanced by a series of factoids indicating landmarks in sexual education and social mores, such as the various Kinsey reports, the introduction of the birth control, gay rights, Roe vs. Wade, ..etc., providing us with a context on sexual education.
All told, ‘Sex (ed): The Movie’ is a really good overview of its subject. It’s by no means particularly in depth, but it gives one a sense of how things got to where they are now. And while it’s not a sexual education film, per se, it’s nonetheless an important one to see.
It sure explains a lot about North America’s sexual identity.
Date of viewing: January 12, 2016