NEWS31 October 2023

Improvement in depiction of intimacy on TV, finds Ofcom

Media News Trends UK

UK – The portrayal of sexual relationships has improved and modernised in recent years, according to research from Ofcom into audience attitudes to sex and violence on television.


The research found that viewers felt that television shows were less likely to include gender stereotyping, objectification of women or uncritical depictions of exploitative relationships.

In addition, viewers felt that intimate scenes were less likely to be portrayed from an exclusively male perspective by default, with broadcasters also focusing to a greater extent on the issues of consent and female sexual empowerment.

For portrayals of nudity or sexual content on TV, viewers told Ofcom that programmes are now more likely to reflect body positive and inclusive attitudes, and felt that television could also help raise awareness of medical issues and make people more comfortable with seeking medical professionals’ advice.

For violence on television, viewers told Ofcom that levels of violence on TV had increased and intensified, with graphic, realistic violent content considered the ‘norm’ post-watershed.

Some viewers added that previously taboo topics, such as sadistic behaviour and sexual violence, are now more common.

However, viewers said to Ofcom that more realistic scenes of violence make dramatic content more immersive, exciting and powerful, while others felt the rise in on-screen violence was due to a need to increase ratings and compete with streaming platforms.

The 9pm watershed was seen as useful by viewers with children, but felt that on-demand viewing had diminished its effectiveness, according to the research.

A second study from Ofcom found that people saw a distinction between live broadcast TV and subscription on-demand services, such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, but did not separate broadcaster on-demand services, such as ITVX and iPlayer, from live broadcast TV in the same way.

Many felt subscription streaming services offer ‘edgier’ content, but this was generally seen as acceptable due to audiences selecting what to watch rather than stumbling across it.

Ofcom said the findings would help it understand the effectiveness of the current rules that apply to broadcast TV and on-demand services, as well as aiding broadcasters with better understanding audience expectations.