In 1969 President Nixon wrote to Senator John Pastore, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, and congratulated him for initiating the Surgeon General’s research into “sex and violence” on television. As Rubinstein (1981) reviews the situation, however, the commendation was somewhat premature. At that time there was no sex on television, or at least not in the manner claimed by critics on the political and philosophical right. There was certainly no actual depiction of coitus, rape, or even petting, and no unusual “variety” of sexual activity was seen. At most there was kissing and some suggestive touching. All intimate behavior was restricted to verbal references. Consistent with this dearth of TV sex, The Surgeon General’s report limited itself to the study of television violence. Similarly, the then contemporary President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, after investigation, did not consider sex on television as a relevant area to research.
While the level of violence depicted on television has continually increased during the 1970s and into the 1980s, the situation for sex has changed only slightly.
Several distinctions must be made to clarify my meaning and the scope of sex under consideration. Most obviously, sex on television can be a visual presentation of a couple having coitus, a similar couple discussing such behavior, or it can be a round-table discussion of such an act by clergy, therapists or educators. Sex on television might encompass a view of a bared breast in a love or nursing scene, or discussion of breast cancer as part of a documentary; it might include the depiction of stereotyped or atypical sex roles or cheesecake or beefsteak style camera angles and poses. Only to a few extremists are these all of equal concern. Then, as now, it was the physical-genital aspects of sex which typically most concerned conservatives, while the depiction of social-societal aspects of sex typically concerned liberals For the political left and right, it was both the visual as well as the verbal and contextual material that was of concern. There were programs on commercial and non-commercial channels that had talk programs dealing occasionally with sex-related themes, but none which capitalized on relevant visual presentations.
Amidst this background, a public broadcast, adult-level television series was produced whose prime focus was human sexuality. The series was conceived as a televised adult course to present thirty main topics within the broad scope of sex. These were to be as intellectually honest as possible and as visually frank as necessary. It is particularly in regard to its visual format, the obvious strength of television, that this series was envisioned to be uniquely different from anything that had been seen before in the United States, and in many ways, since. The series was titled Human Sexuality and was created for production by the University of Hawaii and Hawaii PBS station KHET-TV.
Previously, in 1967 and 1968, a television series Sex and Society had been produced by Seattle PBS station KCTS-TV. It was probably the first such TV series and consisted of 28 one-hour panel discussions for an adult audience. It was moderated by a physician, Ronald J. Pion. The program was in black and white and limited to the KCTS-TV broadcast area. This was followed in 1968 by a mini sex education series for children entitled All About Life on KING-TV, also moderated by Pion. In 1970, psychologist Nathaniel N. Wagner of the University of Washington offered a 13 session series entitled Teenagers and Sex: A Dialogue with Parents. This was aired over KCTS-TV and KING-TV in Seattle. In 1971, on KCTS-TV, Wagner moderated a Human Sexuality series of 13 panel discussions or lectures. These too were in black and white. While intended for an adult audience, these series, as those preceding them, were visually limited to views of the speaker(s), “talking heads” as they are referred to by television producers.
From its inception, however, the 1973 Hawaii Human Sexuality series was to be different. “Talking heads” were to be kept to a minimum and engaging appropriate visuals were to be maximized. These were intended to be simultaneously instructive as a college-level credit course and entertaining for a mass general audience. Such a course was to be in keeping with previously offerings of the University of Hawaii College of Continuing Education and Hawaii PBS station KHET-TV. Their joint offering for the 1972 session was a series on Futuristics.
The popularity and reputation of my regular University of Hawaii course on Human Sexuality prompted consideration of a course uniquely and specifically designed for television. The choice seemed both appropriate and daring. It was appropriate since interest in the area was high and the need was great, as could be judged by contemporary newspaper and magazine reports of a litany of sexual concerns by the community: unwanted and teenage pregnancies, venereal disease, swinging, divorce, abortion and so forth. It was daring since this would be the first such forthright attempt and the University and public station, as most others, were not typically quick to involve themselves publicly in controversial projects.
It was anticipated that the series would draw adverse criticism as well as support, but that the need for proper information and the nature of the material and the quality of the production would more than compensate for any negative features. In retrospect, all went well. At the time however, this was a very risky decision inviting the possibility of severe community reaction from at least a vocal minority. Some refuge was taken in the fact that the State of Hawaii was the first in the nation to legalize abortion in 1970, and the State Legislators at the time had expressed a need to foster sex education to reduce the need for abortion.
In August 1972, production was started on a television series of 30 color programs. The College, as prime producer of the series, and I as content producer and program host-instructor, were concerned with the educational worth of the material. Also, I was sensitive to the fact that this would be a first large scale presentation of direct and open sexual material which might, if not done properly, hamper future efforts not only in the State of Hawaii but elsewhere. Naturally, as a presentation of the State Public Broadcasting System (PBS) station, the task was also to provide general mass entertainment as well as information.
