Looking back at my adolescence in Greater Vancouver through the 1980’s, one of my more poignant recollections of sexual education was that of my Junior High School physical education teacher uncomfortably explaining to our class the reproductive aspects of our developing bodies.
It isn’t the content I remember so much as the awkwardness of the whole affair; the unstated recognition by everyone in the room that there was a great deal being left out about sex, sexuality, and the very experiences many of us were already starting to explore for ourselves. I’ve often felt that what was absent from the lesson has had more impact on our lives than what was presented to us.
Presently, I find myself revisiting my queries about the pedagogy of sexual education through a filming contract with the MOV for the upcoming exhibition Sex Talk in the City. I’ve begun filming Vancouverites as they recall their early sexual education and burgeoning sexualities, recounting how the ways they’ve learned about sex at school, home, and in peer groups continue to influence their level of comfort with their bodies, as well as their sexual expression and the safe and unsafe practices they have engaged in. What enthralls me is hearing how these experiences have led various interviewees to reexamine social norms around sex in order to approach their individual sexualities in a more self-affirming, healthy, and proactive manner.
In tandem, I’ve begun pouring through numerous sexual education films that date as far back as the 1940s. The vintage ‘sex ed’ footage is not only relevant in its documenting of social attitudes towards sex over the decades, but also in our growing understanding of how past teachings continue to have an influence on folks of all ages, including the lessons and perceived taboos that we often unintentionally pass on to younger generations.
As a documentary filmmaker with a whimsical style, I’ve begun editing together the sexual education films with the interviews we are currently conducting. The intention is to create a series of playful and thoughtful video installations that provide commentary on our approach to sex education in Vancouver through the years. It will also look at what we’ve been left to learn by our own devices. To me, it feels like the perfect antidote to the lacklustre Junior High School lesson I recall from my youth!
Gwen Haworth is a Vancouver-based filmmaker best know for her documentary She’s a Boy I Knew (2007). She works part time at Vancouver Coastal Health delivering workshops on LGBT inclusion and policy implementation