Sex Education, Youth, and Advocacy: Sexual Literacy, Critical Media, and Intergenerational Sex Education(s)

  • Marisa Ragonese
  • Christin P. Bowman
  • Deborah L. Tolman


Youth get many competing messages about sexuality, often steeped in tacit messages about unequal gendered power relations. However, social networking revolutions have created unprecedented opportunities for students to access information and create representations of information about sexuality that challenges normative gender identities. This chapter reviews some diverse sex education occurring among young people, focusing on feminist and peer-led intergenerational sex education. We explore the intersections of sex education and media and discuss activist strategies for bringing relevant sex education into young people’s lives in and out of classrooms. We include an original workshop to help young people develop skills to become critical consumers and producers of media, and to mobilize them to be both sexually educated and proactive sexuality educators themselves through engagement in activism.


  1. Allen, L. (2007). Denying the sexual subject: schools’ regulation of student sexuality. British Educational Research Journal, 33(2), 221–234.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, L., Rasmussen, M. L., Quinlivan, K., Aspin, C., Sanjakdar, F., & Brömdal, A. (2014). Who’s afraid of sex at school? The politics of researching culture, religion and sexuality at school. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 37(1), 31–43.Google Scholar
  3. Attwood, F. (2007). No money shot? Commerce, pornography and new sex taste cultures. Sexualities, 10(4), 441–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aubrey, J. S. (2004). Sex and punishment: An examination of sexual consequences and the sexual double standard in teen programming. Sex Roles, 50(7–8), 505–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barak, A., & Fisher, W. A. (2001). Toward an Internet-driven, theoretically-based, innovative approach to sex education. Journal of Sex Research, 38(4), 324–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bay-Cheng, L. Y. (2003). The trouble of teen sex: The construction of adolescent sexuality through school-based sexuality education. Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, 3(1), 61–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Binik, Y. M. (2001). Sexuality and the Internet: Lots of hyp (otheses)—only a little data. Journal of Sex Research, 38(4), 281–282.Google Scholar
  8. Bolton, R. N., Parasuraman, A., Hoefnagels, A., Migchels, N., Kabadayi, S., Gruber, T., & Solnet, D. (2013). Understanding generation Y and their use of social media: A review and research agenda. Journal of Service Management, 24(3), 245–267.Google Scholar
  9. Braun-Courville, D. K., & Rojas, M. (2009). Exposure to sexually explicit web sites and adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45(2), 156–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, L. (2011). We’re taking back sexy: Girl bloggers SPARK a movement and create enabling conditions for healthy sensuality. Girlhood Studies, 4(2), 47–69.Google Scholar
  11. Brown, L. M., & Chesney-Lind, M. (2005). Growing up mean: Covert aggression and the policing of girlhood. Problem girls: Understanding and supporting troubled and troublesome girls, 74–86.Google Scholar
  12. Brown, J. D., & Witherspoon, E. M. (2002). The mass media and American adolescents’ health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 31(6), 153–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brown, J. D., Halpern, C. T., & L’Engle, K. L. (2005). Mass media as a sexual super peer for early maturing girls. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36(5), 420–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brown, J. D., El-Toukhy, S., & Ortiz, R. (2014a). Growing up sexually in a digital World. In A. B. Jordan & D. Romer (Eds.), Media and the well-being of children and adolescents (pp. 90–108). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Brown, N. J., Afflerbach, P. P., & Croninger, R. G. (2014). Assessment of critical-analytic thinking. Educational Psychology Review, 26(4), 543–560.Google Scholar
  16. Cameron-Lewis, V., & Allen, L. (2013). Teaching pleasure and danger in sexuality education. Sex Education, 13(2), 121–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carmody, M. (2005). Ethical erotics: Reconceptualizing anti-rape education. Sexualities, 8(4), 465–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Case, D. O. (Ed.). (2012). Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs and behavior. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. Chambers, D., Tincknell, E., & Loon, J. V. (2004). Peer regulation of teenage sexual identities. Gender and Education, 16(3), 397–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Charlton, E. (2007). “Bad” girls versus “good” girls: Contradiction in the constitution of contemporary girlhood. Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education, 28(1), 121–131.Google Scholar
  21. Comstock, M. (2001). Grrrl zine networks: Re-composing spaces of authority, gender, and culture. Journal of Advanced Composition, 21(2), 383–409.Google Scholar
