Purpose: To develop and evaluate a web-based, sexual and relationship health education program for high school students using a media literacy education approach

Teen girl using laptop outside


irt AWARE for Teens with FASD


Adolescents can benefit greatly from evidence-based, medically-accurate sexual and relationship health education. However, both teachers and parents face challenges in effectively teaching about sexual health and relationships leading to students receiving incomplete or inaccurate information.

Young people turn to media for information, and many media messages about sex and relationships are inaccurate and unhealthy. Exposure to unhealthy media messages (e.g., those that normalize or glamorize risky sex) is related to early and risky adolescent sexual behaviors.

Media literacy education (MLE), which teaches critical analysis of media messages, has been shown to be an effective intervention for changing risky health behaviors including those related to sexual and relationship health.

This project developed and tested the efficacy of Media Aware for High School, an interactive web-based program, designed to develop high school students’ critical thinking skills about media messages and promote sexual and relationship health. The program is highly innovative due to the inclusion of a broad range of sexual and relationship health topics; attention to media influence, a risk factor often ignored in sexual risk prevention programs; and a paradigm shift for school-based sexual health education away from teacher-led programming towards a self-paced, online format that enhances student learning.

A feasibility study revealed significant impacts of the program on student outcomes, including enhanced critical thinking about media messages; increased ability and intentions to intervene if they were a bystander to a possible sexual assault; decreased normative beliefs about the frequency of teen sexual activity and risky sexual activity; and decreased willingness to engage in risky sexual behaviors. Later research included a larger randomized controlled trial of the efficacy of the program, which provided additional evidence that Media Aware is an effective web-based program for positively enhancing high school students’ media, sexual health, and sexual health communication outcomes. Students gave positive feedback about Media Aware, especially related to the online format of the program.



Malik, C.V., Scull, T.M. (2021, Nov.). Using media literacy education for sexual and relationship health promotion in high school:  Immediate and short-term effects of the Media Aware program. Session presented at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality Annual Conference: San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Malik, C.V., Scull, T.M. (2019, Oct.). Media literacy education: An innovative, engaging, and effective approach to sexual health education. Session presented at the American School Health Association (ASHA) Conference: Cincinnati, OH.

Malik, C.V., Keefe, E., & Morrison, A. (2019, May). Adolescent sexual health in the digital age: Addressing consent and healthy relationships using a media literacy education approach. Workshop presented at the SHIFT NC Annual Conference: Greensboro, NC.



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