Gen Z is turned off by onscreen sex, wants no-mance over romance, a new study finds

LOS ANGELES (AP) — America’s youth have spoken, and when it comes to sex onscreen, they say “ewwwww.”

According to the new UCLA “Teens and Screens” study, conducted by the Center for Scholars & Storytellers, young people ages 10 to 24 wanted to see platonic relationships between onscreen characters, and many felt sex wasn’t necessary for story plot. (Only respondents between the ages of 13 and 24 were asked about sexual content.)

“While it is true that teens want less sex on TV and in movies, the survey really says that teens want more and different kinds of relationships reflected in the media they watch,” said Yalda T. Uhls, co-author of the study and adjunct professor in UCLA’s Department of Psychology.

According to the survey, adolescents want to see “lives like (their) own” portrayed onscreen and crave “authenticity.” Teens, as well as the 18- to 24-year-old demographic most desired by advertisers, believe that sex and romance are over-represented in TV shows and movies.

Among those aged 13 to 24, 44.3% thought romance was overused in media, and 47.5% thought sex wasn’t necessary for the plots of most TV shows and movies. More than half of Generation Z wants to see more content about friendships and platonic relationships, with 39% particularly interested in aromantic and/or asexual characters in film and television.

Romantic stereotypes ranked fourth on a list of Gen Z irritants. This included a dislike of relationships as a requirement for happiness, male and female leads always having to end up romantically together, and love triangles.

“We know that young people are suffering from a loneliness epidemic, and they are looking for modeling in the art they consume.” While some storytellers use sex and romance as a shortcut to character connection, it’s critical for Hollywood to recognize that adolescents want stories that reflect the full spectrum of relationships,” Uhls said, adding that recent studies show that young people have less sex than their parents did at the same age and are more likely to be single.

According to survey findings, Gen Z values and desires “reach depths beyond what society has typically explored.” It implies that adolescent and young adult audiences are tired of “stereotypical, heteronormative storytelling that valorizes romantic and/or sexual relationships,” particularly depictions of toxic romance.

While the survey’s findings may appear straightforward, it cannot be denied that sex-heavy shows frequently outperform the competition by staggering margins. According to HBO, the Season 2 episodes of “Euphoria” averaged 16.3 million viewers. Apart from “Game of Thrones,” which drew an average of 46 million viewers in its eighth and final season in 2019, this is the highest viewership for any season of an HBO series in the last 18 years.

Both shows were known for their explicit sex scenes, and the sexual content frequently played an important role in the plot. (Spoiler alert: Tyrion Lannister murders his father Tywin with a crossbow because he slept with his girlfriend. Would King Joffrey Baratheon have been such a monster if he hadn’t been born of two siblings?)

One of the main antagonists in “Euphoria,” Nate Jacobs’ father, Cal, is a sexual deviant. Cal is the center of several plot points, and his sexual proclivities cause problems for several of the main characters.

And what about “Bridgerton,” the Regency-era high-society drama full of angst, sexual tension, and an increasingly risqué honeymoon? Season 1 of “Bridgerton” was watched (partially or entirely) by a record 82 million households worldwide in 2021, according to Deadline, and quickly became Netflix’s biggest series by a wide margin.

While UCLA’s “Teens and Screens” survey may have studios considering giving Gen Z what they want, the success of those steamy sex scenes saturating both the big and small screen may be difficult to ignore.

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