The Most Delicate Subject : A History of Sex Education Films in Sweden
Abstract: The aim of this dissertation is to present a history of sex education films in Sweden, from their beginnings until the late 1970s, relating the films to the changing historical context of the Swedish welfare society. Within this framework, the dissertation explores two main sets of questions. First, utilizing a contextual understanding of genre, the dissertation analyzes how the films were produced, exhibited, and censored, what position and status they had, and where the borders were understood to be to kindred types of film, such as exploitation and pornography. Second, the norms and ideas about sexuality that the films construct are explored from a social constructionist perspective and put in historical context. Apart from the films themselves, the material used consists of censorship records, archival material, and articles and reviews from the daily press and the trade press. The study demonstrates that the sex education film has always been a delicate genre, and that this delicacy is related to the medium and to the fact that cinema is part of the commercial market. The sex education film came to Sweden through imported films during the silent era and was relatively common at Swedish movie theaters from the 1920s to the early 1970s. Very quickly, it became a contested genre thought to be in need of regulation, which can be seen in the censorship procedures. For instance, until the 1950s, screenings were often restricted through gender segregation. When film censorship was liberalized in the 1960s, sex education films could show more than before, and when the films in the sexually explicit Language of Love series (1969–1972) were released, their relationship to pornography became a central point of discussion. The changing views on using film in school sex education are also examined. Here, it is shown that if film was seen as a potentially helpful tool in the 1920s and 1930s, this view had changed into a more skeptical position by the early 1970s. In the analysis of the content of the films, only Swedish examples are studied. In the first group of theatrically shown films of this kind, which appeared in the 1940s and 1950s, sexuality is represented as problematic through the themes of venereal disease and abortion. Here, casual sex is seen as immoral and abortion is condemned. At the same time, the films display how traditional and modern views on sexuality and gender were under negotiation during this period. While reproduction was the dominating perspective in school films well into the 1970s, the Language of Love films display a radically different perspective on sex, not least because of their focus on sexual pleasure. However, while the films advocate a liberal idea about sexuality according to which science leads to liberation, a focus on romantic long-term relationships can also be noted. Throughout the period, there is an emphasis on rationality and science and on a secular perspective on sex in which love is seen as more important than matrimony. In this way, the films in general reflect a strong belief in modernity and progress that was characteristic of Sweden during the welfare era.
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