Each full presentation consisted of two half-hour portions. The first was to be a prerecorded, taped program covering a specific area of interest. This portion would then be available for repeated use in Hawaii and elsewhere. The second half-hour was planned to be a live presentation during which additional timely material could be added, special guests invited and most crucially, response could be given to questions garnered from throughout the state and generated by the first half-hour. The questions were telephoned to the station by viewers via an open, toll-free line. This was thus perhaps the first known example of direct access educational use of television. It also turned out to be, in part and inadvertently, the first known example of so-called media-sex therapy as well.
Only one censorship restriction was imposed by the television station: no frontal full-scale view of genitals was to be shown. The college imposed no restrictions other than “discretion,” allowing my experience and judgment academic freedom. As for myself, I tried to hold to the same basic guidelines I use routinely in my regular classes: to present fairly the various facts and attitudes on different sides of controversial issues, whether I personally agree with them or not; to avoid sensationalism; and to present sexology as a science and art of natural processes, common or at least of interest to all, rather than as a set of problems relevant only to a minority. These guidelines allowed different facets of topics such as prostitution, nudity, homosexuality and group sexual practices to be explored with input by individuals openly involved in the practices, as well as with research data. The data were presented without apology, even if they did not conform to commonly accepted opinions. Individuals talked unashamedly and matter-of-fact face-to-camera; there was no hiding in shadows or behind masks.
During the live portion of the program, all questions telephoned in to me were considered legitimate, regardless of how bizarre they might seem. They were all answered with honesty and without prejudice. Remarkably few obvious crank calls were received. When requested, I would give my own personal opinion, but routinely I avoided doing so, since I was more interested in presenting issues and data and discussing general attitudes about various facts and attitudes. Considering the time restraints and media needs, specific personal problems that were telephoned in were dealt with as best as possible, or referred to suitable agencies or professionals as appropriate.
In production, the main problem was lack of funds. At that time, an hour of prime commercial television production cost from $50,000 to $100,000; a rule of thumb was $1,000 or more per minute. We had about $50,000 to spend for the total 30 hour series. Many of the production costs were absorbed by the television station; almost all of the studio crew worked voluntarily. All participants in the series did so without compensation. The television director and myself, while working on this series, maintained our regular fulltime positions. We produced two programs a week for a 15-week series, a frantic schedule.
The basic production costs were paid for by the University of Hawaii College of Continuing Education. This led to peculiar restrictions on how money could be spent. For example, transportation costs or babysitting fees to assist various volunteers (such as prostitutes) to participate in the programs were not approved. Nor would they allow purchase of material which might have been considered “controversial,” such as pornography or nudist camp photos. To overcome this, several thousand dollars in costs for necessities and incidentals were covered out of pocket.
A good many unsuccessful attempts were made to obtain private funds from drug firms, medical supply houses, individuals, foundations and other sources. Most admitted they didn’t want to chance an association with such a controversial production.
In order to increase community acceptance and support for the series, and prevent an adverse campaign generated out of ignorance or our intent, all individuals or organizations that were considered to have a legitimate interest and concern in the area were apprised of our purpose and projections. Included were leaders of all major religious faiths, civic organizations, and educational groups. In addition, the legislature and public service agencies, as well as representatives of other media, were appraised of our intentions to provide an adult television series covering a broad gamut of topics in human sexuality. An open door policy was maintained for interested parties to contribute ideas, comments and criticisms. No aspect of production was closed to any legitimate party. This cut short preproduction criticism of our being biased (to the right or left) or seeking sensationalism. Also, it allowed for a large amount of positive publicity which no doubt aided community acceptance and helped increase enrollment in the television course for credit. Actually, few original comments or suggestions were offered.
To increase viewability and instructional impact, all types of audio and visual presentations were used in production. Slides, movie film, interviews, demonstrations, charts and studio dramatizations all were utilized. Experts, novices, academics, clinicians and laymen all were enlisted. While the series was still being prepared, on January 23, 1973, the first program was aired. The paid enrollment figures for those taking the course was 526 students. To put this figure in perspective, consider that the State of Hawaii at that time had fewer than 440,000 adult residents. Thus more than 1 of each 850 adults in the State registered for the course; many for noncredit. The size of the viewing audience was hard to gauge, but proportionally large. It was estimated to have had a sizable market share.
As might be expected, it was not always easy to get individuals of any type to discuss honestly for the television audience their sexual attitudes, knowledge or practices, particularly if they were controversial. As the series progressed, however, and the tenor of the production became manifest, this problem eased considerably. This was probably because no one was intentionally made to feel embarrassed for a point of view or sexual expression. All guests were presented openly and equally. The persons and topics were presented as information, not to praise or condemn.
