VIDEO: Sixty Years of Britsh Sex Education Films Released on DVD

Brady Swenson

The British Film Institute has released a double DVD anthology of British sex education films from 1917 through 1973 called The Joy of Sex Education.

The British Film Institute has released a double DVD anthology of British sex education films from 1917 through 1973 called The Joy of Sex Education.

The earliest films warned teenagers of the dangers of
unwanted pregnancy, venereal disease and doing nothing "of which you
would be ashamed to tell your mother or your sister".

Many of the films were released in the years around the Second
World War, when the Government was keen to protect the health of
troops, often separated from their wives and families.

But the
films do not move as easily from innocence to explicit material as
might be expected, said Katy McGahan, from the British Film Institute,
who put the films together.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


She said: "What I expected to see a
very neat progression from a euphemistic, talking around the subject,
approach in the 1910s and 1920s that you would expect to a much more
liberalised and explicit approach with the onset of the so-called
sexual revolution in the 1970s.

"Although that was the case to
some extent many of the early films were much more progressive in their
attitude than later films".

You can check out Katy McGahan and psychologist Dr. Petra Boynton discussing the films in an interesting BBC podcast as well as more footage from the collection.

The film collection has Guardian blogger Peter Bradshaw riveted:

can’t be many new DVD releases of short film anthologies which are
unstintingly riveting all the way through. But here’s one. For the past
couple of days, I have been glued to the BFI’s incredible collection The Joy of Sex Education,
which is a compendium of sex education films from 1917 to 1973. They
have a weird similarity to old-fashioned stag films, not merely because
of explicit content, but because they are designed to be watched in a
semi-clandestine world: created not for cinemas or television but for a
private clientele in church halls and classrooms and family planning

Some of these films are genuinely horrifying. The
brutally entitled Don’t Be Like Brenda (1973) is an eight-minute
lecture to young women, telling them not to be sexually promiscuous
like the film’s hapless heroine – although heaven knows, the
promiscuity hinted at here is tragically modest. Poor Brenda goes all
the way with a boy who does not marry her. The film is stunningly
without any useful educational content on contraception and makes it
entirely clear that the woman, not the man, is to blame. The film even
makes her poor unwanted child suffer from a heart defect, so that no
one wants to adopt the poor little thing – just to hammer the point
home. Katy McGahan’s excellent programme note on this film (in the
DVD’s accompanying booklet) doesn’t mention it, but the caddish male in
the film is played by Richard Morant: many of the film’s target
audience would have seen him, two years previously, playing the evil
Flashman in the BBC’s teatime adaptation of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

The undoubted masterpiece of this double-DVD set is Martin Cole’s
23-minute Growing Up from 1971. Now, this begins with some pretty ripe
statements about the differences between the sexes, with some blather
about how the softer female sex stays home nesting and the questing
males are "usually more inventive and creative". But the film boldly
shows film of real people – not coy line drawings – in a concerted
attempt to show the realities of where (gasp!) babies come from.
Remarkably, it even shows film of real people – a man and then a young
woman – masturbating. This clear, frank and in fact rather dignified
film got Cole tonnes of hate mail, encouraged by the tabloid press.



Analysis Sexuality

Sex Education in South Carolina Still Failing 25 Years After Passage of Comprehensive Law

Martha Kempner

South Carolina was ahead of the curve in adopting a mandate for health education, which includes a reproductive health component, in 1988. A new report suggests, however, that 25-years later many school districts aren't following the mandate and students are still not getting the education they should. 

In 1988, the South Carolina legislature passed the Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA) which was designed to standardize health education instruction in the state in order to “reduce substantially the amount of money the state spends to care for teenage mothers and their often sickly babies.” We can argue about the language and motives behind the legislation but the process of standardizing how young people learn about health is an important one that many states still have not undertaken.

South Carolina was certainly ahead of the curve passing such a bill so long ago (I was still in high school in 1988), but 25 years later there are questions as to how effective the law has been since sexual health statistics show South Carolina struggling with teen birth rates and sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates higher than the national average.   

A new report assesses the current status of health education with a focus on the reproductive health component. A Sterling Opportunity: 25 Years After the Comprehensive Health Education Act was conducted by Health Advocates LLC and the New Morning Foundation using a Department of Education survey of school districts in the state. The authors wanted to determine whether districts were following the parameters of the CHEA, what they were teaching, how well those teaching the subject were trained, and what materials they were using. The authors found a number of places where schools were failing to follow the law and providing inadequate—and in some cases inaccurate and outdated—information to students.

