Synopsis: Arguably the most comprehensive and best sex education documentary ever made, “A Girl’s Guide to 21st Century Sex” is a documentary series about everything sex, which ran for 8 episodes on UK Public TV in 2006.
eyelights: its concise yet precise approach. its breadth. its sexy bits.
eyesores: Ava Cadell. the sex therapist advice segments.
As ‘Sex (ed): The Movie‘ illustrated, documentaries on human sexuality are in abundance. But it’s quite difficult to cover all there is to discuss in just one film. Enter ‘A Girl’s Guide to 21st Century Sex’, a television series produced in 2006 for the UK’s Channel 5.
Hosted by Dr. Catherine Hood, the female-focused eight-part documentary takes a modern look at various aspects of human sexuality, with regular segments running through each 45-minute episode, highlighting a specific sexual position, an STI, and advice from sexperts.
I stumbled upon the series last year, when Yahoo posted a small blurb and video showing a couple strapped with video cameras, showing sex from up close and even from inside the vagina. For all the documentaries on sexuality that I’ve watched, I’d never seen that before.
So I tracked down the source.
Amusingly, that article was written with a “look at how outrageous these Brits are” tone. And yet this was produced 10 years ago – it’s actually nothing new. Still, I figured that a series that dared to go this deep and is aimed at women had got to be fascinating.
It turns out that it’s actually rather sexy stuff, too – more so than what we’d have found in North America at the time: there’s a lot of nudity, including genitals (although sometimes that’s blurred), and it uses what looks like porn footage to transition between segments.
It’s not something you’d find on broadcast TV here, that’s for sure.
Here’s a quick rundown of each episode:
1. The female orgasm: In which they discuss the various types. Interestingly, female ejaculation was still in question at the time – even though it’s been well documented since at least the early ’80s. To cement the segment, they showed women masturbating (but it’s blurred – because watching a woman masturbate is too shocking?).
Blow jobs: Sexpert Lou Paget gives a quick course on giving “a great blow job’. They focus on recreating the in and out movement of intercourse – there’s no licking, no attention given to the scrotum, …etc. I mean, the fun thing about oral sex is that it’s different from intercourse; there are so many sensations that are specific to oral. So why focus on emulating a vagina?
The Missionary position: Although it’s the most common position, they go deep with this one, and even show an ejaculation from inside (but female masturbation is censored! WTF). I thought it was really gutsy of this couple to do this, but then I discovered that they are actually porn actors Elizabeth Lawrence and Stefan Hard. Ah, of course.
Gonorrhea: Learn about Gonorrhea in all its icky details.
Overweight sex: They talk about the difficulties in maneuvering during sex and the cardiac risks. Also, we meet a “morbidly” obese woman who, even at 500 lbs, apparently has plenty of partners – she claims some like her pillow-like softness.
Lesbianism: They discuss stats and the different types of lesbians.
2. How to stimulate the clitoris: This consists of a quick overview of the clit, with lots of data. They also talk about looking at one’s vagina in the mirror, a key component of getting to know one’s body.
The Doggystyle position: They provide a brief history of the position and then show Lawrence and Hard going at it.
Penis enlargement: Three men test three different penis enlargement products for two months. One of the doctors is skeptical, but there are surprising results. I would like to know if this has been confirmed – after all, only one test trial is hardly conclusive.
The HPV virus: Good times with STIs.
Penis severance and reconstructive surgery: Here they talk about a few cases of men’s penises being severed by their partners, and particularly focus on a Thai man who had cheated on his spouse. Funny how they comment that he’s forgiven her for cutting off his penis, but make no mention of her forgiving his infidelity.
Cunnilingus: Sexpert Lou Paget gives tips for cunnilingus. Apparently putting a finger on the perineum helps gauge arousal and orgasmic response. Nice. I did not know that.
3. The G-spot: Some “claim” it’s powerful and that most women have one. WTF. What does it take to just confirm it once and for all? That’s like the claims about female ejaculation in the first episode. And yet they even show a woman having a procedure to temporarily enhance her G-spot, using collagen (which “only” costs 2000GBP!!!)
Lou Paget on role-playing: All her segments are really brief, but this one was particularly meaningless.
The Side-slide position: Here they provide its history and also talk about the squeeze technique to slow down a man’s excitement during sex. Tried but true.
Chlamydia: Good news: cases of it had tripled between 1990 and 2005.
Intercourse with a small penis: Here we hear about a man who has a 3.5 inch penis – when erect. They discuss surgical options and techniques.
Pregnant sex: They talk about the health concerns, advantages, impact on fetus and limitations.
4. Male masturbation: Its history and the stigma associated with it, as well as its apparent health benefits.
The Reverse cowgirl position: Again, a close up look at the position – and incorporating anal stimulation for spice.
Peyronie’s disease: They discuss a condition that causes scarring, resulting in the penis bending unnaturally when erect. They show corrective surgery.
