Growing pains

The controversial sex education film Growing Up, which was banned by several education authorities in England in the 1970s, may have had the effect of setting limits to sex education lessons that have not been transgressed since.

Growing Up, made in 1971 by Martin Cole, a lecturer and founder of the Institute for Sex Education and Research, featured close-up images of genitalia in various stages of arousal, footage of an adolescent boy and girl masturbating, and showed a naked couple copulating on a bare set. The film is unlikely to have been shown to secondary pupils and Margaret Thatcher, the then education secretary, was pressed into giving parents the right to withdraw children from sex education classes.

David Limond, lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, who has examined the impact of the film, says that when it was released, sex education had changed little since the war and still focused on the biological facts of reproduction and on arguments in favour of marriage.

"Materials for children don't use explicit cartoons. Sex is still veiled and mysterious. But once you're in the adult world, anything goes. There has to be a better transition."

Martin Cole, the Growing Up controversy, and the limits of school sex education in 1970s England will be published in the journal History of Education

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