Prior to the period of frankness that began in the mid-1960s, relatively few sex education films were actually produced in the United States. Most of these films concentrated on the physiology of sex and reproduction and were replete with animated “plumbing” diagrams. It was unusual to show children speaking relatively freely about sexuality, and because of the necessity of educating girls about menstruation, more addressed girls than boys. As Boys Grow, produced in the relatively liberal San Francisco Bay Area, presents regular boys asking regular questions and contains frank discussion of such topics as nocturnal emissions.
Unlike Molly Grows Up, staged in the midst of the nuclear family, As Boys Grow shows sex education for boys as a team effort supervised by a fatherly coach figure. Although it might not seem unusual today, the achievement of this film seems to me to be the way that it naturalizes sexuality and creates an open atmosphere where all questions, no matter how misguided, draw serious adult attention. The gym was safe territory for sexual discussions and the coach a noncontroversial facilitator. And the boys seem to speak very openly:
“Say, you know something?”
“I had a wet dream last night.”
“Wet dream? What’s that?”
“Oh, you know, when sperm comes out of your penis.”
“Yeah. Sort of a sticky stuff….”
Apparently the gym is a safer place for sexual discussion than within the family, and we get a strong sense that Fifties men were supposed to learn about sex in and around the gym while Fifties women worked it out with their mothers. One boy, in fact, says his father “never says much about anything” relating to sex. One might read this film as a tacit admission that the family can’t take care of all its members’ needs Ñ that children sometimes need to go beyond their parents for grounding in certain complex areas. This admission would make the film a radical statement for the Fifties.
As Boys Grow also differs from other sex ed films (and most strongly from those directed at girls) by admitting specifically that sex is linked with pleasure. It speaks explicitly of sexual excitement, of erections and the “hard penis”; and addresses male masturbation without mystery. While girls’ films (like Molly Grows Up) focus on menstruation to the exclusion of sexual pleasure and speak of coping with the physical preconditions of gender rather than coming to terms with desire, As Boys Grow admits the existence of pleasure and its gratification. Following the liberal line that was emerging at the time, Coach states “Sometimes you hear that masturbation affects your mind or your manhood. It isn’t true. For kids your age, it’s just…something normal.”
If you believe in symbolism, the girls get to act out a little at the end of he movie. Two of the boys ask two girls out on a swimming date. Standing on the dock, one boy pushes a girl into the water. The second girl pushes the boy in after the first girl, stands triumphantly on the dock for just a moment, and then jumps in herself.
Producer: Medical Arts Productions