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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