  22. Cooper, A., Morahan-Martin, J., Mathy, R. M., & Maheu, M. (2002). Toward an increased understanding of user demographics in online sexual activities. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28(2), 105–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dunne, A., McIntosh, J., & Mallory, D. (2014). Adolescents, sexually transmitted infections, and education using social media: A review of the literature. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 10(6), 401–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Edell, D., Brown, L. M., & Tolman, D. (2013). Embodying sexualization: When theory meets practice in intergenerational feminist activism. Feminist Theory, 14(3), 275–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Escobar-Chaves, S. L., Tortolero, S. R., Markham, C. M., Low, B. J., Eitel, P., & Thickstun, P. (2005). Impact of the media on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors. Pediatrics, 116 (Supplement 1), 303–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Eysenbach, G. (2008). Credibility of health information and digital media: New perspectives and implications for youth. In M. J. Metzger & A. J. Flanagin (Eds.), Digital media, youth, and credibility (The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning, pp. 123–154). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  27. Fields, J. (2008). Risky lessons: Sex education and social inequality. Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Fields, J. (2012). Sexuality education in the United States: Shared cultural ideas across a political divide. Sociology Compass, 6(1), 1–14.Google Scholar
  29. Fine, M. (1988). Sexuality, schooling, and adolescent females: The missing discourse of desire. Harvard educational review, 58(1), 29–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fine, M., & McClelland, S. I. (2006). Sexuality education and desire: Still missing after all these years. Harvard Educational Review, 76(3), 297–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fisher, W. A., & Barak, A. (2001). Internet pornography: A social psychological perspective on Internet sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 38(4), 312–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Formby, E., Hirst, J., Owen, J., Hayter, M., & Stapleton, H. (2010). ‘Selling it as a holistic health provision and not just about condoms…’Sexual health services in school settings: current models and their relationship with sex and relationships education policy and provision. Sex Education, 10(4), 423–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Futch, V. A. (2013). Utilizing the theoretical framework of collective identity to understand processes in youth programs. Youth & Society, 0044118X13509288.Google Scholar
  34. Future of Sex Education Initiative. (2012). National sexuality education standards: Core content and skills, K–12. A Special Publication of the Journal of School Health. Retrieved from
  35. Haberland, N. A. (2015). The case for addressing gender and power in sexuality and HIV education: A comprehensive review of evaluation studies. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 41(1), 31–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Haferkamp, C. J. (1999). Beliefs about relationships in relation to television viewing, soap opera viewing, and self-monitoring. Current Psychology, 18(2), 193–204.Google Scholar
  37. Hasinoff, A. A. (2012). Sexting as media production: Rethinking social media and sexuality. New Media & Society, 1461444812459171.Google Scholar
  38. Harris, A. (Ed.). (2012). Next wave cultures: Feminism, subcultures, activism. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Hirst, J. (2013). It’s got to be about enjoying yourself: Young people, sexual pleasure, and sex and relationships education. Sex Education, 13(4), 423–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hobbs, R., & Frost, R. (1998). Instructional practices in media literacy education and their impact on students’ learning. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 6(2), 123–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Holland, J. R., & Sharpe, C.S. and Thompson, R. (2004). The male in the head: Young people heterosexuality and power. London: Tufnell Press.Google Scholar
  42. Impett, E. A., Schooler, D., & Tolman, D. L. (2006). To be seen and not heard: Femininity ideology and adolescent girls’ sexual health. Archives of sexual behavior, 35(2), 129–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jackson, S. M., & Cram, F. (2003). Disrupting the sexual double standard: Young women’s talk about heterosexuality. British Journal of Social Psychology, 42(1), 113–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jones, R. K., & Biddlecom, A. E. (2011). Is the internet filling the sexual health information gap for teens? An exploratory study. Journal of health communication, 16(2), 112–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kantor, L. (2013, November). Support for sex education among parents and their adolescents: Findings from a new national survey. In 141st APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition (November 2–November 6, 2013). APHA.Google Scholar
  46. Kiely, E. (2005). Where is the discourse of desire? Deconstructing the Irish Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) resource materials. Irish Educational Studies, 24(2–3), 253–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kohler, P. K., Manhart, L. E., & Lafferty, W. E. (2008). Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(4), 344–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. ERIC.Google Scholar
