Using media to teach sexuality education

Adolescents are overexposed to media and they interact with it everyday; they even interact with friends through it. An average 14-year-old teenager is exposed to almost 12 hours of media such as TV content, music, computers, and videogames, and the same young person is an active consumer for almost 9 hours of their day (study done by Kaiser family foundation).


Usually, media is seen as an enemy: teachers and researchers analyze it, criticize it, and try to fight it. It is very common to listen to people talking about the negative influences that media exerts on adolescents; one of those influences is on sexuality.


Many researchers (Brown et al., 2006; Chandra et al., 2008; Collins et al., 2004; Jackson et al., 2008) have concluded that there is an important media influence on the onset of sexual activities of adolescents from sex images, sex talk, and sexual activities in the media. Other authors (Bleakley, Hennessy, Fishbein, & Jordan, 2008; Steinberg & Monahan, 2011) have found that the teenager’s own selections of the web pages to visit or the TV shows to watch, was the most important variable related to media influence.


Instead of viewing media as an enemy, the idea is to see it and use it as a resource. Social media will be a part of our world for a long time. It’s better to teach it than to fight it. Thus, how can we integrate the media in our sexuality education classes?


Use of social media

According to studies done by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project, 95% of teens use the Internet, and 93% have a computer at home. Of all the Internet consumers, 89% use social networking sites (67% use Facebook and 16% use Twitter). Moreover, three-quarters (74%) of all 7th-12thgraders have a profile on a social networking site.


Peer-reviewed studies have evaluated the impact of digital media-based interventions on sexual health knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards sexuality. Guse et al. (2012) reviewed studies published between 2000 and 2011 which were using digital media-based interventions and found that they helped to delay the initiation of sex, others in condom self-efficacy, and others in abstinence attitudes.


Use of the mobile phone

Cellphones are being more common among students. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project has also done research about the use of cellphones. They found that 78% of teens have a cellphone (47% own a smartphone). Furthermore, teens use the cellphone to communicate with others and the volume of texting per day is 60 for the median text user. Teachers who allow the usage of media in the classroom use it as a complement to a lesson. For instance, 73% of the teachers allow their students to use their cellphones to complete assignments.


Researchers such as Gilliam et al., (2011) and Puccio et al., (2006) (as cited in Guse, et al., 2012) conducted projects using cell phones (texting) for HIV prevention among African American male youths which were successful.


In general, teachers agree that using the media in the classroom encourages students’ creativity, personal expression, collaboration among students, sharing their work with others. Therefore, the idea is using those social media sites and the cellphone to keep connected with the students outside of the classroom, and use them as extra-curricular activities related to the sexuality topics previously discussed. Professors can create blogs, and Facebook groups to enhance interaction; they can use hashtags to create connectivity and spirit of sharing among the students.


The use of media can be understood as a distancing technique, in which teachers protect student’s privacy by depersonalizing discussions (DfEE, 2000). Using social media as a distancing technique can help the students to discuss sensitive issues and to improve their decision-making skills in a safe environment.


Furthermore, the use of media is an useful tool for real-world examples (Walker Tileston, 2004); teachers do not need to provide real-world examples and applications, they just need to direct the students to search for the appropriate sources in the Internet. Finally, the use of media helps the teachers to let their students know not only the importance of learning a specific topic, but to understand how it will be important to them personally.


Bleakley, A., Hennessy, M., Fishbein, M., & Jordan, A. (2008). It works both ways: The relationship between exposure to sexual content in the media and adolescent sexual behavior. Media Psychology, 11(4), 443-461. doi: 10.1080/15213260802491986

Brown, J. D., L’Engle, K. L., Pardun, C. J., Guo, G., Kenneavy, K., & Jackson, C. (2006). Sexy media matter: Exposure to sexual content in music, movies, television, and magazines predicts black and white adolescents’ sexual behavior. Pediatrics, 117(4), 1018-1027. doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-1406

Chandra, A., Martino, S. C., Collins, R. L., Elliott, M. N., Berry, S. H., Kanouse, D. E., & Miu, A. (2008). Does watching sex on television predict teen pregnancy? Findings from a national longitudinal survey of youth. Pediatrics, 122(5), 1047-1054.

Collins, R. L., Elliott, M. N., Berry, S. H., Kanouse, D. E., Kunkel, D., Hunter, S. B., & Miu, A. (2004). Watching sex on television predicts adolescent initiation of sexual behavior. Pediatrics, 114(3), e280-9.

Department for Education and Employment, DfEE (2000) Sex and relationships education guidance (Nottingham, Department for Education and Employment).

