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Learning to Live


Excerpt from Learning to Live (1964) - courtesy of the BFI

The Magazine's sex education film festival

Each day this week, the Magazine is charting how attitudes to sex education have changed by featuring a classic public information film of its time. The third excerpt in our series on sex education films is from 1964's Learning to Live.

This film is neither one thing nor the other.

It is not completely consistent with the simple moralising of earlier films, but at the same time it never really recognises the approaching age of sexual liberation.

Learning to Live combines both footage of teenagers socialising with animations explaining the biology of reproduction.

The Magazine's sex ed film festival
Five excerpts from films from the BFI's DVD The Joy of Sex Education - one a day for a week. The films so far:

It's clear that the makers wanted to take a reasonably modern stance, with the narrator insisting that a moral tone is not the aim.

But this is contradicted by a number of assertions in the script.

"We must recognise that our society accepts the married state as right and regards sexual intercourse outside marriage as irresponsible and possibly disastrous," says the narrator.

The film is also full of lines that may cause raised eyebrows among the modern viewer, particularly in its description of the effects of puberty.

"She will find that a well developed bosom becomes a part of her charms… She develops protective flesh at various parts of her body. This gives her those curves which nature has decide will be attractive to the male sex."

The film's portrayal of a social life dominated by cafes and beat combos is very much of its time.

"The tensions between morality and the mechanisms of freer love are bubbling under throughout," says James Piers Taylor, curator (non-fiction) at the BFI National Archive.

Send us your comments using the form below.

This film is wonderful - I particularly like the man showing off his manliness by holding up a chair.
Sophie Lodge, London

All those years alone - if I'd only known that one-handed chair lifting was the way to a woman's heart...
Shane Speck, Norwich, Norfolk

The sad but not surprising portrayal seeks to build or encourage confidence in males (hair has nothing to do with manliness, male sex organs have new and important tasks to perform), and to portray women's bodies as primarily designed for male attraction and pleasure. Women's breasts are only cursorily mentioned as having an important task to perform. Apart from that, women's bodies are to be curated on behalf of male attention: "mercifully no hair on chin", "a nice smooth armpit seems to be preferred", "bosom becomes part of her charms" "protective flesh... gives her those curves which nature has decided will be attractive to the male sex". This is further emphasized as they zoom in on the girls breasts before turning the camera down to the hand holding of the couple.
Rose Martin, Los Angeles, CA

Oh, this took me back. My class was shown this film in 1970 when we were 14. One of the funniest afternoons I can remember - that cheesy background music, pathetic acting, the cartoons (to which we added sound effects) and the nervous reaction of the teachers - brilliant. It came with another film about STDs that didn't actually explain how you caught them - it showed people walking down a busy street with a green light on their genitals, and whenever they walked past someone, that person also acquired a green light. I've been longing to see that one again, too.
Clare, London, UK

At last, the opportunity to see what was deemed unsuitable for grammar school boys in the 1960s. There is a pleasant neutrality to the narrator's voice. I think this acceptance without judgement would have made our elders reject the film. Possibly also, most of our teachers would have felt uncomfortable leading a sex education lesson. Instead we had to concentrate on the higher minded pursuits of beating the hell out of one another on the games field, swimming naked in the school pool and baiting the very attractive pupils from the separate girls' grammar school.
Dzerj, Norfolk exile

Learning to Live was still at the core of - in fact was pretty much all of - our sex education in 1973.
IanB, Bolton/UK

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