  49. L’Engle, K. L., Brown, J. D., & Kenneavy, K. (2006). The mass media are an important context for adolescents’ sexual behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38(3), 186–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lamb, S. (2010). Feminist ideals for a healthy female adolescent sexuality: A critique. Sex Roles, 62(5–6), 294–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lamb, S. (2013). Just the facts? The separation of sex education from moral education. Educational Theory, 63(5), 443–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lamb, S., Graling, K., & Lustig, K. (2011). Stereotypes in four current AOUM sexuality education curricula: Good girls, good boys, and the new gender equality. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 6(4), 360–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lamb, S., Lustig, K., & Graling, K. (2013). The use and misuse of pleasure in sex education curricula. Sex Education, 13(3), 305–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lenhart, A. (2015). Teens, social media and technology overview 2015. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from
  55. Lenhart, A., Maddenn, M., & Hitlin, P. (2005). Teens and technology: Youth are leading the transition to a fully wired and mobile nation. Available at:
  56. Livingstone, S. (2004). What is media literacy? Intermedia, 32(3), 18–20.Google Scholar
  57. Lofgren-Martenson, L., & Mansson, S. S. A. (2010). Lust, love, and life: A qualitative study of Swedish adolescents’ perceptions and experiences with pornography. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Malamuth, N., & Check, J. (1981). The effects of mass media exposure on acceptance of violence against women: A field experiment. Journal of Research on Personality, 15, 436–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Malamuth, N., & Huppin, M. (2005). Pornography and teenagers: The importance of individual differences. Adolescent Medicine Clinics, 16(2), 315–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Marin, L. M., & Halpern, D. F. (2011). Pedagogy for developing critical thinking in adolescents: Explicit instruction produces greatest gains. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 6(1), 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Martin, K. A., & Kazyak, E. (2009). Hetero-romantic love and heterosexiness in children’s G-rated films. Gender & Society, 23(3), 315–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. McClelland, S. I., & Hunter, L. E. (2013). Bodies That Are Always Out of Line: A Closer Look at “Age Appropriate Sexuality”. In The moral panics of sexuality (pp. 59-76). Palgrave Macmillan UK.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. McClelland, S. I., & Fine, M. (2014). Over-sexed and under surveillance: Adolescent sexualities, cultural anxieties, and thick desire. M. L. Rasmussen, K. Quinlivan, & L. Allen (Eds.), Interrogatingthepolitics of pleasure in sexuality education: Pleasure bound, 12–34.Google Scholar
  64. McClelland, S. I., & Frost, D. M. (2014). Sexuality and social policy. Handbook on sexuality and psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  65. Morahan-Martin, J. M. (2004). How internet users find, evaluate, and use online health information: A cross-cultural review. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7(5), 497–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Pascoe, C. J. (2011). Dude, you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school, with a new preface. Univ of California Press.Google Scholar
  67. Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2007). Adolescents’ exposure to a sexualized media environment and their notions of women as sex objects. Sex roles, 56(5–6), 381–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Pingel, E. S., Thomas, L., Harmell, C., & Bauermeister, J. A. (2013). Creating comprehensive, youth centered, culturally appropriate sex education: What do young gay, bisexual, and questioning men want? Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 10(4), 293–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pleck, J. H., Sonenstein, F. L., & Ku, L. C. (1993). Masculinity ideology: Its impact on adolescent males’ heterosexual relationships. Journal of Social issues, 49(3), 11–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9(5), 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Rawlings, V., & Russell, K. (2013). Gender regulation and social realities in contemporary high school. Unpublished PhD, University of Sydney.Google Scholar
  72. Renold, E. (2005). Girls, boys, and junior sexualities: Exploring children’s gender and sexual relations in the primary school. London: Routledge Falmer.Google Scholar
  73. Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M [superscript 2]: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.Google Scholar
  74. Ringrose, J. (2008). “Every time she bends over she pulls up her thong” Teen Girls Negotiating Discourses of Competitive, Heterosexualized Aggression. Girlhood Studies, 1(1), 33–59.Google Scholar
  75. Ringrose, J. (2010). 12 Sluts, whores, fat slags and playboy bunnies: Teen girls’ negotiations of ‘sexy’ on social networking sites and at school. Girls and education 3-16~ autofilled~: Continuing Concerns, New Agendas, 170.Google Scholar
  76. Ringrose, J. (2011). Are you sexy, flirty or a slut? Exploring “sexualisation” and how teen girls perform/negotiate digital sexual identity on social networking sites. In New femininities: Postfeminism, neoliberalism and identity. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  77. Ringrose, J., Gill, R., Livingstone, S., & Harvey, L. (2012). A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’: A report prepared for the NSPCC.Google Scholar
  78. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, London, UK.Google Scholar