Duggan, M., & Brenner, J. (2013, February 14). The demographics of social media users 2012. Retrieved from

Gilliam, M., Allison, S., Boyar, R., Bull, S., Guse, K., & Santelli, J. (2011). New media and research: Considering next steps. Sexuality Research & Social policy: A Journal of the NSRC, 8(1), pp. 67-72. doi: 10.1007/s13178-011-0035-4

Guse, K., Levine, D., Martins, S., Lira, A., Gaarde, J., Westmorland, W., & Gilliam, M. (2012). Interventions using new digital media to improve adolescent sexual health: A systematic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51(6), pp. 535-543. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.03.014

Jackson, C., Brown, J. D., & Pardun, C. J. (2008). A TV in the bedroom: Implications for viewing habits and risk behaviors during early adolescence. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 52(3), 349-367. doi: 10.1080/08838150802205421

Lenhart, A. (2012, March 19). Teens, smartphones & texting. Retrieved from

Purcell, K., Buchanan, J., & Friedrich, L. (2013, February 28). How teachers are using technology at home and in their classrooms. Retrieved from

Purcell, K., Buchanan, J., & Friedrich, L. (2013, July 16). The impact of digital tools on student writing and how writing is taught in schools. Retrieved from

Steinberg, L., & Monahan, K. C. (2011). Adolescents’ exposure to sexy media does not hasten the initiation of sexual intercourse. Developmental Psychology, 47(2), 562-576.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundations. (2010, January 20). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8-to 10-years-old. Retrieved from

9 responses to “Using media to teach sexuality education

  1. I love the idea of media in the classroom. I have a media background, so I have been waiting for the day when we could indulge in media as educators. It is such a powerful tool, and if people simply embrace it, as you mentioned, we would have much more productive classrooms. We really have to meet students where they are at, and if they are on Facebook, Twitter and the App store, then meet them half way and join in! Great article.

  2. I really like the idea about using media as a distancing technique. For me, the idea that the educator can personalize the educational experience by including anonymous opinion from those in class. I feel like the cellphone can be the new anonymous question box, allowing for students to really take control of their questions and not risk being outted for being inquisitive.

  3. The thought of using media while teaching is exciting and scary at the same time. The marquee that runs through my head when planning a lesson or speaking engagement is ‘will they actually learn something’. I worry less about participants having fun and enjoying my lesson if they got nothing from it. So what’s the delicate balance?

  4. To use the analogy of porn, I think adding new (queer/feminist/critical) elements rather than censoring what already exists (misogyny/easy, boring violence) is the way to go.

    That is: Creating or showcasing smart, sex-positive media in classrooms is a great way to challenge (by way of alerting students to the existence of alternatives!) sexist-homophobic, puritanical, hypocritical media kids see anyway.

    If the average 14-year-old already sees 12 hours of shit, maybe a 1/2 hour or so of watching this Swedish sex-ed video ( or this hugely awesome lil’ thing on street harassment ( in a Human Sexuality class would be extremely beneficial in terms of helping to foster critical consciousness and awareness of more options for expressing/understanding sexuality.

  5. Yeah, technology is great! This was a great overview of the stats concerning teen activity and the media. The article has helped me identify some practical applications of media in the classroom as well. For example, when discussing the ability to keep student anonymity when talking about certain sensitive issues–I would love to do this but am still trying to think of ways that this may be applied. I know there are several ideas, but as far as this application goes, I’m still in my head about it.

  6. Maybe this is way too obvious to need saying, but another key way to use media is to take some time to analyze TV shows, ads, movies and so on. Sometimes just pointing out what’s missing, for example, people with disabilities are almost never shown as romantic or sexual people, can start great discussions about how sexuality is normalized and homogenized so teens grow up thinking they have to look a certain way before they “deserve” a romantic or sexual relationship.

    • Yes! I remember doing that back in high school with the super bowl commercials. I’ve also read about teachers doing the same thing with Twitter, since many students are on it (or were? apparently Twitter is not the “in” thing now?). Students had to locate tweets about a topic and conduct a content analysis to see what concepts were being discussed on Twitter, to help them learn what messages they, their peers, and the rest of society are being exposed to.

  7. I love the idea of using the media as a way of identifying or pointing out what’s positive/negative, missing/present in the messages (overt or covert ones) that are being promoted. Media really can be an engaging tool to employ and I like to go a step further with media use: asking students to re-do or re-work media into what they think it should look like and why. I also find it interesting to ask students in what ways they think media actually affects or influences themselves, their peers or society in general. These answers are always insightful!

  8. I remember hearing about the statistics of adolescents and their use of media/technology at a conference that I attended about 2 years ago. Taking a realistic approach to adolescents and their use of technology it is evident that we as educators need to stay relevant and incorporate tech into our teaching as sexuality educators. The people who usually view media as “negative” tend to be older adults who are unfamiliar and unknowledgeable about the practical application of technology and are scared to incorporate it into their teachings. We as sexuality educators have to remain current with our audience and facilitate lessons that will keep the student’s attention.

    I was pleasantly surprised to read the research that you incorporated in your blog that supports the digital media-based interventions and the impact that it has to delay the initiation of sexual activity.
    Personally, I use technology in a variety of ways within my role as a counselor at a medical clinic where I work. In order to get in contact with patients we would actually use a phone to contact them and would not hear back from them for days. Now we text our patients and usually hear back from them within the hour regarding their medical care. The use of technology is beneficial to use within a classroom setting as evident by the research that you have shown that states that teens are incorporating tech into their every day lives.

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