While the findings are not as outrageous as some found in other states, they shed important light on the situation in South Carolina which is struggling with a few issues: a law that has some good components and some highly restrictive ones, misunderstandings about what the law does and doesn’t require, and a complete lack of accountability.  

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


The Law

The CHEA is very prescriptive in what is required as well as what is prohibited in health education including reproductive health education and teen pregnancy prevention. For example, it requires that each year students in grades nine through 12 receive comprehensive health education that includes at least 750 minutes of reproductive health education and pregnancy prevention education. Sixth through eighth graders are also supposed to receive reproductive health education which must include STD information. It may also include information on contraception, though this is up to the local school board. 

The law does restrict sexuality education to a certain extent. It requires an emphasis on abstinence, says that contraception information must be provided in the context of future planning, and directs schools to present adoption as a “positive alternative.” In addition, schools cannot provide any information about abortions, distribute contraception of any kinds, or show films that portray actual or simulated sexual activity. Finally (and I’d argue most disturbingly), the law states that “health education classes may not include discussions of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships” except in the context of STDs.

Despite these conservative aspects, the sexuality education component of the law has been controversial since the law was passed. In fact, there have been a number of attempts to change that part of the law. The report notes one amendment to the law proposed in 1998 that sought to change the purpose of the CHEA from “promote responsible sexual behavior,” to “the goal of this act is to reduce the incidence of sexual activity among school aged youth.” In 2004, there was an attempt to reduce the amount of sex education instruction from a minimum of 750 minutes per year to a maximum of 200 minutes. These challenges have failed.

The law also has administrative aspects such as teacher training requirements; an “opt-out” provision that allows parents to remove their children from the reproductive health portion of the course; and a requirement that districts assemble an advisory board of parents, teachers, and clergy to review materials.

Even though the law remains in place, according to the report many school districts are not following it. In fact, the study found that 75 percent of the districts surveyed were out of compliance with some piece of the reproductive health portion of the CHEA.

The Findings

Schools were out of compliance on issues related to time spent on reproductive health, teacher training, and administration. For example:

  • 66 percent of districts that responded did not teach STD and HIV prevention in all three middle school grades.
  • 23 percent of districts that responded did not have the appropriate community members on their advisory boards.
  • 12 percent of districts that responded did not provide the required teacher training.

Interestingly, 96 percent of districts that responded reported teaching all 750 required minutes of reproductive health in high school. 

Districts reported other issues that showed they were either not understanding the law or deliberately defying it. A number of districts, for example, seem to have misinterpreted the “opt out” provision which essentially says that students will be enrolled in the class unless their parents choose to exempt them. Many school districts, 26 of the 69 that responded, were using a much more strict “opt-in” policy which requires parents to sign permission slips before a child can attend the course or the sexuality education portion of the course. Opt-in requirements put an administrative burden on the school and can result in young people missing out on a course not because their parents object but because they forgot to sign the permission slip or it never made it out of the kid’s backpack. 

The most disturbing finding, however, was that eight districts were using materials that were out of compliance with the law, including abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula and outdated programs. 

What Kids Are Learning

A few months ago, the New York Civil Liberties Union undertook a similar review of sex education in their state and we learned that some districts were defining vaginas as sperm depositories and reminding kids that HIV leads to AIDS and certain death within three months. The South Carolina findings were somewhat less outrageous but inadequate nonetheless.

Only one of the high school textbooks used provides information about condoms or other forms of contraception. Some give lessons on abstaining from sex until marriage instead while others leave out vital information or just get it wrong. For example, one mentions “unprotected sex” but never defines it. Another inaccurately says that “barrier protection” is “not effective against HPV-human papilloma virus.” In fact, there is a great deal of research to suggest that condoms reduce the risk of contracting HPV as well as the risk of HPV-associated health issue such as cervical cancer. 

And then there is Holt Lifetime Health, which was part of a controversy in Texas, mentioned in the New York report, and is the subject of a California lawsuit. It famously says that the way to avoid STDs is to “get plenty of rest.”

Other school districts are using strict abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum including Heritage Keeper’s and Worth the Wait. These are both fear-based programs that focus exclusively on saving sex for heterosexual marriage. Heritage Keeper’s, for example, tells young people:

“Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous.”

