Promoting Sexual Literacy around the World through Film: A Review of www.SexSmartFilms.com.Promoting Sexual Literacy around the World through Film: A Review of www.SexSmartFilms.com
Reviewed by Carey Roth Bayer, Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine/Pediatrics, Morehouse School of Medicine, 720 Westview Dr. SW, Atlanta, GA 30310; E-mail: email@example.com
SexSmartFilms.com is a web site that was launched in June, 2008 by award-winning filmmaker and sexuality expert, Mark Schoen, Ph.D. The web site serves as an online library of more than 300 classic and contemporary films on a multitude of topics related to sexuality education, counseling, and therapy. The purpose of the web site is to help promote sexual literacy around the world through film.
As a filmmaker with a doctorate in human sexuality, Schoen has been making films since 1974 and has watched how sexuality education has changed over time. He recognizes the challenges in accessing accurate information related to sexual health, especially since the invention of the Internet. He developed SexSmartFilms.com to serve as an easily accessible educational tool for a variety of audiences. Each film uploaded on the site contains a short synopsis and has been screened to ensure that the information presented is accurate.
It is clear from the plethora of film categories present on the site that Schoen takes a holistic, lifespan approach when it comes to sexual health information and films. Film categories include abuse, advertising/ sexuality, aging, anatomy/physiology, bisexuality, circumcision, disability, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, erotica, female sexuality, G-spot (Grafenberg Spot), gay and lesbian issues, gender identity, heterosexuality, historical sex education, HIV prevention, Kinsey collection, male sexuality, masturbation, menstrual education, planned parenthood, pregnancy, religion and sexuality, sex research, sex roles, sex therapy (gay), sex therapy (hetero), sex therapy (lesbian), sex education (children), sex education (teens), sexual orientation, sexual power play, Stag films, STIs (sexually transmitted infections), and trans health (transgender health). While the site currently contains more than 300 films, many of the films apply across categories and are listed on the site under multiple categories. The site contains a mix of both classic and more contemporary films.
The most recent films added to the site are public service announcements (PSAs) on HIV/AIDS prevention and teen pregnancy prevention from countries around the world. In addition to film viewing options, Schoen created a continuing education module option comparing the various PSAs for learners seeking continuing education credits for sexuality educator, counselor, or therapist certification through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (see www.aasect.org).
SexSmartFilms.com is intended to help increase sexual literacy among professionals, as well as the lay public. The films can be used in numerous settings, including homes, therapy offices, academic institutions, research settings, and professional conferences. Regardless of venue, processing the viewing experience is essential. As Schoen describes:
In the ideal sexual health classroom, a film is introduced letting the audience know what they are about to see and what they might get out of seeing this film. After viewing, questions would be asked to give viewers a chance to process the information.... Viewers are encouraged to watch [the films] in groups and discuss the information they see on the screen. (www.SexSmartFilms.com, "About Us," June 17, 2011)
A comments section is present next to each film for viewers to leave opinions or engage in discussions. However, no formal discussion guides exist for the films outside of the PSA continuing education module.
All of the films under the "Free Videos" tab are non-explicit films openly available to anyone who visits the site. Explicit and non-explicit films housed under the "Premiere Videos" tab are available for a fee.
SexSmartFilms.com is easy to navigate and organized in six, clearly marked tabs. Log in, purchasing options, contact information, search function, and social media links are located in the top fight corner of the site, and help the user quickly access important information. The films are organized by topic area, but can also be sorted by "most viewed." As a filmmaker who has uploaded a film ("Setting Them Straight") to this site, the process of establishing an account, uploading the film, and setting the keywords and brief description was quick and simple to follow. I also found the "views" count and "comments" helpful for gauging viewers' interest and feedback on the films. In addition, Schoen has promptly responded to any questions I have had about uploading films or locating specific films on the site.
As a professor and sexuality educator, I use many of the films on the site when teaching. One function that could be enhanced is the ability to sort films by the date they were made. Querying the films by date would be especially helpful for those interested in quickly locating and showing the most current films on the site. In addition, it would be helpful for instructors using the films if there were accompanying discussion guides. While the brief description is helpful for summarizing the film and the comments section allows for informal discussion after viewing the film, neither area provides prompts for leading discussions related to the film. Suggestions for improving this function are for Schoen and SexSmartFilms.com or filmmakers to create and upload discussion guides or to create a function to allow viewers to upload and download discussion guides they generate after watching the films. Regardless of approach, a formal discussion guide may help improve the site's utility and increase the dialogue on sexuality.
Also, for those utilizing these educational tools in areas outside the home, you will need to check on your institution's Internet policies around filtering sexual content to ensure access to the site and films. I teach in a variety of settings and at times have found it challenging to access the site in academic settings due to institutions' Internet filters.
As mentioned, Schoen built the site to increase sexual literacy through the dissemination of accurate films. It is unclear how accurate is defined and determined, especially during the review process for uploading films. Schoen could potentially draw a larger audience to the site by clearly articulating how he and SexSmartFilms.com define and determine accuracy in film content. Creating an "instructions for filmmakers" section with clear review criteria may help increase understanding of the review process as well.
SexSmartFilms.com contributes to our understanding of the breadth of sexual health topics through film. Schoen reminds us of how sexuality has been historically addressed through the preservation of classic films, and showcases how sexuality is currently being addressed in contemporary films around the world. These films are essential for opening and expanding the dialogue on all aspects of sexuality, especially on topics such as aging and disability--two areas that historically have received little attention.
I highly recommend www.SexSmartFilms.com to both professional and lay public audiences. The films are helpful for raising awareness about sexual health issues with students, clients, families, and friends. Researchers and educators interested in doing content analyses of the films, comparing sexuality education messages in the United States versus other countries, have plenty of content to work with on the site. Therapy clients can utilize the films in the privacy of their homes to help build intimacy skills. Parents can use the films to create an open dialogue with their kids about the importance of sexual health. As should be clear from this review, the films can be used with numerous audiences, all of whom will benefit by becoming more sexually literate. SexSmartFilms.com is one of the greatest modern contributions for advancing the dialogue on sexual health around the world.
(1) Some Web site content is free of charge, and subscription options vary. Given the dynamic nature of the content on Web sites, please check the site (www.SexSmartFilms.com) for the most current pricing and access information.