When it comes to talking about teens and sex, the media oftentimes get a bad rap.  However, according to a new study in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the media may be key to promoting safe sex. The study finds that effective media messages can actually help create long-term safer sex practices among African American teens.

The 1,647 youth who participated were part of Project iMPPACS, an effort designed to determine the impact of mass media messages on the sexual behavior of hetero-sexual African American youth. Youth between the ages of 14 and 17 were exposed to radio and television messages that promoted safer sex.

After asking participants over a 36-month period about their own sexual behavior and attitudes toward safer sex, the media messages not only influenced teen behavior during the media intervention, but even after the media messages were discontinued. In particular, the most effective messages were those that debunked the notion that a steady partner is a safe partner and that teens can reliably identify safer sex partners by informal selection rules.

The media have played a role in various safe sex efforts including BET’s Rap it Up campaign focused on limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS within the African American community. Others, like Bedsider, a mobile program developed in conjunction with the Ad Council to provide birth control guidance, have even used social media to encourage safe sex messaging.

“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,” the study’s authors explain. This study highlights the role of tools within our reach that can be crucial to promoting public health messages to key demographics, with the payoff of potential long-term positive effects.