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New Study Reveals that Gen Z Wants Less Sex and More Uplifting Content in Their Entertainment 

When it comes to discussing and evaluating the current state of the entertainment industry in relation to children or adolescents, most of the talking comes from adults. Many parents are becoming disillusioned with and increasingly vocal against the prevalence of sex and sexuality in Hollywood entertainment. A new study is now attempting to give adolescents their own voice in the conversation, and the results might be surprising.  

The Center for Scholars & Storytellers (CSS), located at UCLA, released its annual Teens & Screens survey, which explores what adolescents (those aged 10 to 24) think about the entertainment they consume. The findings suggest adolescents aren’t as interested in sexually charged content as Hollywood seems to think they are.  

According to the survey, 51.5% of adolescents want to see more stories that focus on friendship and platonic relationships. Another 33.3% were neutral toward the topic, leaving only 15.2% of responders who disagreed with this desire.  

The CSS study also found that 39% of the adolescents want to see more “aromantic” and/or “asexual” characters on screen. While these terms can themselves be understood as sexual identities, these responses also suggest that adolescents do not want their fictional characters being defined primarily by their sexuality. Additionally, 47.5% of adolescents responded that “sex isn’t needed for the plot of most TV shows and movies.”  

In one particularly enlightening segment of the survey, adolescents were asked to rank a list of 21 choices of material they prefer to see in movies or TV shows.  

Interestingly, despite the prevalence of dark and angsty entertainment today, “Hopeful, uplifting content” was ranked #1. Other preferences, such as “family life and relationships with parents,” ranked surprisingly high at #6.

On the other hand, many of the “hot button” content areas (current events, climate change, partying/drugs, and LGBTQ sexuality) all ranked at or near the bottom. One noticeable disparity is “nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ Identities,” which was ranked last in the general survey, but ranked 1st among LGBTQ adolescents.  

The Teens & Screens survey is far from exhaustive, but it raises some important questions and points toward some interesting avenues for future research. The findings reveal that today’s adolescents are perhaps growing weary of the explicit focus on sex and sexuality and the frequent depictions of partying, alcohol, and drug use, instead desiring more clean and uplifting entertainment.  

This statement is at the beginning of the survey: “Storytelling (as an art) has the incredible power to influence the mood of the zeitgeist and the lens through which people see the world. Ask young people what it is they want to see, then listen: Shine a light on the ideas, characters, and relationships they desire in your stories, and the same light will appear in the real world.” Young adults have shared their perspective. Now, it remains to be seen if anyone will listen.  

Rivas-Lara, S., Kotecha, H., Pham, B., & Uhls, Y.T. (2023). CSS Teens & Screens 2023: Romance or Nomance. Center for Scholars & Storytellers. ss-teens-and-screens-2023-report 

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