PG-13 Movies Contain as Much Sex & Violence as R Rated Movies?

Published 1 year ago by

Harry Potter Harry and Ginny kiss PG 13 Movies Contain as Much Sex & Violence as R Rated Movies?

Headlines about how violence and sex in movies is out of control? Must be Monday. Screen Rant readers may recall a recent study which showed that the rates of scenes with gun violence in PG-13 movies had actually surpassed the amount of gun violence shown in R rated movies, leading many to question whether or not it’s appropriate to include such content in entertainment marketed towards teens, and the debate is far from over.

The lines between PG-13 movies and R rated movies are difficult to draw, since the teenage years are widely considered to be those in which children are gradually introduced to the concepts of sex, violence, alcohol, smoking and other risky behaviors. The big question – for which there is no one-size-fits-all answer – is that of how gradually these things should be introduced.

According to a new study published in academic journal Pediatrics, Hollywood is currently peddling too much and to too young an audience. The study, which was carried out at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at 390 top-grossing movies that were released between 1985 and 2010 and analyzed them for their content of sex, violence, tobacco and alcohol use.

90% of the movies included in the study contained at least one instance of a character engaging in violence, with violence defined as, “intentional acts (e.g. to cause harm, to coerce, or for fun) where the aggressor attempts or attempts to make some physical contact that has potential to inflict injury or harm.” In short, a movie that showed the main character attempting to punch another character and missing would qualify as “violent” even if no other instances of violence were shown. This definition somewhat dampens the shock value of 88.6% of G or PG movies containing “scenes of violence.”

Michael Shannon as General Zod in Man of Steel PG 13 Movies Contain as Much Sex & Violence as R Rated Movies?

The researchers then also coded films for their sexual content and portrayals of alcohol and tobacco use, in particular looking at the co-occurrence of such behaviors. Unsurprisingly, 77.4% of films that showed a main character committing an act of violence also included at least one other type of risky behavior. Trends of each type of mature content have stayed fairly consistent between 1985 and 2010, the only dramatic change being that the portrayal of tobacco use has dropped considerably (especially, now that the MPAA includes “smoking” in its ratings).

Much of the study’s results can easily be manipulated to sound more scandalous than they actually are. For example, there are more PG-13 movies (85%) than R rated movies (80.7%) with sexual content (gasp!), but the “sexual content” badge can be achieved by one character chastely kissing another character on the lips with no other kind of contact between them. 73.9% of PG-13 movies were found to contain “explicit violence,” where explicit violence was defined as a character being shown with blood, bruising or any other kind of injury. When violence was combined with other risky behaviors like sex and alcohol use, the frequency was sometimes greater in PG-13 movies than in R rated movies – if, of course, you don’t account for explicitness of the content.

Iron Man Tony and Pepper drinking PG 13 Movies Contain as Much Sex & Violence as R Rated Movies?

So, why is this a problem? Perhaps the question should be: is it a problem at all? The authors of the study seem to think so, but as with the previous study on the portrayals of gun violence, this latest work fails to provide evidence of any real world effects of portraying violence, sex and alcohol drinking in teen movies. The connections drawn between the study’s results and actual instances of risky behavior in teens are limited to this somewhat vague and tenuous statement:

“Evidence shows that adolescents do engage in clusters of risk(y) behaviors, with their participation increasing with age. The role media play in the clustering of risky behaviors, including violence, is unknown… Youth, particularly those with impulsive sensation-seeking tendencies, may be at elevated risk for unhealthy behaviors as a result of their media exposure to problematic content.”

When a study like this is published, there’s often an instinctive urge to point to television, movies, music, comic books or video games as the cause for the current epidemic of youth crime, STDs and teen pregnancy – often without first checking whether there actually is an epidemic. As we noted last time, the rate of violent crime in the USA is currently at an all-time low, and the rate of youth crime is the lowest it has been in over thirty years.

Similarly, while the rates of teen pregnancy in the USA are higher than in many other developed countries (note that those countries also have access to violent and sexy movies), teen birth rates in the USA fell to historic lows in 2011. The rates of people being diagnosed with STDs has increased, though the CDC notes that in some cases this may be due to increased screenings and more sensitive tests. Arguably a more effective way to combat climbing STD rates would be to raise awareness about contraceptive methods, rather than ensuring that Hawkeye and Black Widow aren’t seen getting too cozy.

Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers PG 13 Movies Contain as Much Sex & Violence as R Rated Movies?

Even without any evidence of bad behavior on screen leading to bad behavior in real life, some would still argue that the portrayal of sex, violence and risky behavior in our creative media is indicative of some kind of cultural sickness; even THR describes Hollywood as being “obsessed” with sex and violence.

