REVIEW: Sex(Ed)

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Sex(Ed) screens on April 24 at 8 p.m. at UNCSA Babcock and on April 25 at 5 p.m. at Hanesbrands as part of RiverRun Film Festival in Winston-Salem. Director Brenda Goodman will be in attendance for both screenings.

by Anthony Harrison

Sex(Ed)
Sex(Ed)

Some things never change. Sex(Ed) points this out in its humorous discussion of the evolution of sexual education in film.

From the get-go, Brenda Goodman’s documentary notes that more than 100,000 sex-ed films have been produced since the turn of the 20th Century, and it covers the history of sexual education over the past hundred-odd years. Yet Sex(Ed) calls into question the effectiveness of these films, as well as the effectiveness of American sexual education in general.

While sexual education has attempted to grow in terms of explicitness and women’s issues since World War II — and there have been fluctuations along with the times — sex education is still informed by the conservative Puritanism deeply rooted in American culture.

“Girls were urged to protect their chastity, while boys were urged to be sure to not get anybody pregnant,” Dr. Tara McPherson, a University of Southern California professor of gender and critical studies, says in an interview about sex-ed films in the post-war era. “Those myths were very powerful for young girls and a source of a lot of guilt, I think, for women who felt like they didn’t fit those molds.”

Sex(Ed) suggests that these myths — and the divide between male and female sexual education, not to mention non-heterosexual perspectives — persist today.

A contemporary scene early on in the film highlights the unease.

“How does, like…the male sperm get into the… uterus, though?” one fifth-grader asks, smiling awkwardly as her classmates giggle.

“Well, it doesn’t fly,” the school nurse replies. “The sperm is placed in the uterus of the woman.”

“Yeah, but how does it get there?” the girl asks.

“It’s delivered,” the nurse states, flatly and vaguely.

The moment is at once nostalgically charming and disturbing. The nurse seems nervous about discussing the mechanics of sex to a girl, underscoring the argument Sex(Ed) raises.

Just as much as a serious argument for better sexual education, Sex(Ed) is also an entertaining history of the changes in cinema and how it has transformed with cultural shifts.

While some things remain static, Sex(Ed) shows that others change dynamically.

Sex(Ed), dir. Brenda Goodman, 77 min., 2014