Academic journal article Social Work Research

The Content and Process of Mother-Adolescent Communication about Sex in Latino Families

Academic journal article Social Work Research

The Content and Process of Mother-Adolescent Communication about Sex in Latino Families

Article excerpt

Research has shown that Latino parents discuss sexual topics with their children less often than do parents from other ethnic groups; however, communication about sex in Latino families is not well understood. The present study explored the content and process of mother-adolescent communication about sex to better understand how to facilitate communication in urban Latino families. Focus-group interviews were conducted with 63 Latino mother-adolescent pairs in New York City. Latina mothers were able to discuss certain sex-related topics, such as the consequences of sexual activity, but not others, including sexual intercourse and birth control. Adolescents wanted to discuss sexual topics with their mothers, yet most did not because of fears their mothers would assume they were sexually active and would punish them. Our findings suggest that Latino culture and the urban environment play a large role in mother-adolescent conversations about sex. Latina mothers were raised in a culture not supportive of open discussions about sex in the home, yet they recognize the risks their adolescents experience in an urban U.S. environment. The present study provides information on the nature of communication about sex in Latino families and can help tailor interventions aimed at reducing adolescent sexual risk behavior.

KEY WORDS: adolescent sexual behavior; Latino families; mother-adolescent communication

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Adolescents continue to be at risk of the negative outcomes associated with sexual risk behavior. Approximately 840,000 adolescents 15 to 19 years of age become pregnant each year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2000a), and each year teenagers account for one-quarter of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States (CDC, 2000b). Between 2000 and 2003, 13% of HIV cases in 32 states were diagnosed in young people 13 to 24 years old (CDC, 2004).

Latino youths may be particularly at risk of these outcomes. Although Latinos represent 13% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 20% of new AIDS cases reported in 2003 (CDC, 2004). Latinos are also less likely to receive preventive care than non-Latinos (Carrillo, Trevino, Betancourt, & Coustasse, 2001; Carter-Pokras & Zambrana, 2001) and have less access to health education, health care, or culturally and linguistically competent health care providers than do white or African Americans (Carrillo et al.; Carter-Pokras & Zambrana).

Earlier research has explored parental influences on adolescents' sexual risk behavior, often with a focus on parent--adolescent communication about sex. Although findings have been mixed (for a review of this literature, see Jaccard & Dittus, 1993; Miller, Benson, & Galbraith, 2001), more recent research with improved methodology has found negative associations between parental communication and sexual initiation (East, 1996; Jaccard, Dittus, & Gordon, 1996; Pick & Palos, 1995; Ward & Wyatt, 1994) and number of sexual partners (Holtzman & Robinson, 1995) and positive associations between parental communication and contraceptive and condom use (Whitaker, Miller, May, & Levin, 1999) and communication with sexual partners about condoms (Hutchinson & Cooney, 1998; Shoop & Davidson, 1994; Whitaker et al.). In all of these studies, greater frequency and higher quality of parent-adolescent communication about sex were associated with reduced sexual risk among adolescents.

Research on the influence of parent--adolescent communication about sex within Latino families has also yielded inconsistent results. Studies focusing on Latino families have generally depicted less parent-adolescent communication, of both a general and a sex-specific nature, than in families from other ethnic groups (CDC, 1991; Hovell et al., 1994; Hutchinson, 2002; O'Sullivan, Meyer-Bahlburg, & Watkins, 2001). In a study of Latinos between the ages of 18 and 49, nearly half of the respondents reported never talking to their parents about sex (VanOss Marin & Gomez, 1997). …

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