Med Humanities 35:126-127 doi:10.1136/jmh.2009.002824
  • PostScript
  • Film review

The growth of British sex education films: negotiating what we shouldn’t know

  1. B Crowther
  1. Correspondence to B Crowther, bcrowther{at}

    The joy of sex education. BFI anthology 1910-70, DVD released 2009. ISBN/EAN: 5035673007624

    Sex education is no laughing matter: lives depend on it, quite literally. Yet laughter, too often suppressed, is how most of us tend to remember our sex education lessons at school. Too little, too late, too allusive, too coy, somehow always out of touch: young as we were, feigning innocence or feigning experience, we needed to save our own faces by embarrassing the teacher.

    Laughter and embarrassment might still be responses to the BFI’s double DVD set of historical sex education films spanning over 65 years (1917 to 1973). Laughter, embarrassment and despair too: it’s not just the dated content and presentation that are arresting, but the human suffering and distress they reveal through their stories—and the glaring lacunae, the information withheld. An agnotological look at these films is salutary—studying, that is, the way that they sustained sexual ignorance, and the implications of such knowledge-brokering.

    Sex education has always been a contested field—moralists against liberals, church against social organisations, parents against school policy—as Tim Boon illustrates in the excellent multi-authored accompanying booklet. Time was wasted, and lives broken, while public bodies argued over the right to know, …