The content of the thirty programs covered the basic material presented in my usual Human Sexuality course, including a broad perspective encompassing psychological, biological, social, ethical, legal, and cultural aspects of the various topics. Programs were included on sexual and reproductive anatomy and physiology; reproduction and family planning; development; love, courtship and intimacy; concepts of normalcy; heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality; sexual commerce; sex and art; religion, pornography, nudism, and so on. A full list of program titles and the subjects covered is listed in Table 1.
Table 1 - Human Sexuality Program Subjects
|1. Introduction||16. I and Thou (Object Choice)|
|2. Sources of Information||17. Pornography and Fantasy|
|3. The Body||18. Sexual Fringes|
|4. Processes (Sexual Response)||19. Sexual Commerce, Prostitution|
|5. Sexual Development||20. VD Troubles|
|6. Life Changes||21. When Illness Strikes|
|7. Love and Intimacy||22. Keeping Your Health|
|8. Cultural Influences||23. Sex Education|
|9. Normalcy: What Is It?||24. The Marrieds|
|10. In the Beginning (Puberty and Fertilization)||25. The Non-Marrieds|
|11. Pregnancy and Birth||26. New Life Styles|
|12. Population||27. Sex and the Law|
|13. Planning Your Family||28. Sex and the Arts|
|14. Abortion and Sterilization||29. Sex and Ethics|
|15. I and Thou (Identity)||30. Recap and Summary|
Typically, coverage progressed from the familiar to the unknown and from the less sensitive to the more sensitive. Viewers were allowed to develop at their own pace. While the knowledge transmitted was as accurate as possible, the viewers could accept or reject the attendant attitudes, or formulate new ones after the material was incorporated into their own frame of reference and background. Each program would stand on its own but generally, later programs in the series depended upon the incorporation of some knowledge and appreciation of attitudes from former ones.
More material can be covered in a half-hour of television production than is typically covered in a class hour. This results from several factors. The first and most obvious is that the medium allows for visual resources unavailable in the usual classroom. In an electronic wink, one can go from a classroom to a bedroom, from Hawaii to New York. Without waste of time, one can interview several people whose attendance at a class session would constitute an imposition or be difficult to arrange. The second advantage of television education is that no time is wasted with classroom mechanics, e.g. getting the projector to work, or repetitive content presentation. Regrettably, as in any class, time is limited. Depth in many areas had to be sacrificed and on-the-spot probing or questions by students could not always be accommodated. This deficiency was usually rectified during the second half-hour live presentation. The use of an appropriate text also strongly helps (e.g. Diamond & Karlen, 1980; Diamond, 1985). Teaching and educational aspects of the series have been previously described, as has the series’ evaluation (Diamond, 1976).
The series included some notable firsts, ranging from close up and direct observations of routine male and female physical examinations and breast cancer self-checking techniques, to visiting a transvestite/transsexual bar and having episodes in which homosexuals unashamedly kissed. All forms of family planning were openly presented. Recalling that it had been only eight years earlier, in 1965, that the Supreme Court had ruled it legal for physicians to dispense contraceptives to married couples and no regular advertisements for contraceptives are yet carried on TV, this was a notable introduction. All types of contraceptives were presented and testimony of those who had satisfactory voluntary abortions and sterilizations were aired. This was a time when abortion was not routinely available and voluntary sterilization was not yet commonly accepted even by physicians.
Issues surrounding pornography and censorship were debated. Portions of films produced by MultiMedia were aired, as was a walk through a porno/red light district. There were also scenes from nudist colonies, and the directors of one such camp and several participants were interviewed. One program showed a clear view of birth, including a frontal presentation of delivery, and then a close-up view of nursing.
While it is not clear whether or not the following were “firsts,” it was notable for the early 1970s that women and racial minorities were given prominence in the series. Female, Black, and Oriental professionals and spokespersons were used equally with White males whenever possible. Concern for positive sex and racial role modeling was manifest throughout the series.
It had been anticipated that no matter what was presented on the television screen, a minority of persons would object to any material which dealt openly with human sexuality. Prior to the first program presentation, one letter was received by the station objecting to the series on principle. However, during the 15-week duration the series was televised, not a single adverse letter or telephone call was received by the television station or by the college. After the series was over, three letters-to-the-editor appeared in the state’s two leading newspapers objecting to the series. Their main objection was the absence of what they considered a “spiritual” presence.
On the other hand, letters of praise, thanks, support and congratulations came in from church groups and ministers of various faiths, educational leaders, civic and health organizations, as well as state and city government agencies. Two letters-to-the-editor in favor of the series appeared from visitors to Hawaii who saw the programs while here temporarily, and several visitors wrote in asking how the series might be shown in their home cities.
