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Sex Documentaries

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Updated October 10, 2011

Documentaries about sexuality provide the viewer a unique glimpse into other people's sex lives. They offer something that isn't quite pornography (even though some people may find them pornographic) and isn't Hollywood's representation of what real sex is. At their best documentaries about sex let people represent themselves and share their experience with the rest of us. At their worst they are a freak show, parading real people in front of a camera and setting them up to seem pathetic, pitiable, and plastic.

The list below (presented in alphabetical order) includes my favorite sex documentaries as well as other docs that in my opinion have missed the mark. But you should be the final judge of what works for you, so consider them all. If you have a favorite that isn't in this list, or if you want to add your comments to any of the descriptions, let me know.

101 Rent Boys (2000)

box cover of the documentary 101 Rent Boys

The filmmakers, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, picked up male sex workers on the Santa Monica strip and offered each of them $50 to come back to a room and do an interview for this complicated portrait of male street sex work.  Like most of their work the film is an exercise in gawking and exploitation but the filmmakers are up front about this, and as a viewer you have a choice.  And while they weren't getting paid much, at least they were getting paid and given the opportunity to speak their minds.

American Pimp (1999)

box cover of the documentary American Pimp

A largely glorifying documentary about African American street pimps, men who make money by managing female sex workers.  It's hard to know how much of any public discussion of pimps is hype, and this film doesn't do much to begin to untangle the way that race and racism informs what we know and how we talk about pimps in the United States.  Directed by feature filmmakers the Hughes Brothers. 

ChickenHawk (1994)

box cover of Chicken Hawk

A documentary about the organization NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) which believes that adult men and young boys can engage in health sexual and emotional relationships.  A difficult subject but an important one for documentaries to address in a direct way.  I'm not sure how I feel personally about the way this film treats its subjects, but I know that it's better that we have the film to use as a discussion and educational tool.

Didn’t Do It For Love (1997)

box cover of Didn't Do It For Love
Directed by Monika Treut this is an unsettling and unflinching profile of actress, sex worker and sexual provocateur Eva Norvind who was Mexico's answer to Marilyn Monroe, and a high priced New York dominatrix. Norvind never stops questioning herself and Western hypocrisy about sex, even as it costs her relationships with lover, family and friends.

Dildo Diaries (2002)

box cover of Dildo Diaries

A project of love and passion, the dildo diaries asks how it is possible to live in a state and country where guns are legal and sex toys are not.  Featuring sex toy advocates and pioneers, as well as members of the Texas State Legislature.

Girl Next Door (1999)

box cover for the Girl Next Door

Documentaries about porn industry tend to give us editorial, often moralistic, fantasies of good and evil, self-deluded, or coerced women preyed on by lotharios lurking near the bus station.  The Girl Next Door, offers a compelling alternative to the traditional tale.  Christine Fugate’s documentary manages to do something few films about the porn industry succeed in, she provides a sufficiently pruirient voyeuristic look into the porn world AND she lets her subject represent herself on screen without heavy-handed editorial. 

Live Nude Girls Unite (2000)

box cover of live nude girls unite

This documentary follows the efforts of a group of dancers to unionize the club they work at.  Along the way we get a non-sensationalist glimpse into the world of stripping and peep show booths in San Francisco, and a lesson in labor and union politics. Directed by Julia Query and Vicky Funari.

Love Machine (2002)

Love Machine DVD cover

I left out many documentaries about sex and technology because I've rarely seen ones I thought were even remotely good, but a reader suggested this documentary which is "about the way robots and machines interact with humans in an emotional or sexual way."

Not a Love Story (1981)

box cover for Not a Love Story

This National Film Board of Canada production was a flashpoint for the so-called feminist sex wars of the 1980s.  Considered by some to be extreme propaganda and by others to be a heroic truth telling exercise, this documentary takes a clear anti-porn stance in its investigation of the sex industry and the people who work in it.

O Amor Natural (1996)

Heddy Honigmann directs what may be my favorite sex documentary. She wanders the streets of Rio De Janeiro asking older adults to recite from a collection of posthumously published erotic poetry by of Brazilian poet Carlos Durmmond de Andrade and they in turn reveal their sexual lives in funny, romantic, and disarmingly honest ways.
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