Throughout the years, a number of sex education videos were made to help young people and adults alike understand puberty, pregnancy, and what was considered “appropriate” expressions of one’s sexuality. The general consensus from the 1930s to the early 1960s was that people needed to think rationally, suppress their natural urges, and think of sex as mainly a way to make children. It wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that media began to push for sexual liberation. Here are just a few examples of early sex education videos.
10 How To Undress In Front Of Your Husband
Made in 1937, this comedy film plays out as if it is a public service announcement. In the beginning of the film, the title card suggests that women need to learn how to undress in a sensual way to keep the interest of their husbands and fend off boredom during marriage.
The movie gives examples of two real-life women coming home from a party: Elaine Barrie Barrymore, a Hollywood and Broadway actress, and Trixie Friganza, an opera singer and comedian. We see that Elaine gracefully slips her dress off, while Trixie kicks her shoes off and scratches herself all over. The narrator congratulates Elaine on her abilities as a master of undressing and gets nervous at certain points, dumbfounded at her sex appeal.
The movie was created by husband-and-wife team Hildegarde and Dwaine Esper. It was considered to be one of the very first sexual exploitation films. While the scenes in this film may seem mild compared to R-rated movies today, it was censored in many areas of the US.
9 How Much Affection?
Mary and Jeff are a teenage couple who have been friends for years. They park their car to start making out and nearly have sex. Mary asks Jeff to stop, so he takes her home and apologizes. Mary learns that sexual urges are very normal, but when she seeks advice from her mother, she explains that Mary needs to learn to control her emotions, or she may regret it later on in life.
Mary and Jeff run into an old friend, Eileen, who had to drop out of school because she got pregnant. She married her boyfriend, Fred, who had to give up on his dreams of becoming a lawyer to get a job and take care of the baby. Mary and Jeff are two bright kids who have a lot of potential for success in life, so they begin to realize the repercussions of teen pregnancy. Later, at a party, Jeff gives Mary his class ring, which was a ritual in 1950s dating culture, called “a token of affection.” Birth control or condoms are never introduced as an option, and the movie teaches young people that they just need to hold out until marriage and find other ways to express their love for one another without sex.
Kristin Luker, the author of When Sex Goes to School, wrote that in the 1950s, there was a perceived notion that if sex education failed to demonize sex, teen pregnancy would become so common that it would bring an end to traditional marriage in society. The 1960s saw a sexual revolution, and premarital sex eventually became an accepted part of relationships.
8 Molly Grows Up
Made in 1953, this film would have been shown to girls during middle school health class. Molly is as 13-year-old girl who is beginning to feel interested in her older sister’s makeup and clothes. Everyone in town begins to notice that she is looking more grown-up. Soon after, she has her first period. Molly calls it “the curse” to her friend on the phone.
The school nurse speaks to Molly’s class and explains everything the girls need to know about female puberty and pregnancy. She explains the process of how a woman gets pregnant with “male DNA, sperm,” but never goes into any details on how the sperm actually gets into the woman in the first place. There is a poster on the wall, saying that while girls are on their period, they should not go horseback riding, go skating, play basketball, play volleyball, or go square dancing. But somehow, swimming is totally okay—but only after the third day.
According to a study by Trinity College, Molly Grows Up was meant to reinforce the traditional gender role of women in traditional families with Christian values. There would not be a challenge in the changes of women’s rights until the late 1960s, and it continues to be a struggle today.
7 Are You Ready For Marriage?
In 1950, sex before marriage was completely taboo, and teen pregnancy was enough to shame your entire family. Because of this, young lovers were getting married at a much younger age than they were today. The two main characters of this short film, Sue and Larry, are an 18- and 19-year-old couple who just got engaged after only dating for three months. Larry tries to convince Sue to elope, but they decide to see a marriage counselor at the church instead.
Without explicitly saying anything, the minister demonstrates with a rubber band and figurines of a man and woman, trying to explain lust and sexual tension. He goes on to say how the beginning stages of intense love causes young people to rush into getting married. He tells them that they should be at least 21 years old and have been engaged for one to three years, to give them a chance to actually know each other better.
According to a book called The Marriage and Family Experience, the 1950s were a seemingly magical decade where divorce rates declined, couples were having more children, and the traditional family unit was central to society. This can partially be attributed to how good relationships and family values were taught in movies like this.
It is said that 50 percent of all marriages nowadays end in divorce. Glenn Stanton from the Witherspoon Institute published an article detailing the different data sets we can use to look at the actual divorce rate of 2015. Depending on which data you look at, the number of divorces may not actually be too different from the 1950s. However, it is clear that divorce is much more accepted in today’s culture.
6 As Boys Grow
This video is narrated by a high school track and field coach who is answering freshman boys’ questions about puberty. The film starts out like just about every sexual education video that is shown in high school health classes. They talk about shaving, gaining weight, and getting taller. Then, very quickly, they cut to a scene of two boys sitting by a lawnmower, casually talking about wet dreams. One of the boys describes sperm as “white sticky stuff that starts babies.”
