The New Sexual Revolution

Kitchen Militia moms storm the stage, AIDS activists howl in the wings, born-again virgins recite their vows, and the fight over sex education in school turns into the hottest ticket in town


CUE MUSIC: A sultry jazz trio plays a smoky, seductive ballad. The saxophone's tone is breathless, the acoustic bass moans lewdly.


Deanna Sebion

CUE BACKGROUND NOISE: A chaotic mix of car horns, grinding engines, shouting.

ZOOM IN ON MOVIE HOUSE--ANYTOWN, U.S.A.: Except for the headlights speeding past, the theater's art-deco marquee is the only light over this urban streetscape. A few moviegoers stand in line for tickets. A police car crawls by on watch. One-sheets promoting John Wayne's newest flick hang in the windows. Scott, a preppy high school senior in an argyle sweater and shiny penny loafers, lingers on the sidewalk with his buffed buddy Nick, who is fitted in a varsity letter jacket. All rosy cheeks and bright eyes, the two scan the pedestrian traffic: a slump-shouldered merchant stumbles to the corner trolley stop, a single woman swings a fresh bottle of milk at her side.

Two teenage girls saunter into focus. Bullet-bras thrust skyward, ankle flesh flashing between bobby sox and whisking poodle skirts, they bat their long lashes and curl their painted lips into come-hither smiles. As they sashay past, they whisper a word or two into the boys' ears. Nick smirks. Scott looks startled. The girls giggle.

ZOOM OUT ON A CONVERTIBLE PARKED ACROSS THE STREET: The four characters trot across the boulevard, dodging a Studebaker. The girls fling themselves into Nick's ride. Nick slaps Scott on the back and winks. Scott, uncertain, flashes a puzzled look as he slides across the front passenger seat's lily-white vinyl.

MUSIC: The jazz trio speeds up, a snare drum snaps to life, and the group's languid pace is replaced with a menacing groove. The car speeds off into darkness.


The first three minutes of Innocent Victim, a sex education docudrama produced by the Kansas State Board of Health in 1954, is both a cornball cliffhanger and a sociological marker. The boys' guileless curiosity; the big-city Lolitas, with their viscous lipstick and insatiable eyes; the primordial pulse of juke-joint bop invoke seminal scenes in cult favorites like Reefer Madness, Dragnet, even a few choice episodes of Leave it to Beaver. But the film also serves as a reminder that, especially when it came to sex before marriage, black-and-white wasn't just a filmic color scheme in post-World War II America. It was a state of mind. And the lessons were clear.

As it turns out, Scott and his buddy should've opted for a quiet evening watching the Duke rustle bad guys instead of following the lead of those bad girls, who were after one thing only. Because once they got it, all the boys were left with were two nasty cases of venereal disease. "You took a risk by doing something society condemns. Perhaps you didn't realize some of the penalties involved," a doctor who could double as Ward Cleaver tells Scott as he delivers the bad news--and the movie's principal moral. "Now that'd be a lovely gift for the girl you love, wouldn't it? To find out she had syphilis on her wedding day?"

Reel forward to the late 1960s, when the Sexuality Information and Education Council for the United States (SIECUS) released Parent to Child About Sex, a straightforward, 20-minute tutorial. While a string-laden soundtrack swells in the background, talking heads sporting crew cuts, with spectacles perched studiously, replace Innocent Victim's melodramatic clips with a science-based, comprehensive curriculum. Although stilted by today's standards, the film makes no mention of chastity and references marriage only once. Subjects such as menstruation, masturbation, and penis growth through puberty are dealt with matter-of-factly. There are even anatomically correct diagrams. "If the child is trained to believe sex is bad," viewers are warned, "they will grow up to fear something that is supposed to be natural."

In hopes of keeping pace with the decade's now vaunted, often demonized sexual revolution, SIECUS concluded that one way to reach Nixon-era youth was to reeducate their repressed parents. (To illustrate the point, a grandmother recalls her youth, when even the mention of sex was taboo.) Thorough knowledge about what goes where, how, and to what result was to be the best weapon against the day's most dangerous social disease--free love.

Since both pieces of archival footage are so stylistically dated, it's tempting to dismiss them as nothing more than quaint, even comedic artifacts. Yet in 1999, as "sex and violence" becomes nearly synonymous with "mass media," the philosophical differences between Innocent Victim and Parent to Child About Sex make up the molten core of a cultural war being fought in school districts and state legislatures across the nation, including Minnesota.

As the millennium approaches, social conservatives, now more apt to utter the loaded phrase "pro family" than "pro life," have lit a grass-fire movement to stop educators from teaching safe sex to students in public schools. Requiring these classes, they believe, is simply the continuation of a failed experiment based on the fatalistic assumption that a majority of teenagers will have intercourse before they're married, no matter what, and therefore should be schooled on how to use birth control.

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