My guest is Mark Schoen. He is a prolific sex-education filmmaker–he has made over 50 of them!–and still very productive and skilled at his important work in the industry. As his focus attests, educating the general public about sexual topics is always necessary. We can never have enough sexual education throughout the world, so what Mark does is extremely important for making the world a better, more fulfilling, and more demystified place when we talk about sexuality and the whole spectrum of the subject. And although he originally thought he was going to be a hockey player, luckily for the world he realized his full potential in the sexual education sphere.
He is the founder and organizer of SexSmartFilms and has been making sexual health films since 1974. In addition to the numerous awards he has won for his work, he is an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator and an award-winning author. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! For an enlightening talk on his fascinating life, you would be hard pressed to find a better exemplar of how sexual education should be done. Great stuff!
How Mark got his Start as a Sexual Educator
As Mark states, his first encounter with the discipline was as a health educator. Soon it became required for him to teach a group of 12 and13-year-olds the nature of sexually transmitted diseases. But to his chagrin, the curriculum was presenting sexuality through the lens of disease instead of a more positive light. Alarmed by this frame of reference for the subject, Mark decided to appeal for a full class on sexuality that would frame sexuality in a much more positive light. In addition, the class would also be a thorough analysis of the subject and not a quick gloss over the mandatory details. Mark says much more on the topic near the beginning of the interview.
Bellybuttons Are Navels
As Mark’s career started taking off, in the pre-internet 70’s mind you, he started getting much more involved in the sexual health realm. Eventually, he wrote a very important children’s book called Bellybuttons Are Navels, which explored the anatomical differences between a boy and a girl. A pretty radical concept considering that sexual education when Mark had just gotten started was basically anatomy 101 and didn’t explore the nuances and complexity of sexual development, function, and the psychological aspects of sex. Regardless, Bellybuttons Are Navels was published in 1990 and became the first children’s book to use the word clitoris. For more on this part of Mark’s career listen along to the episode!
His Recent Films
As Mark recounts, he was blown away by the reception and praise for his 2012 film Trans. And during the talk, he shares a completely heartwarming story of a parent of a transgender child and just how much the film changed her perspective on transsexuality. Mark also shares a scary statistic on the suicide rate of the transgender population, so films like Trans serve an extremely important function that can bridge the gap on loneliness in the community and increase understanding for the ready assimilation and integration of the trans-community. With more work like Mark’s, there will be less transgender people on the fringe, and more in the center. Really impactful stuff here!
The Challenges of Films Becoming Outdated
SexSmartFilms, Mark’s website, and enterprise is a repository of sexual education films and resources that are online and can be accessed like the Netflix of sexual health. But the problem with making movies in-house and really just filmmaking, in general, is that hairstyles go out of style, clothes go out of trend, and of course, even the camera quality and look of the entire film can quickly look obsolete. This becomes distracting for some people and can even detract from the overall trust that one places in the information presented. Who’s to say that the information isn’t as outdated as the clothing styles, in other words?
Mark talks about this aspect of the industry and promises that the information is still sound and correct, even if some of the hairstyles are egregious. Listen along for more!
Cultural Changes are Relative to Technological Change
Jumping to today, technology has made sexuality so much more pervasive in society. In short, it’s everywhere! And as Mark states, relevant films and resources can be brought up at the touch of a button. This is a completely different reality than the barren wasteland of accessible resources that teenagers and adults had during the 1970s when Mark started his work as an educator.
In other words, now that young people are getting a steady dose of pornography and sexuality from sources that are detached from sexual education, and instead more so sexual entertainment, there is a different educational dynamic at play.
Education, Research, and Therapy
Mark states that his SexSmartFilm site is divided into these three categories for type of film and their overall purpose. There are films for children, teens, and adults. Really, it’s a great database for a wide range of sexuality topics and purposes that you can access for a subscription price. Consider doing it! Mark gives a detailed breakdown of everything you can find with the subscription. From historical sources to more present presentations of sexuality, and what Mark is currently working on, check out what Mark has to say!