Sex Documentaries

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.

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. More »

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.  More »

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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.

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. More »

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. More »

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.  More »

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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.

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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."

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. More »

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. More »
DVD cover for Orgasm Inc.

Thanks to journalist Tania Rabesandratana who reminded me of this excellent documentary by Liz Canner. Orgasm, Inc. manages to be both funny and serious, offering a behind the scenes look at the medicalization of female sexuality and the pharmaceutical race to find a female Viagra. More »

cover of Private Dicks documentary

Recommended by everyone's favorite sex professor Debby Herbenick, this hour long documentary made originally for TV asks men to let it all hang out, literally and conversationally, as they explore their relationship to, and our culture's fascination with, male genitals. The film offers a relatively diverse group of guys talking, along with clips from old sex education films and more political/philosophical discussions of language and power. More »

box cover image of Private Practices

Directed by Kirby Dick this is one of those documentaries where you can't quite believe the access given to the filmmaker.  A fascinating look into the world and work of sexual surrogate Maureen Sullivan.  The film follows two clients as they struggle with sexual difficulties and offers unparalleled access to their therapy sessions and family interactions over the course of one year. More »

raw deal box cover

Recommended by an Australian reader who considers this an important but difficult to watch documentary that "challenges our ideas of consent, morality, gender bias and our legal system." The documentary graphically relates the case of a woman who was raped by members of a University of Florida fraternity and then re-victimized by a legal system that chose to blame her and a culture that assumes that someone who does any kind of sex work is incapable of being sexually assaulted. Read a review of Raw Deal. More »

box cover for Sick the film about Bob Flannagan

Among the best documentaries about sex, art, and embodiment, Kirby Dick's ability to make films with minimal intrusion means we get to see people very much as they want to be seen.  At the time of his death Bob Flannagan was the oldest living survivor of Cystic Fibrosis.  This groundbreaking film, at times difficult to watch, follows the artist and "super masochist" documenting his last two years of work, life, and struggles with his full time Master, Sheree Rose. More »

box cover for Stripped

Director Jill Morely worked as a stripper and produced both a one woman show and this film documentary based on her experiences.  In Stripped she focuses on four women who explain their reasons for stripping.  This is one of many documentaries that approach the subject of dancing (or more broadly sex work) with a lot of unconscious assumptions and agendas.  Which is not necessarily a criticism, but it is something to consider while watching. More »

cover of Viva la Vulva

Another pick from Dr. Debby Herbenick, this is a documentation of Betty Dodson's work with women around body image and female genitals. A group of women, ages 25 - 68 get together to talk about the relationship they have with their bodies, and to explore their own and other women's bodies in a way that is meant to celebrate the vulva and genital diversity. More »

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Zoo documentary box cover

A documentary about bestiality and zoophilia that focuses on a particulate group of men who were engaging in sex with animals on a farm, and one man who died after having sex with a horse. This film features some of the men involved in this case and as such much of it is shot in shadows. It will likely push some people's buttons but it is an important addition to sex documentaries and a non-panicked public discussion of a kind of sexual activity that needs to be talked about. More »