  79. Ringrose, J., Harvey, L., Gill, R., & Livingstone, S. (2013). Teen girls, sexual double standards and ‘sexting’: Gendered value in digital image exchange. Feminist Theory, 14(3), 305–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Ringrose, J., & Renold, E. (2010). Normative cruelties and gender deviants: The performative effects of bully discourses for girls and boys in school.British Educational Research Journal, 36 (4), 573–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Salter, M., Crofts, T., & Lee, M. (2013). Beyond criminalisation and responsibilisation: Sexting, gender and young people. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 24(3), 301–316.Google Scholar
  82. Santana, M. C., Raj, A., Decker, M. R., La Marche, A., & Silverman, J. G. (2006). Masculine gender roles associated with increased sexual risk and intimate partner violence perpetration among young adult men. Journal of urban health, 83(4), 575–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Santelli, J., Kouzis, A., & Newcomer, S. (1996). School-based health centers and adolescent use of primary care and hospital care. Journal of Adolescent Health, 19(4), 267–275.Google Scholar
  84. Schalet, A. T., Santelli, J. S., Russell, S. T., Halpern, C. T., Miller, S. A., Pickering, S. S., & Hoenig, J. M. (2014). Invited commentary: Broadening the evidence for adolescent sexual and reproductive health and education in the United States. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(10), 1595–1610.Google Scholar
  85. Schooler, D., & Ward, L. M. (2006). Average Joes: Men's relationships with media, real bodies, and sexuality. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 7(1), 27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Simon, L., & Daneback, K. (2013). Adolescents’ use of the Internet for sex education: A thematic and critical review of the literature. International Journal of Sexual Health, 25(4), 305–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Smith, P. B., Realini, J. P., Buzi, R. S., & Martinez, M. (2011). Students’ experiences and perceived benefits of a sex education curriculum: A qualitative analysis. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 37(4), 270–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Strouse, J. S., & Buerkel-Rothfuss, N. L. (1987). Media exposure and the sexual attitudes and behaviors of college students. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 13(2), 43–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Štulhofer, A., Buško, V., & Landripet, I. (2010). Pornography, sexual socialization, and satisfaction among young men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(1), 168–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Tanenbaum, L. (2015). I am not a slut: Slut-shaming in the age of the Internet. Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  91. Tiidenberg, K. (2014). Bringing sexy back: Reclaiming the body aesthetic via self-shooting. Cyberpsychology, 8(1), 3.Google Scholar
  92. Tolman, D. L. (2002). Female adolescent sexuality: An argument for a developmental perspective on the new view of women’s sexual problems. Women & Therapy, 24(1–2), 195–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Tolman, D., Brown, L., & Bowman, C. (2013). Hey, media, back off and get off my body!: SPARK is taking sexy back. In K. Harper, Y. Katsulis, V. Lopez, & G. Scheiner Gillis (Eds.), Girls’ sexualities and the media (pp. 227–244). New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  94. Tolman, D. L., Striepe, M. I., & Harmon, T. (2003). Gender matters: Constructing a model of adolescent sexual health. Journal of sex research, 40(1), 4–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2011). Online communication among adolescents: An integrated model of its attraction, opportunities, and risks. Journal of Adolescent Health, 48(2), 121–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Van Dijk, J. A., & Jan, A. G. M. (2005). The deepening divide: Inequality in the information society. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  97. Walsh-Childers, K., & Brown, J. D. (1993). Adolescents’ acceptance of sex-role stereotypes and television viewing. Media, sex, and the adolescent, 117–133.Google Scholar
  98. Ward, L. (2003). Understanding the role of entertainment media in the sexual socialization of American youth: A review of empirical research. Developmental Review, 23, 347–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Ward, L. M., & Friedman, K. (2006). Using TV as a guide: Associations between television viewing and adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 16(1), 133–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Weisz, M. G., & Earls, C. M. (1985). The effects of exposure to filmed sexual violence on attitudes towards rape. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 10, 71–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Wilson, B. A., Holm, J. E., Bishop, K. L., & Borowiak, D. M. (2002). Predicting responses to sexually aggressive stories: The role of consent, interest in sexual aggression, and overall sexual interest. Journal of Sex Research, 39(4), 275–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2007). Unwanted and wanted exposure to online pornography in a national sample of youth Internet users. Pediatrics, 119(2), 247–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Zurbriggen, E. L., Collins, R. L., Lamb, S., Roberts, T. A., Tolman, D. L., Ward, L. M., & Blake, J. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the sexualization of girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marisa Ragonese
    • 1
  • Christin P. Bowman
    • 2
  • Deborah L. Tolman
    • 1
  1. 1.Hunter College, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.The Graduate Center, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations