Sexually Explicit Media and Teens

By Catherine H. M. Dukes, PhD and Rebecca Roberts, MEd



By the end of this lesson, participants will be able to:

1. Define sexually explicit media (SEM) and provide examples of SEM.

2. Identify myths and facts about SEM.

3. Examine the potential consequences for teens accessing SEM.


“Safer sex” isn’t limited to condoms and protection from sexually transmitted infections! Many parents and health education professionals are also concerned about safety insofar as it involves sexually explicit media (SEM), and may be unsure how to approach this topic with teens from an age-appropriate and fact-based perspective. SEM, including pornography and “sexting,” can be controversial issues to discuss. Teens and young people today have greater access to SEM than any previous generations. Sexuality in everyday media has increased steadily in the past two decades, with as many as 8.7 references to sex per hour on TV. Even though obtaining pornography is usually restricted for minors, 70% of teens aged 15-17 say they have come across pornography accidentally on the Internet. Further, among young people aged 12-17 who own cell phones, 15% report having received a sexually suggestive or nearly nude picture sent by text.

It is clear that discussions with teens about SEM are overdue, and this lesson gives participants the opportunity to define SEM, identify myths and facts, and explore potential consequences of accessing SEM as a minor. This lesson also aims to help youth start conversations with parents about Internet safety, family values and beliefs about sexually explicit material, as well as open the lines of communication about other difficult topics.

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