Worth the Wait has this to say:

“Teenage sexual activity can create a multitude of medical, legal, and economic problems not only for the individuals having sex but for society as a whole.”  

And both programs include a slew of gender stereotypes and biases. 

Unfortunately, the report found that some districts that are not using these commercially-available curricula are nonetheless giving students similar messages. One district, for example, created a worksheet entitled “Protection Against Date Rape,” which explained:

 “A female may dress and act ‘sexy’ because she wants the male to find her attractive… The male may misinterpret her dress and actions as wanting more. This type of miscommunication sets up problems.”

This age-old idea that boys will be boys and girls should not “ask for it” has been used for years to blame rape victims for what happened to them. The authors note that this victim-blaming is misguided and dangerous:

“Instead of putting the brunt of responsibility on females to protect themselves against sexual assault, we should instead teach our youth—both women and men—that healthy relationships foster open communication, understanding, respect, and freedom of choice.”

One positive finding of the report is that despite the law’s assertion that schools cannot discuss “alternative lifestyles” to heterosexuality, the report did not find many materials that actively discriminated against LGBTQ students or their families. The authors write:

“Fortunately, blatantly discriminatory or homophobic materials are relatively rare in South Carolina sexuality education instruction and there has been more of an effort to make schools safer, more welcoming environments for all students, regardless of sexual orientation.“

Still, they acknowledge that the CHEA statute ignores non-heterosexual students and that this can contribute to a homophobic environment in schools.     

Multi-Prong Remedy

The CHEA is important in that it mandates that young people receive health education that includes reproductive health components but the law itself is not without its flaws. This means that there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to improving sex education in South Carolina.

In general there needs to more accountability; though the law directs the Department of Education to oversee compliance, there is even disagreement as to whether the survey it created to do so is required of all districts. Elizabeth Schroeder of Answer, a national sexuality education organization, points out that few laws of this kind have any teeth: “Just saying that our state has a sex education mandate isn’t the answer.” She noted research she had done years ago in a northern state with one of the best mandates in which she discovered that many districts were simply ignoring the law because there were no consequences of doing so. 

In a potential move to boost compliance, the authors of the South Carolina report suggest that health education become a requirement for graduation arguing that this would force schools to be more accountable in providing it. In addition, the report focuses on teacher training and recommends that health education only be taught by certified teachers and that health teachers be required to get periodic updated training on sexuality related topics. As Kathryn Zenger, a research analyst at New Morning Foundation who contributed to the report, put it: “We require math teachers to be certified in math and science teachers to be certified in science, health is no different.”  Zenger also noted that it’s important to change the law and its enforcement in ways that will be most effective for students. Having the information delivered by trained teachers, she said, is one of those changes that will have a direct effect in the classroom.

Other important changes recommended in the report speak to the law’s current restrictions on content. For example, the authors think that the law should be changed to remove the requirement that contraception education be provided only in the context of future planning. They note that given that almost 60 percent of high school seniors in South Carolina are sexually active this context isn’t realistic. Schroeder adds that many teens are still concrete thinkers who cannot think in terms of future planning. She notes that this is why course requirements should be crafted by educators and people with child development experience rather than policymakers.

The CHEA has now been in place for 25 years but it has clearly not met its goals even when we remember that those goals were written in terms of cost. The report’s authors note that birth to teen mothers cost the state $197 million each years.

This report is the first step for taking a multi-prong approach to fixing sex education in South Carolina. It also should serve as a reminder to advocates in other states that a law is a first step but we have to stay vigilant.

Another Anti-Choice Hypocrisy: Freedom of Speech and Sex Education On Our Terms or Not At All

Robin Marty

Why do same people who condemn sex education in elementary schools also tend to support anti-choice displays in those same classrooms?

Anti-choice advocates are declaring it a victory for first amendment rights.  A 12 year-old girl who was asked by school administrators to remove a graphic anti-abortion t-shirt she wore to her elementary school sued, stating the action violated her free speech rights.

Now, two years later, the girl’s family has received a $50,000 settlement from the school district to, according to district officials, pay court fees to end the case, not to admit any wrongdoing.

