Netflix, a staple of at-home entertainment, continues to see exponential growth during COVID-19—now surpassing 200 million subscribers across the globe. While the streaming platform provides hours of entertainment with both existing and original programming, a Netflix subscription also includes sexually graphic and degrading content.
Netflix may “entertain the world,” but they’ll go as far as sexualizing minors to do so.
Help us call on Netflix to 1) Remove content that sexualizes minors or glorifies sexual violence; and 2) Stop producing and promoting sexually explicit material!
Improvements in 2020
In the past year, Netflix has made significant improvements, such as updating and strengthening parental controls and increasing the age rating on app stores to 12+. The improvements to its parental controls now include setting pin-features to access specific profiles, while modifying the rating on app stores gives much more power to adults about what content is appropriate for the youth in their life to consume.
However, while improved parental controls and modified app rating have made the platform safer for children and families, there is still an abundance of content hosted and produced by Netflix that is harmful to minors and that normalizes sexual violence and the commercial sexual exploitation industry.
Increasing Harmful Depictions of Child Sexual Exploitation
Besides the unnecessary inserting of graphic sex scenes into mainstream entertainment, Netflix has increasingly allowed harmful depictions of child sexuality or sexual exploitation.
This past year, the film Cuties garnered major attention from viewers and media. Cuties is just one of thousands of films Netflix hosts, though it is a thorough representation of the sexualization of minors that happens on the platform.
While the film and its director had the intention to portray real and lived experiences of coming to terms with sexuality in a hypersexualized culture, in the pursuit of these themes, the content itself fed into a vicious cycle of the hypersexualization of minors, employing minors to take part in scripted sexual exploitation. The exploitation of young actors could likely affect them for a lifetime.
Production and Promotion of Sexually Explicit Material
Currently, Netflix provides over 300 original productions, ranging from serious dramas, laugh-out-loud comedies, and even animation. Most of Netflix’s most popular (and most heavily-advertised) original shows are rated TV-MA (mature audiences only) frequently containing graphic sex scenes, nudity, and violence. However, Netflix shows consistently portray literally thousands of instances of gratuitous nudity, graphic sexual acts, and even graphic depictions of sexual assault. Researchers at NCOSE recently looked into 10 of the top original Netflix titles and found that 9 out of 10 featured graphic on-screen sex scenes.
By depicting these issues so graphically it both increases the likelihood that a victim of past assault will be negatively triggered by the content, and it decreases the likelihood that viewers will thoughtfully analyze the harms of sexual exploitation. It would be easy for Netflix to portray the harms of sexual violence or lack of sexual consent without simultaneously “profiting” from a sexually objectifying and voyeuristic motif.
Netflix can still make changes to mitigate against the use of their platform in ways that foster and perpetuate sexual harms and put the most vulnerable populations at even greater risk.
1) Remove content that sexualizes minors or glorifies sexual violence
ACTION: Call on Netflix to remove Cuties
2) Stop producing and promoting sexually explicit material!
ACTION: Email Netflix and ask them to more closely review original content for sexually gratuitous material
WARNING: Any pornographic images have been blurred, but are still suggestive. There may also be graphic text descriptions shown in these sections.
Netflix, the streaming service powerhouse, has hundreds of TV shows and movies to choose from. That selection also includes many titles that contain extreme graphic sexual content, requiring no automatic barrier to access them.
High Rates of Nudity and Sex in A Sampling of Popular Netflix Shows
NC 17 Films
You cannot go into a movie theater to watch an NC 17 film if you are under 17, but now Netflix is making it available to viewers of all ages unless parental controls are enacted.
Below is a list* of films currently offered on Netflix that have either a NC-17 or TV-MA rating for graphic sexual content:
- Nymphomaniac I and II
- Lust Stories
- Blue is the Warmest Color
- Y Tu Mama Tambíen
- Sex and Lucía
- Below Her Mouth
- Sex Doll
- Fragments of Love
- Love Steaks
- The Little Death
- Immoral Tales
*Keep in mind this list may not be exhaustive, and does not include movies originally rated R or TV shows rated TV-MA.
Further, Decider.com found in 2017 that Netflix hosted at least 61 different micro-genres that involve the word “steamy" which often pulls in more sexual content.
Flawed Parental Controls
As of right now, the streaming platform provides two different options for blocking mature programs. Using a PIN set by parents, account holders can either require a PIN for specific maturity settings (like TV-MA) or require a PIN for specific shows. Learn more about parental controls here.
