Gen Z wants less sex on television, in movies: UCLA study

51.5 percent said that they "want to see more content focused on friendships and platonic relationships."

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
A new study out from UCLA shows that Gen Z, young people from 13-24 years old, are not super interested in seeing sex on television or in movies. In fact, they'd like less of it. What they'd mostly like to see is content about friendship that isn't romantic and platonic relationships.

"While it’s true that adolescents want less sex on TV and in movies, what the survey is really saying is that they want more and different kinds of relationships reflected in the media they watch," said study co-author Yalda T. Uhls, who is an adjunct professor in the psychology department of UCLA. 

44.3 percent of those surveyed said that "romance in media is overused," while 39 percent said that they'd like to see more characters who are not even remotely interested in romantic love but are either asexual or aromantic (some of the As in the LGBTQIA+ acronym). 47.5 percent said that sex just isn't necessary for most movie and television plots. 51.5 percent said that they "want to see more content focused on friendships and platonic relationships."

One young man from Georgia stated that he thinks it's a shame that on-screen men and women are so prone to fall in love. Variety reported that he'd like "sex and romance to be de-centered."

"I don’t like [that] every time a male and female character are together on screen, studios feel the need to make them fall [in] love," he said. "There’s a complete lack of platonic relationships in American cinema."

The survey was published in the Teens and Screens report. It stated that "Gen Z’s values and desires reach depths beyond what society has typically explored. As demonstrated in this report, they’ve grown tired of stereotypical, heteronormative storytelling that valorizes romantic and/or sexual relationships – especially ones that are toxic – and are looking for more representations of friendship, which is a core aspect of adolescence and social well-being."

56 percent of those surveyed said that they are noticing that "more and more people" in their circles are "deliberately choosing to be single," and that "being single isn't something to fix—it's its own happy ending."

It's no secret that a few years' worth of studies have shown that the younger generation's interest in sex itself has been declining. Headlines about decrying the lack of sexual intimacy sought by younger Americans, along with headlines about declining birth rates. With the emergence of the concept that "representation matters," it's also not surprising that the generation that doesn't want sex wants to see less sex in the entertainment offerings presented to them.

What is different, however, than in years past is that entertainment producers are listening more to younger generations and those demanding more representation of people just like them. Instead of presenting storytelling that has deep cultural roots, studios are pushing stories that they think will appeal to younger audiences. As such, we can all expect to see less sex, less romance, and more buddy concepts on screens.

For several years, there has been a push to downplay straight romance in favor of portraying more gay or lesbian romantic relationships. Now, the push is on the get rid of the concept of love and lasting intimate partnerships altogether. Part of the impulse is to say that the relationships portrayed on screen are not reflective of how things go in life.

Whereas in previous generations, young people would model themselves after characters or archetypes, now young people want entertainment to model itself after them. No longer is the idea that what's on screen is aspirational, now it's considered inauthentic if what's on screen does not match the experiences of the audience.

The purpose of the survey was to "ask adolescents across the United States what topics they wish to see in the content they watch, which media spaces feel more authentic to them (and why)." The survey was conducted in August 2023 with 1,500 adolescent respondents between the ages of 10-24. Only those 13 and over were asked questions about sex in media.

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