Porn is unavoidable on the net, and this doc asks if young girls are capable of distinguishing a sense of self from the hypersexualized alter ego they so often show off on Facebook. How influential is the porn industry in shaping the identity of young women and their understanding of sexual relationships?

Sexy Baby follows three women and examines the role that pervasive sex imagery plays in their lives. Winnifred is a precocious 12-year-old growing up in New York City who is constantly in a Facebook war with her parents. Twenty-something Laura is a sweet kindergarten teacher who feels the need to undergo labiaplasty to look more like a porn star. Lastly, thirty-two year old Nichole is a porn-star-turned-dance-instructor who, after years of making adult videos, is now determined to start a family with her husband. Although the doc focuses on them, it also provokes us to question our own version of sexuality, how our personal confidence is affected and if we, similarly, find our decision making process influenced.

In high school, I recall having to ask a girlfriend to explain to me what exactly a blow job was, and how you went about giving one. If I wanted photos to reference, I had to work up the courage to buy a naughty magazine; I don’t remember that being an easy thing to do. Most of my early sexual experiences were learned through trial and error. I used the urges in my body to figure stuff out, “Hmmm, this feels good, guess I’ll keep doing this.” Maybe this is why dry humping was such a thing back then. Is it still? Or do teens just move right into dirty moves they’ve picked up on the internet? Do they curse their pubic hair the minute it appears because that’s not what porn stars look like? How on earth are we supposed to teach them about healthy and fulfilling sex when we are up against a billion dollar porn industry, advertising industry and music video industry? Seriously, how?

Like most documentaries, Sexy Baby doesn’t really answer too many questions, but it sure raises a lot. Of the three subjects documented, 12 year old Winnifred clearly has the best education. Her parents are hellbent on raising an intelligent daughter who is strong enough to question the manipulative media. And yet, we watch as Winnifred constantly tweaks her Facebook profile to appear sexy with carefully staged photos that emulate provocative advertising.

Sexy Baby moves from filming Winnifred in conversation with her mother about feminism to Laura prepping for a surgery that will slice off her labia because she finds it to be too loose and ugly. She wants her vagina to look porn-star perfect. Shocking? It’s a booming industry. In my humble opinion, it is too late for Laura to ever have an understanding of what a healthy and meaningful intimate relationship looks like or feels like. It is depressing that she feels the need to mutilate her genitals in order to boost her self-confidence.

Having spent most of her adult life banging on camera, Nichole has an insider understanding of the porn industry. She talks a lot about making love versus fucking as sport and, trying to conceive, openly discusses how she will do her best to control porn access within the family home.

Three very interesting subjects indeed. Sexy Baby does a good job presenting varied ways in which our sexually-saturated world affects, and warps, our perceptions of sexuality and self. We’ve come a long way since the Mad Men era of women as sex objects in the workplace, but have we completely regressed in other areas? Now more than ever it seems like strong female role models are required, for boys and girls, if we want a fighting chance to swing the pendulum and restore some kind of balance in this sex-crazed society. 

Tues, May 1, 9 pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Buy tickets.
Thurs, May 3, 6:45 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre. Buy tickets.
Fri, May 4, 7 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. Buy tickets.

~ Jen McNeely