It wasn’t too long ago (early 2000s) that I had my first “sex ed” talk at school. I was in the third grade and our teacher separated the class so boys were in one room and girls were in the other. I remember watching some irrelevant video about puberty and the school nurse handing out some deodorant. We were then advised to write down any questions we had on piece of paper that would be read anonymously out loud and answered to the best of the nurse’s ability. Thinking back on it, how would a school expect students to feel comfortable about asking questions about our bodies when we’re put under the shame of anonymity?
It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I remember getting comprehensive sex education. It was generally a good sex ed program. We discussed anatomy, contraception, STD’s, and the stages of pregnancy and development. What I remember distinctly about that class is getting a better grade on the male anatomy test than the female anatomy test. I actually knew more about men’s bodies than I did my own.
The only discussion about homosexuality was that they were the people who got HIV and AIDS. And the video we watched about AIDS was Philadelphia with Tom Hanks. I didn’t know how gay sex worked until I watched Brokeback Mountain for the first time, and I didn’t know how lesbian sex worked until I got to college.
I easily could have asked my parents these questions. We had and still have an incredibly open relationship, especially when it comes to sex. But, I never would have thought to ask those questions because I wasn’t exposed to them in the first place.
Sexual education is constantly changing. Since its early beginnings at the start of the 1900s to now, sex has gone from a sin to an accepted, natural thing (for the most part). There’s still the endless debate over whether abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education should be taught in schools. The one thing that stays the same are the videos. OH, the videos. I remember cringing watching a teen in an ugly 90s sweater try talking to his friends about condoms. And the acting. OH the acting.
I knew sex ed films were horrible, but I didn’t know the extent of it until seeing Sex (Ed): The Movie at the 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival. It’s equally hilarious as it is horrifying to see clips of some of the sex ed films made over the decades. A country song sung about masturbation in a hot tub. A “sick” gay predator stalking a young boy. Teaching boys to avoid girls that may seem clean but are probably dirty on the inside. They were all over the place.
What’s amazing, and what the film does really well, is shows the holes in sex education programs even in our schools today. Only 19 states require sex education today, and only some of those require that the information be medically accurate. Most of the sex education programs this day still avoid most topics relating to homosexuality or gender identity, and a lot still advocate for abstinence as the best and only form of birth control. Kids still feel incredibly uncomfortable and shameful talking about their sexuality and even their bodies.
There’s an interesting moment in the film where an interviewee says, “(When I’m young) I’m taught I have an elbow but I’m not taught I have a uterus.”
Where the documentary follows a very one-dimensional “interview only” format, it manages to stay educational and very entertaining. Producer and director Brenda Goodman does an excellent job formatting clips together to paint a chronological portrait of the evolution of sex ed videos.
The cherry on top of the film was Planned Parenthood meeting movie-goers outside the theatre with informational packets about teaching your kids education, complete with a nice little packed of some condoms and lube.
If you remember that horrid feeling of watching your sex (mis)-education, check out Sex (Ed): The Movie, playing again Wednesday Oct 7 at 9:45 p.m. at Fox-Bay Cinema.