Documentaries are powerful learning tools, and our society remains very ignorant about sex, so it stands to reason that there’s a lot that we can learn from some good docs dealving into sexuality.
While putting together my new book “The Sex Effect” — which examines hidden relationships between sex and culture — I came across a slew of compelling documentaries about sex and society.
A gripping exploration of the relationship between sex and our society, with a foreword by bestselling author A.J. JacobsWhy do political leaders become entangled in so many sex scandals? How did the U.S. military inadvertently help make San Francisco a mecca of gay culture? And what was the orig…
Here are five great documentaries you need to watch to be smarter about sex:
1. “How to Survive a Plague”
As AIDS was killing thousands of gay men throughout the 1980s, the US government largely ignored the issue. This documentary shows how activists groups such as ACT UP took matters into their own hands by staging protests that ultimately pressured the government to develop better treatment drugs and roll them out to patients quicker.
While the grim matter of people dying from a debilitating disease can be an upsetting subject, “How to Survive a Plague” is actually a pretty inspiring documentary because through its incredibly rich archival footage, it illustrates the power of protest and what can be accomplished when everyday people band together and organize to fight unjust power structures.
Streaming on: Netflix Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube
2. “Coming Out Under Fire”
It wasn’t until 2011 that the US military officially stopped dismissing soldiers because of their sexual orientation. A hidden consequence of these homophobic policies is that they inadvertently strengthened gay identity in the US by boosting the populations of “gayborhoods” in port cities and making many gay people aware of their orientation.
This documentary tells that story through the voices of LGBT service members who had to work around policies aimed at excluding them. The most salient point of the documentary is how the military continually altered its reasons for banning gay troops whenever its theories became untenable.
Initially, sodomy was criminalized. Then, with the rise of psychiatry, homosexuality was branded as a mental illness, and we couldn’t have mentally ill people fighting our wars. After psychiatrists removed homosexuality as an illness, the new claim was that gay service members posed security risks. After that was disproved, gay troops were accused of undermining unit cohesion, which is another theory that has been debunked.
What “Coming Out Under Fire” teaches us is to be skeptical of the underlying imperatives behind morally branded injunctions.
Streaming on: Vimeo
3. “Paris Is Burning”
One reason documentaries can be so intriguing is that, when done well, they can give viewers a glimpse into subcultures that many people are totally oblivious to. “Paris Is Burning” provides a fascinating look into drag culture in New York City in the late 1980s, where people were voguing before Madonna commodified the act in her hit single and music video.
The documentary shows how marginalized groups can develop their own cultures within a broader society that they perceive to be oppressive.
Streaming on: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video