Movie Ratings: Sex Remains Top Concern for American Parents, Not Violence

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A new survey commissioned by the ratings board also reveals that the vast majority of parents think even one use of the F-word should warrant an R-rating, not PG-13.

Sexual content and nudity in movies remains the top concern for parents, while violence and language — save for the F-word — have fallen to the lower end of the spectrum of concern.

The findings are part of the 2015 Parents Ratings Advisory Study commissioned by Classification & Rating Administration, home of the voluntary ratings system that's jointly run by the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners.

While 80 percent of parents in the U.S. believe the movie ratings system is accurate overall, a majority think most types of sexual content should automatically warrant an R rating and that even one use of the F-word is inappropriate for movies rated PG-13.

CARA uses the national surveys to see if its decisions are in sync with how a majority of parents feel, even as it comes under criticism for being tougher on sex and language than on violence.

"The members of the rating board are tasked with rating a film the way a majority of American parents from across the country would rate it. We provide information and guidance; we do not censor or give any kind of critical judgment on a film’s artistic quality," wrote CARA chairman Joan Graves on the MPAA's blog in announcing the study, conducted by Nielsen.

She continued: "It is a responsibility that we take very seriously, asking ourselves before every screening: 'What would I want to know before letting my child watch this film?' We are proud of the system that we have created, a system that families everywhere have come to rely upon. Like any good system that is meant to endure, ours is one that evolves to reflect changes in social standards that happen over time. We will continue to seek feedback from America’s parents to ensure that we are meeting our purpose to inform parents and doing the best job that we can on their behalf."

Recently, filmmaker Michael Moore blasted the board when it bestowed his latest documentary Where to Invade Next with an R rating because of language (for more than one use of the F-word), some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity (topless women). The film, a travelogue, explores how other countries deal with social and economic issues in comparison to the U.S.

The 2015 ratings study marks the first time that CARA has made a full survey public. Among general findings, 99 percent of parents were familiar with the ratings system, with 93 percent saying that movie ratings and ratings descriptors are helpful tools.

When it comes to the movies their kids see, parents are most concerned with graphic sex scenes (80 percent), followed by full male nudity (72 percent), use of hard drugs (70 percent), full female nudity (70 percent), graphic violence (64 percent), use of the F-word (62 percent), marijuana use (59 percent), horror violence (59 percent), non-graphic sex scenes (57 percent), suggestive sexual innuendo (57 percent), partial nudity (57 percent) and brief nudity (57 percent), according to the study.

Over half of parents (53 percent) think the F-word appears in PG-13 rated movies too much, followed by graphic sex scenes (51 percent), suggestive sexual innuendo (49 percent), full female nudity (47 percent) and partial nudity (47 percent). Only 44 percent think there is too much graphic violence in movies going out with a PG-13 rating.

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