How uncool did you have to be to announce the arrival of your period to the whole house? Is it really something you want your dad and brother discussing over potatoes? Today, most American adults can call up some memory of sex ed in their school, whether it was watching corny menstruation movies or seeing their school nurse demonstrate putting a condom on a banana.
The movies, in particular, tend to stick in our minds. Screening films at school to teach kids how babies are made has always been a touchy issue, particularly for people who fear such knowledge will steer their children toward sexual behavior.
But sex education actually has its roots in moralizing: American sex-ed films emerged from concerns that social morals and the family structure were breaking down. Pamphlet courtesy of the Prelinger Archives When the first sex-ed films appeared in , no one wanted to talk about sex, but venereal diseases, like syphilis and gonorrhea, were wreaking so much havoc on the American public, filmmakers took on the burden of educating adults about them.
Film proved an ideal instructional medium for topics that made people blush, and over the century, movies were made with a wide range of agendas—to prevent VDs from weakening our military forces, to teach teens how to date, to promote birth control in the developing world, and to ward children away from sexual predators.
In the beginning, sex-ed films for teenagers served to reinforce middle-class norms, specifically the belief that sex is only for procreation in the context of a heterosexual marriage. Even though polls consistently show more than 80 percent of Americans support comprehensive sex education, less than half of all U. Of course, America has a long tradition of keeping tight-lipped about the facts of life. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the United States was by and large a rural country, and most children learned about sex by observing animals on the farm.
Young women, expected to abstain from sex until marriage, often only learned about it the night before their weddings, but young men usually had earlier access to carnal knowledge: Older relatives or co-workers might take an adolescent to a brothel as a coming-of-age initiation.
As industrialization and urbanization spread and immigrants flooded into the cities, vices seemed even more accessible and the self-righteous started to rail against all forms of excitement, from male masturbation and to rich, spicy, or processed food. The frontispiece by J. Proponents went on to demand a legal age of consent and sexually segregated prisons. The activists also opposed abortion, contraception, and pornography. Such anxiety about living in an impure society led to the Comstock Obscenity Law of , which made it illegal to send erotica and information about contraceptives and abortifacients through the U.
At one point, the Comstock Law even blocked anatomy textbooks; the idea of students learning how their own sex organs function in books was apparently scandalous to Victorians. While social purity leaders urged parents to teach their children proper sexual morals, by the end of the s they were looking to school as the next-best place to teach proper behavior. Via WikiCommons In the early s, groups like the American Social Hygiene Association pushed for sex-ed programs in schools that promoted restricting sex to marital procreation and warned of the dangers of contracting VD from non-marital sex.
As conservative as this sounds, it sparked outrage: After Chicago initiated the first sexual education program in its high schools in , the Catholic Church campaigned against it, so fiercely the city quickly discontinued it and ousted superintendent Ella Flagg Young. It would be at least six years before another school system would introduce a sex-ed program. Not every turn-of-the-century American engaged in such pearl-clutching. In fact, new ideas about sexuality and sex education were brewing in New York City.
There, Margaret Sanger, a young nurse working with the immigrant population, encountered the horrific aftermath of self-induced abortion attempts. He visits a doctor who takes him on a tour of the hospital filled with patients tormented by the disease and its sores.
When his baby is born with syphilis, he commits suicide. Film, Video, and the Framework of Desire. Some corporations would show these films on the lunch hour. They create revolution, breed disease, and spread bad practices.
So the films also had an altruistic side, coming from progressives who hoped to alleviate some of the misery. According to Prelinger, people like Franklin Lane, U.
When the war started, the public questioned the morality of such kits. A popular tool for educating soldiers was the stereomotorgraph, an early slide protector.
We cannot show the suffering, mental agony, divorces, and ruined homes caused by syphilis and gonorrhea. In July, just four months before Armistice Day, Congress passed the Chamberlin-Kahn Act that both funded sex education for the soldiers and also gave the U. A poster from the ASHA blames the spread of venereal disease on prostitutes. They must be avoided. Of course, men pass on a lot of VD to women, which is one of the things that turns up in films where children are born blind or dead.
