Promoting media literacy education

Sexual and Reproductive Health

The American Academy of Pediatrics in its 2010 Policy Statement—Sexuality, Contraception and the Media ( points out that “results of considerable research have indicated that the media can have a major effect on young people's attitudes and behaviors. (pp. 577). In fact they note that the media have “arguably become one of the leading sex educators in the United States today." Given the major role the media now play in the lives of our teens, the AAP states that effective media literacy programs can be protective against unhealthy media effects. In fact, the Policy Statement points out that “Studies have shown that effective media literacy programs can be protective against unhealthy media effects" (Pediatrics, 126:3, 576-582). Among the studies to which they refer is research by the team of Pinkleton, Austin, Cohen and Chen (Pinkleton,B.E., Austin, E.W., Cohen, M., Chen, Y.C. Effects of a peer-led media literacy curriculum on adolescents knowledge and attitudes toward sexual behavior and media portrayals of sex. Health Communication. 2008, 23 (5): 462-472. (

The team of Pinkleton, Austin, Cohen and Chen has been focusing on Take It Seriously: Sex, Abstinence & Media (TISSAM) and its predecessor, TISAM (which the TISSAM program is designed to enhance) to determine whether these curricula are able to debunk some of the mythical portrayals of sexual behavior and at the same time serve as a catalyst for engaging teens in critical thinking about the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and the need to make healthy choices. The results that have been gathered involving thousands of students provide important evidence that this media-literacy based program does make a difference.


Among the researchers' conclusions is that the program, made possible by the Washington State Department of Health, has the ability to significantly influence key aspects of adolescents' decision-making processes regarding media and sex. For example, students who received the media literacy training better understood that media influence teens' decision making about sex and were more likely to report that sexual portrayals in the media are inaccurate and glamorized than participants who did not receive the training. In addition, participants reported more knowledge and a greater ability to resist peer pressure to engage in sex than students who did not participate in the media literacy program. It's also important to note that the participating students rated the curriculum and its teen presenters extremely positively. After a review of all their results, the research team concluded that their findings suggest the curriculum helped to increase students' understanding of media and sex, and their self efficacy related to sexual decision making.

Among the publications of TISSAM research is:
The Role of Media Literacy in Shaping Adolescents' Understanding of and Responses to Sexual Portrayals in Mass Media (Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives. 2012, 17 (4), 460-476 (

Media literacy as a catalyst for changing adolescents' attitudes and behaviors toward sexual media messages. (2010) Association For Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Mass Communication and Society Division conference, Denver, 1st Place paper award.

For a complete listing of 14 other TISSAM research publications, see the TISSAM curriculum tool kit (