Media World vs Real World


This activity has been adapted from an activity of the same name from In The Pictureby Maree Crabbe.

It is designed for use by practitioners with small groups; however, it may also be used with individual young people. Some of the content is sensitive in nature.

Please look carefully at the notes and activity materials below to determine the suitability of this activity for the young people you work with.

Time required

Minimum 30-60 minutes

How long this activity takes will vary depending on factors such as the size of the group, the number of statements selected, and participants’ level of discussion and engagement. Allow a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes. Remember to also allow time to establish a group agreement or to reaffirm an existing group agreement.


  • To encourage young people to critique the ways in which gender, sex and sexuality are portrayed in media contexts such as films, television, advertising, pornography, music videos and gaming.
  • To assist young people to analyse and evaluate how media can influence gender and sexual norms and expectations.
  • To encourage young people to reflect on how factors such as age, gender, cultural background or sexuality might influence individuals’ understandings of media representations of gender and sex.
  • To encourage reflection on how media portrayals of gender and sex may not be respectful and equitable, and may negatively affect individual and community wellbeing.

Learning outcomes

At the conclusion of this activity, participants should:

  • have increased comfort and confidence discussing sensitive issues such as relationships, sexuality and pornography
  • have practiced forming and expressing an opinion and listening to others respectfully
  • understand that pornography and other media can influence norms and expectations about, for example, bodies, sexual health, gender, aggression, sexual pleasure, sexual consent, sexuality and sex
  • understand that pornography and other media can misrepresent reality and negatively influence choices people make regarding their own and others’ safety, health and wellbeing
  • understand that representations of power and aggression in pornography and other media can normalise and contribute to inequality, aggression and discrimination
  • understand that consent is an important element in sexual interactions, and that pressure or coercion are unacceptable
  • have increased ability to analyse the messages conveyed through media and contrast these with the characteristics of respectful relationships.


One of the factors that can mediate the harmful impact of media on young people is how realistic the viewer thinks it is. This activity encourages participants to reflect critically on the nature of media messages about gender and sex, and how they may not be respectful and equitable.

Participants are required to distinguish between the statements that are accurate in the ‘real world’ and those that reflect the world created by the media ie the ‘Media World’. Alternatively, they may decide that the statement is reflective of both worlds or neither. Note that popular media’s influence on the real world may make some of the responses more contested than might otherwise be expected. For example, some participants might argue that the statement ‘Women don’t have body hair’ should be placed under ‘Media World’, while others might argue that, due to media influence on the real world, this statement should be categorised under ‘Both’.

This activity does not aim to have participants categorise the statements ‘correctly’. Rather, it aims to help them analyse how media can shape societal norms and expectations in ways that negatively affect people’s wellbeing.

In your efforts to be inclusive of all participants, be aware that some of the statements clearly relate to heterosexuality, and some refer specifically to people who are same-sex attracted, but others are applicable for any sexual orientation.

It is important that the sexist statements included in this activity are not used as opportunities to engage in humour that reinforces stereotyping or degrading attitudes. However, humour can be a useful strategy when exploring the often-ludicrous nature of some of the messages conveyed through media.

Take-home messages

Key messages for young people to understand from this activity include:

  • Media portrayals of gender and sex are often not realistic.
  • Many of the media’s messages about gender and sex can be harmful, undermine gender equity and respectful relationships and negatively affect individual and community wellbeing. These may include messages about:
    • body image
    • gender
    • sexual consent
    • sexual health
    • sexual pleasure
    • sexuality
    • ethnicity
    • male aggression
    • female sexual availability and subservience.

Materials and preparation

You will need:

  • a copy of each of the category cards (‘Media World’, ‘Real World’, ‘Both’ and ‘Neither’) for each small group.
  • a minimum of twelve Media World vs Real World statements for each small group
  • a copy of the ‘Ideal World’ category card and approximately ten blank statement cards for each small group for the second part of the activity.

The category and statements cards are designed to be printed onto thick A4 paper or card, cut where necessary and laminated for repeated use.

Media World vs Real World category cards
Media World vs Real World statements

Modifying the sensitivity level

Read through the Media World vs Real World statements and select the statements you deem appropriate for use with your group, ensuring that there are enough for each small group to have a minimum of twelve statements covering a range of issues. The groups can be given identical sets of statements, or different combinations.

Some of the statements in this activity are very explicit. You, as the practitioner, need to modify the activity to suit your group by excluding any statements that you consider are not appropriate. To assist you in this process, the statements have been categorised into two levels:

  • Level 1 statements form the basis of the activity. These statements mostly focus on gender.
  • Level 2 statements are more explicit and can be added to those in Level 1 where appropriate. Many of the Level 2 statements refer to sex and sexuality.

This activity builds upon knowledge and thinking from prior learning on gender, respectful relationships, sexuality, power and consent. Level 2 statements should only be used if participants have already engaged in an activity in which pornography was discussed.

Consider colour-coding the statement cards. Using a different colour paper or card for statements of each level, will assist you to rapidly identify and manage the distribution of the cards with your group.


Before you start, consider establishing a group agreement outlining how you will relate as a group during this activity. Reinforce with participants how important it is to create a respectful learning environment in which everyone can feel comfortable to contribute, especially as some of the content is sensitive.

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