Durham, NC, June 12, 2014—Teaching middle-school students about sexual health using a media literacy education approach has been shown to increase adolescents’ intentions to make healthy decisions regarding their future sexual behavior.

In a paper recently published in the Journal of Media Literacy Education, Drs. Tracy Scull, Christina Malik, and Janis Kupersmidt—all of innovation Research & Training (iRT)—reported that a comprehensive, media literacy education (MLE) program has the potential for positively influencing sexual health decisions. After the program, participants were more likely to have the intention to use condoms during sex and talk to their partners, parents, or medical professionals prior to having sex.

“This research was significant for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Scull, lead investigator on the study. “During adolescence, young people are exposed to information about sex and romantic relationships from all different kinds of media. Much of this information is not healthy or even accurate,” she said. “Studies suggest that exposure to the media has a significant influence on outcomes such as teen pregnancy and sexual behavior. We set about trying to determine if media literacy education would be an effective intervention for reducing the influence of unhealthy media messages on risky health decisions related to sex.”

The researchers, supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), developed the Media Aware – Sexual Health (MASH) program, an eight-lesson comprehensive sexual health program designed to be taught in health classes. The program includes a wide range of sexual health topics including prevention of unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and dating violence as well as the promotion of healthy romantic relationships.

Lessons were created through consultation with middle school teachers, psychologists, media literacy researchers, and sexual health experts. After each lesson was drafted, it was pilot tested in focus groups of adolescents and revised, as needed, prior to conducting the study with the whole program.

In addition to the sexual health findings mentioned above, researchers learned that completing the MASH program also resulted in positive changes in adolescents’ critical thinking skills about the media. For example, after completing the program, students were less likely to think that the information in the media about romantic relationships is realistic. Students also increased their skepticism about the things they see and hear in the media such as increasing their questioning of the accuracy of stories in shows on television, in movies and in song lyrics; and their awareness of the persuasive intent of commercials and advertising.

“We have found that the positive effects of MASH add to a growing body of research supporting the effectiveness of MLE in promoting healthy behaviors in adolescents,” said Scull.

To read the full study, please visit http://bit.ly/1jyGJze.

Following this initial study, iRT will be conducting a larger research project to evaluate the effectiveness of the revised and enhanced MASH program with a larger sample of teachers and students. This study has several goals including increasing critical thinking skills about the media and promoting healthy ideas about, goals for, and behavioral skills related to romantic relationships. By strengthening these skills, the ultimate goal of the program is to reduce rates of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and teen dating violence.

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About innovation Training & Research
innovation Training & Research (IRT) is a behavioral sciences research company committed to identifying and solving significant real-world problems facing children, families, communities, and organizations. By using evidence-based and culturally sensitive methods, IRT researchers investigate, develop and evaluate behavioral, educational, psychological, social, and community assessment, prevention and treatment programs and services with the highest professional standards of excellence. Our staff includes experts in basic and applied research in a wide variety of areas, including of substance abuse prevention and treatment, youth mentoring, social and emotional development, mindfulness education, media literacy education, pregnancy prevention and sexual health, child and adolescent mental health, adult and juvenile justice programs, drug courts, drugged driving, tobacco use and underage drinking. For more information about IRT, visit us at www.irtinc.us.

Media Contact: Yvette Ruffin, APR
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innovative Research & Training
Phone: 919-493-7700
Email: yruffin@irtinc.us