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Slut-Shaming, Eugenics, and Donald Duck: The Scandalous History of Sex-Ed Movies

The first attempts at sex education in the U.S. over 100 years ago were to reduce the incidence of venereal disease (now called STDs). The medium of movies proved to be a valuable tool for disseminating information, although laws against pornography caused problems for those who honestly tried to educate. Public health concerns, changing laws, moral panic, and politics created a tug-of-war over sex education in schools (which continues today), although the military cut right to the chase in the war against VD. Sex education films for schools continued to demonize premarital sex, masturbation, and homosexuality, and didn’t even address venereal disease until 1959.

In Coronet’s 1947 film “Are You Popular?,” Jenny, the promiscuous high schooler, is shamed and compared unfavorably to proper, virginal Carolyn. The voice-over says, “Jenny thinks she has the keys to popularity, parking in cars with boys at night. When Jerry brags about taking Jenny out, he learns that she dates all the boys, and he feels less important. No, those who park in cars are not really popular, not even with the boys they park with. Not when they meet at school or elsewhere.”

“That was certainly a message in these films, which I think still exists today, that a young woman who is interested in sexual relationships, who maybe initiates sex, is seen as the ‘bad girl’—and that’s the girl nobody wants to sustain a relationship with.” Goodman says. “That was a burdensome message to many young women.”

Sex education films changed drastically in the 1970s, when movies were produced that would never be approved for schools today. You can read a fairly comprehensive history of sex education films going back to the beginning of motion pictures at Collectors Weekly.


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Both my mother and father were in the army during WWII. My mother was a 'WAC' and she said everyone in the army had to watch info movies on the dangers of STDs. Apparently the gov't got as much film footage as they could find about what happens to your body when you contract an STD AND the horrors of what happened to babies born from infected mothers. My mother said the movies were like total nightmares and it put off most people from having sex for a few months after they saw the films.
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