Do Safe-Sex Media Messages Work?

Mass media are able to reach a large target audience on a consistent basis. This type of approach has been used to deliver messages against smoking, drug use, alcohol use, and bullying. But recently, mass media have provided a platform for a safe-sex campaign aimed at high risk African-American youth. The program, Project iMPPACS, was designed to increase awareness of HIV/STIs and educate adolescents about the choices they have with regards to sexual behaviors, how to negotiate sexual situations and how to be intentional with safe-sex practices. Although the initial results of iMPPACS were positive, the long-term effects have yet to be explored.

Therefore, Michael Hennessy of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania took the initiative to examine the long-term influence of iMPPACS. Hennessy collected six waves of data over a three year period from 1,139 minority adolescents ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old. He found that 18 months after intervention, the rates of sexual activity had increased, but the teens living in the target areas had smaller increases in sexual activity. At the end of the three-year period, however, Hennessy found the trend for unsafe sex had decreased significantly and that the intent to practice safe sex had increased. Hennessy also found that awareness of and screening for STIs persisted throughout the follow-up period.

These findings suggest that mass media approaches are not only effective at reducing immediate sexual risky behavior, but also helpful for teens developing healthier sexual beliefs and practices over time. This is valuable information, and it provides support for programs such as iMPPACS in the ongoing effort to reduce risky sexual behavior and the byproducts of this behavior, including HIV/STIs and unintended pregnancies. Hennessy added, “Thus, mass media provide an effective way to enhance the durability of interventions carried out on the ground, and they independently change sexual norms and behaviors among youths on their own.”

Hennessy, Michael, Daniel Romer, Robert F. Valois, Peter Vanable, Michael P. Carey, Bonita Stanton, Larry Brown, Ralph DiClemente, and Laura F. Salazar. Safer sex media messages and adolescent sexual behavior: 3-year follow-up results from project iMPPACS. American Journal of Public Health 103.1 (2013): 134-40. Print.

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  • rene


    March 14th, 2013 at 3:40 AM

    If we see the same lowering of sexual activity over time then this is certainly worth pursuing on a much larger scale. It is so disheartening that our kids are continuing to have kids of their own far before they are both mentally and physically capable of doing so. And yet the message that we have tried to get out for so many years has failed time and again. I like it that someone in public health and poliy is beginning to see the need to think somewhat out of the box and try to reach these teens in a way that is going to be much more positive, and get them to halt their unsafe sexual practices so that they don’t have to end up as just another bad statistic.

  • Grass Blade

    Grass Blade

    March 14th, 2013 at 11:49 PM

    It can certainly help! Targeting these campaigns to the right groups will increase improve the results too. If they can sell overpriced carbonated water with sugar through advertising and media then there shouldn’t be doubts about something that’s more of a fact than marketing gimmick!

  • Paul


    March 15th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    This is a tough one, because you want the kids to be safe, but all they see is risky behavior and sometimes I think that they see more rewards for bad behavior than they do for toeing the line

  • Bobbi


    March 19th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    I remember being this age and I am not sure that there would have been any kind of message out there that would have discouraged me. I wanted to be a good girl, but on the other hand those hormones get the best of you sometimes and I remember being in that place at one time where you want to say no but jyou just can’t.

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