Boy George once famously opined that he'd rather drink a nice cup of tea than have it; James Dean likened it to an ice cream sundae, and the late Hugh Hefner called it the driving force on the planet. Yes, we're talking about sex!

These days, it seems hard to get away from it. Books are full of it, films are devoted to it and sex seems to be the key ingredient for any self-respecting music video.

But it wasn't always like this. Up until a few decades ago, sex on screen was very much a hidden affair. Television networks would cut out offending scenes and the barest hint of flesh relegated TV shows to late-night time slots and feature films to R18 theatres.

But despite the restrictions imposed on writers and filmmakers, they persisted, and the subject of sex became a staple of both the small and large screen.


In New Zealand, one of the first documentaries to look in-depth at our sexuality was Allison Webber's 1987 series Expressions of Sexuality. It took her two years to convince TVNZ that local audiences were ready to talk about what was still, in those days, a taboo subject.

More than 10 years later, director Fiona Samuel took up the challenge and explored the sensitive theme of virginity in her first documentary called, funnily enough, Virginity. In it, seven women — aged from 19 to 89 — talk candidly about their "first time" and how it affected their lives, for good and ill.

And in a satisfying bit of marital matching, Murray Keane, inspired by his wife's documentary, explored the same topic in his companion piece, Virginity – the Men.

Here, one old soldier talks about the perils of sex during wartime.

Taking a somewhat more tongue in cheek approach to analysing our sexual behaviours is Jeremy Wells, who in his The Unauthorised History of New Zealand, explored an "alternative" version of New Zealand's carnal appetites.

Watch here as he introduces us to Oamaru's "debauched" past.

A somewhat more personal account of sex is portrayed in Paul Oremland's feature film 100 Men. The film follows the director as he attempts to track down 100 men that he's had sex with over 40 years. It's a journey that takes him from Raglan to London and shows the changing attitudes and experiences of being a gay man.

And the world's oldest profession is the theme of this 1994 documentary, A Double Standard. In it, the reality of being a sex worker in New Zealand is examined in gritty detail by director Clare O'Leary. Here, one sex worker talks about what goes through her mind when she's on the job.

And one of New Zealand's most beloved 80s songs was all about prostitution. Sharon O'Neill's classic Maxine was based on a King's Cross prostitute. Identified in the song as "case 1352, a red and green tattoo", the "Maxine" in the song provided a cautionary tale as to the dangers of working the streets.