It wasn’t that viewers found nothing to criticize in the series. The series, however, seemed to fall in the general category of programs considered controversial but no more so than programs dealing with political, religious or other ethical themes. Judging from telephone and personal conversations between the production staff, station officials or myself with the public, the objections were few compared to what most people thought was being gained. The few negative comments quite often were highly personal but so too was the praise. A typical mixed comment might be “I enjoyed seeing how a baby is actually born and the process of birth, but did you have to show the breast feeding sequence,” or “I appreciated finding out about all sorts of sexual practices, but do you have to talk so often about homosexuality.” Most viewers were surprised, but enlightened, by the wide diversity in sexual expression and attitudes. Most praise was elicited by a program entitled “When Illness Strikes.” This program covered sexuality from the perspective of those with handicaps.
National Acceptance and Availability
The success of the series and caliber of its production earned the series a place in the catalogue of programs offered for national distribution by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and the Public Television Library (PTL). The availability on 2” broadcast video reel and all video cassette tape formats makes the programs remarkably convenient for broadcast or use in a classroom or home setting. The series was awarded a 1973 citation for Creative Programming Excellence by the National University Extension Association through its Arts and Humanities Division.
Several schools and communities started to use the programs in a library situation where the program tapes may be borrowed for individual or group viewing. In many areas teachers assigned the programs as “outside viewings” the way they might assign “outside readings.” Many communities have run the series publicly. Several commercial stations and cable systems have presented the series. The response in many areas has been generally so positive that, as in Hawaii, the stations have rerun the series two or more times. At the time of this writing, twelve years after production, the series is still being used around the country on both closed and open circuit.
Unfortunately some stations, on the basis of advice from National PBS headquarters, refrained from showing all of the programs. This prior censorship was advised by overly cautious PBS lawyers and was not the result of reviewer or viewer complaints. The program “Pornography and Fantasy” was censored for showing scenes considered too suggestive from Multimedia’s films “Unfolding” and “Rich and Judy.” The program “Sexual Fringes” was censored for showing “too much nudity,” and the program “Sex Education” was censored for showing a slide of the French artist Mario Taubin’s rendition of two teenagers in sex exploration. It was used as an illustration that teenagers do, on their own, show sexual curiosity. It is to be emphasized that these programs did not elicit any particular negative audience reaction; these were points of prior censorship based on arbitrary decisions of PBS counsel. Actually, many reviewers saw these, as other components of the series, as offering an honest and contemporary presentation.
Many high schools and colleges have acquired the series or individual programs of the series for their own use. The Bay Area Community College Television Consortium, consisting of 17 colleges on the West Coast, registered approximately 3,000 students for the course the first time it was offered in 1975. As at the University of Hawaii, this was the largest television course registration per college they have had in their several years of existence. Similarly, when offered for TV credit by schools in the Washington-Virginia area, it also drew the largest attendance of any course in their records. The Kinsey Institute for Sex Research used portions of the series in its workshops.
Some programs in the series have since been used by therapists who show the programs to their patients or ask them to view them at a resource center. This seems to facilitate and standardize the transmission of basic information and provide role models and stimuli for extensive discussion of sexual matters.
Due to their continued popularity, the programs are still available for open or closed circuit use. Any station, school or organization may rent or purchase, at non-commercial rates, any or all of the 30 programs in any tape format. (For detailed information contact: Public Broadcasting System, Public Television Library, 475 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20004.)
In light of contemporary TV programming, much of what was then produced might seem tame and innocuous. There are now certainly more talk shows openly discussing almost all of the items presented in the series, and these are seen by broader audiences. Many documentaries have since dealt in detail with specific issues such as teenage and unwed pregnancies, venereal disease or pornography, homosexuality and divorce. Yet, to date, it is safe to say that only a handful of programs have yet been as forthright visually. Few have been more candid verbally or neutral regarding content. Most documentary programs have a point of view as to how things ought to be, rather than a willingness to remain neutral and objective. Similarly, while commercial programs now openly show passionate embraces and braless or bikini-clad models, serious objective and neutral educational presentations about sex are still rare. However, as Rubinstein has noted (1981), viewers often interpret actual intimate behaviors as having occurred when, at most, verbal references or other less intimate behaviors occurred or are hinted at. It is also safe to say that to date almost no series or group of programs has yet presented these topics as anything other than problems. To my mind, all the topics mentioned are sexology issues to be understood and explored from the same perspective as concerns of health, economics, politics or entertainment. One can feel strongly about any of these subjects, yet still be fair to all facets of their complexity. If given the chance to redo the series, that again would remain my goal.