Number of Top-Grossing Movies Without Sexual Content Has Risen, Study Finds

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Number of Top-Grossing Movies Without Sexual Content Has Risen, Study Finds

By Movieguide® Contributor

A new study finds that the number of movies featuring sex scenes has been declining steadily since 2000. 

Data analyst Stephen Follows noted that, by 2023, the number of sex scenes in movies had “fallen by almost 40% from the start of the century.”

“The declining trend is present in most movie genres, but it is most intense in thrillers and action movies,” Follows wrote. 

He also pointed out that the number of top-grossing movies without any sexual content has risen “from about 18% in 2000 to 46% in 2023,” per The Guardian. 

Follows didn’t have a definitive answer for the cause of these changes in the entertainment industry but presented a few theories, including changes in audience tastes, shifts in culture and outdated stereotypes. Another hypothesis pointed to Gen Z’s attitude towards sexual content. 

“Modern audiences, particularly younger ones such as Generation Z, might have less interest in explicit depictions of sexuality,” he explained. “Instead, there is a growing preference for content that either avoids sexual themes altogether or handles them with more subtlety.”

Many other studies have looked into Gen Z’s disinterest in movies and shows with explicit sexual content. 

In a recent study conducted at UCLA, nearly half of the respondents said that “they want to see more content focused on friendships,” with almost 40% saying they want to see more platonic relationships depicted on screen. 

Movieguide® previously reported on the decline in explicit sexual scenes in movies:

The web publication The Independent reports, “New research, commissioned by Warner Brothers, has suggested that women now tend to decide what films a couple should see. These same women, according to the polls, are uneasy with scenes which might be thought to stray into the explicit, or exploitative, or inappropriate in some way.”

In other words, sex doesn’t really sell.

Movieguide® has been telling the Entertainment Industry this for a long time. Twenty years of our annual Reports to the Entertainment Industry have shown that explicit sex is a death knell when it comes to attracting a general audience. Of course, R-rated sex movies can reach a limited audience, like R-rated horror movies can, but if you have a funny story of light romance, such as MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING or THE RUNAWAY BRIDE, that will reach a wider much audience. Thus, it makes really good business sense to leave out explicit sex.

Studios are beginning to take note, in part, because international audiences feel the same way. In fact, to even get your movie into many countries you must cut out the explicit sex. If dialogue in a sex scene is part of the story, it makes good business sense just to dump the explicit sex in favor of a scene that can be shown internationally.

Explicit sex tends to result in an R rating. So, perhaps Hollywood moguls are finally learning that R ratings seriously reduce their box office returns. While they still make many R rated movies, their biggest budgets are reserved for PG and PG-13 movies. These are the ones they hope will sell internationally.

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