The t-shirt was allegedly worn as part of American Life League’s “National Pro-Life T-shirt Day” action in 2008, according to the group.  On that day, students are encouraged to wear shirts to school that have anti-abortion statements in an attempt to “educate” other pupils about the importance of protesting abortion.  Yes, even in elementary schools.  Via California Catholic Daily:

[Attorney William J. Becker Jr. of The Becker Law Firm] Becker, assisted by the Thomas More Law Center, filed suit on behalf of [mother] Anna and [student] Tiffany Amador. “Public school students are not forbidden from proclaiming the value of life under the First Amendment. The school has done the right thing by avoiding a trial and allowing a judgment to be entered in favor of this student on all claims. All Americans, no matter their age, are free to exercise their constitutional right to speak out against the barbarism of on-demand abortion, and that includes public school students who do so in a non-disruptive manner.”

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


“Student speech at all grade levels is protected by the First Amendment,” said Becker. “With few exceptions, such as profanity and lewdness, the Constitution prohibits school officials from picking and choosing what messages they find acceptable and what messages they find unacceptable. The message of the shirt was that life demands respect. This is a particularly vital message for vulnerable young girls.”

It is important to speak to children, especially “vulnerable young girls,” at a very young age about abortion, even at schools, according to anti-choice activists.  Not only do they advocate t-shirts to start the discussion, but they have another day targeted specifically to young children in schools: Pro-Life Cupcake Day.

“What’s worse than being in third grade and not having anyone celebrate your birthday?” the website asks. “Not being allowed to be born,” it answers.  And what better way to make that point than by baking cupcakes to bring to school, then starting up a discussion about abortion over the confections?

From Cupcakes for Life:

Q.) What if my school won’t allow me to bring in cup cakes?

A1.) Give them out before or after school!

A2.) Do it anyway and be quick about it! Also be very apologetic and kind if you get caught.[emphasis added]

A3.) Ask for permission to bring in pre-packaged cupcakes from a bakery!

A4.) Just pass out flyers and make cupcakes after school and hand them out to your neighbors in the name of life. Whatever you do, don’t give up when confronted by opposition!

Q.) What should I say about abortion when I hand out my cupcakes?

A.) We really want to give you the freedom to say whatever you want but make sure you say something! If you don’t know why you are pro-life do a little research online. The website: is a great place to start. The point of this entire project is to not remain silent about abortion so as long as you say something and pass out cupcakes you have accomplished your mission!

They even provide specifics on best practices for elementary school children:

Ideas for elementary school kids:

Some kids are not ready to know everything about abortion; however, a mom could bake a batch of cupcakes that just say: I Heart Babies on them. The young student could go into class and tell all of his or her friends about how babies need lots of love as they slowly grow inside their mommies.

Wait…babies grow inside their mommies? That sounds suspiciously like…sex education!

But of course, that can’t be so, because all topics that might touch on sex need parental permission and no child should be subjected to it at school.  That includes any mention of contraceptive options, sexually transmitted disease avoidance, pregnancy prevention, or discussions of the human body and its functions.

After all, remember the uproar about the proposed idea of handing out condoms at an elementary school, followed by a counseling session regarding proper use as well as a discussion about abstinence? Parents were allegedly up at arms that their parental rights were being usurped, and the Massachusetts Family Institute was on the warpath defending them.

Kris Mineau, President, Massachusetts Family Institute, called the new policy “radical” and “absurd.”

“Making condoms available to first graders bullies parents to submit to an agenda that promotes sexual promiscuity to innocent children at their most vulnerable age,” Mineau said in a statement.

Mineau commented that the decision by the Provincetown School Committee “demonstrates the lengths to which some will go to emasculate parents’ rights …”

Or how about when an anti-choice District Attorney took it upon himself to threaten teachers with arrest for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” if they participated in the new age-appropriate sex ed classes being mandated by the state?  District Attorney Scott Southward went as far as to call teaching students about contraception a promotion of “the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children.”

So there you have it.  The anti-choice paradox: discussing abortion in schools is a child’s right and should be done at any and every age, as long as that child is promoting an anti-choice agenda.  Discussing reproductive health, including anatomy, contraception, or protection from STI’s in a fact-based and age-appropriate manner, however, is at all times off-limits for school children of any age without prior approval from all parents and the promotion that the only acceptable choice is to be abstinent until you are married.

Now if only they could find a way to fit that slogan on a t-shirt.


Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!


Thank you for supporting our work!