Most of the audience at a recent screening I attended of the movie Body of War saw it as a terrible indictment of the Iraq war. I did, too, but as a sexuality educator, I also found myself riveted by several scenes that focused on the body portion of the film.
The film is about Tomas Young, a 25-year-old from Missouri who enlisted in the Army after watching President Bush swear vengeance through a bullhorn at ground zero after 9/11.
Young is permanently confined to a wheelchair after having caught a bullet the first week he was in Iraq. The bullet hit him just beneath his left collarbone, causing severe and permanent spinal cord injuries. He was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.
In the first part of the film, Tomas is getting married to Brie and all seems to be going well. But then the film focuses on the unexpected: a very detailed description of the effects of Tomas’s injury on his penis, and how it damages his ability to have erections and sex with the woman he has just married.
This discussion of what can happen to the penis and one’s ability to have sex when one is disabled is the most clinical and frankest that I have ever seen in a film. (The audience’s deep silence indicated to me that few to none had ever seen such scenes or heard such straightforward language.)
Both Tomas and Brie discuss their problems using the word “penis” frequently and show detailed drawings of various tubes that are attached to Tomas so he can urinate. They discuss how these tubes interfere when they try out various mechanical methods that might help Tomas have and hold an erection. When the film shows a drawing of Tomas having an injection into his penis in order to have an erection, I could feel the entire audience flinch.
I recommend that sex educators see Body of War. They will learn a lot from the frank talk about sex and spinal cord injuries—knowledge they could transmit to students. They could use the film to lead discussions about disability and sexuality, specifically about how people with disabilities have sex. Conversations like these will help students become more sensitive to those with disabilities.
It would take very courageous teachers and school administrators to show scenes like these in a classroom. The teachers would have to draw from some of the bravery of Tomas Young, his wife and his mother.