Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Memorable Familial Messages about Sex: A Qualitative Content Analysis of College Student Narratives

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Memorable Familial Messages about Sex: A Qualitative Content Analysis of College Student Narratives

Article excerpt

For many, sexual activity starts in early adulthood (Goins, Garcia, & Barger, J., 2013; Mosher, Chandra & Jones, 2005). It is widely acknowledged that memorable experiences about sex shape and dictate one's sexual behaviors. Yet, it is a complex task to pinpoint exactly how, and to what extent, these messages impact one's sex life (Medved Brogan, McClanahan, Morris & Shepard, 2006). Familial influences are one of the main sources that affect young adults' communicative decisions, including those related to sexual activity (Guo & Nathanson, 2011). According to Hutchinson and Cederbaum (2011), both parents play a large role in the socialization of their children and fathers may even have a larger influence on their daughter's future sex decisions. Other research emphasizes the importance of mother's communication with both daughters and sons (Coffelt, 2010; Morman & Whitely, 2012). An important dynamic to parent-child communication about sex is that of the manner in which the messages are sent. According to Morgan, Zurbriggen, and Thorn (2010), males report different types of memorable messages than females. For example, messages to males focus more on pleasure and exploration, while messages about sex to females seem to be geared more towards measures of precaution and consequences of sex. Given the high prevalence of sexual activity for young adults and the physical and psychological costs that come with it, calls for theoretically informed research that produces practical recommendations abound in various arenas (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). Consequently, a study examining memorable message narratives that focuses on the particulars of the message--source, theme, framing and communication type--is important in further enhancing existing knowledge.

Amidst a significant amount of literature (e.g., Guo & Nathanson, 2011), two major themes appear throughout existing literature on family communication about sex. First, as described by Bleakley, Hennessy, Fishbein, Coles and Jordan (2009), the interaction of parental figures and religious background influences the messages that are communicated to children. Specifically, Bleakley at al. found that mothers focused on the physical consequences of sex as well as the social outcomes that accompanied premature sexual activity. In this familial context, individuals describe feeling ashamed or guilty of their first sexual experiences because of their family values and religious beliefs. Consequently, parental comfort has been demonstrated to impact parent-child communication regarding sex (Jerman & Constantine, 2010). More specifically, when mothers approached sex as a natural topic, more positive feelings occurred (Coffelt, 2010). Second, open and early communication regarding adolescent sexual activity was found to create positive, safe sex practices in young adults (Moore & Chase-Lansdale, 2001; Morman & Whitely, 2012). According to a study done by Townsend (2008), socialization messages are not always explicit and frequently are communicated via implicit "colorful colloquialisms" that help form young people's ideas about how sexual experiences should happen. Townsend also describes a process called armoring, the socialization process that draws from the parents' own experiences. Through armoring, a parent's worldview dictates how they will socialize their children regarding sexual practices. Given this, it is important to recognize that many of the narratives can be attributed to the personal, social, and cultural experiences of the parent when analyzing the child's perspective on sex (Gallegos, Villarruel, & Gomez, 2007; Randolph et al., 2013; Tobey et al., 2011).

Non-familial influences must also be taken into account when searching for insight into the sexual socialization of young adults. In this regard, memorable messages from peers (Busse, Fishbein, Bleakley, & Hennessy, 2010), personal experiences (Ellis & Smith, 2004), and media texts (Hust, Brown, & L'Engle, 2008) also must be acknowledged. …

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