Interestingly enough, while Molly Grows Up never explicitly explains to girls exactly how pregnancy happens, As Boys Grow explains exactly how to have sex to the young boys. The coach encourages boys to start dating girls whenever they want. For boys, puberty is presented as a great thing, while in Molly Grows Up, it is described as a curse and something that girls simply have to deal with, rather than celebrate.
While the lessons from this movie may seem sort of outdated, it is important to remember that for years, talking about sexual organs was considered to be forbidden. In the 1950s, people were finally beginning to realize that sex education needed to be included in schools, as long as it was related to love, family, and having children.
5 Girls Beware
This movie was made to educate young girls on the various dangers of men who are trying to take advantage of them. There are various scenes where girls unknowingly find themselves in situations where they are kidnapped or raped. The movie suggests that girls should still be polite to these strange men but politely decline their advances.
One scene shows a major difference in the laws of then versus now. A girl goes to a new babysitting client’s house, and the phone number he provides for the girl’s mother turns out to be a fake. The daughter is clearly kidnapped, but the police policy back then was to wait and see if missing children returned home, in case they were running away. The daughter was found a week later, raped and murdered. In the movie, they put the responsibility of keeping children safe in the parent’s hands, rather than getting law enforcement involved right away.
In 1996, the US government created Amber Alerts in the memory of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman. It is an emergency broadcast system that lets the public know when a child goes missing. In the 20 years since its creation, Amber Alerts have saved the lives of 800 children.
4 How Do You Know It’s Love?
This movie shows a college-aged couple who have been dating for two months. The boy tells the girl that he loves her. She replies that she isn’t sure how she feels and goes home to ask her mother for advice. The mother explains that when people reach college age, things begin to get more physical, and they can often mistake sexual lust for real love. She tries to explain that even some adults never really find mature love and continue to base their relationships on looks their entire life. This movie presents the elements of being in a good relationship as having plenty to talk about, feeling at ease around one another, and feeling proud of each other. They should also agree on religious views, children, and money.
The girl and her boyfriend go on a double date with their friends, who have been dating for over a year. She realizes, through watching them, that they already have mature love. By the end, she realizes that the attraction she feels toward her boyfriend isn’t actually love. Despite the fact that they still enjoy each others’ company, they break up but agree to be friends.
The major difference between dating in the 1950s versus today is that men and women were essentially courting for a potential husband or wife. If they started to realize that their relationship would not last forever, they broke things off after a month or two and remained friends. In the 2010s, there is not as much pressure on dating, and it is not uncommon for boyfriends and girlfriends to be in a relationship without broaching the subject of marriage for a long time.
3 Boys Beware
This educational film from the 1960s warns young boys against potential homosexual encounters with older men. These boys are lured into dangerous situations either because they accept rides home from sports practice or are promised money and gifts from strangers.
The narrator describes homosexuals as “sick.” The real problem is clearly the fact that these men are pedophiles and sexual predators, but this movie fails to mention that there is a difference between the two. The intention behind this movie was to keep children safe by educating them to never accept rides from strangers, which is very good advice. However, since this movie was shown in schools, there is little doubt that it would have instilled homophobia among students, since it teaches that basically all gay men are criminals.
The Sex Ed Library recommends the Seattle King County program for teaching elementary school children about sexual exploitation. In these lessons, children are taught the differences between appropriate and inappropriate touching from adults. It also explains to children how they can find help if they are being abused. These lessons do not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender.
2 Perversion For Profit
A reporter named George Putnam narrates this half-hour-long educational film on pornography. He claims that once a person becomes “perverted” by porn, they will never look at sex the same way again. This movie makes multiple ridiculous claims about porn, like that merely looking at gay or lesbian porn will turn you into a homosexual and that the “moral decay” caused by any kind of porn will make Americans weak against Communism.
In the 1960s, this movie was screened at YMCAs, Catholic groups, American Legions, and Elk Lodges, trying to spread the anti-pornography message to as many people as they could. Pornography is protected under the First Amendment, freedom of speech. The goal of this movie was to make people so angry about pornography that they would push to get the laws changed.
While the majority of Putnam’s claims are ridiculous, he was right to be angry about at least one thing: child pornography. At the time that this movie was made, the First Amendment still protected the distribution of nude or near-nude images of children. That did not become illegal until the 1980s.
1 The ABC Of Sex Education For Trainables
Created in 1975, this sexual education video is the source of the “It felt good, didn’t it, Ricky?” meme that exploded on the Internet. The original movie is 20 minutes long. It mixes scenes played out by actors with real-life footage of psychologists explaining sex to people who are mentally disabled or, as this movie calls them, “trainables.”
The famous Ricky scene is an example of what can happen when raising a mentally disabled child. The mother’s lines are meant to be a suggestion of what parents can say if they find their disabled child masturbating. However, the actor playing Ricky clearly isn’t mentally handicapped. When that scene is taken out of context from the rest of the film, it is silly.
The goal of The ABC of Sex Education for Trainables was to help parents and caretakers to train mentally disabled people to stop themselves from masturbating in public, getting pregnant unexpectedly, or contracting sexually transmitted diseases. While much of the advice seen in this video is still relevant today, Advocates for Youth now has a guideline for parents and educators to talk with mentally disabled children about sex.
Shannon Quinn is a writer and entrepreneur from the Philadelphia area.