February 07, 2024, Durham, NC – To address the need for comprehensive sex education for adolescents in the United States, iRT developed Media Aware – High School, a self-paced, web-based, multimedia course designed to provide high school students with medically-accurate information on a variety of sexual health topics. Through a series of four multi-part lessons, students receive information on foundational sex education topics, including STI prevention and testing, sexual assault, consent, and birth control methods, as well as relevant, inclusive topics that are often left out of school-based sex education, including how substance use affects sexual decisions and behavior; gender role stereotypes; healthy relationships; and effective sexual health communication. Topics within the Media Aware course fulfill national sex education standards outlined by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).

In an increasingly digital world, sexual media are ever-present in adolescents’ lives, and young people are consistently exposed to content that often communicates unhealthy messages about sex and relationships which can negatively impact their sexual health. Media Aware – High School’s unique, evidence-based approach to teaching sex education involves teaching students to think critically about media, referred to as media literacy education. Not only does the program help students develop critical thinking skills about media, in general, but it also helps students think critically about media messages about sexual and relationship health and understand the influence media have on their sexual decisions, in particular.

Students find the Media Aware program engaging, in part, because the program acknowledges students’ interests in popular media by embedding many examples of popular media in the lessons, such as song lyrics and excerpts from movies and TV shows. These examples from popular media provide students with the opportunity to analyze the messages in media to uncover potentially unhealthy ideas and actions related to sex or romantic relationships. Media Aware also contains age-appropriate, interactive activities designed to boost student engagement with course content, including responding to quiz questions sprinkled through the lessons and solving problems in realistic scenarios to practice applying their new knowledge and critical thinking skills. iRT also used strategies designed to keep students engaged in the more passive parts of the course, including videos of peers discussing sex education and media topics. The course provides students with a personalized sex education experience by allowing learners to create a profile with their specific personal, educational, and health-related goals. By setting goals for themselves, students may feel encouraged to find ways to apply skills they have learned from Media Aware to their own daily lives and use their knowledge from the course to improve their health.

Media Aware can be accessed online from school or home. Because some students and instructors find sex education topics difficult or uncomfortable to discuss in class, Media Aware was designed to provide students with the opportunity to complete course content in a private, comfortable environment. Allowing students to complete the course at home may also give parents the ability to stay more informed about their child’s sex education and kickstart conversations with their child about sexual health. The course can also be completed in person at school in four, 50-minute class periods, allowing instructors to facilitate discussions in between lessons or after the course is completed. The course can be adapted to be offered in a hybrid format of both online and in-person instruction.

Without proper training, teachers may feel nervous about teaching sex education topics and therefore, run the risk of communicating their personal values about sex and relationships to students rather than teaching unbiased facts. A comprehensive online teacher training course, Preparing to Facilitate Sexual Health Education, was created by iRT to prepare instructors to teach Media Aware, train teachers about how to create a safe learning environment for students so they feel comfortable discussing sexual health topics in a peer group setting, and give teachers opportunities to practice answering challenging questions from students. Teachers of the Media Aware course also receive access to a web-based administrative dashboard where they can manage course enrollment, track student progress, view grades, and more.

Randomized controlled trial evaluations of the Media Aware program showed that after completing the course, students were more likely to plan to communicate with parents, medical professionals, and partners before deciding to have sex. Students reported that they felt more able and intended to intervene to prevent a potential sexual assault. They also said that after completing the course, they spend more time thinking about media messages. Students were less likely to be willing to “hook up” with someone if they do not want to, less willing to engage in unprotected sex (among male students), and more likely to believe that sex and risky sexual behaviors are common among teens. In addition, students reported that they enjoyed completing the program on a computer; felt less embarrassed with the online format compared to a teacher-led course; liked the privacy, structure, and interactivity of Media Aware; and think it is a good program for learning about sexual health.1,2

If you are ready to start offering Media Aware – High School at your school, visit our website to get started.

  1. Scull, T. M., Malik, C. V., & Kupersmidt, J. B. (2014). A Media Literacy Education Approach to Teaching Adolescents Comprehensive Sexual Health Education. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 6(1): 1-14.
  2. Scull, T. M., Kupersmidt, J. B., & Malik, C. V. (2018). Using Media Literacy Education for Adolescent Sexual Health Promotion in Middle School: Randomized Controlled Trial of Media Aware. Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, 23(12), 1051-1063. http://doi.org/10.1080/10810730.2 018.1548669