“The ABC of Sex Education for Trainables”: 1975 Educational Film on Sex Education for Mentally Handicapped People

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The ABC of Sex Education for Trainables is a 1975 short educational film hosted by Richard Dix. It was intended to inform people about the need to educate the mentally disabled (‘trainables’ as they are referred to in the film) about sex and sexuality. Reflecting the views held at the time, the film explains that ‘trainables’ cannot learn in the same manner as those of normal intelligence, but must instead be trained through repetition.

The 20 minute video places a high priority on teaching the intellectually disabled about sex so that they will not make inappropriate sexual comments, expose parts of their bodies, masturbate in public, be involved in unplanned pregnancies, or become victims of rape or molestation. It also notes that the goal of teachers should be to explain sexuality in a factual manner, and that views of sexual morality vary between families and should therefore be left for parents to teach.

Teaching children about sex is a delicate subject at the best of times. This film was produced by Planned Parenthood to train teachers of developmentally-challenged young adults (called ‘trainables’ here) about their bodies, reproduction, and the place of sexual relations in society.

While there are a few fairly humorous scenes in here, such as a group of teachers coming up with alternate names for the penis, or a mother walking in on her son while he is masturbating, other topics including talking about wet dreams with a “calm and accepting” manner, and explaining intercourse, this film actually does the best job of dealing with the issues of sex in context with society.

Teachers offer diagrams to teach their pupils their anatomy, and discuss the many aspects of normal development and sexual maturity. Issues that would be difficult to address, such as the appropriateness of public masturbation, or being aware of being exploited by others, are handled with tact and matter of factness.

The style is a little off, especially the Sergio Leone style closeups of the central commentator, but in all this is quite an interesting piece on what would present a real challenge to those caring for developmentally-challenged individuals, and their responsibilities as sexual beings. It is the most educational, and least condescending sex education film of the lot.

Richard Dix

The onscreen credits acknowledge that narration was provided by Richard Dix and that dramatic sequences were provided by William Block, M.D., Beverly Camp, Rick Fullerton, Peter Green, Michael Kowalski, Ellen Moats, George Murray, Aaron Orenstein, Christopher Reidy, Murray Zeligman, and members and staff of the Ronald Bruce Nippon Assoc., and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

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