Study Suggests that the Amount of Sexual Content on Screen Is Actually Decreasing!

Study Suggests that the Amount of Sexual Content on Screen Is Actually Decreasing!

Based on the number of movies you’ve seen recently, did you get the impression that there was more sexual content or less? This is a very subjective thing, of course, and it depends on the types of movies you’re watching, but if you want to know the exact number, a recent study might provide you with the answers you are looking for. A study published on the site of Stephen Follows provides us with these answers and the numbers actually confirm that there is a significant decline in the amount of sexual content in movies.

In the paragraphs below, we are going to analyze these numbers for you and provide you with the most important facts and calculations you need to know, as well as dive into the bigger picture and the causes of this phenomenon.

If you’ve seen last year’s Poor Things, May December, or Saltburn, you might have the impression that there is more and more sexual content in movies and that the content is becoming more and more explicit. E.g., Poor Things featured numerous sex scenes in various places; Saltburn featured scenes of sex when one of the characters was menstruating; and in May December, we could see an erect penis. These are just some mainstream examples, but they give the impression that sex is everywhere, no?

Well, as Stephen Follows himself said, he was asked by Rachel Lloyd from The Economist to look into the actual numbers, which resulted in a study that revealed that the amount of sexual content in movies is actually decreasing! Before we analyze this, take a look at Follows’ two charts:

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Of course, Follows did not analyze the whole market, but focused on the top-grossing films of the 21st century, showing that the amount of sexual content has been steadily decreasing since 2001, with only a small amount of exceptions to this rule and as far as 2023 is concerned, the decrease is also present. On the other hand, the number of top-grossing films without sexual content has been on the rise since 2001, which means that fans don’t really crave such content anymore; they might not openly dislike it, but they will go watch a movie regardless of this.

This is actually in line with a recent study that showed that Gen Z children and young adults want less sexual content in movies and TV, so it does seem that – regardless of our own personal impressions – sex is becoming irrelevant.

Now, the study done by Follows doesn’t provide us with an in-depth analysis of the reasons, but the author has provided us with a few reasons, and here is what he thinks:

  1. Changes in audience taste. Modern audiences, particularly younger ones such as Generation Z, might have less interest in explicit depictions of sexuality. Instead, there is a growing preference for content that either avoids sexual themes altogether or handles them with more subtlety.
  2. Shift in cultural norms. Social movements and heightened discussions around consent and gender representation have likely contributed to a more cautious approach to including sex scenes in films. Producers and filmmakers may be more sensitive to how sexual content could be perceived or potentially lead to controversy.
  3. Global market considerations. Films that perform well at international box offices tend to favour content that can translate across different cultural norms. Explicit sex scenes may result in more restrictive age ratings or censorship, hence reducing a film’s potential reach.
  4. The streaming age. With the rise of streaming services, which offer tailored viewing experiences, there may be less demand for sexual content in wide-release films. Niche productions and series on streaming platforms, where content can be more targeted and controlled, might absorb the demand for such material.
  5. Outdated stereotypes. The trend could also be a rejection of outdated stereotypes, where sex scenes were often objectifying and presented through a predominantly male gaze. Modern films may be attempting to depict sexuality in a way that’s more authentic and respectful. This feels particularly relevant when we think of “traditionally male-focused” genres, such as thrillers and action movies, as we saw above.
  6. The availability of adult content elsewhere. With the ubiquity of internet pornography, audiences seeking explicit sexual content have an abundance of options readily available online. This has potentially reduced the need for mainstream cinema to fill this niche, allowing films to focus on other elements of storytelling without the need to include sex scenes to attract viewers.
  7. The rise of Intimacy Coordinators. As the film industry addresses past issues of harassment and improper on-set behaviour, the role of the Intimacy Coordinator has gained prominence. Their presence could be discouraging gratuitous sex scenes unless they serve a critical narrative purpose. I looked into this a few months ago and below a key chart from that piece

If you want to check out the whole study, which includes more graphs and charts, you can find it here.

Have something to add? Let us know in the comments below!

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