Keeping it clean: Hollywood sex scenes decline by 40%

Estimated read time 2 min read

The advent of explicit films such as Poor Things, Saltburn and All of Us Strangers has been heralded as marking a revival of sex on screen – in the face of a reported lack of interest from Gen Z audiences. However, a new report suggests that in fact the Hollywood sex scene is declining fast: there is almost 40% less sexual content in major films than there was at the start of the millennium.

Commissioned by the Economist from data analyst Stephen Follows, the report assembled data on the 250 highest-grossing films each year since 2000, and found movies released in 2023 had just over 60% of the erotic content found in the top 250 in 2000. Broken down by genre, the decline was steepest in action movies (a drop of approximately 70% over the same period) – while romantic films recorded much less change, with a drop of just under 20%.

At the same time, the percentage of top-grossing films with no sexual content at all jumped significantly, from about 18% in 2000 to 46% in 2023. Follows concludes that this is “the biggest driver of this reduction in sexual content” – not only are there fewer sex acts on screen, but they are concentrated in proportionately fewer movies.

Emma Stone in Poor Things.View image in fullscreen

The report follows the swirl of controversy over films such as Poor Things, which attracted widespread discussion over its copious sexual content, and Saltburn’s notorious bath scene.

The report also found that on-screen portrayal of other “vices” is not declining at the same rate: swearing and violence in films happen at roughly similar levels as they did in 2000.

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Follows suggests a number of possible reasons behind the decline of the sex scene, including changes in audience taste with a “preference for content that either avoids sexual themes altogether or handles them with more subtlety”; concerns that sex scenes may impact on global release “result[ing] in more restrictive age ratings or censorship, hence reducing a film’s potential reach”; and the increasing influence of “intimacy coordinators”, reflecting actors’ discomfort at the amount of sex scenes they had previously been asked to do. An earlier analysis by Follows suggested that the use of intimacy coordinators had risen eightfold since 2020.


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