It’s important to remember, however, that Hollywood did not invent the idea of putting sex, violence and debauchery into stories. The “obsession” with this kind of subject matter has been around for millennia, ever since the first cave paintings showed stick men throwing spears at fleeing animals. Conflict is a nearly essential tool for any storyteller, and conflict often manifests itself in violent behavior. Since everybody eventually dies, almost everyone has sex and a lot of people will drink alcohol at some point in their lives, the portrayal of these things in our media is probably less to do with any kind of sick or dangerous obsession, and more to do with writers writing what they know.

More importantly, such subject matter wouldn’t be on our screens at all if audiences didn’t want to see it. Violence is very closely tied up with action, and action is often what gets our adrenaline pumping when watching a movie. People who put down money to watch Man of Steel probably don’t actually want to see buildings destroyed any more than the people who get on freefall rides at a theme park want to jump off a building; they just enjoy the rush that comes with the simulation.

Pirates of the Caribbean rum PG 13 Movies Contain as Much Sex & Violence as R Rated Movies?

Should the rum be gone?

In conclusion, the portrayal of sex, violence, drinking and smoking in our movies probably isn’t going to cause society to break down, nor is it leading to any kind of clearly observable negative real world effects. The matter of how such films should be rated, however, is somewhat more complicated since the question of what age it’s appropriate to start introducing such things to children is a grey area.

Most parents will set their own limitations when it comes to what they’ll allow their children to watch, and sites like Kids in Mind are a great resource for determining the frequency and intensity of sex, violence and risky material in movies. Thanks to the power of the internet, finding out about potentially problematic content ahead of time is easier than it’s ever been.

Those are our two cents, but weigh in with your thoughts in the comments. Is Hollywood becoming dangerously obsessed with sex, violence and risky behavior, and what kind of impact – if any – could it have on children? Is the current ratings system satisfactory, or could it benefit from some re-evaluation?


Source: Pediatrics (via THR)

Follow H. Shaw-Williams on Twitter @HSW3K
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  1. Life finds a way.

    • by which I mean if you build barriers for entertainment(age ratings) studios will loophole through those rules whilst doing the most of what they can to give what the audience what they want.

  2. falls to knees… looks like 12 rating will be 15 and that means that we wont get anything remotely violent in movies in the future… weird too cause you would think this generation would be less sensitive to this stuff. its harder to surprise us compared to the 70′s or 80′s

  3. Surely it primarily comes down to implications in certain movies and context in others. As I just watched it recently, I recall the first ‘Hunger Games’. All implied without ever actually being explicitly graphic. Compare this to ‘Battle Royale’ which is ludicrously over the top (purposefully so of course. The Asians laugh more than they do recoil). As for context, well, if there is a kid who has watched ‘Man of Steel’ and felt it necessary to try and engage in a city destroying punchfest, then, yes, movies are irresponsible. Yet I find it hard to recall such a story ever being reported.

    Those who question the role of parents in this scenario would do well to consider how hard it is to be a parent. It is simply impossible (and patently authoritarian) to maneuver the growth of an adolescent 24/7. The narrative of recent news outlets (especially out here in Britain) seems to be centered around such an ideal. It comes down I guess to how trusting you are in the role a young person themselves can play in their own development of intelligence. Yet the theory seems to be to suggest that anyone under the age of, say, 14 is a moron susceptible to all manner of coercion from any source of visualization. To wit I say b*llocks.

    There are a gazillion more pertinent real world causes more damaging to development than mediums that deal in fantasy. Seems to me it is more important to ignore those and attack the latter to aid the continuance of the former.

    • I agree. It’s impossible to prevent kids from being exposed to things, at least without isolating them to the point of negating the benefit. It’s of more use, I would think (not a parent myself), to teach them to think for themselves and try to put a good head on their shoulders so that they can separate fantasy from reality and make responsible choices. But of course, all of that is easier said than done.

    • Agreed.

      It’s funny because my mum still doesn’t like me watching horror movies, despite me being almost 30 yet I remember a friend of mine putting Faces Of Death videos on at his house, a friend tricking me into watching the Daniel Pearl video a decade ago, myself staying up late in 2001 to watch Battle Royale on TV at 2am because the idea of school children being made to kill each other in a yearly game as a satire on a variety of things in modern society tempted me into seeing it and telling all my friends about it.

  4. It always goes back to parenting; as cliche as it sounds. Life happens and as children grow and mature into adolescents and then into adults they’ll inevitably be exposed to both the ills and pleasures life has to offer. Parenting is about helping them digest and navigate through said ills and pleasures and arming them the knowledge to recognize the distinctions so that they can pursue their own happiness in a righteous manner. Blaming media is a cop out and is a clear sign of bad parenting. If you don’t want your children’s behavior conditioned a certain way explain to them why certain things should be restricted.

