“The diseases are usually contracted before marriage by men and women who have not learned self-control.” How to Tell (1935) Running the gamut from syphilitic soldiers in WWI to puberty pep-talks for girls to the government’s infamous AIDS awareness campaigns, this jaunt through 90 years of sex education films aims to enlighten, entertain and, above all, encourage you to subjugate your passions for the moral health of the nation.
Many of the early films highlight Britain’s horror at the very thought of sex and sexuality. Euphemisms abound and, if you can get away with making your point with the aid of a few birds or rabbits, why not? Even some mildly amorous pollen gets in on the act as a stand-in for something otherwise far too unpleasant to show. At least it saved the teachers’ blushes.
Despite the often unintentional humour, the films provide a vivid snapshot of the nation’s concerns and anxieties across the decades. Not only did they teach us to keep our trousers firmly zipped, but also managed to underline the establishment’s attitude towards women. Loose of morals and self-control, women are invariably portrayed as the spreaders of disease and responsible for just about every ‘misfortune’ that comes their way.
Ten to try
Whatsoever a Man Soweth (1917)
A warning to WW1 soldiers about the perils of fraternising with loose women.
Maisie’s Marriage – aka Married Love (1923)
Maisie learns about birth control in this drama based on the book by Marie Stopes.
Deferred Payment (1929)
A turbulent tale of seamen and syphilis.
The Irresponsibles (1929)
Careless women share nasty diseases with their loved ones.
The Mystery of Marriage (1932)
Birds, bees and bunnies show us how it’s done.
How To Tell (1935)
Children learn the facts of life.
Six Little Jungle Boys (1945)
Six men go off to war, but one is tempted by the sensual pleasures of the East…
The People at No.19 (1949)
Joan from No.19 gets an unpleasant shock.
Growing Girls (1951)
Mary learns how to survive puberty in this film made to show at girls’ schools.
Don’t Be Like Brenda! (1973)
Oh, Brenda! She behaved foolishly. And now she’s suffering the consequences.