Dr. Widman's research focuses primarily on adolescent sexual health, sexual communication processes, and the primary prevention of HIV and other STDs. Dr. Widman's goal is to apply psychological theories and sexual health principles to contribute to basic social science and behavioral interventions that improve the sexual health of youth. Her recent research has focused on the development and evaluation of a web-based sexual health program for teens, called HEART. Dr. Widman and graduate students in the Teen Health Lab have also been busy conducting a number of meta-analyses related to sexual health. Please see below for more details on these projects. 


Teen Study. We are conducting this study in collaboration with the Mindset Lab at NCSU. The Teen Study is aimed at testing the efficacy of two programs for teens: one focused on sexual health and one focused on mental health. In Fall 2021, we are recruiting a national sample of nearly 1,000 youth ages 14-16. To find out more about participation requirements for the Teen Study, check out the Mindset Lab Instagram at This project is funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation,


If you are interested in using HEART, please contact Dr. Widman:

HEART (Health Education and Relationship Training). HEART is an interactive, web-based sexual health program for high school students. Grounded in psychological and health behavior change theories, the purpose of this 45-minute program is to increase adolescents’ motivation and skills to engage in safer sexual behavior. The web program has five modules to enhance five areas of sexual decision-making: 1) health-related motivation, 2) HIV/STI knowledge, 3) self-efficacy, 4) social norms, and 5) sexual communication skills. Within each module, material is presented using brief bulleted text with matching audio, along with engaging features such as audio and video clips, interactive information sheets, quizzes, games, and skill-building exercises. We developed the "HEART for girls" in 2014 and adapted it for all teens ("HEART for teens") in 2017. Then in 2019, we reprogrammed HEART with an updated color scheme and more animated features. We have evaluated HEART among 3 samples of high school students and a sample of girls with emotional and behavior difficulties (see publications page for the full text of these evaluation studies). We are currently adapting this program for youth in the NC foster care system. In the coming years, we will continue to enhance the program and work on broader implementation.

Project Heart was funded by NIH/NICHD (K99/R00 HD075654, PI: Widman)

Laura and John Arnold Foundation Grant. This study is a randomized controlled trial (RCT) comparing the HEART sexual health intervention to Healthy Minds, a growth mindset intervention for high school students designed to reduce rates of depression. In Fall 2019, we recruiting approximately 450 students from 4 North Carolina high schools to participate in this study. Students were assessed at pre-test and immediate post-test after completing either the HEART program or the Healthy Minds program. We planned to follow these youth at 12-months and 18-months to determine the longer term impact of these programs, but the future of this project is currently up in the air due to COVID. Stay tuned for updates.

Meta-Analysis Projects. Our research team is actively involved in reviewing and synthesizing the literature on adolescent sexual health. We have published meta-analyses on the following topics (click any topic for the full paper):

-Associations between partner sexual communication and adolescent condom use (2014)

-Associations between parent-child sexual communication and safer sex (2016)

-Effectiveness of technology-based sexual health programs for youth (2018)

-Effectiveness of parent-based interventions for adolescent sexual health (2019)

-Effectiveness of sexual health programs for Black adolescents (2020)

-Effectiveness of sexual health programs for Latinx adolescents (in press)

Teen Health Studies. Our lab has a number of ongoing projects related to teen health, including some recent work to tackle the opioid crisis among rural youth.  We partnered with a local school district to deliver and evaluate "This is (Not) About Drugs", an opioid misuse prevention program to nearly 700 seventh grade students in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019. Initial results are promising - after taking the program, students scored significantly higher on knowledge about opioids, perceived ability to resist peer pressure around opioids, and confidence to avoid opioid misuse in the future. Next steps for us include conducting qualitative interviews with key stakeholders, and adapting the program/developing new program materials in the long term.

We have also collected data from over 900 parents with a child between the age of 13-17 to assess parent-child sexual communication and parental attitudes about sex education. Analyses from that project are ongoing.


PACT (Promoting Affirmative Consent among Teens). An upcoming project for our team involves the development and evaluation of a brief, evidence- and theory-based online program designed to teach high school-aged youth information and skills regarding affirmative sexual consent. In summer of 2020, our team collected preliminary data online from 417 young adults about preferred length, structure, and topics for this program. Our graduate and undergraduate researchers are currently coding this feedback, which will be used to inform intervention content creation along with input from a Youth Advisory Board throughout the development process.

SSSS Presentations 


A Qualitative Examination of Factors Impacting Foster Youths' Sexual Health and Sexuality 
Identifying Gaps in Foster Parents Training on Adolescent Sexual Health
Intervention Development and Acceptability of the Redeveloped HEART Program