During World War I, certainly a major element in the fight against VD is making women take the fall as the carriers. Young men, after facing their own mortality during the war, began to drink and dance at Jazz Age speakeasies, and young women embraced sexual liberation through the flapper movement. Suddenly, teaching traditional sexual morals in high schools and at universities seemed more urgent, especially with VD still rampant.
Click image to see larger. Made specifically for college and high school classrooms, U. Both strongly moralistic films show young people grooming and keeping physically fit, with animated sequences depicting the process of menstruation and fertilization, and warnings about the risk of venereal disease. Controlled, the sex impulse, like the horse, may be a source of power and service.
The sex impulse is like a fiery horse. Uncontrolled, it may be destructive and dangerous. It is a selfish, childish, stupid habit. As you might expect, the youth depicted as the ideals of fitness and beauty in the movie were white. Birth control was seen as one means of reshaping the human race; another was forced sterilization of prisoners and people held in insane asylums.
Both opposed abortion, but aligned themselves with eugenicists. When the Nazis became the enemy—and the epitome of murderous evil—American thinkers and scientists disowned their formerly open beliefs in eugenics.
Once America entered World War II , the question again arose about the morality of teaching venereal disease prevention to young soldiers, many of whom arrived fresh from the farm, inexperienced in both warfare and sex. This time, the U. Army Signal Corps focused on making training films for military and civilian personnel and also documenting battles. Eberwein argues that the message that women who have sex with multiple partners will emasculate men, and by extension, ruin American society, was so hammered into the minds of millions of American men who served in World War II that the fear lives on in our culture today.
She looked clean all over. And the periods of mystification and anxiety are much longer. When Jerry brags about taking Jenny out, he learns that she dates all the boys, and he feels less important. No, those who park in cars are not really popular, not even with the boys they park with.
Not when they meet at school or elsewhere. Anybody with skin in the game was willing to finance these films. While the scenes explaining menstruation are frank and scientific, the male narrator also instructs the young woman on how to cope with PMS without offending anyone with a disheveled, unattractive appearance or improper displays of emotion.
You have to live with yourself, too. We saw several films that asserted women needed to look good and act appropriate. Brown Trust, which is affiliated with the University of Oregon, to produce sex education films that would be appropriate to show kids as young as 11 years old. Beck wrote the film, director Sy Wexler shot it, and Albert Productions produced it.
This segues to the daughter in a mixed-gender classroom where the teacher is leading a discussion about the change from child to adolescent. When the animation ends, the movie teacher quizzes the movie kids and fields their polite questions.
You can discuss these same questions with your teacher, and you can add any others. You have the model family—the boy, girl, mother, and father in the living room—a monument to middle-class normality. Sex education is occurring not on the streets, but with the sanctioned approval of the home and school. Homosexuality was never addressed in these movies, and the actors were never people of color.
It was shown all over, except where it was banned. Among the finding, the report stated that 92 percent of men interviewed had masturbated. The film gives short shrift to the science of how syphilis is transmitted, prevented through condoms, or treated with penicillin.
Instead, it draws audiences in with a melodramatic narrative promoting the notion that premarital sex—and women giving it up too easily—can only lead to anguish and shame. Several films assert women needed to look good and act appropriate. Again, the woman is the vector. In the postwar era, cities grew larger and more hostile, and even new suburbs spread into one another, creating unbroken sprawl.
Suddenly, parents felt they no longer knew everyone in town, and their children faced all sorts of risk when they rode out to the ballpark on their bikes. The broad boulevards were filled with sexual predators and dope. Somebody wanted to run your bicycle down, and somebody wanted to steal something from you. There were drunken drivers, too.
It was a world filled with all kinds of danger for kids. But he put a real moral spin on it. They develop the kind of relationship where he keeps wanting more and more. In it, boys innocently befriend older men who offer them rides home. A sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual, a person who demands an intimate relationship with persons of their own sex. But whether Sid Davis himself was homophobic is up for debate. There were never many films like that.
He made it four times. I saw him as a profiteer.