Physically disabled sex: Here we have a few brief testimonials.
Lou Paget on female multiple orgasms: Unlike its subject matter, this was brief and unsatisfying. Again.
Using drugs in conjunction with sex: They talk about the appeal and risks. But mostly the risks.
5. Tantric sex: A brief history. And they talk about men having orgasms without ejaculating, thereby leading to multiple orgasms. Unfortunately, the language is a bit new agey, giving it absolutely no credibility.
The Spoons position: A quick description and performance. They also talk about a man’s desire to sleep afterwards.
Male impotence: A brief look at one guy’s experience. Unfortunately, his anxiety is likely not helping – didn’t someone tell him that sex is more than just penetration? Anyway, he goes for penile implant. A shame. (Plus which it squeaks! WTF.)
Lou Paget on erogenous zones: Yawn – not the subject, the insubstantial approach to it.
Syphilis: It’s back! Who would’ve thunk it?
Anal sex and rimming: Its pleasures and risks. Funny… there were no internal cameras this time.
6. Group sex: Here we get various testimonials from swingers. They claim it’s focused on the women, partly because there are so few of them. They also discuss the rules, dos and don’ts.
The X position: It’s basically cross-legged, away from each other.
Spanking: A history and a brief look at massaging of the buttocks.
Lichen Sclerosus: This is an icky skin condition that mostly affects women. It’s a traumatic, painful mutation that results in the genitals being reabsorbed in the body, scarring, and the eventual closing of the vagina. Thankfully it’s not sexually-transmittable. Not that women affected by it can have sex – it’s far too painful! Fucking Hell… poor them.
Lou Paget on toys: Move along… there’s nothing to see here.
Fetishism: Of all fetishes, they focus on mummification (i.e. full body suits) and a guy who wraps his body in cling wrap. I’m sure not all fetishes are this daunting to the average person, so why pick this?
7. Aphrodisiacs: Here we get conflicting information from a couple of experts: One says it’s all association and another, Ava Cadell, says that oysters work, as do chocolate and asparagus. Okay, whatever.
The taste of semen: How to change its taste with nutrition (Tobacco, alcohol and meat are to be avoided. Fruit is best.)
Splitting the Cicada position: This one has the man lying over woman, giving 6 shallow thrusts followed by 9 deep ones. It’s reminiscent of some Taoist techniques, although it’s not as involved.
Genital crabs: Testimonials on what it’s like getting crabs, how shaving isn’t enough.
Sex at an advanced age: Watch a 70-year-old do it with a doll. Then a couple talk about what’s changed for them over the years.
Lou Paget on sexual fitness: Exercises to improve sex.
Sex in public: This is mostly focused on men going to public restrooms, otherwise known as cottaging. They talk about its history, how it’s done, etiquette, …etc. There’s probably a lot less of this type of hooking up these days, what with apps and all that fun stuff.
8. Designer vaginas: In 2005, 17000 plastic surgery operations were done each year, worldwide, to change women’s vulvas and vaginas – most of them being in the United States. Of course. It was sad to hear how much women aren’t happy with the uniqueness of their bodies, especially since it’s mostly normal. To counter this notion, ‘Petals‘ should be widely distributed. Anyway we watch a woman get the surgery. After the procedure, her vulva was technically perfect, at least in porn terms, but it lacked character. And they didn’t discuss the consequences, like scarring and loss of sensation.
The Lotus position: This one consists of sitting astride, legs wrapped.
Gender reassignment surgery: The history of transsexuality and we meet a man about to transition.
Sperm: What it’s made of and where it comes from. Surprisingly, in light of previous similar segments, this was a pretty lengthy one.
Aphrodisiacs: Again. With Ava Cadell. Again.
Gender reassignment surgery, part 2: Anne Marie goes under the knife. Yes, we see the surgery and results.
Frankly, I thought that ‘A Girl’s Guide to 21st Century Sex’ was pretty decent, given that there’s so much to cover. Sadly, they could only spend so much time on each topic, so it often wound up being a crash course on everything. It’s not really in depth (haha).
But the worst were the sex therapist bits with Lou Paget, which were so brief that they became redundant. It made me think of that Michael Palin and Eric Idle sketch in which they quickly explain to kids how to fix world hunger and other such issues in naive, absurd terms.
The worst of it was when Ava Cadell, a former actress turned sex therapist, chimed in. Her delivery was far too theatrical and flowery, making her seem like an airhead. Anyway, her eye-rolling performance stripped what little credibility these segments had.
Beyond that, though, it’s a pretty good series. I felt that it was maybe a little biased in some aspects, and perhaps didn’t do as much research in others, but it’s nonetheless a good primer for anyone who is looking to know a little bit about human sexuality.
It’s a decent beginner’s guide.
Date of viewing: March 10-19, 2016