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Movie Sex Scenes Have Changed In Two Major Ways, According To Study

When scrolling social media, it doesn't take long to stumble upon the growing sex scene discourse. It's obvious many people don't care for intimate scenes depicted in media, and while some of the conversation is valid, like ensuring actors feel safe with the help of intimacy coordinators — who are quickly changing Hollywood forever — other opinions are more troubling. Some people would prefer a version of the Hays Code to come back, and now, a study has shed intriguing light on this conversation, as modern film has the least amount of sexual situations it's had in years.

Film data researcher Stephen Follows conducted a study about the amount of sex in modern cinema, with two major takeaways. The first is that the quantity of sex scenes is down significantly, by roughly 40% between 2000 and 2023. Sex may be down overall, but when it's portrayed on-screen, it tends to be more graphic. The 2023 film "Poor Things" courted controversy over its many sex scenes with Emma Stone, many of which occur in a brothel. "Saltburn" also has raunchy and raw sex scenes that serve an important function due to their thematic weight. 

Films with sex scenes tend to get a lot of attention, but they're increasingly becoming the exception, not the rule. On the whole, Hollywood is becoming more chaste, but is it merely a reflection of changing attitudes in real life?

Gen Z is having less sex, too

One might assume that less sex in Hollywood movies is a trend toward more puritanical ideals. However, Stephen Follows tracked the prevalence of violence and profanity in the top-grossing movies, and there hasn't been much change in those categories since 2000. The only notable decline is in sexual content, and that reflects a similar decline in Gen Z having sex in real life, which has been attributed to greater isolation, partly from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as greater access to pornography online. 

A 2023 UCLA study helped shed light on what Gen Z wants to see in media, with 47.5% of those polled believing sex isn't necessary for most plots. It's not simply the newer generation being prudes; there's also a significant desire expressed in the study for media to showcase more platonic relationships. Dr. Yalda T. Uhls stated, "What the survey is really saying is that they want more and different kinds of relationships reflected in the media they watch." It's valid to want to see relationships where people stay friends, but there's no denying that sex is an integral part of the human experience. It should be reflected in art on some scale. 

Obviously, not every film requires sex, but Hollywood has definitely scaled back on depicting it in recent decades. This could be due to placing a greater emphasis on making movies that are PG-13, which can't have sexual content since they need to be marketable to a wider audience. Movie and TV sex scenes are necessary for a variety of reasons, such as showcasing more realistic portrayals of sex than what's found in online porn. Hopefully, filmmakers won't shy away from making the next "Poor Things" because of pushback from certain circles.