May 03, 2024, Durham, NC – iRT researchers presented at Fact Forward’s 2024 Adolescent Health Spring Summit last month to discuss how incorporating media literacy education concepts in sexual health education can impact young people’s sexual health beliefs and behaviors. Fact Forward hosted the Adolescent Health Summit in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on April 24, 2024. This event provided opportunities for youth-supporting professionals in North Carolina to learn and share current trends, research, and best practices in adolescent health education and wellness with subject matter experts.

iRT Researchers Liz Reeder, Jada Green, and Dr. Christina Dodson led a breakout session at the conference to share iRT’s research and resources related to sexual health and media literacy education. The team discussed the state of sexual health education in schools, what topics are important to include in comprehensive sexual health education, and how to combat unhealthy information present in a major source of sexual health information for teens: media.

The team discussed how the Media Aware programs, iRT’s sexual health education programs designed for adolescents and young adults, incorporate important topics that other sexual health education programs often leave out, including gender stereotypes, sexual violence, and unhealthy relationships. More specifically, the team described Media Aware’s unique approach to sexual health promotion: media literacy education. Young people are consistently exposed to and interacting with media, but media often contain unhealthy, inaccurate, and incomplete messages about sex and relationships. Thus, media messages may have negative effects on young people’s sexual and relationship health if they are not equipped with skills to think critically about the media messages they consume. For example, media messages that depict violence against women are associated with an increased acceptance of domestic violence and intimate partner violence.1 The Media Aware programs teach young people to examine the source, goal, target audience, impact, and missing information in media messages, so they can make a decision to accept or reject the implied meanings in media messages to minimize the negative impacts of inaccurate or incomplete media messages on their sexual health beliefs and behaviors.

The team also discussed findings from randomized controlled trials that evaluated the impacts of the Media Aware programs on adolescents and young adults. For example, students who took Media Aware – High School demonstrated more sexual health knowledge and more advanced media deconstruction skills and were less likely to believe that risky sexual activity was common amongst teens. Girls who took the program reported an increase in sexual health communication with their parents, and boys reported less acceptance of dating violence.2 In addition, college students who took the Media Aware – Young Adult program reported fewer risky sexual behaviors, more positive attitudes about contraception and abilities to effectively use it, improved ability to communicate about their sexual health needs, and increased understanding of what constitutes sexual assault.3

iRT Research Scientist Dr. Tracy Scull served as a panelist on Fact Forward’s Innovation in Adolescent Reproductive Health Panel to discuss iRT’s work in the field of adolescent health, challenges and lessons that iRT’s researchers have learned in the development of adolescent sexual health programming, and iRT’s future plans to research and develop resources to positively impact adolescent health.

If you are interested in using the Media Aware – High School program to offer comprehensive sex education and media literacy skill building opportunities to adolescents, visit our website to get started:

To learn more about Media Aware – Young Adult, iRT’s media literacy education-based sex education program for college students and young adults, visit

  1. Gavin, S. M., & Kruis, N. E. (2022). The Influence of Media Violence on Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration: An Examination of Inmates’ Domestic Violence Convictions and Self-Reported Perpetration. Gender issues, 39(2), 177–197.
  2. Scull, T. M., Dodson, C. V., Geller, J. G., Reeder, L. C., & Stump, K. N. (2022). A media literacy education approach to high school sexual health education: immediate effects of media aware on adolescents’ media, sexual health, and communication outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence51(4), 708-723.
  3. Scull, T.M., Kupersmidt, J.B., Malik, C.V., & Keefe, E.M. (2017). Examining the efficacy of an mHealth media literacy education program for sexual health promotion in older adolescents attending community college. Journal of American College Health, 00-00; doi:10.1080/07448481.2017.1393822