    • It’s a bit cliche to blame the parents too.

      I’ve known people with great parents who turned out to be violent criminals and people with horrendous parents who turned out to be stand-up citizens.

      • It is cliche, but there is definitely truth in it. I will say, though, that it’s not necessarily banning a child from mature content that is good parenting, but explaining why this stuff is bad (or just not age-appropriate) and making sure that whatever they are exposed to isn’t vulgar/crude for the sake of it. There is a difference between the gore in Saving Private Ryan and Saw, not that I think children should watch either of those. Personally, I love a good, bloody, action movie, or a crude comedy, but I understand that just because someone in a movie does those things, it’s not okay in real life. My parents didn’t let me play my first T rated game (The Two Towers for the Advance) until I was 8, and I didn’t play anything M rated until I was maybe 12 (I think it was San Andreas, but idk). The standard is different for everyone, but just morally educate your children for pete’s sake! I can definitely see a difference in attitude towards violence and distasteful or petty humor between me and my 11 year old brother, who started playing FPS games when he was 6 or 7, watches R rated movies, and generally enjoys the suffering of others more than I do (he’s not a psychopath, I’m just saying there’s a contrast). By the time he was around my mom had stopped caring about parenting us, so he never received that same moral education.

  5. so…… more hulk smash?

    • That just mad me a little sad inside.

  6. This doesn’t mean no more violence, I just think some movies over due the sexual and exaggerate a lot on the real deal. R movies are usually tagged R depending on the Studio’s opinion. Hence why super hero Disney movies, will never be R, because Disney’s opinion on sexual and violence is a big no-no, yet we see violence, but to an extent.

  7. The MPAA ratings are a joke. Kids in Mind is one of the places I go if I *really* want to know what level of content a film has.

    I always think back to when my mom took a group of us kids (12-15 years old, probably) to see the PG rated Titanic. Suffice it to say, I never would have been allowed in that theater had she known about the specific “content” in that film. So the ratings failed in that respect, but on the other hand, I don’t believe that it harmed me in any way.

    Violence…I mean, even small children get into fights with one another and break apart Lego buildings, so the idea of physical confrontation or “destruction” is not something new to an adolescent. It’s more blood/gore/cruelty that constitutes an issue.

    • Titanic was PG-13.

    • Interesting you say that about children getting into fights. I saw a documentary on violence and it showed that 2 year olds are actually the most violent, because they haven’t developed that part of their brain that control their anger and stop them from being violent.

    • The MPAA delayed Philomena while they figured out what rating to give it due to “one use of strong language” and almost made it R rated. Over here in the UK, it released as a 15.

      Likewise, The Conjuring was considered by the MPAA to be so scary that it was released with an R rating but over here, it released with the 15 rating that most other horror movies that don’t have nudity, sexual scenes or explicit violence receive (and our version of the R rating is the 18 rating for comparison).

      • That idiot Weinstein campaigned to have Philomena’s rating reduced to PG-13. He obviously had money in mind.

  8. Teen violence is at a low because more and more of them are being trolls and bullies on the internet instead. OK, just kidding (or maybe not).

    On another note, there’s an interesting documentary about the whole ratings system and the lack of transparency and also inconsistencies by the MPAA ratings board. It’s called “This Film is Not Yet Rated”.

  9. Art imitates life, not the other way round.

    • +1

  10. Logan’s Run is rated PG and it has boobies

  11. entertainment does influence people you can’t deny that, it’s the mental stability of the person and identity issue that is usually not nurtured by parenting/upbringing…right and wrong

    • Well said, I agree.

      And if what we see doesn’t influence us at all, then why does advertising work? Of course it influences, or at least affects us.

    • True.

      Children should be taught the difference what’s fantasy and what’s real, and how to filter the wisdom from a story and incorporate it in real life. Parents play a huge part in this.

      Nowadays, when people see “violence” in movie, books, comics, etc., they immediately think it’s a bad thing. It’s conflict. Of course it’s supposed to be there. It makes the story move forward. The children just need to be taught that that’s wrong, and that as much as they can, they should avoid it. But that if they can’t avoid the situation, then they should stand their ground and fight, to defend themselves and others.

  12. Kids are fully exposed to this stuff already. They hear and see worse at school. I watched rated R movies my entire childhood, but it was explained to me that this is a movie, it’s not real. As long as you are an active participant in your child’s life and you do your best to explain right and wrong they will be fine no matter what they watch. We as a society like to point blame at things like video games and movies, because nobody has the balls to call out the real issue. Parenting.

