Social-Sex Attitudes in Adolescence


Welcome to 1953’s “Social-Sex Attitudes in Adolescence.” I didn’t quite know what I was going to make of this video. The 1953 date had me expecting some politically incorrect hilarity, while the use of the word “social” made me expect some enlightened sociology. What I ended up getting was a mixed bag.


Well, I was hopeful for some enlightened sociology with the fact that it’s based on a book by someone with a doctorate. Very surprisingly, the person with a doctorate is a woman. This is unique for the era. That the film announces this in its opening titles is all the more unique. I was very hopeful for a forward-thinking film at this point.


Well, so far so good. Very sociological (my major makes me biased for anything that smells like sociology, nerdy, I know). Still, that the conversation is even about sex at all is forward for the age, right?


Mary: “When [the baby] comes mommy can I help to take care of it?”

Narrator: “The idea of child birth was made natural and normal to young Mary”.

Ok, some minor enforcing of gender roles at an early age, but I’ll buy it for now. Whether or not the “mothering instinct” is natural is still debated. Those curls, however, are undeniably unnatural and disturbing. I like that both parents in this movie are portrayed as forward with their children on matters of sexual reproduction. That is certainly forward for the age. Compare this scene to the opening of “Spring Awakening,” where sex and childbirth are dirty, nasty, taboo subjects.


“Bob’s mother was a widow, despite this, she was determined that Bob have a healthy knowledge of sex…and when he was older still, she was pleased and proud to see that he fit in with well with the boys, in fact, when he was ten, he actually stopped playing with girls.”

Oh, we start out well again with the ahead-of-their-time attitudes on single mothers and sex education and then BAM we’re hit with gender roles again. Boys are meant to play sports. And only play with other boys so that they can be cocky and manly (actually a paraphrase of later narration). God forbid the boy grow up seeing girls as equals; he might turn out gay or something.


“Mary developed a strong, sudden friendship with Lucille Williams…they were inseparable. To Mary’s mother it seemed unnatural, this continual intimacy, this concentration of affection”

And the homophobia becomes overt. Still, homosexual attraction is being portrayed at all. That in-and-of itself is pretty rare. Of course, Mary’s mom fears it. Why not, everyone else in this era did.


“Next there was a crush on Ethel Hampton, senior girls tennis champion…it was a transition stage…to the next stage of falling in love with a boy.”

Between Lucille and Ethel and all the pictures on the wall, Mary seems like a lesbian to me. I don’t know about you all, it’s just a sneaking suspicion I have. Of course, this 1950’s Freudian psychobabble (yea, I’m going to distance this from sociology now, deal with it) portrays Mary’s lesbianism as a passing phase. I pity all the young lesbians of this era.


“He knew about the reproductive organs and nocturnal emissions, he also knew about masturbation…One day when Bob was sixteen, it became apparent that his interest in girls was beginning to be more than…casual”

Well, I officially don’t believe that this film was meant for kids. Really Bob? Also, nocturnal emissions – *snicker* *snicker* Awkwardly enough that is Bob’s mom viewing the results of Bob’s artistic creativity demeaning attitude towards women. Like I said before, maybe he’d have more respect for women as human beings if he wasn’t denied their company in key development years, just saying.


Bob: “Hello? Oh hi Ken, how are ya? Oh she’s ok, but I can do better than her, she’s going around with Dave anyway, well let him keep her. Well I could I just didn’t want to. Well so what? I have better prospects than her anyway, you should see the one I’m seeing tonight.”

Well, I thought the drawing demeaned women. Yup, sorry girls – you’re objects to be traded amongst men. And yes that is Bob’s mom creeping in the corner of the picture. No, she does not confront Bob about his dirty picture, his treatment of women as objects, or those pesky nocturnal emissions. The movie ends with about 10 minutes about these teens dating. And they date a new person every night, each night of the weekend. They can’t even remember the names of their dates. This dating everyone in your high school is portrayed as healthy, but it seems extremely over the top for me. It’s like they don’t do ANYTHING else.


Anyway, to sum up the end: Bob and Mary are “happily wed” in the view of their parents – although I think they’re destined for fifty years of unhappiness where Bob cheats and gets STDs because Mary is apparently frigid but really a repressed lesbian. Yay fun! So much for this movie’s original promises of enlightened thinking. Here’s the link if you want to join in on the party: http://www.archive.org/details/SocialSe1953

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About doublemajorram

I'm an English and Sociology Major in NYC who plans to go to into law. If you are looking for a source to fault my gallows humor, read the Series of Unfortunate Events or watch any Tim Burton movie. Or go to the London Dungeon. Or criticize out my parents for making such things available to me at an impressionable age. Seriously, I'll give you their addresses. I promise to add something more interesting later.
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