Using Audio-Visual Material in the Sexuality Education Classroom


Throughout my educational years, I’ve had many teachers who used audio-visual materials. Usually they utilized DVDs and internet clips. Sometimes the clips seemed to be a filler in a class session that did not add much to the material. Other times the clips or video greatly enhanced my knowledge of the subject. It depended on what we saw, how it was presented, and if and how it was discussed after viewing. This post intends to look at how an educator, specifically a sexuality educator, can incorporate audio-visual material to be an effective enhancement to the learning process.

Using audio-visual material can be very effective and has several advantages. Videos can potentially be effective for both visual and auditory learners. Learning can be enhanced for auditory learners if a group discussion follows the viewing. Employing a strategy that deviates from a traditional lecture can decrease boredom and allow students to view the content in a way that may be more optimal for their learning style (Gilbert, Sawyer, & McNeill, 2011).

According to Gilbert, Sawyer, and McNeill (2011), other advantages of using audio-visual materials include:

  • serving as an attention-getter
  • introducing or reinforcing a topic
  • introducing an issue in a non-threatening demeanor
  • for discussion
  • they are often inexpensive or very cost-effective.

Many useful clips can be found for free on sites like YouTube. However, along with the good, the use of audio-visual material may come with disadvantages.

Gilbert et al. (2011) state that the use of audio-visual material may require equipment that’s expensive. While some DVDs are relatively cheap, sexuality education DVDs can be quite costly. According to Bruess and Greenberg (2009), some of these films can be upwards of $400. It is also important to note what resources are available to an educator if they are going to a site to facilitate. DVD players, computers, projectors, etc. may not be available at some settings.

Using audio-visuals can also be lengthy and can potentially take up an entire session or longer. This can be a disadvantage, especially if the facilitator only has a short amount of time with learners. The facilitator needs to ask themselves; how long is the video or clip? Will the film take an entire class, or will it extend to multiple classes? Should the entire film be shown, or are there specific clips that can be highlighted? Should the film or clip be shown in class or as an assignment outside of class?

In my experience, if an entire film is to be shown, I found it most effective when we were required to view it outside of class. This way, class time can be used for discussing what was watched. I once took a psychology course where we watched the movie SybilIt took us about four class sessions to get through the whole movie. While I found the movie interesting, we never spent time in class discussing it. I saw how it related to our course materials, but I thought it was a bit pointless that I came to class for four sessions to learn essentially nothing.


In a class I took this past summer, we were required to watch Ma vi en rose. We were given a choice to either stay in class and watch it (this was one of those long 10-hour class days, so showing films in one sitting is possible) or watch the movie at home before class the following day. We were given stopping points throughout the movie and were asked to think about certain situations and characters’ motivations. These were the areas discussed in class the next day. While the movie was great, the most effective part for my learning was hearing different perspectives about what my peers saw and experienced when they viewed it. This goes along with the notion that audio- visuals are most effective when a group has processed what has been watched (Bruess & Greenburg, 2009).


In a class I had recently, we watched an entire episode of Private Practice. Throughout the episode, the instructor told us to look at which characters we related with. The episode was paused periodically and we discussed with a partner about what we saw, who we related with, and specific things we noticed. I found this to be another great example of effectively using audio-visual materials. Gibert et al. (2011) also recommended the pause and discuss method because it can be useful for processing affect and reinforcing cognitive information. This method is also advantageous when learners have shorter attention spans. 


Another potential disadvantage of using audio-visual materials, especially in sexuality education, is that many of them are outdated. I remember being shown films in high school that were probably close to 20 years old. My friends and I laughed at the ‘goofy’ hairstyles and clothing, and we did not pay attention to the content. According to Gilbert et al. (2011), regardless of how important the information is, if learners have “tuned out,” then no new learning will occur. My friends and I did not learn anything from these instructional videos because we were so focused on how outdated everything was; from clothing down to language. If we had been paying attention to the content, though, we could have potentially received inaccurate information.

Bruess and Greenberg (2009) claimed a lot of instructional media is used even when content is no longer factual. Many health issues, particularly sexual health issues, change rapidly, and instructional media can potentially become inaccurate within just a few years (Gilbert et al., 2011). Politically correct or acceptable terms in the realm of sexuality also change and evolve over the years. One of the outdated health videos I watched in a high school class used the term ‘hermaphrodite’ to refer to an individual who was born with ambiguous genitals. This term is generally considered inaccurate and stigmatizing today, and is typically replaced with the word ‘intersex.’

Does that mean there is absolutely no educational value in using films or clips that might be a little older? Absolutely not! Casparian and Goldfarb (1997) suggest still using these types of educational videos as long as the information is still accurate. The facilitator can address styles that might be outdated- like clothing and hair, and ask the learners to ignore them. It would help as well to give the learners something specific to look for when watching the video. This way, it is less likely they will get distracted.

If an audio-visual material has some outdated content, but also has content that is useful, a facilitator should tell the learners what information is no longer relevant or inaccurate. A facilitator could also use old information as a way to show a class how quickly statistics and information change in this field. It is really important for the facilitator to watch the video or clip and fact-check what the audience will be viewing.

Now that we’ve looked at some advantages and disadvantages to using audio-visual material, I want to address how the facilitator can ensure their materials are most effective in specific settings. One of the biggest aspects of whether or not an audio- visual material will have a desired impact on the audience is by how relevant it is. It  is not recommended to use audio-visual materials to fill blank spaces or because it is the only available material on a topic. Gilbert et al. (2011) believe that using nothing is better than using something that is ineffective or inappropriate.


