innovation Research & Training (iRT) is honored to announce that it has received a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) to further develop and evaluate the Media Aware program.

Media Aware is a comprehensive sexual health education program for high school students that uses a media literacy education (MLE) approach to build students’ critical thinking skills and promote healthy decision-making about relationships and sexual health. The web-based program includes four interactive lessons that cover a variety of health topics including gender role stereotypes, healthy and unhealthy relationships, dating violence, consent, abstinence, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and teen pregnancy. Media Aware teaches students to think critically about the messages that see and hear in media about sex and relationships, and includes many current media examples—movies, advertisements, music— that are relevant and engaging for teens.  The online format enables students to proceed at their own pace and provides an individually-focused experience.

An initial feasibility study of Media Aware found that the program resulted in students’ having more accurate knowledge and beliefs about teen sex and sexual health, increased intentions to intervene in situations that could lead to sexual assault, and students reporting that they would be less willing to engage in risky sexual behaviors. “We are excited by the findings from the feasibility study and the promise that Media Aware has to improve adolescent health, and we are looking forward to further enhancing the program and conducting additional research,” says Dr. Tracy Scull, the Principal Investigator on the project.

With this most recent grant from NICHD, iRT will build upon its promising work to further evaluate the program’s effectiveness. With help from an advisory panel of teachers and school administrators, iRT will also be developing interactive tools and resources to improve the ease of implementation and scalability of Media Aware within schools.

School-based sexual health education varies greatly across the U.S. Only 20 states require that sexual health education be medically accurate, while 17 states don’t require sex education at all. In the absence of concrete information, young people often turn to media for information about sex and relationships and typically receive unhealthy, incomplete, or inaccurate messages about relationships, contraceptives, consent, and STIs.

Ultimately, iRT hopes that Media Aware will prove to be a cost-effective program that high schools can easily implement to deliver an unbiased and broad-ranging education on important sexual health topics to their students. iRT has developed several evidence-based MLE health promotion programs to promote adolescent health, including a version of Media Aware for college-aged youth (older adolescents) that is currently commercially available (

iRT is a behavioral science research company that develops and evaluates cutting edge products and services—all designed to improve the lives of youth, families, organizations, and communities.