Talking Sexuality: Parent-Adolescent Communication

Talking Sexuality: Parent-Adolescent Communication

Talking Sexuality: Parent-Adolescent Communication

Talking Sexuality: Parent-Adolescent Communication


Negotiating sexuality during the adolescent years is a difficult task that can result in health-compromising outcomes if poor decisions are made. Experts, parents, and teens all believe that parents have an important role in providing sex education to their children and that such communication has the potential to help adolescents make good sexual decisions. However, parents find the task daunting; they often feel ill equipped, and teenagers feel uncomfortable and suspect parents of prying into their private lives.

The last decade has witnessed important growth in research on family communications about sex and sexuality. This volume critically examines the assumption that parental communication plays an important role in helping children make good sexual decisions and act on them. It expands on earlier reviews by proposing a theoretical framework in a field that has largely been notable for its atheoretical approach, by providing methodological alternatives, by going beyond the expert-novice perspective to address communication from the young person's point of view, and by evaluating interventions designed to help parents become better communicators about this difficult, sensitive, and complex topic. It also presents new empirical work on the neglected topics of fathers involvement in sex-related communications with their children and teen-initiated communications by gay youth as they inform their parents about their sexual orientation.

This is the 97th issue of the Jossey-Bass series New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.


James Jaccard, Tonya Dodge, Patricia Dittus

This chapter describes a conceptual framework for
analyzing parent-adolescent communication about sex
and birth control, along with literature in the area of
parent-adolescent communication about sex and birth

Although the incidence of pregnancy among adolescents in the United States has been declining in recent years, the pregnancy rate among American youth remains unacceptably high. On average, more than two thousand female adolescents in the United States become pregnant every day (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000a). The economic, social, and emotional costs of adolescent pregnancy are well documented and considerable. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) also are widespread among adolescents. Among teenagers, about 5 percent of young men and 5–10 percent of young women are infected with chlamydia. By the time they reach adulthood, between 15 percent and 20 percent of American youth will have become infected with herpes and 25–45 percent of young women will be infected with human papillomavirus (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000b). The same source notes that these and other STDs have severe and sometimes deadly consequences that cost billions of dollars each year in health care. As a result of such trends, policy analysts, lawmakers, interest groups, social scientists, and concerned citizens have sought strategies for reducing sexual risk behaviors on the part of adolescents.

Most strategies to reduce adolescent pregnancies and STDs have been designed to educate adolescents directly about aspects of sexual risk taking. However, approaches also exist that focus efforts on other groups or organizations with the idea that they, in turn, will influence the sexual activity of adolescents. One such approach is to develop interventions aimed at the . . .

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