Health Information and Tools > Health A-Z >  Sexual Health: Sexuality and media literacy

Main Content

Sexual Health

Sexuality and media literacy

​​What is media?

Media is how people communicate messages to their intended audience.

TV, radio, books, paintings, and newspapers are some types of media. Websites, video games, social media, and apps are examples of digital media.

What is media literacy?​

​Media literacy is being able to understand media messages and how they shape the world. It is a set of skills that help people think critically and decode messages. Media literacy skills include:

  • realizing media does not always show real life
  • understanding the goals of the media
  • thinking carefully about what the messages are trying to make us think and feel
  • knowing what to do if something in the media makes us feel bad
  • making deliberate choices about what media we use

When people have media literacy, they are more likely to have healthy, happy, and enjoyable sexuality and relationships.

Talking about media

Talking about media can encourage media literacy skills. It can also help people share personal, family, and community beliefs, expectations, and boundaries. You can start by asking:

  • How do you feel about what you just watched?
  • What does our family and community think about it?
  • Does what you saw happen in real life?
  • How does this relate to how you have relationships?
  • If something made you feel bad, what can you do about it?

Talking to children about media

Parents and caregivers can support media literacy and help children learn skills to use media in healthy ways.

  • Start talking when children are young. But if you haven't started the conversation with your child yet, don't worry. It's never too late to start.
  • Choose a good time to talk, not when anyone is tired or hungry.
  • Talk often.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Ask what everyone thinks and listen carefully.
  • Use teachable moments to use what was just seen in media to introduce a topic or connect to a family belief, value, or expectation.

Benefits of using media

We can all support each other to develop media literacy and use media in healthy ways. Using media in healthy ways:

  • helps us feel less isolated by connecting us with family, friends, school, work, and community
  • lets us know about other people and experiences
  • connects us with resources
  • helps us learn and share ideas
  • can help us to feel good about ourselves and our relationships
  • entertains us and gives inspiration

Boundaries help us be healthy

Boundaries are about setting limits. They are part of media literacy, helping people to use media in healthy ways and stay safe. Setting boundaries about media includes:

  • limiting and monitoring media use (for everyone, including adults, teens, and children)
  • keeping personal information like family details and finances private
  • taking regular breaks from digital media
  • checking facts
  • asking questions about what ideas or values are being promoted

How does media affect sexuality?

The media sends messages about sexuality and relationships every day. This includes ideas about gender, roles, sex, body image, sexual behaviours, and sexual health.

Some messages can support sexual health by encouraging healthy decisions. Others may be negative by giving false information, lowering self-esteem, or leading to dangerous situations.

Sexually explicit media and media literacy

Sexually explicit media is media that shows sexual images. Pornography (porn) and sexting are types of sexually explicit media.

Porn literacy means:

  • talking about sexually explicit media
  • understanding that porn is not real
  • recognizing porn is made to sell an idea of sex that may not be healthy
  • knowing that using sexually explicit media can sometimes lead to unhealthy ideas about body image and relationships

Porn literacy can help people make healthy choices about sexually explicit media and their sexuality.

What if I need help?

Not all media makes us feel good. Some media messages can be negative like bullying, threats, homophobia, or racism.

If media makes you feel uncomfortable you can:

  • Talk to someone you trust.
  • Take a break from media.

If you're worried about your safety, contact your local emergency services.

To report online sexual abuse or exploitation of children, go to

If you are a child or teen looking for support any time, day or night, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. You can also call Health Link at 811 to talk to a registered nurse or to find programs or services near you.

Current as of: January 5, 2023

Author: Sexual & Reproductive Health, Alberta Health Services