One of the most repeated mantras in the world of marketing is that sex sells. However, in order to attract Generation Z (young people between 13 and 24 years old) to a TV series or film, this principle may gradually lose its validity: teenagers and young people will get tired of seeing so much sex everywhere. This is suggested by a recent study published at the end of 2023 by the Department of Psychology at the University of California (UCLA), which has revived the discussion about whether Zoomers are more puritanical than their predecessors.
There are already several studies from renowned universities that indicate that Generation Z has a complicated relationship with sex. A lower interest in casual encounters, unnecessary nudity, or constant debate about anything sex-related are some of the problems that seem to lead to burnout.
The aforementioned report from UCLA's Center for Scholars and Storytellers, “Teens & Screens: Romance or Nomance,” is produced each year to examine young people's trends and preferences in consuming audiovisual content, entertainment, and social networking. Of the results of the latest edition, what stands out most is that a significant proportion of respondents (47.5%) believe that there is an excessive focus on sex and romance in audiovisual media, and a majority (51.5%) would preferring more depictions of “platonic relationships and friendships.” In addition to sexual content, young people also showed a clear rejection of romantic relationships in general. 44.3% said romance was “overused” in media and 39% were looking for more aromantic or asexual characters on screen. “While it's true that teenagers want less sex on TV and in movies, what the survey actually says is that they want to see more and different types of relationships reflected in the media they watch,” commented the founder and Head of CSS and Study Co-author Yalda T. Uhls.
UCLA has published additional studies that also show a decline in sex in other areas of Zoomers' lives. The annual California Health Survey conducted by the same university found in 2021 that the number of young people between the ages of 18 and 30 who reported not having had a sexual partner in the previous year reached 38%. In 2011, the same poll found 22%.
Younger people reject what they perceive as “disgusting” stereotypes of romantic clichés, such as storylines that suggest that relationships are necessary for happiness, that male and female protagonists always end up together romantically, or the plethora of storylines that revolve around Turn love triangles. Alvaro Gonzalez (Getty Images)
Guardian columnist Barbara Ellen rescues the term “puriteens” – a play on words between purity and teenagers – which she says contrasts with the open attitude towards sex that Millennials, the previous generation, have. . “With Generation Z, it is interesting to observe how a group so motivated to define themselves through sexuality and gender seems so reluctant to put it into practice,” the columnist writes.
In a 2022 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller links Generation Z's growing disinterest in sex to increasing use of technology and smartphones, overprotective parents, economic insecurity and fear for the future of the planet. As remote as these problems may seem, for Lehmiller they are a cause of stress and anxiety that affects libido.
Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller links Generation Z's growing disinterest in sex to the increasing use of technology and smartphones.zoranm (Getty Images)
For her part, Esther Gonzalo, health psychologist and coordinator of the psychoeducational program for youth Desconect@, believes that although young people have a “clear interest” in sex, this goes beyond the mere sexual practice itself and the search for it, it is about identity and affectivity. “When you start talking to them and look beyond appearances, you see what they are looking for, what they are comfortable with and what they are not,” explains Gonzalo in a telephone conversation with this newspaper. The psychologist affirms that the Covid-19 pandemic and technology have influenced the psychosexual development of young people. For this reason, Gonzalo emphasizes the importance of research like that of Teens & Screens, which focuses on young people's relationship with the content they consume, thus clarifying their perceptions of their own sexuality and relationships.
In the responses cited by Teens & Screens, the teens surveyed refuse to classify their romantic or sexual interests and express interest in seeing “lives like theirs” portrayed on screen. They also reject what they perceive as “disgusting” stereotypes of romantic clichés, such as storylines that suggest that relationships are necessary for happiness, that male and female protagonists always end up together romantically, or the plethora of storylines that revolve around Turn love triangles. “What they are looking for is the possibility of diversity in terms of their orientation and their identity,” explains Gonzalo.
More comfortable with loneliness
“Teens & Screens” agrees with other studies on Generation Z in one aspect: the greater preference for loneliness. 46% of respondents said they were happy alone and didn't need a partner. This lines up with what Gonzalo brings up about this being a generation trying to get rid of myths about the need for romance to be happy. The psychologist points out that this is also because factors such as the pandemic have made them more withdrawn and dependent on technology as a substitute for social contacts. “I dare say they are extremely comfortable with the idea of being alone. The thought of having to expose themselves to social situations probably makes them very uncomfortable,” says the expert.
Young people in Generation Z are extremely comfortable with the idea of being alone, according to psychologist Esther Gonzalo.praetorianphoto (Getty Images)
Although studies of Generation Z and gender have been conducted primarily in the United States, Gonzalo's experiences with his adolescent patients are consistent with those reported in these researches. It's the same reflection on Zoomers' break with prevailing ideas about sex and human relationships.