Sex is still a taboo topic, to one degree or another, in most parts of the world. Historically, art has played a tremendous role in rolling back such taboos and getting people to speak openly about sex and sexuality. Documentary cinema is no different in this regard. It is an incredibly intimate art form, and it perhaps never gets more intimate with its subjects than when dealing with the topic of sex. These films feature people laid bare (often literally) before the viewer, to the cause of opening dialogues about sex. Taboos are broken when silence is broken, and each of these documentaries explores a different aspect of sex or sexuality.
Love Meetings (1965)
Always the provocateur, director Pier Paolo Pasolini sat down with as many of his fellow Italians as he could in order to throw questions about sex and sexual practice their way. Pasolini himself is front and center, acting as the interviewer in every scene, meaning that the whole film is a proudly gay man challenging people about their sexual mores. He gathers interviewees from every class strata and finds a common thread of ignorance and repression running through them. We can look at it as a snapshot of a bygone age, although one wonders how much more enlightened we’d find people if similar interviews were conducted today.
Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate (1985)
Kirby Dick made his feature debut with this film, which follows the work of Maureen Sullivan, professional sexual surrogate. Surrogates help those experiencing sexual dysfunction by providing a safe environment in which to discuss and sometimes practice acting out their anxieties. Sullivan’s patients, a 25 year old with little experience and a 45 year old divorcee plagued by confidence issues, have already embarked on a significant trust fall, and Dick respects their vulnerability. The camera remains at a mute distance as Sullivan works them through their myriad body issues and interpersonal anxieties. It’s an emotional film about the blocks to intimacy we can suffer.
Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys (1994)
For good reason, pedophilia is a charged topic, in and outside of documentary spheres. Even including it within discussions of “sexuality” may prove controversial, and anyone who argues that it doesn’t belong on this list isn’t necessarily wrong. To watch Chicken Hawk, in which members of NAMBLA (The North American Man/Boy Love Association) openly discuss their love for prepubescent boys and their efforts to push age of consent “reform, ” is an experience in profound discomfort. But while you’re under no obligation to understand the mindset of pedophiles any deeper than you wish to, the doc makes for a riveting look into this world, and it certainly never defends its characters’ arguments.