Netflix Parents—Watch Out For Graphic Content On Your Screens
*Trigger Warning: Brief Descriptions of Sexually Graphic Content Below*
Without a doubt, Netflix is a household name in America. Over 51 million users subscribe to Netflix in the United States alone. While the streaming platform provides hours of entertainment with both existing and original content, there are some dangers that come with a Netflix subscription, especially when it comes to our young children.
Currently, Netflix provides over 300 original productions, ranging from serious dramas, laugh-out-loud comedies, and even animation. However, many of these heavily advertised shows are filled with sexually graphic content. Most of Netflix’s most popular original shows are rated TV-MA, meaning mature audiences only. More often than not, these shows contain graphic sex scenes, nudity, and violence. This type of sexually exploitative content degrades women and sends the wrong message to anyone who watches these shows.
The good news is that Netflix does provide parental controls in order to help protect young audiences from viewing this content.
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. The problem is, how do parents know what shows to block? Additionally, Netflix still does not have PIN protected individual profiles, meaning any tech-smart child could easily switch between different profiles in order to access unfiltered content. Learn more about parental controls here.
You may be asking, “How bad could it be?” 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, NCOSE 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.
Netflix often produces original programming portraying gratuitous nudity, graphic sexual acts, and even graphic depictions of sexual assault. 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. 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.
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. 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
- 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.
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.
Further, Netflix often selects sexually graphic programs to be heavily advertised on its platform with automatic-play trailers on the header carousel of Netflix shows.
According to reports received by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, 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.