  13. I’m 18 and there are some PG-13 movies that are awkward to watch with my family due to how many sexual jokes and how much sexual content is in them. Violence isn’t really a problem, the problem is all of the families bringing 5 year old kids to go see Thor.

  14. But we need the ratings system so that rich white women have something to do…and by that I mean keep them occupied!

  15. It’s outrageous! I don’t mind banning alcohol, smoking or hard violence from PG and PG-13 movies but what this article refers to as “sexual content” is beyond me. Being European I am absolutely baffled what Americans deem “sexual content” these days. But a kiss between Harry Potter and Ginnie Weasley??? Really???

    We’ve got family movies with naked boobs here in Germany that get a “6″ or “12″ rating…The F-bomb is dropped regularily in all-age crime TV shows. And you know why? Because the word “F*ck” has been deprived of its merely sexual content a long time ago…it’s a f*cking CURSE WORD if used in a different context…

    Sexual content is stripping for sexual arousement, sexually intented dirty talk as well as implicite or explicite intercourse and NOTHING ELSE! And even that isn’t a bad thing!
    Using the f-bomb in different contexts isn’t “sexual content”! Mere kissing between teenagers in fantasy flicks isn’t either! And bikinis at the beach aren’t either!

    I tell you what: get your priorities straight or stop singing of “the land of the free”… You’re heading backward towards the Middle Ages and the Puritan Days of Oliver Cromwell… Stop fighting “fundamentalists” in other countries, start fighting your own fundamentalists at home! I’m so sick of all this bigotry…

  16. “The role media play in the clustering of risk behaviors, including violence, is unknown.”

    “High sensation seekers have shown a preference for ‘high-arousal’ movies, which can include the use of features such as sound effects, faster and more frequent movement, and more suspense and drama, and sensation seeking has been shown to predict the use of violent media content.”

    “Finally, we are unable to draw any causal conclusions about the effects of violent and other types of movie on adolescents, although previous research suggests that such content can be influential for some.”

    “These findings represent an innovative way to characterize violent content in films.”

    This “study” is the product of a pure data-obsessed age. Raw statistics divorced from any troublesome ambiguities like context or imagination. Or actual conclusions. Timorous, superficial and misleading. As useful and meaningful as comparing The Third Man to Friday The 13th; both contain, after all, violence, alcohol and tobacco use.

    The three simpletons responsible for this transparent puff of wind masquerading as science should be shut in a room where – secure in the comfort blanket of their graphs and ticked boxes – they can be studied properly themselves.

  17. Harry should have ended up with Luna Lovegood.

    Ginny may have worked in the books but the chemistry onscreen between Harry and Luna, plus their characters seemed to match better. I was disappointed they did not end up together.

  18. PG-13 absolutely services a purpose. There are huge jumps from Frozen (PG) to Man of Steel (PG-13) to Django Unchained. You can’t just count the number, but the intensity and meaning is important too.




    In a nutshell.

  20. Ratings mean Nothing!..

    “Oh No, they printed the number 18 on a film, how ever will I be able to watch this now?” (18 being the equivalent of Rated R in America)

    I watched all (read: the ones that were out at the time) Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 12.. I never grown a hand of steel and invaded peoples dreams.

  21. “People who put down money to watch Man of Steel probably don’t actually want to see buildings destroyed any more than the people who get on freefall rides at a theme park want to jump off a building; they just enjoy the rush that comes with the simulation.”

    No. No we didn’t. Superman was not enjoyable on any level. And I may be in the minority, but I am quite tired of endless CGI action scenes in lieu of substance. I prefer a sense of space, time, physics, and comprehension in my action scenes.

  22. Maybe there is an over-reliance on data out there. It seems to me that some things should just be common sense.

    We are all affected by media content – not just teenagers. The trend of designating this phenomenon as being applicable only to young people is ridiculous. As is the unspoken belief that this marks a person out as being “gullible” somehow.

    Don’t believe me? Tell an advertising executive that people are not affected by what they see and hear. Watch as tears of laughter stream down his face. Why do big corporations lobby to have their products -cars, computers, drinks, etc. – used in major motion pictures? Because they want those products to be seen as used by a celebrity or cool movie character. This provides subtle inference that we can be like the people we see by buying those products. It’s a ploy corporations have been using for decades – because it works.

    It’s not because people are gullible. Or foolish. It’s because this is human nature. People are influenced by what they see and hear. It affects their buying decisions. And how they think and feel.

    Don’t smoke. Wear your seat belt. Have greater tolerance for others. These are all positive real-world influences that modern tv and films have encouraged (with varying degrees of success). It’s not impossible to imagine that media can also have genuine negative influences. Maybe reconsidering what we see and hear isn’t such a bad thing, at least in theory.