The ability to PIN block across all profiles is an improvement, but many parents may find the constant pop-up inconvenient for them and their families. Ideally, Netflix would provide a way to PIN block on specific profiles, and lock individual profiles by PIN so children cannot easily switch between them.
Further, Netflix does not make TV ratings clear when a user accesses Netflix through a third-party device, such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire, or Roku.
And finally, Netflix sometimes selects sexually graphic programs to be heavily advertised on its platform with automatic-play trailers on the header carousel of Netflix shows. At this time it appears that Netflix is censoring graphic terms (such as "blow job") from being spoken in these auto-play trailers, however, their official policies on auto-play trailers are as of yet unclear.
According to reports received by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in 2019, this feature has led to children as young as 3 years old to be exposed to the trailer for shows like Sex Education with dialogue including the phrases "masturbate," "dick," "addicted to wanking," and comments about how "everyone" is having sex. We are asking Netflix to institute new policies to stop auto-play trailers in the header promotional carousel for its programs with sexualized content.
Problematic Netflix Shows
By depicting graphic sex and sexual assault, Netflix contributes to sexual objectification and soft-core pornographic themes in mainstream entertainment. Particularly through graphic depictions of sexual assault, Netflix increases the likelihood that a victim of past assault will be negatively triggered by the content, and it decreases the likelihood that viewers will thoughtfully analyze the harms of sexual exploitation. It would be easy for Netflix to portray the harms of sexual violence or lack of sexual consent without simultaneously “profiting” from a sexually objectifying and voyeuristic motif.
Further, given the highly competitive nature of the media industry, and the fact that many young actors have minimal economic security, the choice to "turn down" a job can end an actors career before it even began. Therefore, by producing such a high volume of content requiring nudity, Netflix adds to the industry pressure for young actors to accept parts requiring nudity, until they have enough industry capital to negotiate their own contracts. In the age of #MeToo, and heightened awareness about the imbalance of power Hollywood producers can exercise over actors, it is a thin and porous line between script-required nudity and the “requirement” to grant “sexual favors” on the producer's casting couch. No person should be required to remove their clothes in order to get a job.
Besides the unnecessary inserting of graphic sex scenes into mainstream entertainment, Netflix has increasingly allowed harmful depictions of child sexuality or sexual exploitation. Examples of these, include:
- Gratuitously Graphic Depictions of Sexual Assault: As one example, Netflix Original 13 Reasons Why (TV-MA) is filled with several extremely graphic depictions of sexual assaults of both depicted teen females and males.
- Minimization of Child Sex Trafficking: Netflix Original Baby (TV-MA) follows a group of teenagers on their quest to buck “social norms” through prostitution. Unfortunately, this show is 1) based on a real-life sex trafficking case of minors and 2) portrays underage prostitution (by definition, underage prostitution is sex trafficking) as an “edgy” coming of age story. On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, in 2018, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and 54 other anti-trafficking organizations and advocates sent a letter to Netflix pointing out the duality of their practices and requesting the service halt production on the show.
- Borderline Child Pornography: Netflix streamed the film Desire which portrays a 9-year-old girl masturbating with a pillow and includes close-up shots of her face during orgasm as a 7-year-old girl watches. Department of Justice guidelines on child pornography state: “Notably, the legal definition of sexually explicit conduct does not require that an image depict a child engaging in sexual activity. A picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive. Additionally, the age of consent for sexual activity in a given state is irrelevant; any depiction of a minor under 18 years of age engaging in sexually explicit conduct is illegal [emphasis added].” At the minimum, this scene clearly inappropriately sexualized a child, and unfortunately, this is a trend since Netflix seems to increasingly embrace objectifying and degrading depictions of sex and sexual assault. Further, it is reported that Netflix will be streaming underage full-frontal nudity in the film Girl.
Below is a limited sampling of graphic content on Netflix:
TRIGGER WARNING: Brief descriptions of sexually explicit activities below.
Researchers at NCOSE recently took a dive into 10 of the top original Netflix titles to see what kind of content is being shown on our screens. Looking at the pilot episodes only, we used the VidAngel filtering service to see what sorts of filters are available for each individual episode. Here is a sample of what we found:
- All but one of the titles reviewed were rated TV-MA.
- 80% of the reviewed pilots had explicit nudity.
- 9 out of 10 featured on-screen sex scenes.
- 100% of these shows were tagged multiple times with “sexual references/innuendo”.
Keep in mind that this information came from only the first episode of each series, and Netflix offers hundreds of other titles showing similar content. Many popular Netflix shows contain soft-core pornographic sex scenes and unexpected nudity, including Ozark (TV-MA), Orange is the New Black (TV-MA), Glow (TV-MA), Sense8 (TV-MA), Altered Carbon (TV-MA), and more.
