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by Brenda Goodman (Director)
First Run Features, 2015
Review by Christian Perring on Jan 26th 2016

Sex (Ed)

This 77 minute documentary examines how sexuality and gender are represented in sex education films for young people and the armed services, and the public debate over how explicit they should be. There was some films in the 1930s about dating, but they were very coy. On the other hand, films from the 1940s aimed at soldiers were quite explicit, but also very sexist, depicting women as carriers of disease.  The double standard between males and females is pervasive in sex-ed films for many decades. The documentary shows various talking heads, both academics and regular people recalling their experience learning from these films. The best part of the documentary are the clips from these old films, and these are both funny and illuminating as representations of cultural actions. We also see some scenes of contemporary sex education classes, it does seem that things are getting better in terms of reduced sexism, homophobia, and more positive attitudes towards sex. We see how controversies over sexuality are nothing new, and have existed for as long as there has been mass media.  Sex (Ed) does well at giving a broad picture of cultural changes over the decades. It has some great clips and images  and the general tone is one of mild amusement and optimism.  The documentary lacks specificity; there are few details about who made the different sex-ed films, how many people saw them, and what kind of effect they had, or any such information. So while the film has the sort of liberal point of view that one would expect and hope for, it does not do much to show that a liberal approach actually has better results.  There's a bit more specific info about abstinence-only sex ed has worse results than a more balanced approach. Sex (Ed) would be useful in college classes on sexuality, and makes a sensible claim that young people need mostly non-judgmental scientifically informed sex-ed.  The DVD extras include two old sex ed films, "A Respectable Neighborhood" (1961) and "Masturbation Story" (1970s) which are both great representatives of their eras.


© 2016 Christian Perring


Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York


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