In the past, educators may have been more likely to run into the problem of only having one audio-visual material to show to a class on a specific sexuality topic. Now, the problem is more that there are so many resources, it can be difficult to assess which would be the most useful (Bruess & Greenberg, 2009). In order to determine if something would be useful for a particular audience, it is important for a facilitator to know different characteristics of the audience. Things to consider include: language, age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, social class, sex/gender, health, and geographic region. All of these factors can help a facilitator determine if an audio-visual material is going to be relevant and effective for a specific audience.

Language capabilities of the group as well as the material’s language complexity should be analyzed. Also, what is the educational level of a specific group? If the material is too complex, the audience may become frustrated. Likewise, if material is too simplistic, this could also frustrate an audience or cause them to lose interest (Gilbert et al., 2011).

It is important to look for materials that the audience can relate to. Would a group of urban African American men who dropped out of high school be impacted by a DVD about practicing safer sex from the perspective of affluent white female college students? Chances are, they probably won’t. Use materials the audience can closely relate to. If a learner can identify with the audience in the video or film, their interest is more likely to increase (Gilbert et al., 2011). They may also find the information more useful, making it easier to obtain knowledge (Bruess & Greenberg, 2009).

Gilbert et al. (2011) offer some tips when showing audio-visual materials to increase their effectiveness. These include:

  • Introducing the content and discussing the objective
  • Asking learners to look for specific pieces of information to help maintain focus and provide learners with an active role
  • Discussing the credibility of the source to establish significance with audience
  • Discussing the length of the presentation
  • Providing closure by discussing and processing the material

When deciding if audio-visual material is appropriate and useful for the learners, there is a lot to consider. Satisfying the needs of every group is unreasonable and impossible. However, making efforts to use materials that are as inclusive as can be with the group at hand will make it more likely for the materials to be effective and for learning to occur (Gilbert et al., 2011).

In the comments, please discuss any other tactics when using audio-visual material is the sex ed classroom. Another great way to add to this discussion would be to give examples of sexuality education videos you have used that have been useful or un-useful depending on different populations!



Bruess, C.E., & Greenberg, J.S.  (2008). Sexuality education: Theory and Pactice (5th Ed.).  Sudury, MA:  Jones & Bartlett.

Gilbert, G. C., Sawyer, R. S., & McNeill, E. B. (2011). Health education: Creating strategies for school and community health (3rd Ed.). Boston: Jones & Bartlett.

5 responses to “Using Audio-Visual Material in the Sexuality Education Classroom

  1. I really like the idea of using media that might not be perfect as a tool to facilitate discussion about what could be improved. When we watched Private Practice, as a class we came up with several reasons the episode was problematic. Specifically how sex workers were represented. Because of the conclusions we came to on our own happened out of a dialogue, it made the learning experience richer than just learning information straight from a media source. I can imagine a younger class maybe watching a teen drama about sex. Maybe the characters didn’t use or even mention a condom, or maybe the scene involved alcohol, both likely portrays of teen sexual experiences on TV. But a clip that shows undesirable behavior could still be used in the classroom to move the conversation in a solution-based direction.

    I also liked sharing which character we identified with when we watched Private Practice. This broadened my perspective to follow different character’s plots that I might not have been paying attention to until someone mentioned it. As someone who is interested in creating media as well, I like to hear how other people interpret different plots and characters.

    Thanks for the post Sarah!

  2. I really enjoy incorporating audiovisuals into my presentations, but I do struggle sometimes with best practices. Films that are marketed as quality sexuality education material are expensive and become outdated quickly. YouTube clips, while free, do not always fully encompass what it is I am trying to achieve. Oftentimes I play a clip and think, “this is exactly what I was looking for, except for that one glaring imperfection”. Oftentimes I get frustrated and settle for something that does not present what I was aiming for and my audience becomes disengaged.

    Wanting to reach all learning styles, I understand the benefit these audiovisual materials have. Growing up, videos used in class rarely had any introduction which left me wondering what it was I was watching and why. Keeping in mind the importance of both setting up a video and discussing it at length after viewing will help me successfully incorporate more AV material into my presentations. I appreciate that you highlighted picking materials that will resonate with the audience. This is something I had not always considered when picking out videos, but it really influences the effectiveness. Since we all filter what we see and hear through our own lenses and personal experiences, we all take away something unique and personalized from viewing the same material. I look forward to using some of these AV considerations to enhance my future presentations. This is a great topic, thank you for covering it!

  3. Your specific examples were helpful in explaining “dos and don’ts” of using audiovisuals in the classroom. Your experience of watching Sybil in class I think highlighted a problem I see a lot! – i.e. spending tons of valuable classroom staring at a screen but never actually processing any of it afterwards. Considering the learning actually happens when you process or discuss the material, it’s a shame that this is so common in our schools.
    Something you hinted at that I’d have wanted to know more about is considering age when using media in classrooms. I think age and development could be major factors when deciding how and when to use av media for learning. Young children, for instance, have shorter attention spans and sometimes learn better through hands-on or fantasy play; using audovisuals for the younger crowds, then, might need to be carefully incorporated into other activities.

  4. Sarah, I think you made some really spot on statements about how technology and films can be both helpful and detrimental to a lesson. I have always thought long movies were not as effective as short clips or portions of films that showcase specific topics from class. I had never considered using a tv show in a lesson, and I think that is is a fantastic idea! Especially given the context that each person in the class has a purpose in watching the episode, ex. following a character they relate to, being assigned a character to pay attention to, being assigned a lens to view the episode through, etc. A tv show, especially one that is on the shorter side of an hour seems like it would a great tool for reinforcing a lesson, while also appealing to a different learning style. In addition, always taking into consideration your audience and what you are trying to accomplish with the lesson is invaluable. Often educators stick a move/film/clip into their curriculum and it does feel like a ‘filler,’ but when audio-visual materials can be incorporated into a lesson with purpose I think they can be really memorable additions to the learning process. Thanks for this great post!

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