Gen Z viewers want less sex scenes, more platonic friendships on screen - UCLA study

The 2023 Teens & Screens report found more than half of adolescent viewers want less sex scenes and more platonic friendships depicted on screen.
Overtly sexual films like 365 Days are not liked by the majority of Gen Z viewers, according to the study. Photo credit: Netflix

Young people these days have much more wholesome entertainment desires than preceding generations, it would seem.

A new study has found more than half of adolescent viewers want less sex scenes and more platonic friendships depicted on screen.

The Center for Scholars and Storytellers (CSS) at UCLA released its annual Teens & Screens report this week which also found 47.5 percent of young people believe sex isn't necessary for the plot of most TV shows and movies, while 44.3 percent feel romance in media is overused - especially heterosexual relationships.

"Gen Z's values and desires reach depths beyond what society has typically explored," the report states.

"As demonstrated in this report, they've grown tired of stereotypical, heteronormative storytelling that valorises 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."

Generation Z comprises people born between 1997 and 2015 who are sometimes referred to as Zoomers. It is the first generation to have never known life without the internet or portable digital technology.

The Teens & Screens report surveyed 1500 adolescents in the US between the ages of 10 and 24.

Nearly 39 percent of those surveyed said they wanted to see more aromantic or asexual characters on screen.

"Our findings demonstrate the variety of qualities adolescents are looking for in storytelling: from more authentic storylines that reflect their lived experiences to a more diverse spectrum of relationships, young people are letting it be known what it is that they want," the report states.

The findings follow other studies that have found today's teens are having less sex than previous generations.

Hiral Kotecha and Stephanie Rivas-Lara, described as 'the Gen Z authors of the 2023 Teens & Screens Report', write in an authors' note that young peoples' prioritisation of platonic friendships over romantic liaisons ramped up amid the loneliness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The outbreak and the isolation that came with it occupied pivotal years of emotional and relational growth for much of Gen Z," they said. 

"Even as we've returned to more in-person routines, articles and YouTube essays on persisting loneliness continue to float around: some with a more analytical perspective, exploring reasons we may have entered 'the Friendship Recession', others more personal and titled with a simple but heartbreaking 'I have no friends'.

"Young people are feeling a lack of close friendships, a separation from their community, and a sense that their digital citizen identity has superseded their sense of belonging in the real world."

The note goes on to offer advice for entertainment producers on how to better cater to today's adolescent viewers - beyond just cutting back on the sex.

"What's crucial for storytellers to grasp about Gen Z isn't the latest slang or weekly trends. Rather, what's important is understanding the expanded worldview that comes with growing up on the internet and being able to interact with a myriad of different perspectives," said Kotecha and Rivas-Lara.

"What's important is understanding how the opportunities they've had to explore their own identities and understand others' identities have shifted and changed the kinds of stories they're open to, the kind of characters they want to see front and centre, and the storylines they believe to be authentic."