A media literacy approach to high school sexual health education: Immediate effects of media awareness on adolescent media, sexual health, and communication outcomes

This article was originally published here

J Youth Teensc. 2022 Feb 3. doi: 10.1007/s10964-021-01567-0. Online ahead of print.


The media can act as sex educators for adolescents; unfortunately, media messages often glorify risky sexual behaviors and unhealthy relationships and neglect behaviors and communication related to sexual health. Media Aware is a comprehensive online sexual health program for high school students that uses a media literacy approach. It is designed to enhance adolescent critical thinking about media messages and provide medically accurate information and develop skills related to sexual health and communication. A randomized controlled trial was conducted in 2019-2020 with students (9th and 10th grade; n=590) from 17 high schools in the United States. The sample was 53% female, 58% Caucasian/Caucasian; and 13% Hispanic/Latinx. One secondary school teacher per school and all of their students in grades 9 and 10 were randomly assigned to either the intervention condition or the delayed intervention (control) condition. The study assessed the immediate (post-test) and short-term (3 months) effects of Media Aware on adolescent media, sexual health, and communication outcomes. For 9 of the 17 schools, students had returned from school due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic during their 3-month data collection period, which left short-term analyzes underpowered. However, several program impacts were found in immediate post-test analyses. Media Aware has improved knowledge about sexual health and corrected inaccurate normative beliefs about the frequency of risky sex among adolescents. Media Aware also improved critical thinking about media messages with demonstrated improvements in media message deconstruction skills and decreased perceived realism of media messages. Moderator analyzes revealed some differential immediate program effects attributable to gender. Media Aware reduced girls’ normative beliefs about adolescent sex, in general, and increased their communication about sexual health with parents as well as boys’ reduced acceptance of dating violence. Students have given positive feedback on Media Aware, particularly regarding the program’s online format. The results of this study provide evidence that Media Aware is an effective web-based program for positively improving high school student outcomes in media, sexual health, and sexual health communication.

PMID:35113295 | DOI:10.1007/s10964-021-01567-0

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