Among 1,5000 respondents, those aged between 13 and 24 say they want more relatable stories that emphasize platonic relationships over sexual content. Forty-eight percent feel that “sex and sexual content is not needed for the plot of most TV shows and movies,” and over half want more content focused on friendships and platonic relationships. This is because they would like to see “lives like their own” depicted on screen.
“There’s a complete lack of platonic relationships in American cinema,” wrote a respondent.
“I don’t like that every boy and girl friendship has to be romantic at some point. Sometimes people can just be friends,” said another.
Nearly 39% also want to see more aromatic or asexual characters represented in film. This echoes recent calls for Wednesday, the titular character of Netflix’s recent success starring Jenna Ortega, to focus on herself and not partake in any romantic relationships in the upcoming season 2.
“We’re ditching any romantic love interest for Wednesday, which is really great,” Ortega, who is 21, said last June. She added that romantic plot points “made no sense” for her character.
For those who authored the study, these findings are not that surprising.
“While it’s true that adolescents want less sex on TV and in movies, what the survey is really saying is that they want more and different kinds of relationships reflected in the media they watch,” Dr. Yalda T. Uhls, founder and director of CSS and co-author of the study, told IndieWire.
She refers to the current landscape, which includes widespread feelings of loneliness and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as having an impact on younger generations.
“We know that young people are suffering an epidemic of loneliness, and they’re seeking modeling in the art they consume,” she added. “While some storytellers use sex and romance as a shortcut to character connection, it’s important for Hollywood to recognize that adolescents want stories that reflect the full spectrum of relationships.”
The U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, declared an epidemic of loneliness earlier this year. Today, young people are twice as likely to report feeling lonely as those over 65, according to the Cigna Group.
“As a member of Gen Z myself, I wasn’t surprised by some of what we’re seeing this year,” CSS youth engagement manager Stephanie Rivas-Lara, who is also one of the study’s authors, told IndieWire. “There has been a wide-ranging discourse among young people about the meaning of community in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the isolation that came with it. Adolescents are looking to media as a ‘third place’ where they can connect and have a sense of belonging — and with frightening headlines about climate change, pandemics, and global destabilization, it makes sense they are gravitating toward what’s most familiar in those spaces.”
A 2023 study revealed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people. Nearly half reported high levels of clinical depression, anxiety and loneliness in reaction to the pandemic.
Recent reports of social media negatively impacting young people’s mental health, as well as online trends such as “bed rotting” going viral, echo these sentiments. UCLA’s study also found that Gen Z finds comfort in binge-watching shows and prefers full drops of seasons instead of the release of weekly episodes.