13 Reasons Why (TV-MA) is also filled with graphic depictions of sexual assaults. Below is a summary of sexual content in season two alone:
- Episode 4: A photo shows a teenage boy engaged in sex with an unconscious teenage girl (shown w/nudity); a photo shows a teenage boy as he rapes a teenage girl (shown w/nudity); A teenage girl grabs a teenage boy's genitals through his pants and talks about sexual assault;
- Episode 5: Two teenage boys talk about sexual pleasure and pornography; A teenage boy looks at pornography. A woman talks to the teenage boy seductively; A teenage boy talks to a woman in lingerie through a webcam; The pictures of the sex with an unconscious girl; a teenage boy pleasures himself using pornography (shown w/nudity); Several women's breasts can be seen; A photo of a man in tight underwear can be seen--the top of his genital area is visible;
- Episode 6: Teenage boy and girl have sex shown w/nudity; Teenage girl wears thong underwear and is topless;
- Episode 10: Sexually explicit texts are visible on a teenage boy's cell phone; Several photos of teenage girls in sexual positions with teenage boys are visible; Nude teenage boy is shown in a photo; the sexual assault photos;
- Episode 11: Two teenage boys talk about oral sex; a teenage girl is raped; a teenage girl's groan is heard during a sexual assault; girl tells graphic details of her sexual assault;
- Episode 12: Teenage boy takes secret lewd pictures of a teenage girl and shows other teen boys
- Episode 13: Graphic depiction of a boy anally raped with a broom by a group of other boys in the school locker room; detailed verbal description of a sexual assault on a teenage girl
Superhero TV Series by Netflix with Sexually Graphic Content
To break down some of the concerns surrounding the Marvel series, we looked at parenting websites and blogs that are talking about these shows. All 5 of these programs were rated by Common Sense Media to be suitable for only audiences 15 years old and up, with several being rated at even higher ages.
Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were the highest, rated for audiences 17 and up. The Defenders was rated 16+, and The Iron Fist and Daredevil were the lowest at 15+. Additionally, Netflix has rated all of these shows as TV-MA, which is based on television industry-standard ratings. Compared to some of Marvel’s other popular cinematic titles such as The Avengers, rated PG-13, these ratings are much higher and are rife with more severe content such as graphic sex scenes, storylines involving rape and human trafficking, and extreme violence.
Looking at the oldest age suggestions, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, in-depth on Common Sense, both shows are rated 4 out of 5 for sex on the parents guide. For Jessica Jones, this means “Simulated sex, with bare skin but no sensitive parts (aside from buttocks) visible; rape is strongly suggested but not shown on-screen”. Luke Cage’s description reads “Steamy kissing and making out with skimpy lingerie, bare chests, views of bare breasts from the side; sex isn't simulated but strongly suggested”.
One parent reviewed Luke Cage, saying, “The inappropriate and gratuitous sex will alienate many viewers, and especially families”. Another said about Jessica Jones, “Why should I be entertained by watching brutal, abusive, extended sex scenes?” Clearly these shows contain extreme sexual content and should not be seen by children, even those that are fans of superheroes or Marvel.
The other 3 shows are also not exempt from sexual content. The Defenders was rated with 4 out of 5 for the sex category, and Daredevil received a 2. The Iron Fist was the lowest, with Common Sense saying “not present”. However, many parent reviews say differently, making even the most “tame” Marvel show still graphic. Some parent quotes include:
- On The Iron Fist—“Highly dismayed by the inaccuracy of Common Sense Media’s description. I would not have started watching this series had they properly represented what is in it…I [avoid] sexual content, and this site claiming that it is ‘not applicable’ is untrue”.
- On The Defenders—“The language is mild but the sex is the main issue for kids”.
- On Daredevil—“Children who love The Avengers should not be watching this”.
We also looked at the IMDB Parents Guide section for each of these shows. Here is a condensed breakdown of what we found:
- All 5 shows had at least 5 reviews for “moderate” sex and nudity.
- 3 including Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage had reviews indicating “severe” sex and nudity.
- 100% of the countries with certifications on IMDB listed these shows as at the very youngest 13+.
- Additionally, 44% of country certifications listed these shows as 18+.
- Some of the individual descriptions for these graphic scenes include “hard thrusting” (The Defenders), “in a strip club scene, the camera lingers on women with exposed breasts” (Luke Cage), “bare shoulders and breasts from a view in the shower” (Daredevil), and “a woman is thrusting on top of a man. They moan loudly with movements shown” (Jessica Jones).